Death of the Novel – Saturation of Digital Media

I’ll continue my look at the death of the novel by turning a quick light to our cultural saturation of digital media.  Unlike any other time in history we have unprecedented access to enormous amounts of information and communications and we have not developed the capacity (or are mentally/emotionally/physically/spiritually able) to handle it.

We’ve had  illusions of a 4 day workweek for decades, we’ve streamlined communication lines and found new efficiencies in productivity system, and we’ve collected massive amounts of information for instant references unlike any other time in history…and yet, we often cannot see the forest from the trees.

We become confused by Facebook friends and what does “liking” something really require of me.  We immerse ourselves in online roleplaying games from gaming consoles and massive multiplayer rpg’s like Second Life that not only simulate complete alternative universes but have the potential to create financially sustainable livelihood creating products for Linden Dollars (note: current Linden to USD is approximately 270:1). We completely orient ourselves to our PVR recording, time shifting, HD/3D television regimen.  We also have our smartphones hardwired to received every single text, email, rss feed, push notification, tweet, newsfeed and foursquare ping at a second’s notice – rising in righteous anger at an unthinkable 3 minute delay.

We don’t know what it means to unplug any more.  We don’t know what life really looks like not mediated through some type of screen.  Despite all of these advances we are no happier, contented, wealthy or holistically balanced then previous generation…yet, we all believe that we’re on some path to self-fulfilment.  We believe that we’re close to reaching some social harmony in which the profileration of web 2.0/3.0, the release of the collaborative genii from the bottle will only produce great humanistic leaps forward in our societies, governments, communities and in ourselves.  I simply do not believe this is the case and in our fast-tracking to digital integration we lose track of a leisurely pace. A pace that creates space for thought, self-development, self-critique and learning to sense the rhythms in life around us and in the people in close proximity to us.  We don’t know what we’re missing but we think that our pixels will recreate anything that we’re lacking.

In his amazing book “You are not a Gadget: A Manifesto”,  Jaron Lanier (a silicon valley veteran technologist) wrote an challenging thesis on how we (as a culture and as individuals) are not doing the necessary work to think about how the technology we use is affected our understanding of what it means to be human and in relationship to others.  We focus solely on the novelty, the productivity, the product-sexiness, but not on how each new form of technology inevitably becomes and extension of ourselves… for good or for bad.  Here are a few quotes from his book:

“I fear that we are beginning to design ourselves to suit digital models of us, and I worry about a leaching of emphaty and humanity in that process.”

“Individual web pages as they first appeared in the early 1990s had the flavour of person-hood. MySpace preserved some of that flavour, though a process of regularized formatting had begun. Facebook went further, organizing people into multiple-choice identities while Wikipedia seeks to erase point of view entirely. If a church or government were doing these things, it would feel authoritarian, but when technologists are the culprits, we seem hip, fresh, and inventive. People accept ideas presented in technological form that would be abhorrent in any other forms”

“A fashionable idea in technical circles is that quantity not only turns into quality at some extreme of scale, but also does so according to principles we already understand. Some of my colleagues think a million, or perhaps a billion, fragmentary insults will eventually yield wisdom that surpasses that of any well-thought-out essay, so long as sophisticated secret statistical algorithms recombine the fragments. I disagree. A trope from the early days of computer science comes to mind: garbage in, garbage out.”

You would on learn this…by reading.  Quietly, thoughtfully.  Maybe with a pen in hand to underline points.  If you don’t have a copy…give me a shout and I can loan you mine.


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