By Deborah Vrabel
Books relevant to the topic of Rich iPresence have been central in my reading this month. I just finished four that affirmed the concerns I expressed about fragmentation but also made me examine this project more critically.
- Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us by Andrew Keen (2012)
- The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicolas Carr (2010)
- You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier (2010)
- Mindless: Why Smarter Machines are Making Dumber Humans by Simon Head (2014)
- The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in A World of Constant Connection by Michael Harris (2014)
- Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other by Sherry Turkle (2011)
Each of these authors warns that we underestimate the extent to which information technology shapes and controls our minds, individuality, relationships, economy, and culture. Reading them made me question whether iPresence could be rich at all.
Andrew Keen is an early Internet entrepreneur, the executive director of the Silicon Valley salon FutureCast, and the author of The Cult of the Amateur. He says we are trading our precious privacy and solitude for the empty status symbol of social media visibility. Heavy social media users, he says, are like “lab rats, constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment.” Those who are adding content to Facebook are not the site’s customers, he says. They are the product it sells to advertisers and marketers who want the personal data we readily provide for free.
Lanier is a pioneer in the field of virtual reality who has witnessed the rise of Silicon Valley firsthand. He says the predominant digital culture marginalizes authorship at the cost of individuality and creativity. He says the Web is dominated by “derivative expression” instead of work that is “genuinely new in the world.”
Carr is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who has published books and articles on technology, business, and culture. He says heavy use of online media reprograms the brain making it better at scanning and surfing but diminishing concentration, depth, memory. “When we go online,” he says, “we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.”
Head is an Associate Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford and a Scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. His focus is on the systems being used to monitor and measure workers, but he also spotlights how technology is being used to devalue the capabilities and experience of workers and middle managers, increasing economic inequality.
Turkle is the director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self and a licensed clinical psychologist. Her central idea is that we are reaching a point in history she calls “the robotic moment.” People are gaining emotional and philosophical readiness to “consider robots as potential friends, confidants, and even romantic partners,” a time when “the performance of connection seems connection enough.”
Harris is a journalist (or, as his magazine began to call him as it shifted from print to digital, a “content creator”). He calls attention to the fact that those of us born before 1985 will be the only people in history to know what it was like both before and after the Internet. Therefore, we are responsible to ask “What will we carry forward?” and “What worthy things might we thoughtlessly leave behind?” His central answer to the second question is that we may end up paying a high price for “the loss of lack, the end of absence.”
These thoughtful, well-researched works challenge me to think more deeply about how I and others who see the Web as an opportunity to express original ideas, engage in complex dialogue, and learn can counteract the negative side effects the authors reveal. Making iPresence “rich” may not be the road to fame and revenues, but I now believe it’s a worthy endeavor.