The “Better-Nevers” of Technology

I was thinking about my life and the web the other day and talking to some friends over lunch about how I love that i’m married to a woman who enjoys the web and has intellectual curiosity about it. I was then approached by a woman in a restaurant who was eavesdropping on my conversation. She called me over and then went on for 10 minutes telling me how my love of technology is what’s making the world so horrible. How my blind devotion to electricity is polluting the lakes and ruining the planet. I’ll spare you the “conversation” but let’s just say, i left wishing she hadn’t felt a need to share and that my friends were quicker to pull me away.

So, for her and her hatred of technology, I’d like to share a quote i just read:

“When department stores had Christmas window with clockwork puppets, the world was going to pieces; when the city streets were filled with horse-drawn carriages running by bright-colored posters, you could no longer tell the real from the simulated; when people were listening to shellac 78’s and looking at color newspaper supplements, the world had become a kaleidoscope of disassociated imagery; and when the broadcast air was filled with droning black-and-white images of men in suits reading news, all of life had become indistinguishable from your fantasies of it. It was Marx, not Steve Jobs, who said that the character of modern life is that everything falls apart”

History repeats itself. The world is changing and that change frightens people and computers are thus responsible for the problems. This isn’t the case. It’s not the web making the world a worse place. Relax people.

The above quote is from a great piece in the New Yorker (thanks to Sara for sending to me) which compares the three types of people that focus on the web: the Never-Betters (probably me), The Better-Nevers (woman at restaurant) and the Ever-Wasers. All are seen as flawed in the article. The author does come to a point where every author talking about this topic does – Steve Johnson came to a similar conclusion here – where he states that the world and the self are a bit different with the web around but it’s not as radical as everyone is claiming. I like his library analogy. Reading it, I picture myself in a room with a bed in the Baker Tower library stacks and living there. He writes,

There’s a spooky sense where the Internet is just a loud and unlimited library in which we now live – as if one went to sleep every night in the college stacks, surrounded by pamphlets and polemics and possibilities. There is the sociology section, the science section, old sheet music and menus, ….It is odd and new to be living in the library; but there isn’t anything odd and new about the library.

I like that. It isn’t the Internet that’s the issue, it’s the omnipresence of it. This point is further punctuated in the book “Hamlet’s Blackberry” where the author describes that the family in the book makes a deal to have Unplugged Sunday to better themselves, and that the No Screens agreement doesn’t include television. What? It was only 20-30 years ago when all this madness towards the Internet was similarly being directed at the “boob tube”. But, as the NY’er author points out, “once you’re not everything, you can be merely something. The real demon in the machine is the tirelessness of the user.”

Yes, this I wholeheartedly agree. So, i guess if it wasn’t this one Internety thing, it’d be something else shiny and culture-altering i’d be throwing my heart and spirit into. Me – for now i’m quite happy with what we’ve got. Sorry crazy woman from the restaurant.

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