We are no longer surprised, no longer engaged in so much meta-analysis: we are dependent, some of us are addicted to this marvelous tool, this multi-faceted medium that is — as predicted even ten years ago — concentrating all of communication, knowledge, entertainment, business. I, like so many of us, spend so many hours before a flat computer screen, typing away, even when surrounded by countless books, that it is hard to say exactly how the Internet has affected me.
The Internet is becoming as ordinary as the telephone. Humans are very good at adapting to the technologies we create, and the Internet is the most malleable, the most human of all technologies, just as it can also be intensely alienating from everything we've lived as before now.
I waver between these two positions: at times gratefully dependent on this marvel, at other times horrified at what this dependence signifies. Too much concentrated in one place, too much accessible from one's house, the need to move about in the real world nearly nil, the rapid establishment of social networking Websites changing our relationships, the reduction of three-dimensionality to that flat screen.
Rapidity, accessibility, one-click for everything: where has slowness gone, and tranquillity, solitude, quiet? The world I took for granted as a child, and that my childhood books beautifully represented, jerks with the brand new world of artificial glare and electrically created realities, faster, louder, unrelated to nature, self-contained. The technologies we create always have an impact on the real world, but rarely has a technology had such an impact on minds. We know what is happening to those who were born after the advent of the Internet and for those like me who started out with typewrites, books, slowness, reality measured by geographical distance and local clocks, the world that is emerging now is very different indeed from the world we knew.
I am of that generation for which adapting to computers was welcome and easy, but for which the pre-Internet age remains real. I can relate to those who call the radio the wireless, and I admire people in their 70s or 80s who communicate by email, because they come from further away still.
Perhaps the way forward would be to emphasize the teaching of history in schools, to develop curricula on the history of technology, to remind today's children that their technology, absolutely embracing as it feels, is relative, and does not represent the totality of the universe. Millions of children around the world don't need to be reminded of this — they have no access to technology at all, many not even to modern plumbing — but those who do should know how to place this tool historically and politically.
As for me, I am learning how to make room for the need to slow down and disconnect without giving up on my addiction to Google, email, and rapidity. I was lucky enough to come from somewhere else, from a time when information was not digitized. And that is what perhaps enables me to use the Internet with a measure of wisdom. Never then did I imagine the potential dangers, or the creative possibilities, of polarization in virtual groups.
Electronic communication and social networking enable Tea Partiers, global warming deniers, and conspiracy theorists to isolate themselves and find support for their shared ideas and suspicions. As the Internet connects the like-minded and pools their ideas, White supremacists may become more racist, Obama-despisers more hostile, and militia members more terror prone thus limiting our power to halt terrorism by conquering a place.
But the Internet-as-social-amplifier can instead work for good, by connecting those coping with challenges. Peacemakers, cancer survivors, and bereaved parents find strength and solace from kindred spirits. By amplifying shared concerns and ideas, Internet-enhanced communication can also foster social entrepreneurship. An example: As a person with hearing loss, I advocate a simple technology that doubles the functionality of hearing aids, transforming them, with the button push, into wireless loudspeakers.
After experiencing this "hearing loop" technology in countless British venues, from cathedrals to post office windows and taxi back seats, I helped introduce it to West Michigan, where it can now be found in several hundred venues, including Grand Rapids' convention center and all gate areas of its airport. Then, via a Website, hearing listservs, and e-mail I networked with fellow hearing advocates and, by feeding each other, our resolve gained strength. Thanks to the collective efficacy of our virtual community, hearing aid compatible assistive listening has spread to other communities and states.
New York City is installing it in subway information booths. Leaders in the American Academy of Audiology and the Hearing Loss Association of America are discussing how to promote this inexpensive, wireless assistive listening. Several state hearing loss associations are recommending it. The hearing industry is now including the needed magnetic receiver in most hearing aids and cochlear implants. And new companies have begun manufacturing and marketing hearing loop systems. The moral: By linking and magnifying the inclinations of kindred-spirited people, the Internet can be very, very bad, but also very, very good.
Being among those who have predicted that humans will be uploading their minds into cybermachines in the not too distant future, one might assume I'm enthusiastic about the Internet. But the thinking of my still primate mind about the new mode of information exchange is more ambiguous. No doubt the Internet is changing the way I operate and influence the world around me.
Type "gregory paul religion and society" into Google and nearly four million hits come up. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but it looks impressive. An article in a Brit newspaper on my sociological research garnered over comments. The new communication environment is undoubtedly altering my research and publicity strategy relative to what it would be in a less digital world. Even so, I am not entirely sure how my actions are being modified. The only way to find out would be to run a parallel universe experiment in which everything is the same except for the existence of an Internet type of communications, and see what I do in the alternative situation.
What is disturbing to this human raised on hard copy information transmission is how fast the Internet is destroying a large portion of the former. My city no longer has a truly major newspaper, and the edgy, free City Paper is a pale shadow of its former self in danger of extinction. I have enjoyed living a few blocks from a major university library because I could casually browse through the extensive journal stacks, leafing through assorted periodicals to see what was up in the latest issues.
