24 May 2009

The Width of the World

Do new forms of social networking help us or hurt us as humans?

Larry Sanger wrote a blog on this, and sent out the link on Twitter. Larry notes his disillusionment with "web 2.0," with his concerns being (a) "Facelessness. Frequently, we find ourselves in conversation with people we don’t know. We have nothing invested with them socially", (b) "Groupthink. The second reason Web 2.0 is becoming obnoxious to me is that I really, really hate groupthink," and (c) "Such a godawful waste of time. The first time we see a shiny new Internet toy, we are all oohs and aahs. But, OK…isn’t it time to stop it with the “Which Star Trek character are you?” quizzes on Facebook? ... Seriously, to my way of thinking, there are worthwhile Web 2.0 projects — like, of course, the Citizendium and WatchKnow (not launched yet) — but it seems like the vast majority of the websites, and many attractive and popular features within more worthwhile sites, are a waste of time."

Larry sees the creep of technology as the essential problem. When I challenged him on this, suggesting a much longer term historical arc, he said he was dating his concerns back to the early 1990s.

Now Larry, the co-founder of Wikipedia, is no Luddite, but I suspect that Larry misunderstands the role of communications technology in humanity. He told me to answer him in a blog post, and so here I go...

Socrates was right

Socrates was right. When you start to write things down, when humans embraced literacy, they moved away from the natural forms of human connection. Literacy not only limited the need for memory, as Socrates suggested, it debased human learning by separating the content from the person transmitting that content, as he also suggested. [Orality and Literacy. Literacy: Reading the Word and the World. The Consequences of Literacy.]

In Socrates' world human communication was directly humane. You knew the speaker and you knew the listener. You had known them, most likely, forever. You looked in their eyes, you smelled their breath and their sweat. Your informational (and social) trust was built on a very complex, and very ancient, system of clues. Think of it this way, you know a lover is lying in ways very different than you know an author is lying. Socrates opposed writing and literacy because he didn't want to lose that intimacy.

This is a crucial human question, going back to the very beginning. The first time humans drew on cave walls, and thus created the possibility that some might see this description of the hunt who had not heard the first hand account, technology began to both support, and intrude on, human communication. Is looking at the description of an unknown person's hunting party a waste of time? Is it disconnected trivia or a way of understanding yourself as part of the world?

Today in History

165 years ago today Samuel F.B. Morse sent the first public telegram. And today when I woke up I sent this Twitter message, "Something remarkable, almost tidal, watching the flow of tweets from my friends around the world, as some wake while others sleep."



Morse's invention appeared at one of those moments in time when technologies were radically reshaping human communication. His telegraph, for example, combined with the new technology of the steam-powered rotary press and machine-made wood-pulp-based paper, to completely alter how humans received information.

Suddenly news of the world, and eventually - via Steam Ships and less expensive telegrams and trans-Oceanic cables - personal news, could move rapidly around the globe unfiltered by the elites who had controlled this since the end of the 15th Century. Other things happened as well: photography began to appear. The railroads began to enable travel. The world, or, as Socrates might have suggested, a disconnected, unreliable, undefined sense of the world, was now available whenever people walked out of their doors, or opened their mail.

Something else was happening as well. People were flocking to cities. Suddenly people were surrounded by others they had not known all of their lives, by people they might never know. This altered social networks dramatically, and people began to organize themselves along somewhat superficial lines. The sports club and football club began to arise in England, for example, fraternal and service clubs in the United States. And social information thus began to spread differently, with a new communication level created between "back fence" and pub communication (on one hand) and news from the pulpit (on the other). People began to desire crime news and odd tales of strangers, things which would never have been deemed worthy of publication when publication was expensive. The first version of "blogging" began as writers penned serial stories or experiences which masses of people could waste time on, day after day.

All of these activities - all of these things - separated humans from the most "natural" communications experiences. Yet all of them also created new forms of human connectivity.

