I read an entire article on the plane Sunday morning. It was a long article (and a long plane ride). I want to get that out there to counter the crux of the article from Michiko Kakutani at the New York Times.
I read it in the Herald Tribune which likely doesn't have much to do with anything other than my confusion seeing the article in both places (Yup, I know they are both owned by the NYTimes). My blog title is a quote from her article and sums up its focus.
What starts out as a review of “Reality Hunger” by David Shields, evolves into a long warning shot across the bow of the Internet and its affect on our ability to focus, appreciate books and facts. Serendipitously, that same article was sent around internally at work as a thought-provoker which is exactly what it was.
Michiko goes off in quite a few directions - one reason its a great read. And while I know she is onto something, I am less fearful that culture is in a death spiral of attention deficit disorder. Here's some of where she goes (please read her articleas I am woefully unqualified to recap it in several bullets and even my attempt to do so proves out some of the points made about the inadequacies of casual commentary):
- we live in a world that likely favors the mash-up over the original works
- we are all getting a wee bit reactive in our lives and our ability to pro-actively form a thought is weaker by the megabyte
- traditional media and news caters to this appetite for snippets
- in the process of twittering our every moment, we pass judgment to form an opinion over the slightest thing ("so far, Act One in the new play is shaping up well....") with no thought to experiencing the "whole" of anything
If there were one quote that captures the spirit of the article it is this,
"...Nor is it simply a question of experts and professionals being challenged by an increasingly democratized marketplace. It’s also a question, as Mr. Lanier, 49,(Jason Lanier) astutely points out in his new book, “You Are Not a Gadget,” of how online collectivism, social networking and popular software designs are changing the way people think and process information, a question of what becomes of originality and imagination in a world that prizes “metaness” and regards the mash-up as “more important than the sources who were mashed.” "
Evolution Not Devolution
Set aside my POV on the decline of traditional journalism, let me speak from my own experience. I drink from the firehose of the Internet everyday. It saps my attention and my ability to proactively do anything as I am lured into the sweet embrace of only having to react to things (Email is the real culprit here, not blogs or tweets). Until I stop, put down the firehose, and make something. And I make a lot of things, most of which are not comprised consciously of other works. Okay, yes, I just wrote a blog post that referred to a great book review, but c'mon...
Much of what Michiko cites - derivative works, reality and sensational media, even mashups (was Juan Gris a mash-up artist?) - have all been going on well before the Internet. I don't think we are going to hell in a handbasket - unless we let ourselves.
The rapid fire world of social media has delivered the following benefits to me:
1. I am much more frequently collaborating with a growing network of people from around the world - sharing ideas, riffing off each other's starts and creating new works that are not the patchwork quilt of crowd opinions but something stronger
2. I have met more people by communicating online, following the million bread crumb-trails from this person to that and often meeting them in person on my travels. These are wide variety of folks and not me finding my niche all over the globe
3. All the personalized services and subscriptions have not wrung out the serendipity from my life - quite the opposite. Now I stumble upon (intended reference) more new ideas I have never considered than ever before
I do think the Internet and all that it has wrought is changing us. It will destroy some institutions. It will build new ones. And mostly it will do what everyone has been crowing about for years - empower the motivated individual to be heard and maybe even have an impact. As for unintended consequences? That supposes we even know what the intended ones are.