Sunday, January 22, 2006

Is life a task bar?

John Naisbitt – High Tech High Touch

His thing is that we are drunk on technology.  He lists six symptoms:
1. We favour the quick fix, from religion to nutrition
2. We fear and worship technology
3. We blur the distinction between real and fake
4. We accept violence as normal
5. We love technology as a toy
6. We live our lives distanced and distracted

One thing he said was that we live our lives in front of screens.  I can see all those things in TV and internet and video games, but I didn’t see it in cell phones or communication devices.  So I raised this point with my group.  I said that I find I am more open and can compose my thoughts better when using instant messaging on my computer and cell phones is just talking to another person.  The answer was quite enlightening.  They said that it created a surreal environment, if I find it easier to think in front of my computer instead of in front of my best friend it is just a way of getting out of learning how to communicate and talk.  The same goes with cell phones.  They create a new space in which to meet, one that isn’t real.

The printing press was a new technology at one time.  Before it students built their library by copying a book out by hand.  I think it is fair to say that the printing press created a new space.  So should books be included in this category of technology?  

I don’t think so, books are very hard to get published, you have to take the time to complete a series of thoughts and argue through something.  There are a lot of books that might not meet this requirement, but my point is that it is a lot easier to publish an instant message, or a text message than a book; books don’t have that instant quality.  Even reading a book takes a long time.  

It is all in a quest to avoid silence.  If I don’t have anything to say in an instant message I just do something else.  Has life become a task bar where we can just switch from one application to another?


malachijones said...

Hey man... a couple thoughts.

First, I agree with you that books are not just another, older technology on par with cell phones, internet or what not. I think part of what makes it fundamentally different, apart from your strong reasons, book offer progressive dialogue. By authoring a book on a particular subject you are forced to back up your material using the comprehensive body of work that has already been presented. You cannot author a book in a vacuum - you must deal with other collaborative or contradictory viewpoints.
Secondly, you are given as much space as necessary to fully articulate your point. Much of the cheapening of modern communication has been found in our inability to focus long enough to delve deep into the material being presented. We want bit-sized, media friendly excerpts or "Coles Notes" rather than invest the necessary time. By writing you are expected to cover a multitude of angles and perspectives because, presumably, those reading your work have some vested interest in understandin what you are communicating.

The second comment I wanted to make was about the pseudo-communication of Instant Messenger, Email, text messaging, or any form of digital, immediate communication. Really it can be considered communication but it lacks the quality and sincerity of legitmate communication for two reasons:
1) When we use these modes of communication we begin to communicate in a manner that is inconsistent with our actual character. All you have to do is log onto XBOX live and hear the atrocious comments from on-line gamers who are saying horrific things in a manner of speech that they would not normally do in a face to face conversation. We often speak in sound bites and expect our dialogue partner to understand our context, motive and inflection - assumptions we would not make face to face . We feel more liberty in posturing or ego-stroking when we are the center of the conversation because ultimately we are in control of all aspects of communication (i.e. method, form, style, schedule). And if our counterpart is offended, misunderstands or is simply confused it becomes their inability to understand that is the issue.
2) Despite the power of technology to bring people together it still divides people along different fronts. An example: How do you deal with the technological lag between a fast typer and a slow typer? This seems minimal but it can be significant. I remember getting into a spiritual discussion with someone on IM (or ICQ) and they were asking specific questions of faith...questions they wanted answers to. The person I was talking to wrote so fast that not only were they able to ask multiple questions before I was able to read their first comment, but if I delayed in answering/offering perspective they saw it as a ploy or my inability to represent myself. Often people get caught up in "real relationships" through on-line activities but ultinmately you are getting into a pseudo-relationship with whomever someone is presenting themselves to be. If I only highlighted by positive character traits and features, while erasing my negative, I can become a pretty affable person...illegitmate but affable.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gopher,

I found it interesting how you compared books to instant messaging. Currently I am working on an essay for this class. The length of the paper that I now have probably equates to how many pages I have thrown out. My frustration with this project is pushing the brinks of my mind. Your comment on instant messaging versus reflective literature made me realize why one is so easy to produce and the other is not. Why the former is so shallow in thought and the latter is so rich.
In an instant message it is easy to spout off a brilliant thought or two. Since we are in a dialogue with another person, we can build off one another’s ideas. What we write is our instant reaction to something. It’s emotion filled and reactionary.
Where the true challenge lay, is in the ability to compose meaningful thoughts- intricately propose and support them, have them fall under a common umbrella (a thesis) and all the while have a flowing argument. This challenge is unbelievably difficult for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, although what you are writing is a dialogue for the reader, while writing it you are in a dialogue with only yourself. This is extremely difficult because it forces us to face ourselves. What do we truly think about the subject on hand? Are we proud of the opinions we have? Do we truly believe in our opinion, or is our opinion what others have encouraged us to believe? When writing a dialogue with yourself, these are the questions that confront you.
Secondly, throughout writing a long piece of literature, like a book, ones opinions are constantly evolving as they learn and absorb new information. Instant messaging is shallow in that the conversations we have normally do not allow us to evolve in our minds. If it is a debate, which I assume is the most intelligent form of communication possibly carried out in instant messaging, one is not open to new ideas but stubborn in arguing that their opinion the right opinion. How can one evolve in an instant? What meaningful message can be communicated in a chat room?
These are the reasons why I say that instant messaging is a shallow, mindless form of communication while literature is not. Unlike instant messaging, an essay requires reflection on information, and reflection of oneself. It is not quick fix, and it is not instantaneous. Maybe if our world demanded more reflection on worthy material we would be a more mindful society. Email (particularly office memos), texting, and instant messaging are all mindless forms of communication. They are forms of dialogue that do not require any cultivation or evolution of thought. Perhaps if we faced the true challenge of absorbing all the information available to us in our contemporary Age of Information, we would not be so amused by the degenerating toys that eat away our time and minds.
A Voice for Women