Today's Column

From the Hattiesburg American.

A FEW DAYS AGO I sat in Starbucks wishing I had my camera with me.

A line of people formed, all waiting to order lattes, all looking down at phones rather than ahead toward whatever people watched while in line before ubiquitous text messaging.

The symmetry of the scene would have framed well for a photograph. It also framed well into my own sense of social irony.

It reminded me of a book I’ve been reading, “You Are Not a Gadget” by Jaron Lanier, the basic premise of which is that too much of the wrong kind of technological engagement erodes the human spirit.

A steady stream of fragmentary information and fragmentary communication dehumanizes social interaction and makes people mean and crazy.

They go along with the hive mind and pursue mob crusades which often are hostile in nature.

Lanier has a point. You don’t have to look very far to find examples of mob behavior online tending toward shallow and cruel.

His is just one of a number of books out lately questioning the human consequences of too much technology.

Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” was just released this week. Carr is also the author of “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” This was an article published two years ago in “The Atlantic” that received enormous attention, enough at least to have its own Wikipedia page.

Carr says our brains are actually changing to accommodate technological saturation and not in a good way. We’re shallower and more easily distracted, and this can be measured at even the neurological level. Disturbing stuff.

I did read Carr’s article and his Wikipedia page. I have not yet read his book because it was not available for Kindle. When I realized I couldn’t acquire it with one push of one button on the gadget in hand, I moved on to become just another of the shallows.

Man makes machine. Machine threatens man. This is a familiar plot. We tell it over and over and have since the Industrial Revolution spawned an age of Romantic poetry and the monster Frankenstein.

Questioning anything that overtakes society at such a rapid rate as technological change is necessary and good. We do need to step back from the gadgets sometimes and remember our humanity.

I’ll do that tomorrow. My iPad just arrived.

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