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#510#511#512#513 Episode #514 - Virtual Reality & the Fragmentation of Modern Consciousness
(Is The Internet Making Us Stupid?)



Sat 28 August 2010  Steve Talbott (reading), Nicholas Carr, Ivan Illich, Heather Menzies
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Download Hour1 Download Hour2Computer technology promises to be make work ever more efficient. But efficient at what? And why? If technology is saving people time, why do they seem to have so little left for what matters? The first hour features a presentation from last month by Nicholas Carr, author of "Is The Internet Making Us Stupid?", introduced by an essay from Steve Talbott, "Multitasking Ourselves to Death". We conclude with a few minutes of history from the great techno-sceptic, Ivan Illich, followed by a speech from Heather Menzies, author of "No Time, Stress, and the Crisis of Modern Life".
"Multi-tasking" has been celebrated as an ideal to strive for, as has maximizing our activity. Our show this week takes a different angle, and should encourage you to reflect on what is the point of all this technological change, and the ensuing upheaval. We set the scene by reading Steve Talbott's 1998 essay, "Multitasking Ourselves to Death", which looks how multitasking affects some people, and questions the possibility of giving full attention to two tasks at once. "The important issues today should not grip us," he writes, "because the vital thing is that we should rouse ourselves to grip them.... so that we can wrestle with matters of our own choosing, despite the continual coercions coming from without."

This theme is continued with a speech from July, 2010 by Nicholas Carr, on "The Internet and Your Brain". He speaks about how human thinking is affected by our tools. If we try to be present in all kinds of places, we will not be really present anywhere, he warns. His interest in the topic started when his own inability to concentrate lead him to suspect that his heavy use of the Internet had changed his own brain. The internet, and multi-tasking, he warns, are part of what Cory Doctorow refers to as an "ecosystem of interruption technologies". 10 minutes of selected questions and answers follow his speech.

In our second hour, Ivan Illich gives historical perspective with his remarks on how the human sense of sight has changed since the time of Leonardo da Vinci, and how "virtual spaces" have come to dominate people's realities and information materials. We conclude the show with a wide ranging but accessible 2005 speech by Heather Menzies. Echoing the ideas of Murray Bookchin from episode 512, she speaks about how reliance on standardised units and measurements inevitably blinds systems and organisations to qualitative aspects of reality. She speaks of how abstractions, performance targets and flashing computer screens distract people from what really matters to them, and of the debilitating effects of stress. In the post 9/11 world, she warns, the American population is being prepared for totalitarianism by being disconnected from society, from each other and ultimately from the realities of their own lives.
Thanks to Seattle's PirateTV for recording Nicholas Carr, and to Chazk of Virtual Renderings for pointing me to it.
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