Because the search was semi-random it was often pleasantly and usefully serendipitous. Now that the Hopkins library has severely cut back on paper journals as the switch to online continues it is less fun. It's good to save trees, and looking up a particular article is often easier online, but checking the contents of latest issue of Geology on the library computer is neither as pleasant nor convenient.
I suspect that the range of my information intake has narrowed, and that can't be good. On the positive side, it could be amazingly hard to get basic info before the Web showed up. In my teens I was intrigued by the notorious destruction of the HMS Hood in , but was not able to get a clear impression of the famed vessel's appearance for a couple of years until I saw a friend's model, and I did not see a clear image until well after that. Such extreme data deprivation is thankfully over due to Wikipedia, etc. But even the Internet cannot fill all information gaps.
It often remains difficult to search out obscure details of the sort found only in books that can look at subjects in depth. Websites often reference books, but if the Internet limits the production of manuscript length works then the quality of information is going to suffer. As for the specific question of how the Internet is changing my thinking, online apps facilitate the statistical analyses that are expanding my sociological interests and conclusions further than I ever thought they would go, leading to unanticipated answers to some fundamental questions about popular religion that I am delighted to uncover.
Beyond that there are more subtle effects, but exactly what they are I am not sure sans the parallel world experiment. I also fear that the brevity favored by on screen versus page turning reading is shortening my attention span. It is as if one of Dawkins's memes is altering my unwilling mind like a bad science fiction story.
But that's a non-quantitative, anecdotal impression; perhaps I just think my thinking has changed. It is possible the new arrangement is not altering my mental exertions further than it is because the old fashioned mind generated by my brain remains geared to the former system. The new generation growing up immersed in the digital complex may be developing thinking processes more suited for the new paradigm for better or for worse.
But as far as I know that's a hypothesis rather than a documented fact. Perhaps human thinking is not as amenable to being modified by external factors as one might expect. And the Internet may be more retro than it first seems. The mass media of the 20th century was truly novel because the analog based technology turned folks from home entertainers and creators gathering around the piano and singing and inventing songs and the like to passive consumers of a few major outlets sitting around the telly and fighting over the remote.
People are using hyperfast digital technology to return to self-creativity and entertainment. How all this is affecting young psyches is a matter for sociobehavioral and neuropsychological research to sort out. But how humans old and young are effected may not matter all that much. In the immediacy of this early 21st century moment the Internet revolution may look more radical than it actually is, it could merely introduce the real revolution. The human domination of digital communications will be a historically transitory event if and when high-level thinking cyberminds start utilizing the system.
The ability superintelligences to share and mull over information will dwarf what mere humans can manage. Exactly how will the interconnected uberminds think? Hell if I know. We don't yet understand how we think or what it means to change the way we think. Scientists are making inroads and ultimately hope to understand much more. But right now all I and my fellow contributors can do are make observations and generalize.
We don't even know if the Internet changes the way we read. It certainly changes how we read, as it changes how we do many aspects of our work. Maybe it ultimately changes how our brains process written information but we don't yet know. Still, the question of how the Internet changes how we think is an enormous problem, one that anecdotes might help us understand. So I'll tell a couple if I can focus long enough to do so. Someone pointed out to me once that he, like me, never uses a bookmark in a book.
It doesn't make sense to find a place in a book that you technically have read but that is so far from your memory that you don't remember having read it. By not using a bookmark, I was guaranteed to return to the last continuous section of text that actually made a dent in my brain. With the Internet we tend to absorb multiple pieces of information about whatever topic we decide we're interested in. Online, we search. In fact Marvin Minsky recently told me that he prefers reading on an electronic device in general because he values the search function.
And I certainly often do too. In fact I tend to remember the answer to the pointed pieces of information I ask about on the Internet better than I do when reading a long book. But there is also the danger that something valuable about reading in a linear fashion, absorbing information internally, and processing it as we go along is lost with the Internet or even electronic devices, where it is too easy to cheat by searching. One aspect of reading a newspaper that I've already lost a lot of is the randomness that comes with reading in print rather than online.
Today I read the articles that I know will interest me when I'm staring at a computer screen and have to click to get to the actual article. Despite its breadth, and the fact that I can be so readily distracted, I still use the Internet in a targeted fashion. So why don't I stick to print media? The Internet is great for disorganized people like me who don't want to throw something away for fear of losing something valuable they missed. I love knowing everything is still on line and that I can find it. I hate newspapers piling up.
I love not having to be in an office to check books. I can make progress at home, on a train, or on a plane when there is enough room between rows to open my computer. And I do often take advantage of the Internet's breadth, even if it is a little more directed. A friend might send me to a Web site. Or I might just need or want to learn about some new topic.
The Internet also allows me to be bolder. I can quickly get up to speed on a topic I previously knew nothing about. I can check facts and I can learn other's points of view on any subject I decide is interesting. I can write about subjects I wouldn't have dared to touch before, since I can quickly find out the context in a way that was previously much more difficult to access. Which brings me back to the idea of the quote "the plural of anecdotes is not data.
It's not entirely clear but it might go back to a pharmacologist named Frank Kotsonis, who was writing about the effects of aspartame. I find this particularly funny because I stopped consuming aspartame due to my personal anecdotal evidence that it made me focus less well.
