Saturday, January 28, 2017

Signs of Humanity in the Digital Age

As one who enjoys the benefits of the digital age, I am often looking for signs of the older technology, signs of human connection so often missing when two people think they are relating to each other electronically but really are not. 

So the news of progress in the retro world of games, paper and print, found in Bill McKibben's review of a new book by David Sax (The Revenge of Analog), is very welcome.

Sax, like so many others, is concerned that the internet and other digital media, instead of forming a community, has made us more isolated; two people on their laptops in the same room are in different worlds.

So it is good to know that, just as vinyl records have had a huge comeback, so has the Moleskine notebook, which like any paper notebook, invites the kind of creativity and spontaneous writing or drawing that Hemingway or Picasso would have used.  Many young people, along with their iPhones, carry a black notebook.  Why?  The digital world provides a lot of opportunity, Sax says, for wasting time, for dispersing our attention from one thing to another in an endless stream of information.

A paper journal, like a printed book, limits us, concentrates our attention, rather than disperses it.  Magazines that have increased their subscriptions in the old-fashioned print format realize that people still like to have a text with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's not that consumers today are neo-Luddites, reacting against technology; it's that the older alternatives can be more inviting and more conducive to the imagination.

Consider the growth in board games. People want to be with other people, to share with them, to laugh and compete in real time, face to face.  The negative effect of video games on the imagination is an issue, so it is good to know that simple games that bring people together are thriving.

McKibben's piece in the current New York Review of Books is worth reading and might motivate you to check out the book by Sax.  Both agree with many other observers and experts that the computer revolution has real drawbacks in leading people to self-absorption, isolation, and to taking online classes that bore them.  Students want and deserve instruction that doesn't merely present facts but establishes a relationship, just as nearly everyone I know still prefers the concentrated focus that a printed book offers over an e-text.

I think the lesson here is that we can have the best of both worlds--and that, like the recent presidential campaign conducted extensively by tweets, the electronic form of communication by itself is severely limited. Even dangerous.

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