Mark Steyn is an evil idiot. He is evil because he exploits people’s fears, he is an idiot because he chooses to be evil. —- Ember. (24th November 2007).
So, shut up, Steyn, You’re just Hollinger media group’s Foxy Bitch— Ember (28th October 2007)
Both quotes are by me, written on the internet under my online pseudonym of Ember (not to be confused with my fictional character Ember). The first quote I found lingering somewhere in the Digital Cloud posted on some website. It made me laugh, especially as I have no memory of ever writing it. The second quote had appeared on my pseudonymous blog post which was a book review of Mark Steyn’s New York Times bestselling book, America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It. In short, I read this book and I was kind of….pissed off….
It was actually this second quote–addressing Mark Steyn as a “foxy bitch”– that turned my almost unknown Blog (in 2007 you didn’t have LIKE, FOLLOW and SHARE buttons on WordPress.com) into an overnight sensation for a week or two. WHY? Because, for some reason, Mark Steyn’s Official Website chose me– “Emberglow”– as “The Reader of the Week”. That quote appeared on the front of Steyn’s website with a link to my blog post. In half a day, I had about 200 views, next day total views had increased to 400, and they kept rising for a week.
It was a heady feeling. I wish I had the balls to come out under my real name, probably it could have started some kind of writing career for me. However, I must add, I never was and will not be a Liberal or a Lefty. I was not against Mark Steyn’s politics, but my criticism had all to do with Mark Steyn’s intentions in that book and his disengenuous presentation of facts to spread–what I believed– xenophobia and racism.
But yeah, I could post my bold views while hiding behind a digital nebula. And still, Mark Steyn’s website in North America could link instantly to my website posted from the South Island of New Zealand, which in turn would instantly bring me hundreds of visitors (and many irate commenters) from all over the globe. Yet, not ONE of them ever knew me. We were all Hyperconnected and utterly disjointed at the same time……
In this post I talk of the dark side of Hyperconnectivity. Actually, on the Wikipidia page this definition– mentioning hyperconnectivity between brain cells– eerily sums up what I am trying to say about the digital hyperconnectivity and its effect on human brain:
Hyperconnectivity is used in medical terminology to explain billions and billions of neurons creating excessive connections, within the brain associated with schizophrenia, or epileptic seizures….
I started this post with my views on Mark Steyn’s book–posted online– because about 5 years later, today, I can still dig up the text. In a way I am not only fessing up but I am also claiming an anonymous text as mine. Isn’t it amazing that all that we write on the internet–under our real name or pseudonym– will probably stay there forever as one digital mirror image or another, long after we are dead? That’s the wonder of Digital Cloud.
The Digital State We Are In: Our personal Digital Cloud or, say, our Digital Footprint, is no longer as anonymous as we would like it to be. Now our unique Digital Cloud which contains all the information related to our online activities (including shopping, credit card usage, internet banking), and identities, accounts and profiles created on different websites. So, if you have any dark secrets and if you have frequently broken the law, I hate to tell you, you’re being watched. Go offline and hire a Good Lawyer whose contact details you can find on Google… (in that case, probably you should stay online……)…. :-)
Hyperconnectivity has bombarded us with so much fragmented and blazing bits of information that we’re forever in a state of fugue or debilitating mental confusion. We cannot even remember all of our usernames and passwords, let alone what we posted/ created on a particular account or website. On Facebook and Twitter, we may have HUNDREDS of friends but we don’t reallly know them. It is humanly impossible to converse with hundreds of people at the same time or even to remember their faces and names. So, despite “friending” each other we remain strangers. In fact often our carefully manufactured pretty lies ensure that we always remain unknown to each other.
And….We Google a subject and are led to Hundreds of “relevant” websites, we spend hours clicking on the links and reading. Instead of being informed we’re muddled and confused. Or worse, we even forget what we were searching for in the first place. Soon we discover that Google has put us on a different track and now we are enthusiastically researching and searching for an entirely different topic! We may have started a search on groin sweat rash, but now we are diligently researching melanoma and developing a serious case of Internet Induced Hypochondria. We may even be watching porn (if you’re a male) or buying shoes, clothes, skin creams, lip gloss and handbags online (if you’re a female).
And we have NO IDEA how we ended up the way we did. Google made us do it….. And here I may introduce an article (published in The Atlantic Monthly in July 2008) that was much talked about in the Blogosphere: Is Google Making Us Stupid?
I notice that now the article itself has its own LONG Wikipedia page. Besides, I am not sure how enlightening the endless conversations on this article in the Blogosphere might have been. In fact, it is nothing but ironical that an article about the Infinite Internet Digital Dross only ends up producing MORE Internet Digital Dross.
Anyway, the article talks about the reduced attention span and adverse cognitive effects on humans due to Internet Information deluge. In 2010 Sven Birkerts published another LONG and rather academic article in The American Scholar, Reading in Digital Age that echoes the anxieties of the digital age for book writers and book readers. Among other things Birkerts too talks about “Is Google Making Us Stupid” article. I find it queer that both articles appeared and now remain available online. The conversations coming from these learned minds about the adverse effects of internet mostly take place on the Internet itself!
From all of Birkerts’s LONG academic meanderings about the threats of digital age I think this short sentence sums it up:
Concentration is no longer a given; it has to be strategized, fought for.