The Bookworm

When I was a child "the bookworm" was a commonly derided child. Why waste your whole day with your nose in a book? "they'd" ask, instead of going out into the world and living? Yes, parents - back then - told kids to put down their books and go out and play. Yes, they did.

This was one end of the spectrum. The other, as an historic echo of Larry's complaint about Star Trek quizzes (which I have actually never participated in), was the concern that students were wasting their time and their minds on inappropriate reading. "A closer look demonstrates that the concern was not so much to interest children in reading as to interest children in reading the books that parents, teachers, and librarians wanted them to read, books that would provide class- and gender-appropriate role models and instill socially acceptable values in both boys and girls," Suzanne Stauffer writes of the 1880s-1920s period when "sensational fiction" was seen as a critical danger.

The wrong reading could cause groupthink, apparently, "then" as now. In the 1940s Comic Books were blamed for juvenile delinquency. Stauffer again, "Again, librarians and others proclaimed that this type of reading was not only inferior to reading “good books” but was a corrupting and degrading influence."

So the media forms which arose between 1840 and 1950 were (a) disconnecting people from actual human touch experience, (b) creating groupthink in dangerous ways (think about the United States and the Spanish-American War), and (c) creating massive wastes of time - reading comics, watching movies, listening to crappy radio shows, reading true crime stories and trashy novels, sitting around playing records.

Of course that was also true of the media forms which arose before 1840, and those which came after 1950. As soon as Gutenberg created movable type it was being used to provide sensational stories of strangersto the public. And speeches in ancient Rome may have created groupthink on occasion.

The Flip Side

I don't really need to go all Clay Shirkyon Larry to make my point. Each revolution in communication technologies moves humans in two directions - away from the tactile human, yes, but also towards a global understanding, a global connection, a global knowledge.

So, no, I will not tell Larry about the people I've met online who've become close, personal friends in person. I don't really think this has happened for me. Most of my closest friends I knew as a teenager - in person. Yes, we connect constantly via online tools, yes, our relationships are stronger now than they have been in decades because of those tools, but that's not the point.

But I will tell Larry that my blog, Twitter, and list-serve relationships are not faceless, they do not create groupthink, and they do not waste my time.

"Something remarkable, almost tidal, watching the flow of tweets from my friends around the world, as some wake while others sleep."

These are real people. We agree and disagree. We share and we argue. I may learn their "group identities" first - teacher, technologist, politico - but then I discover more, be it their poetry, their children, their eating habits, their fears. It is a fully human thing that I help @jonbecker find a parking spot in Park Slope at 1230 one morning, and that I worry about his car parked in the dark alongside Prospect Park. It is fully human frustration when I can not get @chadratliff to understand my argument. It is fully human fun I have with @damian613 over the plight of Newcastle United. And it is fully human friendship which I feel for bloggers from Karen Janowski to Enda Guinan. Bill Genereux has become an important "classmate" though we've never physically met, and I worry about Goldfish's health. They are only "faceless" if we think it is impossible for, say, a blind person to know faces.

Power

More critically, we are a group - or groups. We have powers that humans have not had before. And we've been waiting for these technologies to offer us these powers for a long time. Humans have been trying to lower the costs of collaboration and knowledge transfer since time began. And now we can do that. Sure we waste time. Humans always "waste time." Sure we become "gangs." Humans always have. But we now have social choices - powerful social choices, which are shifting power in dramatic ways. Democracy could not have spread as it did in the past two centuries without the communications technologies of those times. And neither could knowledge. Both will spread further, faster - are spreading further, faster, even in the United States - because of Web 2.0.

Learning



But technologies take learning. It isn't easy. Early adopters look kind of crazy. "Really, you strung wire from Washington to Baltimore to send a Bible quote faster?"

So we need to learn these communication tools, and make them our own. And we need to help others, especially our children, find their own paths within these structures. Because it is indeed human, and is indeed humane.