But I digress. Here's the truly funny aspect of the quote I discovered with my Google search. The original quote from the Berkeley political scientist Raymond Wolfinger was exactly the opposite, "The plural of anecdotes is data. The fact is that the Internet provides a wealth of information. It doesn't yet organize it all or process it or arrange for scientific conclusions.
The Internet allows us as a group to believe both facts and their opposites; we'll all find supporting evidence or opinions. But we can attend talks without being physically present and work with people we've never met in person. We have access to all physics papers as they are churned out but we still have to figure out which are interesting and process what they say.
I don't know how differently we think. But we certainly work differently and do so at a different pace. We can learn many anecdotes that aren't yet data. This set me thinking about my own interactions with the Internet, and how they might differ fundamentally from using any other sources of information.
Lady Antonia could, I suppose, have said, "If you have cancer, don't look at the Merck Manual," or some other medical guide, but there must be more to it than that. It is, first of all, the effortlessness with which it can be used. I used to joke that if I had a query which could be answered by consulting a book in the shelves on the other side of my study or by using the Internet, it would be quicker and less energy-consuming to find the answer on the Internet.
It's not even funny any more, because it's obviously the most efficient way to do things. I am one of the few people who seem to trust Wikipedia. Its science entries, in particular, are extremely thorough, reliable and well-sourced. People who trust books two or more years out of date rather than Wikipedia are like people who balk at buying on the Internet for security reasons but happily pay with a credit card in restaurants where an unscrupulous waiter could keep the carbon copy of the slip and run up huge bills before they knew it.
Lady Antonia Fraser's remark was really a tribute to the reliability and comprehensiveness of the Internet. It doesn't of course mean that it was accurate. She may not have consulted all cancer sites, or it may be that no one really knows for sure what the prognosis was for oesophageal cancer. This, of course, has nothing to do with thinking.
It could be that I would think the same if I'd been writing my books with a quill pen and had only the Bible, Shakespeare and Dr. Johnson's Dictionary to consult. But the Internet certainly constrains what I think about. It stops me thinking any more about that great idea for a book that I now find was published a few years ago by a small university press in Montana. It also reinforces my belief in my own ideas and opinions because it is now much quicker to test them, particularly when they are new opinions.
Of course, I was inclined to disbelieve in Intelligent Design before I had access to the wide range of wacky and hysterical Websites that promote it. But now I have no doubts at all that the theory is tosh. What do I do all day, sitting at my computer? I string words together, reread them, judge them, improve them if necessary and print them out or send them to people. And underlying this process is a judgement about what is interesting, novel or in need of explanation, and the juggling of words in my mind to express these concepts in a clear way.
None of that, as far as I am aware, has changed because of the Internet. But this is to deal with only one aspect of the Internet, its provision of factual content. But before all this, I knew there were lots of people in the world, capable of using language and saying clever or stupid things. Now I have access to them in a way I didn't before, but again this is just information provision rather than a change in ways of thinking. Perhaps the crucial factor is speed. If I was setting out to write a book, I would start with a broad outline and a chapter breakdown, and these would lead me to set a series of research tasks which could take months: look in this library, write to this expert, look for this book, find this document.
Now the order of things has changed. While I was doing all the above, which could take weeks or months, my general ideas for the book would be evolving. My objectives might change, and my research tasks with them. I would do more 'broad brush' thinking. Now, when documents can be found and downloaded in seconds, library catalogues consulted from one's desk, experts emailed and a reply received within 24 hours, the idea is set in stone much earlier. The broad brush thinking is now informed rather than uninformed. I give up.
It's only a tool. An electric drill wouldn't change how I many holes I make in a piece of wood, it would only make the hole-drilling easier and quicker. A car doesn't change the nature and purpose of a journey I make to the nearest town, it only makes it quicker and leads to me making more journeys, than if I walked.
But what about Lady Antonia Fraser? Is the truth-telling power of the Internet something to avoid? But anyone who says this is news just doesn't get out enough. The only way my thinking would have been changed by this 'revelation' would have been if I believed along with Dr Pangloss that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. And I don't. I notice that some radical social experiments which would have seemed Utopian to even the most idealistic anarchist 50 years ago are now working smoothly and without much fuss.
On the upside, I notice that the variable trustworthiness of the Net has made people more sceptical about the information they get from all other media. I notice that I now digest my knowledge as a patchwork drawn from a wider range of sources than I used to. I notice too that I am less inclined to look for joined-up finished narratives and more inclined to make my own collage from what I can find.
I notice that I correspond with more people but at less depth. I am unconvinced of the value of these. I worry that this may be at the expense of First Life. My notebooks take longer to fill. I notice that I mourn the passing of the fax machine, a more personal communication tool than email because it allowed the use of drawing and handwriting. I notice that my mind has reset to being primarily linguistic rather than, for example, visual. I notice that the idea of 'expert' has changed.
An expert used to be 'somebody with access to special information'. Now, since so much information is equally available to everyone, the idea of 'expert' becomes 'somebody with a better way of interpreting'. Judgement has replaced access. I notice that I find it hard to get a whole morning of uninterrupted thinking. I notice that I am expected to answer emails immediately, and that it is difficult not to. I notice that as a result I am more impulsive. I notice that I more often give money in response to appeals made on the Net. I notice that 'memes' can now spread like virulent infections through the vector of the Net, and that this isn't always good.
