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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Destroy the Idol, Delete Your Facebook







I’ve come to think that the most central problem of living in a time where networked technology pervades every aspect of our lives is oversimplification. I find myself, for example, searching for tools to get myself to do things rather than figuring out how to do them unaided. I search for alarms that will evade my flailing arms at 7 a.m. and apps to keep me undistracted while trying to write things I should have done days ago. However, I’m eschewing my very problem, which is that I have no solution of my own and I’m not really trying to find any particular one.

Recently, I’ve become lazy enough to have Apple’s Find My iPhone app locate my phone when I’m reasonably certain it’s right under my sheets. Granted, I’ve never really had much of a short-term memory, but I should probably work on that instead of sending signals to a server located in Virginia to make my phone ring.

Moreover, if you have a question, then just ask someone nearby. A few weeks ago one of my housemates wanted to know in what year Jamestown was founded. I immediately spat out 1607, which, if our brains actually had a specific area for useless facts, would be located firmly inside said area. Please, allow your friends the opportunity to stroke your trivial egos with some trivial facts. It’s much more satisfying than bouncing around Wikipedia. Indeed, it’s inherently more random, if slightly less effective, when you really need to know when Jamestown was founded, but such randomness is exactly what we need to confront the processed reality of the Internet.

Evgeny Morozov, in his book “To Save Everything, Click Here,” contends that the kind of conditioning we’re subject to under the relative hegemony of tech companies is not a mode of advertising but rather a promise of solutions before we can formulate the problem. If we can search and find our own answers, then we fall prey to those answers that satisfy us most. To belabor a point from last time, we fall prey to our own biases, which our search inquiries.

We see the Internet as a historical inevitability. As he argues, “It is no longer discussed as something contingent, as something that can go away; it appears fixed and permanent, perhaps even ontological—‘the Internet’ just is and it always will be.” He goes on to compare the current monolithic concept of “the Internet” to capitalism itself. To be honest, I’m not done with the book and Morozov’s tone strikes me as polemic at times, but I recommend it an escape from exactly those notions of inevitability that I sometimes find myself steeped in.

We need to try and envision something beyond the medium, so let’s stop deifying it. To that end, we need to stop being “upworthied” and “buzzfed” because, as I discussed last time, those notions and those sites exist to bait us into passive acceptance of the contemporary by clicking through instead of participating. It’s tempting to browse yet say nothing, or worse, troll one’s way out of a discussion, which is my last point particularly as it relates to Grinnell.

All this searching without real interaction and substantive discussion will lead to a reductive culture filled with smarm. Confirmation of our own biases in isolation from each other is the core concept behind monetization on the Internet itself. In the end, it breeds sophomoric ignorance of nuance in favor of smaller and smaller cliques of opinions. Vice Magazine asked 150 of the “world’s smartest people” what they thought the world should worry about, the response from physicist Anton Zeilinger stuck with me: “What I worry most about is that we are more and more losing the formal and informal bridges between different intellectual, mental and humanistic approaches to seeing the world.” Are we losing those bridges, as I think, or does the Internet enhance them somehow?

At any rate, if anything I said throughout this series bugs you because of my own myopic or sophomoric ranting, then leave a comment. Do it for posterity or because you’re a damn troll, but do it in love. Yeah, Grinnell, do it in love.

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