Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Only Disconnect" - The pathology of digital of connectivity

Alas, it seems increasingly clear that to follow E.M. Forster’s dictum “Only Connect” (i.e. with humans in person, what our emotional brain evolved to do.) it is also necessary to follow Evgeny Morozov’s more recent dictum (and title of his review of several several books) “Only Disconnect.” (with the pseudo-connectivity of our tweets,followers, facebook friends, blog hits, google+ plus counts, Klout numbers, Thumbs up or downs, Shout outs, Likes, etc.). I will pass on some clips from Morozov's article. After noting descriptions by the Weimar Republic's literary luminary Siegfried Kracauer of the public over stimulation of his day, and his remedy of 'radical boredom' as an antidote, Morozov continues:
These days, "the state of permanent receptivity" has become the birthright of anyone with a smartphone. We are under constant assault by "interestingness"...the anti-boredom lobby has all but established its headquarters in Silicon Valley...
Information overload can bore us as easily as information underload. But this form of boredom, mediated boredom, doesn't provide time to think; it just produces a craving for more information in order to suppress it.
Morozov quotes from French philosopher Henri Lefebvre from the early 1960's
Today everything comes to an end virtually as soon as it begins, and vanishes almost as soon as it appears..As interest in it gets progressively weaker, so news becomes more rapid and concentrated, until finally, at the end of a shorter and shorter period, it wears itself..We have the phoney "new" faked novelty..The confusion between triviality which no longer appears trivial and sensationalism which is made to appear ordinary is cleverly organized. New shrinks to the size of the socially instantaneous, and the immediate instant tends to disappear in an instant which has already passed.
And then, Morozov notes:
I should admit that I'm something of a "contemplative computing" devotee, which is also to say, a distraction addict. Last year, I bought a safe with a built-in timer that I use to lock away my smartphone and Internet cable for days on end. (Tools like Freedom didn't work for me - they are too easy to circumvent.
What's needed is a modern-day counterpart to the anti-noise campaigners of a century ago.. Information deserve its own environmentalism....what is modernity if not a collection of pickets of silence and distraction? Consider the Amtrak train: yes, we get Wi-Fi, but we also get the Quiet Car..Both radical boredom and radical distraction can get us closer to "authentic rapture within the inauthentic domain." The trick is not to settle for their tepid, mediocre versions.
Likewise, the possibility of controlled disconnection - embedded in software like Freedom and harware like my safe - reassures us that our task lists and deadlines are manageable, if we approach them with distraction. Like travel and dance, both are illusions concocted by modernity... Life in the New Digital Age might be disorienting, but at least it isn't nasty, brutish, and short. Not in the Quiet Car, anyway.

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