I notice that I sometimes sign petitions about things I don't really understand because it is easy. I assume that this kind of irresponsibility is widespread. I notice that everything the Net displaces reappears somewhere else in a modified form. For example, musicians used to tour to promote their records, but, since records stopped making much money due to illegal downloads, they now make records to promote their tours. Bookstores with staff who know about books and record stores with staff who know about music are becoming more common.
I notice that more attention is given by creators to the aspects of their work that can't be duplicated. The 'authentic' has replaced the reproducible. I notice that almost all of us haven't thought about the chaos that would ensue if the Net collapsed. What is the impact of spending hours each day in front of a monitor, surfing the Internet and playing games? Brains are highly adaptable and experiences have long-term effects on the brain's structure and function.
You are aware of some of the changes and call it your memory, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. We are not aware of more subtle changes, which nonetheless can affect your perception and behavior. These changes occur at all levels of your brain, from the earliest perceptual levels to the highest cognitive levels.
Priming is a dramatic example of unconscious learning, in which a brief exposure to an image or a word can affect how you respond to the same image or word, even in degraded forms, many months later. In one experiment, the outlines of animals and other familiar objects were viewed briefly and 17 years later the subjects could still identify the animals and objects above chance levels from versions in which half the outlines were erased. Some of the subjects did not remember participating in the original experiment.
With conceptual priming, an object like a table can prime the response to a chair. Interestingly, priming decreases reaction times and is accompanied by a decrease in brain activity — it becomes faster and more efficient. Brains, especially youthful ones, have an omnivorous appetite for information, novelty and social interaction, but it is less obvious why we are so good at unconscious learning.
One advantage is that it allows the brain to build up an internal representation of the statistical structure of the world, whether it is the frequency of neighboring letters in words or the textures, forms and colors that make up images. Brains are also adept at adapting to sensorimotor interfaces. We first adapted to clunky keyboards, then to virtual pointers to virtual files, and now to texting with fingers and thumbs. As you become an expert at using it, the Internet, as with other tools, becomes an extension of your brain.
Are the changes occurring in your brain as you interact with the Internet good or bad for you? Adapting to the touch and feel of the Internet makes it easier to extract information, but a better question is whether the changes in your brain will improve your fitness.
There was a time, no long ago, when the heads of corporations did not use the Internet because they never learned to type, but they are going extinct and have been replaced with more Internet savvy managers. Gaining knowledge and skills should benefit survival, but not if you spend all of your time immersed in the Internet. The intermittent rewards can become addictive, hijacking your dopamine neurons that predict future rewards.
The Internet, however, has not been around long enough, and is changing too rapidly, to know what the long-term effects will be on brain function. What is the ultimate price for omniscience? For me, the Internet is a return to yesteryear; it simply allows me and all the rest of us to think and behave in ways for which we were built long long ago. Take love. For millions of years, our forebears traveled in little hunting and gathering bands.
About 25 individuals lived together day and night; some ten to twelve were children and adolescents; the balance were adults. But everyone knew just about everybody else in a neighborhood of several hundred miles. They got together too. Annually in the dry season, bands congregated at the permanent waters that dotted eastern and southern Africa. And although a pubescent girl who saw a cute boy at the next campfire might not know him personally, her mother probably knew his aunt or her older brother had hunted with his cousin.
All were part of the same broad social Web. Moreover, in the ever-present gossip circles, a young girl could easily collect data on a potential suitor's hunting skills, even whether he was amusing, kind or smart. We think it's natural to court a totally unknown person in a bar or club. But it's far more natural to know a few basic things about an individual before meeting him or her. Internet dating sites, chat rooms, social networking sites provide these details, enabling the modern human brain to pursue more comfortably its ancestral mating dance.
Then there's the issue of privacy. Some are mystified by the way others, particularly the young, so frivolously reveal their intimate lives on Facebook, Twitter, in emails and via other Internet billboards. This odd human habit has even spilled into our streets and other public places.
How many times have you had to listen to someone nonchalantly blare out their problems on cell phones while you sat on a train or bus. Yet for millions of years our forebears had almost no privacy. With the Internet, we are returning to this practice of shared community. Sure, with "the Net," I more easily and rapidly acquire information than in the old days.
I can more easily sustain connections with colleagues, friends and family. I no longer take long walks to the post office to mail manuscripts. I don't pound on typewriter keys all day, or use "white-out. And sometimes I find it easier to express complex or difficult feelings via email than in person or on the phone. My values haven't altered. I have just as much data to organize. My energy level is just the same. My workload has probably increased. And colleagues want what they want from me even faster. But the way I think? I don't think any harder, faster, longer, or more effectively than I did before I bought my first computer in In fact, the rise of the Internet only reminds me of how little any of us have changed since the modern human brain evolved more than 35, years ago.
With the Internet, we just have a much louder megaphone with which to scream who we really are. Before the Internet, I made more trips to the library and more phone calls. I read more books and my point of view was narrower and less informed. I walked more, biked more, hiked more, and played more.