I woke up this morning to birdsong outside the window and the smell of encroaching summer. And that tells me about the the preciousness of the planet. And I woke up with the Tweets of Aussies saying good night and Brits eating lunch and getting ready for the last day of the Premier League season. And that tells me about the width of the world.

I'm not wasting time. I'm as fully human as the people who came to read the cave paintings at Lascaux 20 years after they were drawn. I am engaged in humanity.

-Ira Socol

26 comments:

joanvinallcox said...

Thank you so much for such an eloquent and scholarly commentary. I'd love to add something significant but, to my mind, you've said it all.

Gippo (Cosimo Cannata) said...

Humanity is all that matters, even if one does not physically face the interlocutor.
Every tool of Web 2.0 could not matter or receive our attention if behind it were not a real person with his/her strange and yet magic mixture of humanity, common sense, sensibility, engaging content, and so on.
I'll tell you a fact. Last year I attended a conference and came across an English fellow professor at Plymouth University. He did not qualify as a professor, but as a person first. Lately this year I discovered is actively blogging and twitting on e-Learning, but on Newcastle and Chelsea football teams as well.
This person's humanity comes out, as Yours, powerfully and real.
Probably, it's just a matter of "spending" some time of ours, some attention and empathic skills. It's the simple desire to know, to see, even to listen to some twitbuzz, as later we will be good at silencing what does not matter.
How can we claim a human relationship without "wasting" some of our life/time/etc.? Can we say that a normal relationship (and I'm not mentioning strong friendship, love) exists without endorsing it?
What probably provokes disturb in people is the rapidity, the multiple voices characteristic of Web 2.0 and urge them to answer. But this is a technicality that does not require much attention, it can be managed easily.
It's the mind & heart moving the fingers/eyes on the keyboard/screen that matter most.

Gippo (Cosimo Cannata) said...

PS! I did forget to... thank for the post. As the first reader wrote, you've said almost everything sensible and important. My compliments for the effective examples too.

jon said...

Excellent post, Ira ... I completely agree on the empowering potential of these new technologies, and how early on the learning curve we are. In terms of the human element and groupthink, I think a lot of it comes down to how you choose to approach things and who you surround yourself with.

If Larry (or anybody else) has decided that most stuff is a waste of time, and most online discussions reflect groupthink, well of course they'll find plenty of examples to support their elitist view -- for example by not taking the time to understand the reasons that a lot of people find quizzes fun and interesting. If Larry (or anybody else) sees online relationships as superficial, that's what they'll experience. And most likely, they'll wind up surrounding themselves with people who share these perspectives and find plenty of reasons to justify them.

On the other hand, I actively seek out diversity online, and approach online acquaintances just the way I do in the real world: interesting people, potentially friends, who I don't know yet but will probably enjoy meeting. So not only is my experience is different than Larry's, so are most of the people I hang out with.

There was a trackback on Larry's post to Nancy's excellent Re-thinking my connectedness, whcih has a great counter-example of how Web 2.0 technologies increase connectivity. If Larry's so interested in getting beyond groupthink and creating connections, you'd think he'd take the time to engage there -- or here. Instead, he's posted repeatedly in the comments in his own thread. Hmm.

jon

PS: by the way, all the comments in Larry's thread seem to be from guys, and the same's true for a couple of other threads on Citzendium I checked. About that groupthink ...

Chris said...

This is beautiful, Ira. Thank you! When I think about how as an adult, whether using technology or not, I have come to realize there are so many ways to be human I am awed and humbled. I am pleased that technology offers me the opportunity to communicate on some level with so many unique individuals around the world with whom I would never otherwise connect.

Karen said...

Once again you leave me impressed with your thoughts. You've articulated this so well. I will give this link or a copy of the post to many, many others who need to understand.

Penny said...

Beautifully written. I could add a bunch of examples of all the friendships I've renewed thanks to Facebook, and how chuckling together over the absurd results of the silly quizzes has helped us bond, but really, you've already said it all. Bravo.

A Faire Alchemist said...

