Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tune Out, Turn Off, Drop Out

There were a couple of interesting questions posted on Quora today. One was "What does everyone need to know about writing?" (with 109 answers) and one was "Why would someone pay $140M for Jackson Pollock's"No. 5"? (with 27).Both are questions that interest me, and ones that I myself would be tempted to attempt an answer to, had I but world enough and time.

I like the idea of Quora, and have been browsing it more frequently of late, but I don't usually have the time to sit down and scroll through , say, 109 answers. So far at least, I tend to look at the list of questions in the email update I get each day, check out and bookmark the ones that interest me, skim the list of answers (there were some answers to the Pollock question which looked to be very carefully developed, complete with photo illustrations of different kinds of art in sequence), and then go on with my day. It seems silly to print out 25 pages of comments just to be cull the ones I want to think about or respond to, but I am not really adept at or interested in doing a ton of scrolling either. (I was just checking back at the site and between the tools already available on the page and the annotation tools available through Diigo, maybe I could find a way to interact with the site in a way that works for me. Some day. Maybe.

But as of this point Quora hasn't wormed its way into my daily life in the way that Blogger and Tumblr and Pinterest have.(Conservative estimate of those three sites at this point in my life: two hours a day. The only way I get away with it? I don't watch television. Period.) Since Google Reader went down I haven't been keeping up with the blogs I was following either. (There is a site called The Old Reader that replicates Google Reader, and I set up an account there and transferred all my subscriptions, but I fell out of the habit of using it and at this point don't even remember which browser I had it set up in or what my username or password is. Note to self: track it down. ) And I've got accounts with Facebook and Twitter too that at this point I barely ever manage to keep up with, not to mention the subscriptions I've got on Flipboard on my iPad, the print magazines that arrive in the mail, the books waiting on my desk and on my Kindle. There's only so much time in a day. There are only so many things I can keep track of.

One of the things I like value about writing is that it is a kind of forced-choice path away from that mode of processing. It's linear. It's accumulative. It's slow. It's about putting one sentence down on the way to getting to the next sentence and the sentence after that. (Although in fact  there are skips and reversals and recursions. Although chronologically every word I have written has come after the words I wrote before, the order in which you are experiencing this text as a reader is not the order in which I wrote it. This paragraph, for example, was inserted as a second-thought elaboration after I wrote the two paragraphs which follow.) Writing is in this sense at least potentially a practice of mindfulness, like meditation or yoga, and in its analog linearity an antidote to the nonlinear horizontality of the digital realm.

There's been a ton of articles written over the last few years about the deluge of online options competing for our attention, what it may or may not be doing to our brains, and what it clearly IS doing to our patterns of social interaction. Every time I go to the mall to walk I have to be careful not to be run down by people who are texting while they walk and navigating the crowds not with their eyes but with a kind of intuitional proprioception. If I stop to sit down to rest or eat, the odds are that most of the people in sight will be scanning screens. I've seen families at dinner where mom, dad, and the two kids are all on their phones at the same time, ignoring each other.

So where are we going with this? Are we on a parabolic curve that is only going to get steeper?  Will our brains cease to be able to function the way they once did? Will all of humanity wind up being electronically collected to a hive brain that will create a superintelligent metahuman terrestrial entity? Or will there perhaps be some kind of backlash or backtracking or reversion to the mean at some point? Stay tuned.

Or, alternatively, breathe. Tune out, Turn off, drop out.

No comments: