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The Digital Age. A Matter Of Perspective

The other day I asked my son to get me a ‘smart phone’. One of those Blackberries: i-pads, i-pods, or i–phones. He looked at me quizzically and asked, ‘Why would you want a smart phone?’ I said I want to look hip. I want to look modern. I want to look cool. I want to look and sound knowledgeable. A smart phone and a smarter phone I am sure translates into something, I mean it should, after paying all that money—what would be the point if it didn’t.

They tell us we live in the digital age. Recently I was watching CNN, one of the most uninspiring cable networks in the country, when the anchor person (her name is Suzan Malovoe (sp) if I remember correctly, I have to ‘Google’ that) ended her segment by saying, ‘follow me on twitter’ or was it facebook? I just couldn’t believe it. I was bored  enough watching her on CNN and she had the temerity to ask her bored viewers to follow her on twitter! What we are supposed to follow on twitter?

In this digital age we are told we will be highly knowledgeable. We will be armed with snippets of knowledge that we can glean from “Google” or some other search engines and hold our own in any duel and in any setting. We are told we can start revolutions in any country from our seat, in front of our laptop or desktop although there is no evidence that this ever transpired. Even in the much heralded Iranian counter revolution, it was revealed that only 19000 Iranians were wired. Most of the blogging was done by the so-called Oxford girl and of course the usual suspects, the remnants of the Shah in the Diaspora. And in Egypt the people came out to Tahrir Square through word of mouth and after watching government television that aroused their curiosity.

Facebook is designed to make us friends. Not the kind of childhood friends we had when we were ‘homo erectile’ in the Stone Age era. This one is different. We will post our profiles (mostly positive ones), our likes and dislikes, and bingo, facebook will digitally match and find us a lifelong ami. For example, if I hate Isaias, and there is someone out there with the same feeling we will make a wonderful pair. And if I hate Isaias intensely and there is someone out there who hates Isaias intensely, that would be a marriage made in heaven. This relationship is symbiotic at the highest level.

I read on CounterPunch and article about the digital age written by Christopher Ketchum, (“The degradation of Personhood” Jan. 24) where he wrote about an essay written by one Demon Darlin, the “technology editor” at the New York Times.

Ketchum writes, “Damon makes the classic argument of the technocrat, the scientific manager, that the benefits of efficiency trump what ever cost to humanness imposed by new technologies. Probably a perfectly decent person, Darlin has at the same time clearly replaced his mind with a microchip. He writes how he “learned to stop worrying by loving the Smart phone” “For most people” he writes, “a smart phone will change their lives and most likely for the better.” And what are these “improvements”. “Poor Demon is “never lost” anymore in New York, or presumably, anywhere that he can get a signal—the machine tells him where he is. He is “never bored”— the machine entertains him. He is “never without an answer” —the machine provides the answers. He “never forgets anything” —the machine remembers. “Google” he writes, “ begins to substitute for my memory.” He writes the Smart phone “can help us recall events in our lives.” The machine, says Darlin becomes “an auxiliary memory of every thing I do.” To never be lost or bored or forgetful or without answers, Ketchum says, is to be less than human. That Darlins’ article was not satire, indeed was grimly serious, an  indicator of how far along we’ve come in the degradation of personhood to make the machine look useful. Yet his thinking is the gospel of the age. It is a demented vision of human life, a form of technology-induced insanity—accepted totally as the norm.”

After reading that I said, I think it is time we all stopped and said, “hey wait a minute” and learn something from Mr. Ketchum.        

Much had been written about the Internet over the past several years notably by the so-called tech savvy experts such as Clay Shirky. Shirky is one of those modern day digital worriers who believes that,  as Chris Lehman writes in the Nation magazine “ producer and consumers of digital culture, are mashed up into a vast experimental quest to test the reaches of knowledge and social utility”, because Shirky believes that the new media is not stifled by old-media publishing standards and elitist gatekeepers. Wow! Can you imagine what this net freedom and the so-called digital technology is giving us!

Just the other day I heard an African American on one of the network TV ads, telling us that after he has been to “ancestory.com” he found out that his great, great-grandfather was actually a slave. Now you can’t beat that, can you.  Unbelievable news I would say.

Some two-weeks ago on NPR the CEO of  ‘harmony.com’  was claiming that on his website,  you are matched with the love of your life so perfect that you don’t have to go through those trials and tribulations of a marriage aftermath of  naggings and divorce and sexual dysfunction and what have you. You know with harmony “dot com” you are assured a lifetime of bliss. Live happily ever after until death do us part.

