Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"New York Times Editor Is a Horrible Troll Who Doesn't Understand the Modern World"

My goodness, the myopic idea that modern communication media make us stupid is still kicking around. Well, at least here's a good rebuttal.

Update:
Jes said:
Well, here's my side of the story. Back when I was in high school, before I had internet access, I was painfully shy. And believe me, painful is the only way to describe it. I was basically incapable of communicating with people. When I did get internet access, I very slowly, steadily started talking to people online. It helped me get some experience with interacting with people. And I also came into contact with certain ideas that helped me conquer my insecurities. These are things that I never would've been exposed to without the internet.

These days, I have a pretty decent social life. Sure, a lot of it's still online, but I hang out with my friends in real life, I talk to girls everyday, go on dates, and I'm working on getting a band together. I probably spend less than five minutes a day on facebook, and I've never used twitter. People say that modern technology deteriorates a person's social skills, but it drastically improved mine.

Still, I'm not going to pretend it's all great. There's obviously something addictive about modern communication. And I do think it cripples a person's social skills if they rely on it too much. Ya know, like how that anonymous guy that hangs around here seems to think the way he communicates is normal. It's usually pretty obvious to me when a person's spent too much time on the internet.

But for me, it's been a great thing for the most part. I'd just hate to think where my life would be right now if I never had the internet. I imagine I'd be in a very, very dark place.

9 comments:

Dave Nielsen said...

There was a time, not so long ago, when it was possible to be versed in all the world's ideas. Men like Benjamin Franklin were able to master the accumulated knowledge we as humans had built up over the whole of our history. That's impossible now!

It was impossible even in Benjamin Franklin's day. Aristotle is probably the last man to have been capable of that. Considering only about 10% of the books existing in his time have survived to the present day it may not have been possible even then.

The era of The Great Man, if it ever existed, is past. We are all smaller pieces of the pie now. Our achievements tend less towards great leaps than incremental change.

This one is true but depressing. It's sad that the age of the lone genius toiling away solo, emerging with a new world-shaking idea is gone (e.g Newton, Darwin, Einstein, etc.). This guy makes it sound like no big deal.

We are becoming specialists. That doesn't make us dumb.

Actually it does, but even if it didn't it certainly does diminish us. Heinlein was right on when he wrote this:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Maybe a bit overthetop and includes things I have no interest in doing (like planning an invasion or butchering a hog...although if you're going to eat meat you probably should learn...and he doesn't say carry out an invasion just plan one) but mostly I think he's correct. I also don't care for dying gallantly but to be able to, to have the balls, to step up in a 1940 Battle of Britain kind of way.

If you are like me, most of your daily interactions with other people take place electronically.

Unfortunately they do. I work from home. This wasn't a choice. Even though I still socialize after work hours, it's still pretty isolated and depressing. At first I thought I wouldn't miss co-workers and all the bullshit that goes with working in an office but I do. There was also a lot of good stuff that went with it. And, while I still socialize with some work friends people of the future, working from home from the get-go, won't even meet those people. No stopping off at a bar or a restaurant on the way home. That sort of thing. It will become more and more common. Even if that's not your reality today, all this technology and especially social networking and stuff like that does still distance you from other people. I've seen people texting to each other when they're sitting right across from each other. Funny in a comic strip, sad in reality.

Yet that does not mean that your interactions in those mediums are any less genuine, or less soulful, even if they take place more rapidly.

I'd argue that by definition they are less genuine and less soulful. How could they not be?

tools like Facebook, and Twitter, and email and the Web serve not simply as communication aids, but as the connective tissue of modern relationships.

Not so. When I was on Facebook I suddenly had all these friends I hadn't seen since high school, from whom I'd drifted apart for a reason. The people I'm already friends with and see regularly I don't need to have as friends on Facebook. Which is why I quit. Well, of course people say you never really can quit. I guess my deleted account is probably still there.

Dave Nielsen said...

Twitter, and any technology, is what you make of it. If you choose to do superficial things there, you will have superficial experiences. If you use it to communicate with others on a deeper level, you can have more meaningful experiences that make you smarter, build lasting relationships, and generally enhance your life.

Twitter is a very bad example, as 140 characters isn't enough to communicate on a "deeper level." Even Stephen Fry admits that.

