We Think The Body Electric
January 10, 2010 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Loved your essay on the changes in your work with designers, thanks!
posted by infini at 8:54 AM on January 10, 2010

oh, and responding to your FPP, I'm not yet ready to admit to being a 'informavore' (or informawhore for that matter) but then again, I'm in denial about needing bifocals too. what did I just type...hm
posted by infini at 8:55 AM on January 10, 2010

It has made me think it's OK to steal music.

posted by Joe Beese at 9:00 AM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

When agriculture came around, people didn't have to spend all their time looking for food and could instead use their brains and time to create lasting culture. That's how the Internet is to me.

I no longer have to wonder or figure out low-level details on how to do stuff or find stuff. All the information (which, yes, also includes music and movies and books) is just right there and I can get on with doing the things I really want/need to do without spending all my time just getting started.
posted by DU at 9:07 AM on January 10, 2010 [10 favorites]

My attention span, it's...
posted by Phanx at 9:23 AM on January 10, 2010 [6 favorites]

For me, no dinner table question is left awkwardly unanswered..we just go find out, and the conversation continues along natural lines instead of the old pattern of topic/declaration/rebuttal/yeah well/silence/topic/repeat that seemed to happen over and over again when I was a kid.

In those days we were basically at the mercy of whoever was the loudest, and it ain't like that no more, brother.
posted by chronkite at 9:28 AM on January 10, 2010 [9 favorites]

When agriculture came around, people didn't have to spend all their time looking for food and could instead use their brains and time to create lasting culture.

First, this is a myth: agriculturalists work longer than hunter-gatherers to secure their food supply. This has been known for decades. Second, settling down came at the cost of their overall health, higher infant mortality, more infectious diseases, shorter stature, subjugation to hierarchies, etc. Those initial conditions are reduced in the first world but certainly elsewhere it is still something of a wash -- 10,000 years after the fact.

I wonder what the hidden or emergent costs of the interthink will turn out to be?
posted by Rumple at 9:28 AM on January 10, 2010 [12 favorites]

Earlier threads available from here.
posted by Gyan at 9:28 AM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

gyan's comment linking to last year's thoughts with the additional data embedded in the previous some few years leads me to wonder what the internet has done to our sense of time?
posted by infini at 9:36 AM on January 10, 2010

I no longer proclaim "As Mark Twain said, 'Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it". Now I google "Mark Twain weather" and discover that Mark Twain didn't say that, in fact, Charles Dudley Warner did. But in addition, the internet tells me what Mark Twain actually did say about the weather:

It is your human environment that makes climate.
- Following the Equator, Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar

Cold! If the thermometer had been an inch longer we'd all have frozen to death.
- Mark Twain and I, Opie Read

The captain had been telling how, in one of his Arctic voyages, it was so cold that the mate's shadow froze fast to the deck and had to be ripped loose by main strength. And even then he got only about two-thirds of it back.
- Following the Equator

In America the ice-storm is an event. And it is not an event which one is careless about. When it comes, the news flies from room to room in the house, there are bangings on the doors, and shoutings, "The ice-storm! the ice-storm!" and even the laziest sleepers throw off the covers and join the rush for the windows.
- Following the Equator

Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.
- Letter 8/28/1908
posted by acrasis at 9:38 AM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh boy, I wish I could spend the rest of the day perusing these. I wish there was some sort of "filter" I could rely on to help me decide which of these essays to read : ) I also wish the anchor tags actually worked in the contributors section. Everything links to Lera Boroditsky! (So hard to resist an "anchor tag fail" comment)

OK, enough snark. I did like the piece by Mahzarin Banaji (about 80% toward the bottom of the page) especially this quote:
Almost 30 years later, I cannot say that the Internet has changed, even an iota, how I think. How I think is something I get from the millions of years of the evolution of my species. The way I think is something I get from the remarkable "thinkers" in my environment. But what the Internet has surely done is to change what I think about, what I know, and what I do.
I am in the educational and creative technology industry and in a discussion with a friend of mine (in a more traditional academic field) we talked about the new challenges with changing attitudes from learners who rely on the internet.