And only yesterday, the international Dutch carrier KLM said it is going to seat passengers with someone who accords to their personality. I mean you don’t have to sit with anyone that you disagree with on any issue even if he/she is your spouse. So you see, in addition to being hip you are, thanks to the digital age, within reach, within easy grasp of that mirage-like, ever retreating but achievable goal towards which we should all aspire. The goal of mental and digital immortality. What more can you wish for, for such a small price of being less than human.

Such adulation of course is short-sighted. As Nicholas Carr says in his book,” What the Internet is Doing to our Brains”: “believe in the jouissance of the shallows or the wisdom of crowds or the glories of the hive mind or the benevolence of Google all you want, you are still playing with fire when you are on the internet all the time. That is not a matter of opinion but of fact and it concerns not something as elusive as your soul but something as real and crucial as your brain which is altered at a molecular level by your experiences.” Malleability presents a deep danger because of the plasticity of the brain as has been empirically proved in labs by MRI assisted scientists.

But for me the overriding issue is what comes after we have become instruments in the destruction of our own privacy. What is next after we have perfected the art of being robots. What comes after we have succumbed to the temptations of assisted suicide.

Oh, I have the answer for this one too. Just follow me on Twitter or is it Facebook. I Will have to Google that one I guess!!

fulluy@aol.com

About Fessehaye Woldu

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  • haile

    Dear Fessehaye and others;

    Have you heard of ‘Digital detox’ ?

    One mother says:
    “two years ago I decided to impose a digital detox on our family for six months — the results of which I turned into a book which has just been published.

    All computers, iPods, TVs, games consoles and even my iPhone would be banished from the house from January to July. We had a landline installed and were still allowed to use our laptops for work — just not in the home.

    The rules of the ban stated we would have to go out to a cafe or similar to find a Wi-Fi connection.

    In return for their reluctant participation in this experiment, the children would each receive a substantial cash bonus at the end of the project. Which, let’s face it, was the only thing that got them to agree, reluctantly, to give it a go.

    I kept a journal — handwritten, of course — throughout the project, and this is what happened…”

    Here is what happened during those six months:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1343209/The-mother-banned-TV-internet-games-consoles-months-transformed-familys-lives.html

    Scroll down to the relevant sections, and enjoy!!

    • Saleh AA Younis

      Haile:

      Ah, the irony! We wouldn’t have heard about this family had it not been…for…our…digital toys. I mean does the Daily Mail have print edition? And, if so, is that dinosaur technology used for anything more than parrot cage lining? 🙂 It reminds me of our PFDJ friends who say, “there is no free press anywhere!” and then cite the free press to make their case that there is no free press. When TV first came, some people (including smart ones) predicted that nobody would ever spend anytime staring at an idiot box. Very few people thought that anyone would have a need for more than one computer: Bill Gates was considered a visionary for predicting that every household will have ONE. Steve Jobs gambled that even poor people would spend $500 on a smart phone. Etc.

      I don’t know if you listen to any of the technology guru/futurists but one of the podcasts I subscribe to is TWIG, hosted by Leo Laporte. His co-host, Jeff Jarvis, says that he is writing a book about the New Norm. If you are talking to me and I am, while listening to you, txt messaging, checking my email, and multi-tasking, is that considered rude? In our current social norm, yes. If I text you instead of calling you, is that impersonal? In our current social norm, yes. Jeff Jarvis says, increasingly, it won’t be anymore: and that will be the New Normal.

      Are you reading me or are you too busy multi-tasking:-)

      saay

      • haile

        saay;

        Very true indeed. The question, however, seems to be whether this technology is playing the “Appearing Elephant’ trick on most people’s lives is used as intended. Cars were invented to bridge distances, not to destroy the concept of travel! But the information super highway seems to be annihilating the concept of family, healthy life styles and social development as envisaged. Instead, it seems to be creating a new forms of family (where the children are wiser than the adults), faceless friendships and sedentary behavior. I don’t think the time is ripe for conclusive research yet, but I suspect some thing is wrong. (I’ll try to Google something out :-))

  • HAILE,SOLOMON

    mr.woldu,what is it you wants us to do.as if we as eri donot have enough problems with junta,you want the whole eri to read this bougs article about the DIGITAL AGE,what a guy.

  • Saleh AA Younis

    Fessehaye:

    Love your grumpy attitude, but whether it is cavemen sitting around a campfire, or the town crier with his bull horn yelling something, or the Russian novelists with their long novels, or the stand up comedians with their five minute bits, or shabait with its “news”, or the facebookers with their status updates, or people tweeting, or youtubers commenting on a video, or awate.com commenters commenting, it is all the same thing:

    storytelling.

