Working in the trenches of humanities in face of the rise in the last decades of the internet and the overwhelming belief that knowledge is about information and data and number crunching, that everything about being human can be reduced to scientific investigation, I have been very concerned about where we are going as a people.
It is as if utilitarianism and efficiency and speed are all the driving forces behind anything we now consider most valuable. Everything is short and sweet and public. If it doesn't make us richer, faster, or easier, we don't want it. We don't think it is worth pursuing.
We are becoming thin and instant like our devices. We are remaking ourselves in the images of our devices.
We are scattering our attention. Like our devices, we do two or three things at once. We watch TV and check our email, giving neither full attention, while ignoring the other people in the room. Screens intersect and offset us from others as we type away behind them.
At restaurants, in classrooms, in cars we are on the internet, uploading pictures to Facebook to get instant feedback about where we are or what we are doing. Nothing seems to wait. Gaming draws us in and keeps us coming back, psychologically preying on our desire for instant feedback and success.
We mistake computer intelligence for the human mind. We are held in the grips of our iPhones, iPads, our Facebooks, Twitters, and Texts, as if they were lifelines that plug our brains into other brains. Some of us have become so addicted to technology that to unplug, even for a day, is traumatic.
I am not against technology. I have a laptop, iPhone, iPad, a digital camera and all the rest. And I love them. What I worry about is what this is all doing to us so quickly. What are our lives becoming? How has it changed the way we think about things? Interact with others? Value things?
Where is our humanity in all this? What is happening to us spiritually and intellectually as we disengage and devalue the pursuit of knowledge which we have mistaken for information? When we are convinced that we can reduce everything about us to scientific answers?
Leon Wieselttier gives us something to think about in his commencement address published by Republic
. He argues that humanities and its pursuit has suddenly become countercultural. Take a look. It is worth the read.