Last week, Bill Keller (@nytkeller) Executive Editor, The New York Times tweeted out: “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. discuss.” And I wrote a blog post that was a half tongue-in-cheek job application and half… naw, it was a job application.
I suspected his tweet was done to get some material for a column he would eventually write and I tore through my Times every day looking for it. Sure enough, there is was (online, but in print this coming Sunday.) I’m sure he read my blog post because he called twitter a “helpful organizing tool for… dog-lover meet-ups…”
My phone will be ringing any day now!
Almost immediately, Mat Honan, Editor of Gizmodo wrote a blog post lambasting Mr. Keller for his views. It would have been easier to take seriously had he used appropriate AP style, not resorted to name-calling, did not employ obvious logical flaws and stayed away from using curse words. It is also obvious that Mr. Honan was in a state of heightened agitation when he wrote the post.
All of this, of course, just went to prove Mr. Keller’s points about “our ability to reflect” and twitter being the “enemy of contemplation.” Had Mr. Honan thought a bit more about what Mr. Keller was trying to say, he may not have been as incendiary and hyperbolic in his response.
The world has changed is crap
As I was writing a #letsblogoff post last month, I was also listening to a speech by yet another social media expert who asserted, “The world has changed…” and I thought that was the most absurd thing I had ever heard. That is not a truth. That is not even a fact. The fact is this moment has changed from the last moment and the moment before that. “The world is ALWAYS changing…” is more the truth. The truth is most people either did not notice the changes or lied to themselves about them happening.
When I was selling exercise bikes to paralyzed people, I worked with a biomedical engineer who was a great philosopher but didn’t really know it. “Biology works on a sine wave,” he was fond of saying. It was his job to make the binary bits (on/off) of technology works within that natural wave. For example, while he could make a muscle contract instantaneously, it would create intolerable pain and dangerous reactions for the patient. He therefore had to ramp up the contraction slowly, hold a contraction and then ramp it down.
Bear with me; I’m getting to the relevant parts. You aren’t fidgeting, are you?
Technology works on a binary framework. Things are either on or they are off. Biology works like a potentiometer, in degrees of on or off relative to each other. The two are almost always incompatible as the human brain struggles to stuff the digital parts into the sine wave of biology. Try as we might, no matter how much we talk about becoming cyborgs, the human brain will always be an analog, biological mass, tied to that sine wave. This makes learning hard and frustrating. You can’t just plug a thumb drive into your ear and transfer knowledge. Nor can you transfer wisdom or context. Technologist predict we will eventually, but I hope they are wrong.
So what we are is a mesh of technologies of varying degrees. Just because twitter exists, it doesn’t mean conversation ends. Just because we have Kindles, it doesn’t mean books are dead. Just because we have blogs, it doesn’t mean newspapers are dead. Media — like biology — exists on a sine wave.
Jeff Jarvis unwittingly proves Keller’s point
Predictably, Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) offered some tweets to refute Mr. Keller’s post. They were:
Just as Erasmus warned of the danger of the press, @nytkeller warns of the danger of Twitter. Oy. http://nyti.ms/iOAy6f
@nytkeller=Erasmus, who said: “To what corner of the world do they not fly, these swarms of new books?” #1
#nytkeller=Erasmus: Books are “hurtful to scholarship, because it creates a glut and even in good things satiety is most harmful” #2
@nytkeller=Erasmus: The minds of men “flighty and curious of anything new” would be distracted from “the study of old authors.” #3
I think that just reaffirms Mr. Keller’s points about knowing stuff. Obviously, Mr. Jarvis knows who Erasmus is and was familiar with his quotes. While it is possible he Googled “obscure quotes from dead guys on the books,” I very much doubt it. Mr. Jarvis was well equipped to argue a point with Mr. Keller without looking up supporting evidence. Hmmmm…
Mat Honan did the same thing with Socrates in his blog post. Sorta.
It’s about adaptability
At the end, Mr. Keller may be slightly concerned that we are becoming a species that is dependent on the longest lasting battery and is not acquiring and sustaining the skills to be able to exist by “clock and fist.”
While our use of technology may have the net effect of our species advancing for now, it does not develop the individuals of the species. Cut the power, you create a bunch of people who have no clue how to survive. The most adaptable will not be the ones who know how to program their GPS units but the ones who can navigate by the stars, clock and fist.
I think ultimately, though, Mr. Keller is calling on us to stay adaptable. Our very survival depends on it.