American Consequences - January 2018


By Christine Rosen

By now you’ve no doubt heard the warnings. The Internet is destroying our attention spans, making us lonely, spreading fake news, encouraging us to do stupid things, and otherwise destroying our minds.

Much of this is true. Loneliness and social isolation are on the rise. We’re more impatient. A survey conducted by Pew Research concluded that “the impact of networked living on today’s young will drive them to thirst for instant gratification, settle for quick choices, and lack patience.” And every day seems to bring a new story of an epic online fail by a business or an individual, usually a politician. And yet, until recently, the message from the creators of our digital nirvana has remained relentlessly positive. As smartphone use and social networking became ubiquitous during the past decade, so did the lofty promises of Silicon Valley’s technophiliacs. According to them, we would soon be riding around in self-driving cars, watching earnest documentaries on our virtual- reality goggles while a team of AI assistants efficiently answered our e-mails and texts. It was a networked future of crowd-sourced

intelligence and “frictionless sharing,” as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg described it. All was enthusiasm and possibility. Thoughtful skeptics of this utopian vision, such as Nicholas Carr, Sherry Turkle, Jaron Lanier, Evgeny Morozov, Matthew Crawford, and others, have warned us that our lemming-like enthusiasm for these Internet- enabled gadgets is turning us into a digital lumpenproletariat. Yet the tech elite dismiss them as cranky Luddites – people simply too unsophisticated to understand that the algorithms know best. Why rely on our puny individual brains when we had the vast resources of the collaborative hive mind to make us better, smarter, faster, and more meme-friendly?

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