the majority will accommodate themselves to the faceless inflexibility of platforms, and will become less and less capable of seeing the virtues of institutions, on any scale. One consequence of that accommodation, I believe, will be an increasing impatience with representative democracy, and an accompanying desire to replace political institutions with platform-based decision-making: referendums and plebiscites, conducted at as high a level as possible (national, or in the case of the EU, transnational). Which will bring, among other things, the exploitation of communities and natural resources by people who will never see or know anything about what they are exploiting. The scope of local action will therefore be diminished, and will come under increasing threat of what we might call, borrowing a phrase from Einstein, spooky action at a distance.
Source: Alan Jacobs, Text Patterns: platforms and institutions
The general feebleness, you sense, bleeds into something that is actually menacing. There’s an Orwellian quality to how language is used at HubSpot. People aren’t fired here, for example. They “graduate.” So many people graduate and disappear, you write, that “it’s like living in Argentina during the 1970s.
”HubSpot sends out, and its software helps other companies send out, tons of spam. But here spam is called — wait for it — “lovable marketing content.” This kind of jargon infects the company at every level.
Employers have learned that millennials like to feel they’re on a mission, not merely at a job, so a mission is invented. You and other new hires are told: “We’re not just selling a product here. HubSpot is leading a revolution. A movement. HubSpot is changing the world.”
Dwight Garner: Review: ‘Disrupted,’ a Tech Takedown by Dan Lyons, a.k.a. Fake Steve Jobs – The New York Times
Daily life offers endless opportunities to cultivate character-building behaviors that, once they become habitual, can nurture our weapons of resistance rather than exchange them for the conveniences of the Internet. Four of these habits stand out as essential to the preservation of an anchored identity: spending time alone, engaging in meaningful conversations, forming friendships, and pursuing an activity within a community. Imagine, if you can, an identity that’s permitted to develop with minimal interference from digital culture and you’ll begin to grasp the benefits that these four kinds of stresses can have on a self hoping to develop a healthier relationship with digitized life.
Source: The American Scholar: Saving the Self in the Age of the Selfie – James McWilliams
“It is impossible,” writes Jaron Lanier, author of You Are Not a Gadget and the recognized father of virtual reality, “to work with information technology without also engaging in social engineering.” Those responsible for “the designs of the moment,” he warns, “pull us into life patterns that gradually degrade the ways in which each of us exists as an individual.” When our lives become “defined by software,” we become “entrapped in someone else’s recent careless thoughts.” Zadie Smith, the novelist, applied this idea to Facebook and concluded “everything in it is reduced to the size of its founder. … A Mark Zuckerberg production indeed!” Although the thoughts underscoring digital designs may be careless of our interests, they are not random. They generally reward commerce over creativity, collective data over individual expression, and most notably, numbness over nearness. In these ways, they lay the basis for what Lanier calls “cybernetic totalism.”
Source: The American Scholar: Saving the Self in the Age of the Selfie – James McWilliams
We forget sometimes (or are uncomfortable in saying) that the humanities are at root about questions of value: what it means to lead a good life or how to build a just society. Toynbee never forgot. Articulate and combative, he understood that humanistic inquiry is a moral enterprise, an unfinished project of exploration and improvement. And he knew that humanists must be crusaders, that their strength lies in their capacity (and willingness) to confront members of the public with hard questions about themselves.
Ian Beacock, in Why we need Arnold Toynbee’s good life – Ian Beacock – Aeon.
