Friday, December 16, 2011

Pandemic consumption

I have a weakness for English majors.  A case in point is Mark Bauerlein, professor of English at Emory University, and editor of The Digital Divide: Arguments for and Against Facebook, Google, Texting, and the Age of Social Networking.  In the eight-page introduction alone, I found several gems:

  • In wondering about 6,901 comments posted in response to a 2,500-word newspaper piece, Bauerlein questions "what readers think when they encounter 4,838 comments to a news story and believe that post #4,384 really matters.  Is this democratic process or fruitless vanity?"
  • "How many decades passed between the invention of the telephone and its daily use by 90 percent of the population?  Today, the path from private creation to pandemic consumption is measured in months."
  • The phrase "reclusiveness in public spaces" aptly describes how we "look the same" to others (at the coffee shop, for example) whether we are reading a book online, checking Facebook, or contributing to a malicious gossip site.  "Nobody can tell, and that precise shelter removes one of the long-standing curbs on vicious conduct, namely, exposure."
  • And, in the final paragraph:  "If we let the human realities that accompanied those older tools fall into oblivion...then we lose a part of our humanity, a historical sense of our recent selves."

More reading material...woo hoo!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Things fall apart

Poets craft distillates of our existence and experience.  Take Yeats, for example, who wrote in his The Second Coming that "(t)hings fall apart; the centre cannot hold."  Though Yeats was writing in the aftermath of the war that could only be described later as World War I and he was, arguably, deeply affected by what he had experienced, his observation transcends space and time.  Things do fall apart, despite our efforts.  And perhaps that is as it should be.

We create, we quest, we seek, we strive.  Our possessions slowly take possession of us; our tools change us.  We journey to the center, only to find that it cannot hold, regardless of the intended destination.  I am as much a product of my culture as of my DNA, which may explain some of our Western lament that things won't stay where we put them.

I realize there is a fine line between fatalism and acceptance, largely because I dance all over it most of the time.  I can argue passionately (for those who've read more of Yeats, feel free to make your own interpretation) for preserving Knowledge (which assumes there is a known or knowable body of same) and doing so in my personal favorite format--the written word.  I love my books and, while I appreciate the benefits of technology and the vast stores of information available via the internet, I am loathe to part with my sacred (to me) texts.  

But I am aware that part of my love for books is the necessary boundaries they provide. Generally speaking, my tomes don't fall apart and they hold their center quite well, both literally and figuratively.  They provide a comforting illusion, perhaps, that allows me a respite from the realities Yeats captures so well.

So, I find it oddly comforting and disturbing that David Weinberger (co-director of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab and a researcher at Harvard's Berkman Center for the Internet and Society) has given this title to his latest book:  Too Big to Know:  Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room.

I can't wait to read it.