We have no idea why the cave paintings were made.

No idea.

Likewise, the future generations will have no idea what our FB pages and Tweets are all about.

Nonetheless, without either the cave paintings or the Tweets, the future doesn't happen in quite the same way.

Paula White said...

Ira, the thinking and sharing you've done here has left me with many thoughts. One stands out, though, as you talk about what your various Twitter friends are doing as you rise in the morning. The wold became more real to me through Twitter as I lived vicariously through Hurricane Ike with @unklar's streaming it in Texas, read the tweeted news from terrorist attacks in Mumbai and tweeted with my Australian friends as brush fires threatened their homes and families.

I am MORE humanly connected because of these technologies as I am no longer isolated in my little country town that is still pretty similar to Mayberry of the US TV show, Andy Griffith. I understand world issues better, and am concerned about them in ways I could never imagine before becoming involved in social networking.

Like you, I may never have met many of these folks face to face,YET, but someday I hope to meet many of my online friends and "look in their eyes, and smell their breath." If I don't, though, I will still have read their tone, the stories of their lives and joined them in the humanity of sharing, questioning, seeking and learning through these networking tools.

Thanks for an eloquent post. Just glad I could play a small part in sharing it around!

Heather Blanton said...

Ira, thanks so much for a wonderful post. I don't think anyone could say it any better. I think of web 2.o communication tools in terms of my motivations for who I'm connecting with and in what ways. I was a Facebook holdout for many years, until a high school friend was killed in a tragic car crash earlier this year. I received the news via an email from a friend who found my sister on Facebook. I went in and set up a profile and suddenly friends from all over the world from high school, college, and professional circles reconnected with me. I chatted with a guy I hadn't talk to in 14 years. It was amazing to see where everyone was and how their lives turned out. Everytime I log into Facebook it is like opening a window and looking our into the neighborhood, but rather than the few miles that I can see from my front window, it's a global neighborhood. I'm seeing my friends and family and their children grow and change which without the technology, I would not even have reconnected with any of them. As I was reading, I was thinking about the concept of personal learning networks. I use twitter as a PLN searching for innovative thinkers (such as you Ira, dear), teachers, tech integrators, administrators, musicians, poets, and much more! I'm reaching far outside my hometown in sleepy SouthWest VA, just down the rode from Paula White. But more importantly the world is reaching out to me. Thanks again for this fantastic food for thought.

narrator said...

I just need to say thank you to all for your thoughts, while I process them all. There is fabulous proof here of the power of this new human web. How we reach out, and build things together.

I know there are those threatened by these changes. But we must make sure the coming generation has the skills to best use all these tools, so that they are not afraid.

- Ira Socol

Dr. Eviatar said...

I have to agree with Larry about the quizzes, I think they are a waste of time, too. But I love reading status lines on FB and seeing what is happening with my friends and family around the globe.

I should also mention that I have had the honour of being part of a due-date listserve since 1995, and as those kids have all turned 13, our group is as strong and as loving as any group of teenagers who happened to be in the same high school could have been. In fact, probably stronger as we are all there by choice. I have met most of these people by now, but the connection to those I haven't is just as strong.

Thanks for expressing your thoughts for beautifully, and I'm so glad I found you in Alec's stream ;-).

Hadass (LionsIma on Twitter)

Anne Van Meter said...

As Hadass just said, I've been a member of a due-date list since the summer of 1995 as well. "Virtual" divorces, surgeries, autism, dating, deaths of parents and siblings, all bind us together.

And teachers bind themselves together as well. We are in a tough, mostly self-contained world. Seeking out like-minded, or challenging folks online gives us that "place" to discuss our ideas, to reflect on our own successes and failures and seek input for the revisions to our teaching we all need to make. I can't imagine having been a "one-room schoolhouse" teacher. Lack of contact with other teachers would have driven me insane.

Nancy said...