I made love more often. The seductive online sages, scholars, and muses that joyfully take my curious mind where ever it needs to go, where ever it can imagine going, whenever it wants, are beguiling. All my beloved screens offer infinite, charming, playful, powerful, informative, social windows into global human experience. The Internet, the online virtual universe, is my jungle gym and I swing from bar to bar: learning about: how writing can be either isolating or social; DIY Drones unmanned aerial vehicles at a Maker Faire; where to find a quantified self meetup; or how to make Sach moan sngo num pachok.
I can use image search to look up hope or success or play. I can find a video on virtually anything; I learned how to safely open a young Thai coconut from this Internet of wonder. As I stare out my window, at the unusually beautiful Seattle weather, I realize, I haven't been out to walk yet today — sweet Internet juices still dripping down my chin. I'll mind the clock now, so I can emerge back into the physical world.
The Internet supports my thinking and the physical world supports that, as well as, rich sensing and feeling experiences. It's no accident we're a culture increasingly obsessed with the Food Network and Farmer's Markets — they engage our senses and bring us together with others. How has the Internet changed my thinking? The more I've loved and known it, the clearer the contrast, the more intense the tension between a physical life and a virtual life. The Internet stole my body, now a lifeless form hunched in front of a glowing screen.
My senses dulled as my greedy mind became one with the global brain we call the Internet. I am confident that I can find out about nearly anything online and also confident that in my time offline, I can be more fully alive. The only tool I've found for this balancing act is intention.
The sense of contrast between my online and offline lives has turned me back toward prizing the pleasures of the physical world. I now move with more resolve between each of these worlds, choosing one, then the other — surrendering neither. What struck me was the complete absence of technology. No telephone, e-mail, or other communication facilitators.
Nothing could interrupt my thoughts. Technology could be accessed outside the offices whenever one wished, but it was not allowed to enter through the door at its own will. This protective belt was deliberately designed to make sure that scholars had time to think, and to think deeply. In the meantime, the Center, like other institutions, has surrendered to technology. Today, people's minds are in a state of constant alert, waiting for the next e-mail, the next SMS, as if these will deliver the final, earth-shattering insight.
I find it surprising that scholars in the "thinking profession" would so easily let their attention be controlled from the outside, minute by minute, just like letting a cell phone interrupt a good conversation. Were messages to pop up on my screen every second, I would not be able to think straight. Maintaining the Center's spirit, I check my email only once a day, and keep my cell phone switched off unless I make a call. An hour or two without interruption are heaven for me. But the Internet can be used in an active rather than a reactive way, that is, not letting it determine how long we can think and when we have to stop.
The question is, does an active use of the Internet change our way of thinking? I believe so. The Internet shifts our cognitive functions from searching for information inside the mind towards searching outside the mind.
It is not the first technology to do so. Consider the invention that changed human mental life more than anything else: writing, and subsequently, the printing press. Writing made analysis possible; with writing, one can compare texts, which is difficult in an oral tradition. But writing makes long-term memory less important than it once was, and schools have largely replaced the art of memorization by training in reading and writing. Most of us can no longer memorize hour-long folktales and songs as in an oral tradition.
The average modern mind has a poorly trained long-term memory, forgets rather quickly, and searches for information more in outside sources such as books instead inside memory.
Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - gyqacyxaja.cf
The Internet has amplified this trend of shifting knowledge from the inside to the outside, and taught us new strategies for finding what one wants using search machines. This is not to say that before writing, the printing press, and the Internet, our minds did not have the ability to retrieve information from outside sources. But these sources were other people, and the skills were social, such as the art of persuasion and conversation.
The Internet is essentially a huge storage room of information, and we are in the process of outsourcing information storage and retrieval from mind to computer, just as many of us have already outsourced the ability of doing mental arithmetic to the pocket calculator. We may loose some skills in this process, such as the ability to concentrate over an extended period of time and storing large amounts of information in long-term memory, but the Internet is also teaching us new skills for accessing information.
It is important to realize that mentality and technology are one extended system. The Internet is a kind of collective memory, to which our minds will adapt until a new technology eventually replaces it. Then we will begin outsourcing other cognitive abilities, and hopefully, learn new ones. The Internet has not so much changed my thinking as it has expanded my preexisting artistic sensibility. Like many collagist, I cobble together quilts of disparate information that rely on uncanny juxtapositions to create new meaning. Cut and paste has always been the way I think.
I used to spend days in bookstores and libraries searching for raw images and information to be reorganized and repurposed into my pictures. Now I sit in front of my computer and grab them out of the Internet hive mind that expands endlessly outwards, a giant, evolving global collage that participants edit to conform to their needs and sensibilities. This process of hunting and capturing reduces me to a pair of hungry eyes and two thinking hands.
My whole body is for later, for when I build my pictures analog-style. When the image is finally assembled, it sings in the chorus of a million authors. I am the conductor and through me, this collective hums. The electricity overwhelms me. I'm no longer a rugged individualist. There was a time, not that long ago, when the apostles of the coming digital age predicted the obsolescence of unique art objects.
They forgot that some once believed that the emergence of photography would render paintings useless. As we now know, the emergence of photography actually helped free artists from the need to describe the world realistically, and this helped revivify painting and jumpstart modernism. From then on, artists could do anything they wanted, and they did. Photography caused all hell to break loose, and that hell and some new ones are now fighting it out in an info-cloud. Now I can do more than I ever thought I wanted. The Internet has given me a new paintbrush that I can use towards the making of singular things.