His criticism echoes what previous generations said about television, about newspapers about pamphlets and even about the written word itself. In fact, it's strikingly similar to the argument Socrates leveled against writing (which presumably Keller is in favor of)

Those criticisms were accurate, though, really. Even what Socrates said about writing. It has a detrimental effect on memory. In that case gain outweighs loss, but still it's a valid and accurate criticism. I'm not sure the benefits of Twitter are as obvious. Can anyone make a persuasive (or better yet irrefutable) argument that Twitter is anything more than a wank? This dude mentions later in the article about how up until the 15th century people were able to memorize huge amounts of information. I don't consider this loss to be that big of a deal because the information is contained in books, and as long as we retain the ability to find that information ourselves we're okay. When we rely on computers to search through a text we might begin to have a problem.

But Keller seems to mistake the changing nature of the way our brains work to process information and communicate with us having lost something as a society. That's just not true.

In your opinion. Neither writer gives us any evidence of course. It's all just opinion.

If we become unable to recognize simple patterns in data with our eyes because we have built machines that can see complex ones our brains could not process in many lifetimes, are we truly intellectually bereft for it?

Well, yes, because if the technology fails we could be far worse off. Isaac Asimov wrote a story about a society that, through centuries of computers doing all their thinking for them, a man who could do mental arithmetic became a secret weapon. How can it not be considered a bad thing to lose the abilities like that? Maybe penmanship is no big loss. Other things like the ability to do basic calculations - for example converting from metric to imperial or vice versa without using Google, converting Fahrenheit to Celsius, etc. - would be a big loss.

Memorization was once a tool for preserving information. But today the more important skill is the ability to process and filter it. To quickly decide what needs to be analyzed and responded to, and what ought to be ignored. That's not a cognitive loss, it's an evolutionary advancement.

An evolutionary advancement? No, not when computers are doing that for us. It might not seem a big deal to have a computer do something like the for us when most of us retain the ability to do it ourselves if we had to, future generations might never learn that skill.

Jes said...

Well, here's my side of the story. Back when I was in high school, before I had internet access, I was painfully shy. And believe me, painful is the only way to describe it. I was basically incapable of communicating with people. When I did get internet access, I very slowly, steadily started talking to people online. It helped me get some experience with interacting with people. And I also came into contact with certain ideas that helped me conquer my insecurities. These are things that I never would've been exposed to without the internet.

These days, I have a pretty decent social life. Sure, a lot of it's still online, but I hang out with my friends in real life, I talk to girls everyday, go on dates, and I'm working on getting a band together. I probably spend less than five minutes a day on facebook, and I've never used twitter. People say that modern technology deteriorates a person's social skills, but it drastically improved mine.

Still, I'm not going to pretend it's all great. There's obviously something addictive about modern communication. And I do think it cripples a person's social skills if they rely on it too much. Ya know, like how that anonymous guy that hangs around here seems to think the way he communicates is normal. It's usually pretty obvious to me when a person's spent too much time on the internet.

But for me, it's been a great thing for the most part. I'd just hate to think where my life would be right now if I never had the internet. I imagine I'd be in a very, very dark place.

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. "

But why? In my experience, the only thing a human being has to do is feed himself.

eolake said...

Thanks Jes, I'm glad you wrote this. I always think the Net is an overwhelmingly positive thing, but it helps to be reminded that for some it can even be very important in more personal ways too.

I'm sure one could write a thick book with just *one* example each of different ways digital communication has improved communication for somebody.

Dave Nielsen said...

Your reply is very disappointing, even if it's unsurprising.

Dave Nielsen said...

But why? In my experience, the only thing a human being has to do is feed himself.

Some people want to live, not just exist.

Jes said...

"Some people want to live, not just exist."

Yeah, but that's the thing. All those things take time to learn, and most sound like more trouble than they're worth in my personal opinion. I mean, cool bragging rights if you get there, but I'd rather spend my time with something I enjoy.

"Your reply is very disappointing, even if it's unsurprising."

Dude, don't take this the wrong way, but aren't you a little too old to be acting like that?

Dave Nielsen said...

Yeah, but that's the thing. All those things take time to learn, and most sound like more trouble than they're worth in my personal opinion. I mean, cool bragging rights if you get there, but I'd rather spend my time with something I enjoy.

The point of it is the last line about specialization, not that you should necessarily have to do be able (or even want) to do all those things.

Dude, don't take this the wrong way, but aren't you a little too old to be acting like that?

It's expected that Eolake will, like most people, favor opinions that reflect his own. It's human nature. I always hold out hope, though. So sorry if I've disappointed you.

Jes said...

Ah, I see. Personally, I think people have to follow what's right for them. Maybe some people are meant to be Renaissance men, others are meant to be experts in one thing, still others are something else entirely. Follow your bliss, and all that cal.

And it's cool, no hard feelings. Peace.