Ira, So well reasoned and written. One phrase especially resonated with me: "These are real people. We agree and disagree. We share and we argue. I may learn their "group identities" first - teacher, technologist, politico - but then I discover more, be it their poetry, their children, their eating habits, their fears." To me, this has been one of the great surprises of connecting with people around the world who share my interests. I connected with them because of shared professional interests, but some I have come to know personally (even tho not f2f) and they have become very dear to me.

But why should I be surprised? Isn't that the way face-to-face relationships often develop, too? We don't go out for a beer with someone first and then decide whether to teach with them, go to church with them, or take a class with them. We go about our business and occasionally we meet someone we'd like to know better.

Thank you for you post. As always, you've given me a lot to think about.

Anonymous said...

i've read several 'online-socializing -is -a -waste -of time' posts. i sense that the people who write these posts have an anxiety about not being able to keep up with it all, when once they were always on the cutting edge of things. also, 'web friends' who you talk to occasionally and who you are not obligated to in any way (as opposed to having a real feeling of responsibility and willingness to sacrifice for family/ 'real friends') can be very unsatisfying relationships if that kind of interaction takes up most of your time. i assume that people who have lots of time to go online don't have that many reponsibilites to fulfill to real people. then there are those who have so many responsibilites that they don't have time to meet new people in the real world. they have to settle for internet friends as the next best thing.

Larry Sanger said...

Here as much of a reply as I have time for now.

By the way, Anonymous just above my post here has hit the nail on the head.

narrator said...

I thank all those responding, but quickly, I'd like to respond to a couple of things:

(1) Larry's Quiz Argument - well, duh, Straw Men are so much fun. But I guess I do not judge the New York Times by their society pages, or journalism in general by the Jumble. I could judge the novel a failure because of Tom Clancy, and film, well...

(2) "[I] sense that the people who write these posts have an anxiety about not being able to keep up with it all, when once they were always on the cutting edge of things." says anonymous. Yes, there's a power factor here. People who have held cognitive authority and who hold their positions through mastery of certain historical communication techniques - books, lectures, etc, are very threatened by changes in those technologies and forms.

As for who is or who is not engaging in the world, I guess that's an age-old debate. Better to hang in the local pub and learn your neighbors really well, or sit in the library and read about the world? I think we all need to do both.

(3) Larry, please. Especially with your little "you didn't take the time to really understand my post; I'm not going to take the time to reply to yours," tweet. I've answered you on your blog, but the heart of the reply is this "Yes, I understand you, I just know how shallow your analysis is. You, as you told me, go all the way back… almost 15 years. I instead looked at the continuum of human social communications technology. By using the history you refuse to consider, I get to see trends where you see only a pivot point which alters your own experience."

Anyway folks, its a great conversation. Thanks again.

- Ira Socol

Rufus said...

I think this is all good stuff, but why did you leave out television? You can hear these same debates playing out in the first few decades of television, with one side saying that we're all going to be connected around the world and become far more intelligent than previous generations, and the other side saying that we're going to waste a lot of time, replace face-to-face connections with television time, and that TV will lead to groupthink. And you could definitely argue that it fostered democracy in different parts of the world. So, I actually think both sides were right, although I've sort of outgrown television. It just doesn't feed me in the same way that certain books or (sometimes) movies do. Maybe some people are just outgrowing the internet.

narrator said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rufus said...

I'm also not sure I understand your power argument here. Of course, I'm biased, since I spend most of my time reading books and preparing lecture notes!

However, it's hard for me to imagine why anyone in my position would be threatened by the possibility that the younger generation might be more knowledgeable- that sounds like a dream come true! And the fact that these new technologies might be able to help people learn who were barred in the past by reading disabilities sounds even better.

I mean, I suppose I can see how people who write books might feel threatened if the information was freely available on the net. But, given that there have been public libraries for some time now, the idea that any of this information is especially privileged seems odd. What's really changed here? People could learn things in books that were freely available and now they can learn them online- what monopoly is being broken? If it's the textbook monopoly, I won't shed a tear.

