A little about change we inflict on ourselves

The terminal portion of the optic nerve and it...

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I liked the beginning:

They gave her The Device when she was only 2 years old. It sent signals along the optic nerve that swiftly transported her brain to an alternate universe—a captivating other world. By the time she was 7 she would smuggle it into school and engage it secretly under her desk. By 15 the visions of The Device—a girl entering a ballroom, a man dying on the battlefield—seemed more real than her actual adolescent life. She would sit with it, motionless, oblivious to everything around her, for hours on end. Its addictive grip was so great that she often stayed up half the night, unable to put it down.

When she grew up, The Device dominated her house: no room was free from it, no activity, not even eating or defecating, was carried on without its aid. Even when she made love it was the images of The Device that filled her mind. Psychologists showed that she literally could not disengage from it—if The Device could reach the optic nerve, she would automatically and inescapably be in its grip. Neuroscientists demonstrated that large portions of her brain, parts that had once been devoted to understanding the real world, had been co-opted by The Device.

A tale of the dystopian technological future? No, just autobiography. The Device is, of course, the printed book and I’ve been its willing victim all my life.

via Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Will the digital revolution really change us? – By Alison Gopnik – Slate Magazine.

I just really like these two paragraphs, but then added some more ramblings below…

Firstly, all “greatest danger to our civilization ever” writings remind me a discussion before the “Device” was even invented. From “Phaedrus“:

“…you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”

At some point I really have to wonder – so what if these things, devices and technologies, change us? Is not change the constant and stability an aberration? Seeking to preserve what we are only grasping to understand – incompletely and painfully naively as the past state of our existence seems doomed to failure – and for what? Is the seeking to preserve, catalog, keep from disappearing just a knee-jerk reaction for a people who are lost in their own world, and are afraid to lose what little grasp of reality they (I?) hold? I think at this point few people hold to any kind of optimistic promise of technology – to make our lives better, easier; yet we reap its benefits all the time. Technology has fulfilled much of its promises, but what people earn for has never been technology or its abilities. I think “experts” are confused too – conflating ease of accepting today’s technology as a given with transformation or change of some abstract human nature.

I happen to think that, by and large, human nature is immutable, or at least extremely slowly d/evolving. If it were not – we would not be able to relate to Gilgamesh or Noah, care about D’Artagnan and Luke Skywalker, and have any reaction whatsoever to Scarlett O’Hara and Snooky. And if so – then being able to call out Facebook or Skype for ruining the civilization is a little simplistic and pessimistic not about technology, but humans themselves.

I, of course, am extremely partial to this version of Skywalker – who might invent the next “Device”:


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