I highly recommend a jaunt through Mr. Foer’s article, How Technology Makes Us Less Free. It has a little something for everyone. Or, at least for those who love the printed word on paper, libraries, and brick-n-mortar bookstores. Or for those who are just plain tired of the unending stimulation created by “reading on the Web” which Mr. Foer describes (aptly) as a “frantic activity, compressed, haphazard. . . ” Or for those concerned that “technology is perhaps no longer consistent with our full belief in liberty.”
Mr. Foer traces the gradual shift from reading as a “passive, collective experience” where one privileged person reads the printed word to illiterate masses to an “active and private” individual activity. This transformation encourages reflection and provides “space for heretical thought.” In our current day and age, we’d refer to this as critical thought — and it’s a skill which many bemoan as underused, untaught, or mostly dead. A quick scan through the news reports of today demonstrate that our tolerance for “heretical” thought is not much higher than what Europe experienced during the Protestant Reformation or the United States during the Civil War.
Social media, according to Mr. Foer is one of the many technological inventions “driving the proliferation of falsehood and conspiracy.” Society appears to be reverting back to the “passive, collective experience” of being spoon-fed information. People don’t reflect on or question the disconnected morsels they skim over in their social media feeds and then share, choosing instead to jump on the reactionary bandwagon. And thus the stage has been well and truly set for authoritarianism to take hold.
We have a choice. We can proactively and consciously let go of empty conveniences, or at least balance them with those efforts requiring a greater expenditure of personal effort. We can carve out quiet time to read, study and think. We can explore who we are and what we believe in relation to our inmost, heretical self. And then act in ways consistent with that understanding — including respectfully challenging another’s heretical beliefs while still upholding their right to have, hold and share them.
What’s my next step in reclaiming my autonomy as a reader and thinker, you ask? To head over the library for a copy of Mr. Foer’s book World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech. And then I think I’ll run a lovely bubble bath, pour a glass of wine, and settle in for a good, quiet, uninterrupted read. Cheers!