You say that people who have their positions of power through the mastery of various communication mediums are threatened by a change in those mediums, but I'm not sure who these people are whose power derives solely, or even largely, from being able to read well. Wouldn't they already be threatened by the masses of people who can also read well? Are you talking about the monopoly on accreditation?

Are they threatened by the new mediums themselves? Most of them are fairly easy to pick up.

Again, I'm just not understanding this, and that's probably my fault. But I think the medium of diffusion of information is actually pretty irrelevant. I mean, let's imagine for instance that a working knowledge of Medieval Latin is valued in academia. Okay, so that knowledge has been readily available for as long as there have been public libraries. So the fact that people are now able to get it from books on tape, or Youtube, or Twitter, or whatever, really doesn't change anything. It's not like anyone's really threatened- especially since there really don't seem to be more people learning Medieval Latin than there ever were!

I think the key is that it's still a lot of work to learn Medieval Latin. So, if you learn it by the Internet, or DVDs, or books, or CDs, or whatever- it's still going to take a lot of work. You don't just pick up the information at the mall and shove it into your head. Until you can download the information directly into your brain, you're still going to have to apply yourself for extended periods of time with relatively focused attention on Latin. It's still going to be boring! And it's still going to be difficult. So, most people are not going to do it, especially if they don't have a taste for it. And most of us are lazier than we'd like to admit!

I mean, granted, the humanities have been text-based until now, and the change is nothing to sneeze at. But, isn't part of what I look up to in people who know a lot more than I do about Medieval Latin just the fact that they've put in the work? I can't really see how any new mediums will greatly reduce that work.

narrator said...

Rufus,

It would be difficult to argue with the argument you have laid out. In fact, I'm going to take most of it as something I see as likely to be true. But I think when I speak of power the way I did I'm not quite discussing the same sort of people you are here.

You are showing us the scholars and intellectuals and creative minds. I believe, as you suggest, that these people will adapt, are adapting, are probably even learning to thrive as new media make things easier for them in some ways and offer access to new audiences in others. Whether we're discussing Terry Eagleton or your Latin Scholar, their reach in both directions - into the depth of their field - and into a global audience, has increased. They will take advantage of this, just as musicians have found all the ways they can benefit from MySpace, etc.

But there is another group. Think the RIAA, publishers, creators of encyclopedias, and yes, many of those who control education. For this group, which has succeeded only because of their skills with certain media, the threat seems enormous. It threatens not just their communications advantages, but the entire system of credentialism itself. When Gutenberg created movable type, great illustrators went to work carving printing plates, but those running scriptoria found their status threatened.

Today, you see that those who are used to controlling information - including Larry Sanger - as right as he has always been in much of what he says about Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia - are threatened and confused by what is occurring. And they tend to "run the wrong way." The RIAA threatens and sues. Schools ban digital devices. Larry Sanger recruits "Constables" to patrol his new encyclopedia. They do this because control has been what their world view is built on. And thus they do not become effective aggregators, or guides, or leaders, helping others through this maze of suddenly accessible information.

I'm probably too much of a Gramscian, or maybe old Marxist lessons die hard, but when I see resistance to new communication structures I see issues of power - power linked to both wealth and status - because wealth and status largely belong within systems of how a society sees itself - and changing communication structures do change a society's self-perception.

Don't know if that helps. I'm surely willing to go round again.

- Ira Socol

Michael Faris said...

Thanks for this post, Ira. I haven't read all the comments, but you've started a great discussion.

I'd just like to make one quick point (though there are other things I'd quibble with in this post): If one major concern is that things like facebook quizzes are a waste of time, the real issue isn't that they're a waste of time. People have been "wasting" time for ages: playing solitaire, reading "trashy" novels, napping in mid-afternoon—whatever's read as wasting time by someone else (as you allude to above). It's that how we use our time is becoming much more public — or semi-public, or public in different ways, depending on your definition of public. Now, instead of only your parents and teachers reading your activity as time-wasting, many more people can read your activity and interpret it as time wasting (or not).

