Stuffing our faces (with information)

Aya and I were watching the trailer for We Live in Public on Sunday and there was a line that said something to the effect of “blah blah mumble being online all the time mumble mumble like an addiction, it’s like Attention Deficit Disorder blah blah” at which point Aya shot me an accusing glance, in a kind of non-verbal intervention.

Okay, I admit it (that’s the first step towards recovery, right?). I have a problem. I am online most of my waking hours (see my self-analysis). Rarely do my computers ever get switched off (I just sleep them). I can argue that it’s my livelihood. I can say I’m trying to be one of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and that I have to amass 10,000 hours of, um, practice so I can be an “expert” on teh internets.

But the truth is, I like the feeling of knowing what’s up with my network, and the rest of the world. I am more aware than I used to be. I care about politics because I am more engaged. I can blame part of it on genetics. Growing up, my brother and I would rarely be without a book. I used to carry a huge backpack filled with books wherever I went — in fact, I would feel naked without the weight around my shoulders. My brother ate sci-fi pulp novels for breakfast. (He is actually a freakishly speedy reader, eating entire pages in a glance.) My dad would spend hours sitting on the toilet reading scientific journals (xeroxed from the library).


The point I tried to make is that the only thing that’s changed is that we’ve shifted the same activity from “atoms to bits” (as Nicholas Negroponte likes to put it). No more 50lb backpacks; just a 4lb laptop. Instead of reams of paper, which are now gathering dust in a box taking up space in the basement, I now have Evernote,, and Google Reader that live in the airy Cloud.

The thing we can’t seem to get over is this: when it’s on paper, it’s okay. But when it hits the screen, somehow it becomes problematic, stigmatized, it’s an “addiction.”

One way of looking at it is that we have gotten lulled into the idea that if something made it into print, it had to be knowledge. But we now know this is not the case. We’re all in a jumble right now. The computer is the locus of too many activities: work, play, banking, browsing, rubber-necking at the train-wreck of humanity, study, creativity, etc. They are all crammed together and flattened out such that the bad taints the good (never the opposite).

from blog to newsprint
Two designers in London have printed Things Our Friends Have Written On The Internet 2008, which is a publication of “stuff from the internet…printed in a newspaper format”

Another way of seeing it is from a very physical reality. For all its atomic encumbrances, the book is portable, and computers, surprisingly less so, though that all is changing. I am seeing more ordinary people whip open their laptops on the subway, more people reading on their phones, and a new wave of netbooks is hitting the streets. The screen forces us to come to it. It emanates information, and it is information of an altogether new and different quality because it is born on a screen and is meant to live on a screen, never to be frozen in print, and we are entranced by its flickering aura.

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