Aside from issues of life and death, there is no more urgent task for American intellectuals and writers than to think critically about the salience, even the tyranny, of technology in individual and collective life. All revolutions exaggerate, and the digital revolution is no different. We are still in the middle of the great transformation, but it is not too early to begin to expose the exaggerations, and to sort out the continuities from the discontinuities. The burden of proof falls on the revolutionaries, and their success in the marketplace is not sufficient proof. Presumptions of obsolescence, which are often nothing more than the marketing techniques of corporate behemoths, need to be scrupulously examined. By now we are familiar enough with the magnitude of the changes in all the spheres of our existence to move beyond the futuristic rhapsodies that characterize much of the literature on the subject. We can no longer roll over and celebrate and shop. Every phone in every pocket contains a “picture of ourselves,” and we must ascertain what that picture is and whether we should wish to resist it. Here is a humanist proposition for the age of Google: The processing of information is not the highest aim to which the human spirit can aspire, and neither is competitiveness in a global economy. The character of our society cannot be determined by engineers.
Leon Wieseltier, in Among the Disrupted – NYTimes.com.
The rich, powerful, and well-connected always think that they and people like them (a) will end up on the right side of history and (b) will be insulated from harm — which is after all what really counts. Kelly begins his essay thus: “I once worked with Steven Spielberg on the development of Minority Report” — a lovely opener, since it simultaneously allows Kelly to boast about his connections in the film world and to dismiss Philip K. Dick’s dystopian vision as needlessly fretful. When the pre-cog system comes, it won’t be able to hurt anyone who really matters. So let’s just cue up Donald Fagen one more time and get down to the business of learning to desire whatever it is that technology wants. The one remaining spiritual discipline in Kelly’s theology is learning to love Big Brother.
Alan Jacobs, via Kevin Kelly’s New Theology – Text Patterns – The New Atlantis.
Just after the war Auden visited Harvard to read a poem to the Phi Beta Kappa Society. One of the dominant figures of American culture at that time was James Bryant Conant, Harvard’s president, who, captured by the techno-utopian mood of the war years, was striving to modernize the university and transform it into a research powerhouse focused on science and technology. In so doing he emphasized the humanities, especially the classics, far less than Harvard had done through much of its history. Auden told Alan Ansen, “When I was delivering my Phi Beta Kappa poem in Cambridge, I met Conant for about five minutes. ‘This is the real enemy,’ I thought to myself. And I’m sure he had the same impression about me.”
via Text Patterns: Audens two cheers for democracy.
In truth, as the anthropologist WEH Stanner long appreciated, the visionary realm of the Aborigines represents one of the great experiments in human thought. In place of technological wizardry, they invented a matrix of connectivity, an intricate web of social relations based on more than 100 named kin relationships. If they failed to embrace European notions of progress, it was not because they were savages, as the settlers assumed, but rather because in their intellectual universe, distilled in a devotional philosophy known as the Dreaming, there was no notion of linear progression whatsoever, no idealisation of the possibility or promise of change. There was no concept of past, present, or future. In not one of the hundreds of Aboriginal dialects and languages was there a word for time. The entire purpose of humanity was not to improve anything; it was to engage in the ritual and ceremonial activities deemed to be essential for the maintenance of the world precisely as it was at the moment of creation. Imagine if all of Western intellectual and scientific passion had focused from the beginning of time on keeping the Garden of Eden precisely as it was when Adam and Eve had their fateful conversation.
Clearly, had our species as a whole followed the ways of the Aborigines, we would not have put a man on the moon. But, on the other hand, had the Dreaming become a universal devotion, we would not be contemplating today the consequences of climate change and industrial processes that threaten the life supports of the planet.
via Wade Davis, The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond – review | Books | The Guardian.
Consumer technology products would never do anything this unattractive, because they aren’t people. They are, however, great allies and enablers of narcissism. Alongside their built-in eagerness to be liked is a built-in eagerness to reflect well on us. Our lives look a lot more interesting when they’re filtered through the sexy Facebook interface. We star in our own movies, we photograph ourselves incessantly, we click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery.
And, since our technology is really just an extension of ourselves, we don’t have to have contempt for its manipulability in the way we might with actual people. It’s all one big endless loop. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us. To friend a person is merely to include the person in our private hall of flattering mirrors.
via Jonathan Franzen Continues to Hate Technology – Technology – The Atlantic Wire.