My own reponse to Hyperconnectivity and its adverse effects has been to switch off, not have an active Facebook etc. account with hundreds of other Facebook users on my Friend-list. When I did try Facebook I was bombarded with instant text messages because someone, somewhere, sometime is always online. Once in a while my deceitful “Rajiv is Offline” setting guard would slip off and I–in order to be polite to an exuberant online chatter, usually a woman–would find myself having mind-numbing chitchats for hours. The best way to avoid it was to have ZERO friends on Facebook. Why take a chance?
But as the world hurtles forward valiantly–and blindfolded– into the chaotic digital future, despite my wary wisdom, I too find myself getting pulled in. I am writing this Blog Post, aren’t I!? To thicken the plot, I recently bought a modern–albeit second-hand and inexpensive–cellphone that runs on Android Operating System, which is owned by Google. Talking of Android…..
Get used to this Guy. He is Android, the God of the Wireless Digital World and its infinite devices. He (It?) is Omnipotent, Omniscient and OMNIPRESENT….
With a Wifi Connection–which I almost always have–my cellphone becomes a Live Internet Web Browser/Surfer, it shows me constant updates on my Gmail (that, of course, is connected to WordPress and all others of my online accounts). Even though I discourage people from texting me or making calls on my cellphone, my cellphone and my laptop are always with me, pulling me cruelly into their Digital Blackhole with never-ending commands: Interact! Buy!… Adventure! Buy!… Health! Buy!… Look! Buy!… Connect! Buy!… Hot Dates and Brides! Buy!… Perve! Buy!… Women! Buy!… Love! Buy!… Sex! Buy!… God! Buy!… Jesus! Buy…Salvation! Buy!… (And remember, If you Blog now, on more and more Blogging platforms– without your permission– commercial advertisements are placed alongside your posts. You want to take those ads off? Buy!)
I am deluged with all these commands while I am fighting hard to concentrate on something that needs longer attention span, for example reading a book of serious literature, curent affairs (to solve world’s problems), history or university text books! The fact is that we need to strategically CONCENTRATE for sustained periods without distractions in order to memorize, learn and master new things. There is no other way around it (forget about “speed reading”). It seems even immense Sitzfleish would fail to make us productive if an internet connection is on our desktop….. Forever stuck in the digital information storm we are losing our ability to be alone, unplug and FOCUS…..
Like everyone else, I do love Google (and Internet) but it seems their reach into my life–and yours, you online reader– is both profound and profoundly disturbing. I wrote a small letter in response to Sven Birkerts article (The American Scholar appreciated it with a short response but could not publish) that expresses my frustrations, fears and mixed feelings about the hyperconnectivity and learning. Here’s the text:
Sven Birkerts rightly bemoans and seems to resignedly accept the fact that the digital age is overriding the printed text and abiding love for reading and cherishing books. Not odd that I too get to read his article from New Zealand on the internet through American Scholar’s website.
I was introduced to Internet at age 19 when I was getting serious about in-depth reading. For years I did squander countless hours reading lots on the internet, yet only feeding my brain what I would call truncated information. By age 27, disillusioned by internet and having rediscovered public library I turned to real books. I am a much better thinking human being as a result.
But still, there are days when I compulsively search and read information on digital platforms such as Google (The God of information retrieval) and Wikipedia. Though, I enjoy my digital information joy-rides, at the end of it I cannot help feeling that all I did was indulge in a long session of intellectual masturbation, with no profound rewards to speak of. (May 22, 2010).
[My own feeling about E-Readers is not that they would destroy reading but that they too will get destroyed by Hyperconnectivity. You may want to check out The Imminent Death of E-Reader]
Lastly, I would like to introduce you to Michael Almereyda’s amazing movie adaptation–Hamlet (2000)– based on William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. On first viewing this movie may leave you confused and exhausted. I think it is one of those movies that needs multiple viewings before your brain starts to register its embedded messages. I’m sure that in the coming decades we will look back on it as a CLASSIC. The movie highlights the dark side of Hyperconnectivity. It is more relevant to us today than it was in 2000. Like most great art, it was prophetic and its meanings are unraveling now.
Here are three pictures of Ethan Hawke as Hamlet.
Almereyda’s Hamlet Lost in Technological Fugue. (Picture Source)
Hamlet lost in the Profusion of Media, 24-7 Entertainment and Information. (Picture Source)
Suicidal Despair in the High-Tech Fugue (Picture Source)
Almereyda depicts Hamlet who is deeply mired in the technological fugue. What I find more alarming is that Hamlet’s technological fugue corresponds to the late 1990s. All of the Blogging, Google, Social Networking Storms riding high on the waves of Broadband Internet, WiFi and 3G and 4G Cellphone data transmission had not even appeared on the scene. (Here’s my brief recap of Internet Explosion in the 2000s). If Almereyda’s Hamlet was living in the 2000s, I think he would have pulled the trigger on that handgun.
But even in the year 2000 Hamlet is constantly messing around on his computer, he is contanstly making videos, he is constantly editing and re-editing, playing and replaying those video clips on his computer and handycam. His room his filled with technological cacophony–fax machine, the beeps and messages of answering machine, loud static of Dial-Up modem, and other audio-visual sounds from different devices.
Conclusion: As far as I can foresee, Internet will continue to reward and curse us with ever increasing Hyperconnectivity. The commercial forces will come up with new designs to get us hyper-connected and get hooked for their purposes. But at some stage we–The Hyperconnected– will have to unplug or go insane.