The Naysayers

Permalink for this paragraph 0 MKG: You were saying that, too often, people who criticize interactive experiences forget the connections between current and past practices of reading and writing. How much attention do you pay to the naysayers and the critics? Because there are the people, like Nicholas Carr, who argue that “Google is making us stupid” and that kind of thing. Do you tend to engage such critics, or do you see them as people who are set in their ways and will be left by the wayside in the long term?

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BS: Actually, I share all of their concerns. Any of the naysayers who are any good are raising serious issues about what’s happening. In a lot of ways, my problem is less with the naysayers than with the people who dismiss their concerns. Things don’t stay the same; things change. Carr or Sven Birkerts have an exquisite sense of what we are losing as we shift from analog to digital media. Being aware of what we are losing is crucial as it helps us to identify things which we should try hard to take with us into the new era.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 I mean all these guys are really doing is saying, “there are aspects of how humans think and relate to each other that are important, that we should try to maintain, even as we shed others.” I don’t think anybody out there right now is saying anything very interesting, on a philosophical level, about where we’re going. You have the people who think there is a technological solution to everything, who just keep building technology. Especially in the context of capitalism, where everything is done for profit, that seems like a pretty disastrous way to go. There doesn’t seem to be what there needs to be, which is people saying, “What kind of a world do we want to live in? And what kind of machines shall we build to get us there?” Rather, we have the reverse, which is, “Let’s build some machines and see what kind of world we end up in.” That could be a formula for disaster, especially as the machines get really smart. And I think that’s something that hasn’t been taken into account.

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And then you have a number of well-known digerati with a patina of progressivism, who understand the vast potential of digital technology and the points of friction that need to be addressed if that potential is to be realized. The problem with “the progressives,” however, is that they accept capitalism as a given, which means that their ideas end up being aimed at tweaking the status quo rather than considering the fundamental changes in human relations that digital technology affords and in the end requires.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The Left has been extremely disappointing to me in terms of its ability to expand its analysis to include the invention of computers and mobile technology. When you read stuff from the Left, most of it could have been written forty years ago. And that’s a huge problem. There are not a lot of people out there, it seems to me, who are able to wrap their heads around the totality of the problem. And that’s what worries me.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The debate between “the naysayers” and “the progressives” is too narrow. If I could do anything right now, it would be to find a way to encourage a much broader discussion. I had drinks with Lewis Lapham the other night, and we were talking about this problem. How do we get people to ask bigger questions?

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