In this landscape of endless copies, a real thing, made by a person, with its repository of the creator's time and it's tactility, scale and surface quality is almost startling in its strangeness. Growing up in the land of theme parks, I became aware at an early age that the unreal is the realist thing there is. Waterfalls without pumps and electricity? A sublime without LSD? Who are you kidding? Experiencing all this made me want to make real things about my unreal world. Now I can capture banal elements of the shimmering digital mirage and fix them into place where they can become strange again.
Oh real, tangible things, is my love for you proof of my own obsolescence? I'm filled with nostalgia for the dying objects of the old economy. Over the years, I would occasionally draw on top of handmade, unique photograms. Now, the kind of photo paper that can withstand my scribbling has become extinct. I've also sporadically used the front page of the New York Times as a backdrop for collage and paint interventions. How long will it be before it too is no longer available? Still, vinyl refuses to die.
Maybe there is hope. I used to be jealous of cultural forms that existed through an economy of copies. Books, newspapers, magazines, films and recordings offered a democratic way for consumers to pony up a tiny chunk of money that helped the author or enterprise survive and sometimes even prosper. Now copies are worth even less than the paper they're not printed on. Despite the new economy, unique art objects seem to have maintained a semblance of monetary value. For the time being at least. While a few patrons have always supported a few artists, most art is still not worth much.
In the future, I expect that we'll all be poor, but for the time being, value is now given to living humans doing real things, or real things made by living humans. Well, all living humans except for poets. No one said the Internet was fair. I'm an information grazer. I've always felt comfortable with skidding across vast plains of data, connecting the dots wherever it feels right. The Internet mirrors the cross connectivity of my own mind — a mind, it should be noted, that has been hybridized by drugs and other consciousness altering activities.
- Engineering Design Handbook - Military Pyrotechnics Series, Part Two - Safety, Procedures and Glossary.
- An Inquiry Into The Modes Of Existence.
- Appendix:List of Latin phrases.
Aldous Huxley famously posited that to enable us to live, the brain and nervous system eliminates unessential information from the totality of our minds. Psychedelics, on the other hand, overwhelm our minds with the fullness of the world. In other words, information overload is just another way of being psychedelic. I can live with this.
All good art experiences are inherently psychoactive. Art modifies perception and offers either a window or a mirror. Sometimes, if we're lucky, it does it all at the same time. Huxley tells us that our minds are constantly editing down the world into manageable bits. The problem with the Internet is that the menu has gotten too big, too unwieldy and too full of lies and stupidity. Who can apprehend or trust it? For instance, if I search for "naked lady" I come up with 16,, items in 0. Somewhere lies the perfect naked lady, but where is she?
I get cranky and impatient. I know she's there somewhere and I want her now. I've become habituated to getting everything right away. I'm the editor who thinks he's in control, but my fingers on a keyboard have a tough time finding a few trees in this haystack of needles. Wherever I settle, I always suspect a better choice is just around the corner. It is now a staple of scientific fantasy, or nightmare, to envision that human minds will one day be uploaded onto a vast computer network like the Internet.
While I am agnostic about whether we will ever break the neural code, allowing our inner lives to be read out as a series of bits, I notice that the prophesied upload is slowly occurring in my own case. For instance, the other day I recalled a famous passage from Adam Smith that I wanted to cite: something about an earthquake in China.
But I have thousands of books spread throughout my house, and they are badly organized. I recently spent an hour looking for a title, and then another skimming its text, only to discover that it wasn't the book I had wanted in the first place. Why not just type the words "adam smith china earthquake" into Google? Mission accomplished. Of course, more or less everyone has come to depend on the Internet in this way.
Increasingly, however, I rely on Google to recall my own thoughts. Being lazy, I am prone to cannibalizing my work: something said in a lecture will get plowed into an op-ed; the op-ed will later be absorbed into a book; snippets from the book may get spoken in another lecture. This process will occasionally leave me wondering just how and where and to what shameful extent I have plagiarized myself.
Once again, the gates of memory swing not from my own medial temporal lobes but from a computer cluster far away, presumably where the rent is lower. This migration to the Internet now includes my emotional life. For instance, I occasionally engage in public debates and panel discussions where I am pitted against some over-, under-, or mis-educated antagonist. Which view is closer to reality? In any case, it is the only one that will endure. Increasingly, I develop relationships with other scientists and writers that exist entirely online.
Jerry Coyne and I just met for the first time in a taxi in Mexico. But this was after having traded hundreds of emails. Almost every sentence we have ever exchanged exists in my Sent Folder. Our entire relationship is, therefore, searchable. I have many other friends and mentors who exist for me in this way, primarily as email correspondents. This has changed my sense of community profoundly. There are people I have never met who have a better understanding of what I will be thinking tomorrow than some of my closest friends do.
And there are surprises to be had in reviewing this digital correspondence. I recently did a search of my Sent Folder for the phrase "Barack Obama" and discovered that someone wrote to me in to say that he intended to give a copy of my first book to his dear friend, Barack Obama. Why didn't I remember this exchange? Because, at the time, I had no idea who Barack Obama was. Searching my bit stream, I am reminded not only of what I used to know, but of what I never properly understood.