    Storytelling is innately human. I was talking to a big time movie producer (no name dropping) and he asked me: “do you know why you can browse TV and watch 15 seconds of TV programming that took millions of dollars to produce and turn it off? Because human beings have tens of thousands of years of evolution to know what is great storytelling and what really sucks! And they could do that, snap, in seconds.” I guess this is why people, specially immigrants, still watch Three’s Company:-) I recently read Romeo and Juliet in SMS format (text messaging, ie. interpreted by today’s teenagers in an iPhone text format) It is awesome:

    Juliet: Romeo, Romeo, where r u? I am @ the mall!

    Romeo: My dad grounded me!

    Juliet: WTH?

    Romeo: My dad found out about you. My idiot cuz Mercuto put it on FB.

    Juliet: My dad hates your dad.

    And so on…

    And the fact that you are a grouch when it comes to people asking you to follow them and friend them is also storytelling, in an Andy Rooney kinda way (Andy was also a great storyteller:-)

    Like you say, that is a matter of perspective.

    saay

    PS: I am working on something, a heavy gamble on the human urge for stories so wish me luck.

    • haile

      Dear saay
      By the time you read this, your work on storytelling might have been completed. Anyway, here is my wish list as to what I would anticipate it to be: something that points along the lines of storytelling for cultural preservation and instilling moral value that would help Eritrean Diaspora parents can utilize. It is interesting that you have identified this issue as a focus of your next work, it would be a first in venturing in this critical area. I have heck of a major problem in making up such story to tell my kids, and sadly there are neither resources or ideas on how to prepare them out there.
      Regards

      • Saleh AA Younis

        Haile:

        See, that was an example of my bad storytelling. The project I am working on has nothing to do with what you have in mind. I was trying to make the point to Fessehaye that all the move to facebook, twitter and other social media networks is part of the human urge to tell stories, and all technology does is facilitate this by making the narrative more gripping and the audience/listener/reader/viewer more engaged. A simple example: writing a script for video games is much much more complicated than writing a script for a movie because with videogames, it needs to feel different each and every time it is played. (Which is why there are more people hooked on videogames than movies: it is a more engaging form of storytelling.

        I was thinking along those lines. Have you seen the Tigrigna dubbing of the movie Shrek? Very impressive.

        • haile

          Dear saay
          aha…I get it now. I may well also have been a bad story listening on my part too. Any way, I did see the Tigrigna Shrek..and agree with your conclusions there. Since we are talking about it any way, I would like to say one or two things about what has been in my mind. I am kind of troubled by the lack of tigrigna storybooks (plenty in amharic and arabic) which consistently reflect cultural heritage as well as moral values of that segment of the Eritrean culture. I am sure the problem is even much bigger when we look at the various cultures with in Eritrea. Songs, nursery rhythms, stories in written, art or play form are all non existent. I have seen some children’s songs in ERiTv, but some how tended to be too dry and un -engaging to little children. So, I must have been too engrossed in the issue that I concluded your feedback to Fesshaye was the answer I was looking for. Thanks for clarifying though.

          Regards

  • haile

    William Powers, in “Hamlet’s BlackBerry,” says “Somebody excuses themselves for a bathroom visit or a glass of water and doesn’t return. Five minutes later, another of us exits on a similarly mundane excuse along the lines of “I have to check something.”. . . Where have all the humans gone? To their screens of course. Where they always go these days. The digital crowd has a way of elbowing its way into everything, to the point where a family can’t sit in a room together for half an hour without somebody, or everybody, peeling off. . . . As I watched the Vanishing Family Trick unfold, and played my own part in it, I sometimes felt as if love itself, or the acts of heart and mind that constitute love, were being leached out of the house by our screens”
    Thoughts are bigger than the things that deliver them. Our contraptions may shape our consciousness, but it is our consciousness that makes our credos, and we mostly live by those.
    Now television is the harmless little fireplace over in the corner, where the family gathers to watch “Entourage.” TV isn’t just docile; it’s positively benevolent. This makes you think that what made television so evil back when it was evil was not its essence but its omnipresence. Once it is not everything, it can be merely something. The real demon in the machine is the tirelessness of the user.

  • b’Alti W’qatto Arwe (As in a girl with a dragon tattoo).

    Dear Fessehaye,

    It sure is great to read you after a long hiatus. As we say it in Tigrigna, “Eed’miekha newiH eU”, it was just over the weekends as my friend and I were talking about here and there mostly about back-home politics where he said, “What happened to the “Perspective” guy, it’s been a while since he posted an article.”

    If you’ve been following on twitter or face-book the heated debate on Awate.com (pertaining the Pink Elephant(s) in our living rooms), we’ve been sort of on each other’s throats where Saleh refused to come keteAr’qena. And it is great to read your refresher article where we are treated with some thing apolitical (not related to Eritrean politics that is) and of course something of an interesting read as well.