I feel it's time for a rant. It's been too long. My subject today is a question: "Is digital communication causing us to grow shallower by the minute?!" Let me expand. Does instant access to communication and information make us broader but shallower--in our relationships, knowledge, and critical thinking?

Take texting for example. It seems we've lost the ability to spell, write complete sentences, even articulate thoughts beyond 160 characters. Sorry, but emoticons don't count. Texting is fine for last minute updates on information ("running late")--but we all know that for many (kids in particular) this medium serves more purposes than this. As a possible consequence of this, I am now stunned by how many spelling errors I'm seeing not only in digital media, but also in print media. Boulder's Daily Camera gives me a wealth of examples each morning. It's fingernails-on-the-chalkboard for this English major.

I would argue that thoughtful, articulate communication requires time and space--and lack of interruption. My big fear is that we are not only growing shallower and losing our capacity for critical thinking (as a culture), but that we are inevitably giving way to our feelings and jettisoning our ability to reason well. As we get busier and more distracted by tweets, emails, IMs, facebooking (it's a verb now), etc--and as we customize all our preferences online--are we trading something essential--giving up quiet and solitude for constant noise? Thoughtful, considerate communication for more convenient instant contact?

What about these bizarre things people keep sending on Facebook--virtual flowers, coffee, blah, blah, blah. I know they're meant to indicate someone's thinking of you, but they strike me as impersonal and frankly ridiculous.

I'm fascinated by the changes we're witnessing and sharing together, but at the same time, I'll be honest: I'm troubled. I'm worried about our souls. Sometimes I feel we're like lemmings, rushing pell-mell to the cliff's edge, propelled by technology, and hurtling to our demise.

Okay, okay... that was a bit strong...but I am concerned. My ambivalence grows daily: I'm excited by the breadth and speed of information technology--but discomfited by what we may be sacrificing along the way. More and more the need to be "shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves" comes to mind--we need much wisdom to navigate the opportunities and perils of the digital age. Anybody with me? Or am I just getting old and crotchety?


John said...

o & c...

just kidding! in the internet industry, there are phrases for these things: "ambient intimacy", and "continuous partial attention". both oddly oxymoronic.

the thing is, it's not going to stop. these "small messages," as i like to call them, are going to become increasingly prevalent. the "stream" is becoming a river, and will soon be a flood. good or bad, there will be little escape.

what is the answer? i don't know. but i do agree that culturally, we are drifting away from depth, and towards scattered shallowness.

Carl Hofmann said...

Aha! I am NOT old and crotchety--not when a younger person and, indeed, someone in the industry, highlights the same concerns! :-)

John, thanks for your insights about the stream becoming a river. That's certainly how it feels to me, too. Without becoming a Luddite, how can we provide guidance through these rapids so folks don't drown?

As with Skye Jethani's prescription against consumerism (see earlier post), the answer will likely be the classic spiritual disciplines.

Wendy Redal said...

I share your observations and concerns, too. And your ambivalence. As one who also enjoys the ease of connecting with a broad circle via Facebook or even texting (a practical mode for me rather than preferred method, as for so many teens), at the same time my worry is what such methods are replacing, or, more accurately, displacing. I have chosen not (yet?) to jump on the Twitter bandwagon for just that reason: I already do not have enough time to communicate at the level of depth I'd like, and adding one more current to the stream won't be just an addition, it will usurp already limited time I could devote to a more in-depth form of thinking and sharing. My worry is that we may be raising a generation that will grow up unfamiliar with anything but 'abbreviated tweets,' so to speak. And they won't know what they are missing. It's kind of like with TV news: those of us old enough to remember it 20+ years ago, before the advent of the ratings-driven content demanded in an era of 24/7 cable and media mergers turned it into entertainment-oriented schlock, have a benchmark to compare it to. Younger news consumers don't -- as far as they are aware, the "news" has always been mostly about celebrities and child abductions. It's the loss of historical memory -- or literature as we once knew it (or correspondence) -- that frightens me.