I am by no means infatuated with computers. I do not belong to any social networking sites; I do not tweet yet ; and I do not post images to Flickr. But even in my case, an honest response to the Delphic admonition "know thyself" already requires an Internet search. When you're on a plane, watching the cars below; the blinking, moving workings of a city, it's easy to believe that everything is connected, just moving parts in the same system.
If you're one of the individual drivers on the ground, driving your car from B to A, the perspective is, of course, different. The individual driver feels very much like an individual, car to match your personality, on way to your chosen destination. The driver never feels like a moving dot in a row of a very large number of other moving dots.
The Internet sometimes makes me suspect that I'm that driver. Having the information from so many disparate systems merged often invisibly , is steering my behavior into all kinds of paths, which I can only hope are beneficial. The visible connectedness through the Web has changed, maybe not how I think, but has increased the number of people whose thoughts are in my head. Good or bad, this new level of connectedness sometimes gives me the feeling that if I could only be picked up a few feet over ground, what I would see, is an ant hill.
All the ants, looking so different and special up close, seem suspiciously alike from this height. This new tool for connections has made more ants available every time I need to carry a branch, just as there are more ants in the way when I want to get in with the picnic basket. But, as a larger variety of thoughts and images pass by, as I can search a thought and see the number of people who have had the same thought before me — as more and more systems talk to each other and take care of all kinds of logistics, I do think that this level of connectedness pushed us — beneficially — towards both the original and the local.
We can go original, either in creation or curation, and, if good, carve a new, little path in the anthill — or we can copy one of all the things out there and bring it home to our local group. Some ants manage to be original enough to benefit the whole anthill. But other ants can copy and modify the good stuff and bring it home. And in this marching back and forth, trying to get things done, communicate, make sense of things, I see myself not looking to leaders, but to curators who can efficiently signal where to find the good stuff. What is made accessible to me through the Internet might not be changing how I think, but it does some of my thinking for me.
And above all, the Internet is changing how I see myself. As real world activity and connections continue to be what matters most to me, the Internet, with its ability to record my behavior, is making it clearer that I am, in thought and in action, the sum of the thoughts and actions of other people to a greater extent then I have realized. In order to be a scientist, one must first climb the body of the giant, i. Reading the published work of other scientists is therefore the most fundamental activity that we perform as academics.
The Internet is changing not just the way we use the giant, but also how the giant grows with the accretion of new knowledge. There are two ways in which scientists learn about relevant literature. One is to browse new publications, another is when they get cited by other papers. The former is more common in fast moving fields like medicine and physics, but the second is widespread in my own field of ecology, where the longevity of most research papers judged by the half-life of citation decay is in excess of a decade.
The Internet has far-reaching consequences for both modes of knowledge acquisition. Reading new publications has been revolutionised by services that alert us via email whenever new papers are published in a defined topic area.
This means it's no longer necessary to spend time in the library looking though tables of contents TOC. Although this has obvious benefits in efficiency, there is a cost in terms of the breadth of articles we are likely to consume. In the old days, one would glance at all the titles and perhaps most of the abstracts in a particular journal issue.
For example, the current issue of the journal Ecology contains articles on bacteria, plants, insects, fish and birds, covering a wide range of research topics, both theoretical and empirical. Electronic TOC alerts mean that most researchers encounter only articles in their own area of specialism and are therefore much less likely to come across new and potentially transformative ideas.
There is a paradox here: the Internet offers the potential to access the full spectrum of research papers, but actually results in a narrowing of focus. The same phenomenon has been observed in online social networks, which are no more socially and ethnically heterogeneous than real ones. The Internet revolution has equally profound consequences for the second mode of knowledge acquisition.
In the old days, I would read an article from start to finish and make a list of relevant citations to fetch from the library. Nowadays, the ubiquity of electronic articles in portable document format PDFs means I can get the cited article on screen in just a few clicks. There's no longer any need to move from my desk, or even to finish one article before going on to the next.
Often when reading a PDF, I simply scan the text in search of a key assertion or statement. This changes the very nature of scientific publications and the way they are used. Articles become known through citation for a single contribution to knowledge: either a new method or a surprising result, but never both. The changes to scientists' reading habits due to the Internet are similar to the distinction between grazing and browsing animals.
Grazers like cattle consume grass in bulk during intensive feeding bouts. Most grass is not especially nutritious and is regurgitated later as the animals sit reflectively and chew the cud. Bulk feeding and rumination means that cattle are large and ungainly creatures. By contrast, browsers like deer are much more picky in the plants they eat and select only the greenest shoots.
This means that deer consume smaller quantities of food than cattle, but are constantly on the move and spend much less time at rest. Thus, the modern Internet-era scientist may be mentally nimble as the deer is physically nimble, but lacks time for cattle-like rumination. The Internet has undoubtedly brought great benefits to us all. At the same time, the Internet make us more specialised and compartmentalised in the kinds of knowledge we access and absorb. This is a problem is an age where interdisciplinary solutions are required to solve the complex and sometimes conflicting problems of climate change, poverty, disease and biodiversity loss.
