EDIT: Looks like that link is a little overloaded right now... This one works: https://www.ele.uri.edu/faculty/vetter/Other-stuff/The-Machi...
The original short story is breathtaking for both its foresight and salience. It belongs with those titans of dystopia, 1984 and Brave New World. In some ways, it is perhaps even more relevant to today's world, given the rise of all encompassing distributed computing juggernauts like Google and Facebook. These systems have gotten so big and so complex, it seems beyond the capability of any individual to rein them in.
One time he was working in an old house and found a very old mimeographed copy of that story hidden in the walls. He took this to suggest that the story or the author were somehow subversive or secret and became really motivated to read it. It is the only thing I'd ever known him to read, much less seen him at it with my own eyes.
I think for him that was like an unlikely collection of perfect circumstances because he loved the story and his experiences around it. I suspect in his mind he had been exposed to some sort of forbidden knowledge and that pleased him greatly.
I fail to see how it's ironic, given that the original story was about a button-pressing utopia. The utopia wasn't so simplistic and purile as people having things read to them, or watching movies instead of reading, but instead, people refused to do proper research, trusting written accounts from people several times removed from the original texts, like some obscene all-encompassing version of 'telephone'. People who were, ultimately, afraid of curiosity.
Why is there this prejudice that virtual life is dehumanizing? Talking through the social network apps is social life.
Whether it is quality talk or not, dehumanizing or not, I don't see much difference with the good old analogical talking - namely it depends on what are you talking about and with whom.
The loss of non verbal communication was also a thing in epistolary communication, a common practice for all social classes (even those who couldn't read or write would manage to get letters or postcards written for them); and that was considered a cultivated social activity, not at all dehumanizing either.
It’s amazing most people have no clue that they are mapping their mood state onto their own interpretation of someone’s text messages. We evolved to read non-verbal communication.
Key and Peele have a great skit on this:
> Young People and Politics, Kirkintilloch Herald, 1938
Life is not so simple though. What terrifies me about naive techno-optimists is how they shrug their shoulders and bypass incredibly complex issues, for which entire scientific fields, philosophy, works of literature and millennia of thought and experience exist, with some super-simplistic tech analogy. As if it all boils down to superficial things such as delight, profit, user experience, "quality of interaction", information exchange, "retina display", touch-this-or-that, etc etc etc.
It doesn't. The medium is not just some inert thing, not just a tool. New technologies that create new mediums tend to profoundly change society in ways that were not envisioned by the inventors of said technologies. We can talk about how the printing press led to Protestantism, or how TV changed family structures, political messages and even styles of war.
A social network app comes with a lot of things attached, not least among them a company seeking rapid growth by selling ads. To sell more ads, they do two main things: they try to know more about their users so that they can target the ads more precisely and they try to change the user behavior so that they spend more time interacting with the app. The well-being or own interest of the user are not factors in that equation. Entire dimensions of freedom are disappearing with this new type of interaction: the freedom to be alone, the freedom to set your own social norms (with whom do you feel comfortable swearing or telling offensive jokes), the freedom to have an intimate conversation without worrying about the possible existence of a precise log of this conversation god knows where and under the control of whom, the freedom to express a political opinion in public without worrying about what a potential employer might think about that one decade from now. The freedom for kids to spend time with no adult supervision, learning how to be autonomous and discovering their own identity! Or to have a place to retreat from bullies, instead of being exposed to them 24/7.
Yes, it is dehumanizing to have our communication channels and mediums being gradually and inexorably replaced by new ones where a powerful third-party is always listening, always present, always making small tweaks to subtly guide us to behaviors that they would prefer we adopted. Always setting the rules of our private interactions, of our most intimate things. Maybe they think this is all quite invisible but it is not. More and more, even the technically naive can feel their presence, and it has a chilling effect on culture and society.
I love technology, but I love it for what it is. Technology is neither good nor bad, people do good or bad things. Technology is a power amplifier, and some technology that is so powerful that allows for things so good that one could only dream of before, normally also allows for things so bad that one could only have nightmares about before. Case in point: going to the moon vs. intercontinental ballistic missiles. And side-effects we are not intelligent enough to foresee, because we are not intelligent enough to fully understand such levels of complexity. So we have to remain eternally vigilant, distrust simple solutions and slogans and try to educate ourselves and others, instead of embarking in childish, simplistic optimism. This is all very serious business. Ask the inventor of the web what he thinks about how things turned out.
For those that agree with the idea that long stretches of silence can be important for meaningful internal dialogue and mental health:
One amazing life hack that I have found to work almost anywhere in the world (e.g. when travelling - or not):
search ‘adoration times <city/town/location>’ and find some welcoming empty space to sit in silence ... and no one will question you.
Nobody questions going for a run. GReat way to find some alone quiet time no matter where you are, what you're doing, or who you're with.
After that, I realized running can be a privledge in many neighboorhoods (women runners take on a whole different level of risk as well unfortunately...)
Thanks for putting a name to this. I now know why I love getting out to the wilderness.
Contrast with "A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley", admittedly written several years later and about phones specifically rather than the internet in general, which opens "The people who are closest to a thing are often the most wary of it. Technologists know how phones really work, and many have decided they don’t want their own children anywhere near them."
> Oliver Sacks, who died in 2015, was the author of many books, including “Musicophilia,” “Gratitude,” and “The River of Consciousness.” A final collection of his essays, “Everything in Its Place,” will be published in April.
Also relevant: https://xkcd.com/1601/.