From Bill Keller’s NY Times op-ed The Twitter Trap:
Basically, we are outsourcing our brains to the cloud. The upside is that this frees a lot of gray matter for important pursuits like FarmVille and “Real Housewives.” But my inner worrywart wonders whether the new technologies overtaking us may be eroding characteristics that are essentially human: our ability to reflect, our pursuit of meaning, genuine empathy, a sense of community connected by something deeper than snark or political affinity.
The most obvious drawback of social media is that they are aggressive distractions. Unlike the virtual fireplace or that nesting pair of red-tailed hawks we have been live-streaming on nytimes.com, Twitter is not just an ambient presence. It demands attention and response. It is the enemy of contemplation. […]
I’m not even sure these new instruments are genuinely “social.” There is something decidedly faux about the camaraderie of Facebook, something illusory about the connectedness of Twitter. Eavesdrop on a conversation as it surges through the digital crowd, and more often than not it is reductive and redundant.
I’m inclined to agree with the central thesis of Keller’s column, but at the same time my (dramatically reduced) usage of apps like Twitter still yield real benefits. For example, were it not for Twitter, I would not have known that my friend Humberto happened to be in NYC at the same time as me last month.
This sort of criticism applies to many technologies, but I wonder if there are technologies that could work in the opposite direction and make contemplation easier. Something like interruption filtering could do this. I find that single-purpose devices are easier to concentrate on, too. For example, it’s easier for me to concentrate on my kindle than it is with an iPad. Books are tough to beat in that regard, though.
Maybe this question is nonsense, I’m not sure, but it’s a bit depressing to think that the technologies that we adopt will inexorably lead us down this path of fleeting superficial interactions.
(and to those of you who have recommended that I read “The Shallows”- it’s on my list, but I haven’t got around to it yet)