In this setting, the role of informal fora for cross-disciplinary engagement becomes even more important. Here it's harder to see the Internet as a solution because the chat room can never provide the chance encounters, nor replicate the convivial cosiness, of an old-fashioned low-tech coffee room.
One look the 'most active search terms', called 'Google Zeitgeist', or the current 'TV ratings winners', or MTV's 'top ten musical artists' and I get the uncanny feeling of being surrounded by an alien race of humanoids. And what are they doing with these glorious resources? Even the most committed theorists of postmodern simulation began to speak about the return of the real as they watched the images of September There is an old tradition in Western art that presents an artist as a walking catastrophe, and—at least from Baudelaire on—modern artists were adept at creating images of evil lurking behind the surface, which immediately won the trust of the public.
However old, this strategy has rarely missed its mark. Here, in fact, contemporary art exposes how our entire celebrity culture works: through calculated disclosures and self-disclosures. Celebrities politicians included are presented to the contemporary audience as designed surfaces, to which the public responds with suspicion and conspiracy theories.
According to the economy of symbolic exchange that Marcel Mauss and Georges Bataille explored, the individuals who show themselves to be especially nasty e. But there is also a subtler and more sophisticated form of self-design as self-sacrifice: symbolic suicide.
Following this subtler strategy of self-design, the artist announces the death of the author, that is, his or her own symbolic death. In this case, the artist does not proclaim himself or herself to be bad, but to be dead. The resulting artwork is then presented as being collaborative, participatory, and democratic.
A tendency toward collaborative, participatory practice is undeniably one of the main characteristics of contemporary art. Numerous groups of artists throughout the world are asserting collective, even anonymous authorship of their work. Moreover, collaborative practices of this type tend to encourage the public to join in, to activate the social milieu in which these practices unfold. But this self-sacrifice that forgoes individual authorship also finds its compensation within a symbolic economy of recognition and fame.
Participative art reacts to the modern state of affairs in art that can be described easily enough in the following way: the artist produces and exhibits art, and the public views and evaluates what is exhibited. This arrangement would seem primarily to benefit the artist, who shows himself or herself to be an active individual in opposition to a passive, anonymous mass audience.
Modern art can thus easily be misconstrued as an apparatus for manufacturing artistic celebrity at the expense of the public. However, it is often overlooked that in the modern period, the artist has always been delivered up to the mercy of public opinion—if an artwork does not find favor with the public, then it is de facto recognized as being devoid of value. In ancient temples, aesthetic disapproval was insufficient reason to reject an artwork.
The statues produced by the artists of that time were regarded as embodiments of the gods: they were revered, one kneeled down before them in prayer, one sought guidance from them and feared them. Poorly made idols and badly painted icons were in fact also part of this sacred order, and to dispose of any of them out would have been sacrilegious. This value derives from the participation of both artist and public in communal religious practices, a common affiliation that relativizes the antagonism between artist and public.
By contrast, the secularization of art entails its radical devaluation. This is why Hegel asserted at the beginning of his Lectures on Aesthetics that art was a thing of the past. No modern artist could expect anyone to kneel in front of his or her work in prayer, demand practical assistance from it, or use it to avert danger.
The most one is prepared to do nowadays is to find an artwork interesting, and of course to ask how much it costs. Price immunizes the artwork from public taste to a certain degree—had economic considerations not been a factor in limiting the immediate expression of public taste, a good deal of the art held in museums today would have landed in the trash a long time ago. Communal participation within the same economic practice thus weakens the radical separation between artist and audience to a certain degree, encouraging a certain complicity in which the public is forced to respect an artwork for its high price even when that artwork is not well liked.
Though the price of an artwork is the quantifiable result of an aesthetic value that has been identified with it, the respect paid to an artwork due to its price does not by any means translate automatically into any form of binding appreciation. This binding value of art can thus be sought only in noncommercial, if not directly anti-commercial practices. For this reason, many modern artists have tried to regain common ground with their audiences by enticing viewers out of their passive roles, by bridging the comfortable aesthetic distance that allows uninvolved viewers to judge an artwork impartially from a secure, external perspective.
The majority of these attempts have involved political or ideological engagement of one sort or another. Religious community is thus replaced by a political movement in which artists and audiences communally participate. When the viewer is involved in artistic practice from the outset, every piece of criticism uttered becomes self-criticism. Shared political convictions thus render aesthetical judgment partially or completely irrelevant, as was the case with sacral art in the past. To put it bluntly: it is now better to be a dead author than to be a bad author.
Click to start a discussion of the article above. Subscription pending. Your email subscription is almost complete. An email has been sent to the email address you entered. In this email is a confirmation link. Please click on this link to confirm your subscription. Journal Production of Sincerity These days, almost everyone seems to agree that the times in which art tried to establish its autonomy—successfully or unsuccessfully—are over. November 1, Natalie Portman was spotted wearing a mask as she left a party in Beverly Hills.
Source: Just Jared. Courtesy Annet Gelink Gallery. Wall paintings in the monasteries of Lake Tana. Download PDF. The processes of the factory have entered the museum in ways that Warhol and Duchamp could never have dreamed: the amount of art production now by far exceeds what can be processed or understood, and this often creates a degree of mistrust and an absence of common points of reference with which to not only discuss, but also to gain anything from the sheer volume of artworks placed on display today.
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