Sunday, March 4, 2012

Technology, Smart Phones, and Standing By Words

Tonight I saw Andrew W.K. in concert. How interesting it was! What fun it was!

But I saw a person using a smart phone in the middle of the concert and I had a thought. This title came to mind and I knew I had something to write. 

It was a shocking moment because the room was so collectively effervescent. A term I've heard attributed to Durkheim. Don't you just feel the magic of a crowd sometimes? The collective effervescence of the moment? 

A smart phone, though, temporarily banishes that communal energy. It creates a space separate from the moment in which we can escape the bodies and minds around us.

And this is where I begin to write seriously.

The problem with technology is that it encourages us to have a certain relationship to time. That is, technology implicitly tells us to think about the future. The process of developing technology is always about what can be created in the future, what the next advances will be. The use of technology, too, often inclines us to think about the present, about the elsewhere. We use technology to organize our lives, to plan the future, to keep in touch with people distant from us. All of which is great, incredibly useful, invaluable. These uses of technology, however, are similar in that they incline us to think about the future instead of the present. 

Perhaps it is possible to speculate about the future, as technology necessitates, and still remain in the present moment. Perhaps we can use technology and still be mindful. I'm not sure. But the Wendell Berry of the mid 80s believed that thoughts about the future often came at the expense of the present. Moreover, Berry believed that excessive thought about the future compromise our capacity for honesty. “People speaking out of this technological willingness,” Berry argues, “cannot speak precisely, for what they are talking about does not yet exist. They cannot mean what they say because their words are avowedly speculative. They cannot stand by their words because they are talking about, if not in, the future, where they are not standing and cannot stand until long after they have spoken. All the grand and perfect dreams of technologists are happening in the future, but nobody is there” (Ibid., 60). 

I worry about the cultural consequences of the internet. 

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