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!!