To Resist or Not?

Reading: Klaus Schwab, 2016, The Fourth Industrial Revolution (World Economic Forum), pp.14-26, 47-50, 67-73, 91-104.

The main question I get when I read pieces like this, and start to envision some sort of media driven dystopia is whether I should resist or not? The developments in technology I mean. I think I’m caught in a place between two generations, between those who grew up without our currently technology and those who grew up completely immersed in it, and between two modes of thinking about technology; a cynical, condemning view and an embracing, excited one. Like complaining that smart phones are ruining our interpersonal connections, while simultaneously forming important networks through social media. Heavily wound up in this question of whether to resist, is the desire to make a distinction between the online world and the offline one, the “real” and the “not real”. I wonder what impact making this attempting to make this distinction has on me?


I also was really interested in what influence the predictive power of the algorithm will have over human behavior and the amount of trust we may come to place in it. I hadn’t really conceptualized the way I’m exposed to the workings of the algorithm, such as to make predictions for what I should view on YouTube or Ads I might be interested in on Facebook, and the fact that it is essentially a mathematical process or set of rules. In particular I was thinking about the idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy and if the wiring of our brains will come to mimic such mathematical predictions.

There was a quote within the reading that claiming with the current state of media consumptions we are “overwhelmed and on overdrive”. I was talking about this the other day, about how I constantly need to be ticking off things on a “To Do List’ and how the abundance of apps on my phone with notifications to check, alarms to set, images to sort offers me a system that rewards me with short bursts of accomplishment and fulfillment. I become so addicted to this rewards cycle that I often become completely immersed in my phone, flicking quickly between apps, and can feel less accomplished if I’m not doing more than one task at once. As discussed in the reading Nicholas Carr the net is a “a machine geared for dividing our attention. Frequent interruptions scatter our thoughts, weaken our memory, and make us tense and anxious.”

I don’t know if I am so easy to demonize the iPhone, or social media or not unplugging out of a desire to be counterculture or because I honestly fear the negative impact it is having on me. One thing I do believe though is that I will be left behind in some sense of the phrase if I don’t embrace it.

Guns Don’t Kill People

I was particularly intrigued by this expert from Murphy, Andrew and John Pott’s, Culture and Technology (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Print.)

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I’ve been thinking about this in relation to a question that was discussed in the symposium about blogging and narcissism. I’ve often heard people suggest that the younger generations are become increasingly more self-involved/egotistical, always “uploading attention seeking images” or “posting attention seeking statues” to sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, personal blogs etc. It is interesting to question whether these technologies are mimicking the desires of an audience with increasing egos or whether the nature of the social networking sites themselves demands a narcissistic use.

There appears to be much research into whether or not Facebook and the likes encourage narcissism. Narcissism is defined as excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one’s physical appearance. Or in more psychological terms extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type. This article, by Lisa Firestone, discusses possible reasons for the spike in narcissism in up and coming generations, stating that “there is a significant amount of psychological research that shows that one’s personality is fairly well-established by age 7,” given that Facebook’s policy doesn’t allow users to register until age 13 “the personality traits of typical users are fairly well-ingrained by the time they get on a social network.”” This article and others I have read suggest that the narcissism spike is more to do with new forms of parenting and child education that focus heavily on constructing positive “self-esteem”. It is this emphasis of nurturing a child’s perception of themselves that encourages the praising of children even when they have not properly completed or accomplished a task. Firestone argues that “empty praise causes children to feel entitled while lacking the true confidence necessary to feel good about themselves. Our society’s shift towards instant gratification appears to be having a negative effect on our kids.”

While I do agree with Firestone on this, and understand that the use of Facebook and other social media sites can not cause someone to become a Narcissist per say, I do believe that our use of social media technologies is forcing us to constantly critique ourselves;, whether that be physical appearance, wit, prose or the number of countries we have visited. I can only speak for myself when I say that I know this use of media technologies causes me to think often about how others perceive me, and what I need to do to be received positively. Having grown up in a world of social networking, from having a Piczo at age 14, I am not sure if this self-reflection is actually just inherent, and most people experience the same social anxieties in the absence of social media.


Literary Machines: Newspeak

“Imagine a rebirth of literacy.”

Theodor Holm Nelson’s report Literary Machine’s discusses hypertext, “non sequential pieces of writing … that branches and allows choices to the reader, best read on an interactive screen.” He discusses how this degree of choice, lack of restriction and control of thought pathways by the reader allows greater degrees interaction between audience and text. The audience is no longer passive but plays an active role in the reading of a text. Readers are encouraged to follow their own line of thought, rather than one created for them. He states “imagine a new liberation literature with alternative explanations so anyone can choose the pathway or approach that best suits him or her; with ideas accessible and interesting to everyone, so that a new richness and freedom can come to the human experience; imagine a rebirth of literacy.”

Nelson dedicates the book and his vision of a world of hypertext to George Orwell, referencing Newspeak, a language spoken in his book 1984. Newspeak is an example of a language created to control thought. While the language we speak was not created with thought control in mind, it is interesting the limitations that words can have on thought. The Saphir-Whorf hypothesis for example suggests that the grammatical framework of your first language shapes the framework of your thinking, while Foucault’s discourse analysis, suggests power hierarchies in society are expressed and maintained through language. Though I think Derrida says it best when he states, “there is nothing outside the text” suggesting that the meaning is derived from the relationship of words to other words.

There is much debate on the effects of hypertext of both the reader and the writer and the relationship between the two. Literary critic Sven Birkerts believes that hypertext is destroying the role of literature in our culture, weakening our standard of writing and replacing order with chaos. Professor of English and Art History, George Landow suggests that audiences have not become active due to hypertext, reading has always been active, but rather they have become deliberate; reading a text in accordance with your own interests.

I’ve often thought about the effects that not only hypertext but also “literary machines” have on my writing and thereby the manner in which I think. I’ve kept a journal since I was six years old. When I was nineteen this stopped being in the form of a physical book, in pen to paper style, and transferred onto the screen, into a Word Document. Instead of thinking about what I wanted to say before letting my pen hit the paper I was now able to write freely and have the option to go back and alter my words or expression without consequence. I now prefer to write creatively on my computer rather than on paper. My fifteen year old self would be disgusted with this and I wonder if this has changed the way I think. Seeing words now in font, in neat lines, instead of scrawled chaotically in my own hand. Having freedom to erase words completely, leaving behind no trace of editing.

I do believe that the structure of language that I’m exposed to plays a role in not only shaping my own writing, but also my own thinking. Hypertext definitely plays an important role in my communication and research, allowing me to chose my own pathways and follow threads that interest me.

“Everything in contemporary society discourages interiority. More and more of our exchanges take place via circuits, and in their very nature those interactions are such as to keep us hovering in the virtual now, a place away from ourselves.”
― Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age