Strange Times

We live in strange times when to think critically about emerging technologies, and to ask difficult questions about how to harness our technologies towards the ends of making us more human, is to invite the criticism of being a Luddite. It should be an axiom of the examined life that as new tools and art forms become available to us, they should be the subject of deep reflection, and that the intellectual life should admit no boundaries to the scope of it’s reflections. Sometimes the willingness to ask questions is more important than the answers we arrive at. But not so in the anti-intellectual climate of today. I am increasingly finding that certain questions are taboo, and that caricatures like “Luddite” and “old fashion” are functioning as substitute for genuine refutation.

I have received backlash from my TSM post on digital addiction and information overload, and the strange thing is that the grounds of the criticism seems to rest with the fact that I have even raised questions about overuse of smart-phones. I was approached this evening for the second time with a complaint about the research methods I allegedly employed in this article. The TSM article in question is a personal testimony about my own experience with digital addiction and what I learned when studying about neuroplasticity. The article it is not a manifesto against the smart-phone and it is certainly not anti-technology. But here is the strange thing: both times I was approached with criticisms about the research methods I employed, I asked my detractors whether they had actually read the article beyond the headline. In both cases it emerged that the people had not actually read the article – they had merely seen a link to it on social media and reacted to that. Which rather proves my original point. In each case I inquired whether it was more than a little ironic that they would sum up a complex line of argumentation and data on the basis of simply seeing the article’s title on social media when the article itself is about the type of cursory and impressionistic thinking that our online habits so easily squeeze us into. As if in silent confirmation that reason plays little role in such discussions, one person walked away while I was asking the question and another person (with whom the discussion was happening publicly on Facebook) deleted my reply.

What I took away from these interactions is that I’d rather be a Luddite who can still think than to have all the technology in the world and be afraid to use my brain.