A COUPLE of decades into it, we’re still figuring out what the Internet is doing to us, as individuals and as a society. A fascinating interview with the author of a new book, The End of Absence, get at this in a nuanced way.
Author Michael Harris talks about the difference between the digital era and the age of Gutenberg, the importance of solitude and contemplation, what’s happening to our memories, and the value of “fasting” from the Internet. He refers to the Internet taking us back to “stereotypically adolescent frame of mind where you’re constantly hoping for the approval of others instead of finding it from your own heart or own sense of self.”
(I love this interview not only because the interlocutor is my beloved wife.)
Here’s one of the exchanges in the piece:
A lot of people — when they hear people talk about their fears about technology and where we’re headed and what it’s doing to our sociology and what it’s doing to our lives, some people will respond, “It’s just a tool. I don’t understand what’s the problem.” That feeling that like, “We’re in control. The computer’s not in control, so why are you freaking out about this stuff?”
A couple of people while I was working on the book have called me a Luddite, but I think people who use that word “Luddite” actually don’t know what a Luddite is, because if you look at what the Luddites really were historically, they weren’t so much anti-technology as they were pro-human. They were actually fighting for workers’ rights at an age when mechanical tools were being used by a manufacturing elite to really trample human rights. So I feel like I am in the Luddite position in that truer sense, because it isn’t about technology good or technology bad, and I would never take that stance. It’s just technology is a dangerous, beautiful tool that we have; you’re right. And we need to become intelligent about the way that we use those tools. I think that we’ve gone through this very giddy ride of absorbing new communication technologies, and what we’re hitting now is a point where we have to start becoming intelligent about our media diets in the same way that we had to become intelligent about our food diets after we got a super abundance of sugar and fats at our disposal.
Looking forward to reading Michael Harris’s book.