This isn't to say that I think these activities are time-wasting. It's that the real issue at play here, as I see it, is the publicness of these activities.

narrator said...

Michael,

The public/private question is very real. In some ways we are going backwards, I think - http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2008/09/back-to-future.html - "This is the ultimate effect of the new awareness: It brings back the dynamics of small-town life, where everybody knows your business. Young people at college are the ones to experience this most viscerally, because, with more than 90 percent of their peers using Facebook, it is especially difficult for them to opt out." Thompson writes. And whether this is "good" or "bad" is really not a question we can answer. Instead it is a fact of life we will deal with, as surely as the denizens of Peyton Place were controlled by the stories which spread through that semi-fictional town, as certainly as all the people of Artigat truly knew who was who when "Martin Guerre" returned.

My theory - no, theory is far too strong - my hypothesis is that we are returning to a more "natural" human state, before the anonymity and "facelessness" of 19th Century cities, when people knew each other, no matter what. Of course, technology races ahead of laws, government practices, and media power centers, so, right now we have a residual intolerance based in the old "I'm not looking" mode of 19th/20th Century city living mixing with "too much information."

Eventually though, I suspect that tolerance for personal differences, even most weirdnesses (if you must) will develop, allowing the flood of information to become non-destructive. Just as small towns embraced the town drunk, the town atheist, even the town's strange sex actors if they were otherwise useful in society (a meritocracy of multiple measures), I think the new socially networked world may as well.

At least I see beginnings of evidence of this, which breaks down the exclusions of the past 200 years. I might not share religion or public morality, gender or sexual preference, or political leanings with my twitterverse, but even with those I most 'struggle' with, I find an ability to come together when mutual needs or interests arise. That's 180 degrees from the limiting culture of the area I live in.

How does that sound?

- Ira Socol

Michael Faris said...

Ira,

I'm very cautious about making any ontological statements or hypotheses. When I wrote above that I had quibbles, the biggest red flag to me was the use of the word "natural." I don't think we can return to anything "natural," because I see that word as severely limiting what we can do and be as humans. I think, ontologically, the only things we can say are human nature are probably (and I'm open to other things) that we are communicative and that we are technological (I'm thinking posthumanist arguments here). To say that certain types of human interaction or technological communication are more natural than others I think is dangerous.

I agree with a lot of what you're saying (and I think we agree on the public "time wasting" issue), but I think making arguments about human nature such as these is limiting.

narrator said...

Michael,

Yes, you are right. I am using "natural" the way behaviorists do, to describe a condition which they prefer, and that's the wrong tack to take.

I guess I might suggest that it is, rather, not unfamiliar to humans, that these conceptual structures seem to have existed before printing technology arrived, and so there is some kind of "return" here. But if I say that, I imply superiority - and I only want to suggest that with every switch, there are advantages and disadvantages, winners and losers.

I will say that the linear communication structure which developed with print media, did a great deal of damage to a great many people. Obviously it was also a great thing for a great many others. The question then - from an education viewpoint (not a communications one) - is how can we leverage these changes to enlarge the universe of "winners"?

- Ira Socol

cher said...

Rufus said: I've sort of outgrown television. It just doesn't feed me in the same way that certain books or (sometimes) movies do. Maybe some people are just outgrowing the internet.

cher says: i think that's right. 'outgrowing' in the realization that web friends (not long lost friends) aren't a real antedote to loneliness. neither is tv or books. but all of the above can take the edge off. i've had to lower my expectations for what the internet can give me emotionally, and now that i've done that- i can proceed as before, but in a more satisfied, less craving way. actually, lowering my expectations for how the external can make me happy has led to more peace in general. the so-called simple pleasures -the birds singing outside the window and encroaching spring- some random act of kindness by a stranger-have become all that more important. this just suits me. it doesn't have to suit everyone.