I see these arising challenges even with my 8 year old who relies not just on Google but on the Google Suggest feature. Just type in a few words and then choose the result that best matches your question. My instinct is to be concerned with this. Shouldn't my son have to work harder to define his question? How does he begin to critically evaluate the source of the information? I have no answers here but I do wonder how best to encourage the "remarkable" thinkers of the future.
posted by jeremias at 9:38 AM on January 10, 2010

agriculturalists work longer than hunter-gatherers to secure their food supply.

Yeah, but the point is that not everyone has to farm all the time. The farmers can farm while the physicists make physics and Al Gore makes the internet and so forth.

Not that your point about the trade-offs isn't valid, but I don't think you're suggesting that Shakespeare or Sagan would have come about in a hunter/gatherer society.
posted by cmoj at 9:42 AM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think Shakespeare did, many times over.
posted by Rumple at 9:50 AM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

How has it changed the way I think? Interesting question. I'm definitely more impatient in my thought processes--whereas I used to be satisfied with gathering information at archival speed, now it's pretty annoying if what I'm looking for is in an online journal that I actually have to log into.

The Internet also allows me to share ideas without even fully digesting them myself. Come across a quirky or obscure blog or article somewhere, then Share it with my Facebook friends with some pithy comment. I couldn't get away with that in a classroom environment. So the Internet has perhaps turned me into a dilettante?

Clay Shirky notes that people are reading more than ever but the return of reading has not brought about the return of the cultural icons we'd been emptily praising all these years.

Can the Internet save the Humanities? Wouldn't that be the ultimate irony? The academy started to undo the Humanities in the 70s--none of the Classics have meaning, there is no text, there is no truth, a "Studies" program for everything--and now realize that they have been maybe a little too successful. The Internet *is* a medium of Beauty and Truth, from time to time.
posted by njbradburn at 9:57 AM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh wow, looks like there's lots of interesting stuff here. Too bad it's all on one page without anchor tags, though. I'll probably never get through it all like this. I'd love to have this collection of essays as individual PDFs.
posted by sveskemus at 10:03 AM on January 10, 2010


I quickly discovered that there is a big difference between blogging and academic scholarship, and one has to approach them with a completely different mental attitude. In academic writing, the overriding imperative is to make things as perfect as you can (even though perfection is impossible), and to take as much time as you have to refine and bolster an argument. When academics write a scholarly book or article, it typically goes through a dozen or so drafts, gets presented and criticized at conferences and seminars, and gets circulated to colleagues for additional feedback. And in some cases (e.g., our book on the Israel lobby), we hired two professional fact checkers to go over every line and then spent an entire week with our editor proofing and fine-tuning.

Needless to say, that's not how the blogosphere works. I sometimes spend a fair bit of time researching what I write here, and I occasionally run a piece past a colleague to get their advice, but there is a premium on being timely and analytically sharp, and you rarely have time to sit, sift, ponder, and deliberate. That means bloggers are by definition writing things that are more provisional. If we're honest, we all have to admit that we're going to get a few big things wrong, or offer opinions that we subsequently conclude are mistaken. I'm reasonably happy with most of what I've posted in the past year, but I confess to a sense of trepidation every time I hit "publish." Advice to would-be bloggers: Bring a sense of humility, but also a thick skin.

posted by infini at 10:04 AM on January 10, 2010

In those days we were basically at the mercy of whoever was the loudest, and it ain't like that no more, brother.
posted by chronkite

Now we're at the mercy of whoever has the fastest 3G connection and quickdraw smart phone technique. Somebody asking a question with a concrete but obscure answer is like a starting gun going off at a party now.
posted by Babblesort at 10:07 AM on January 10, 2010

My attention span, it's...

I worry about this. It's awesome that services like Twitter are training us to pack tons of information into a tiny package, and I always feel proud when I manage to write something that both has depth and is pithy.

But not all ideas and arguments can be expressed in a few short words or paragraphs.

Sure, you can post longer stuff online. But, increasingly, people get hostile when you do. "tl;dr" they say. So I'm worried about what is going to happen to long-form, carefully-reasoned prose. (I am not a catasprophist. It's possible that The Kindle or some other device or trend will rescue longer prose. I'm just worried -- not in a panic.)

A couple of years ago, I saw an interview with several of the actors from "Law and Order." The interviewer asked them why they thought the show was so popular. They gave all sorts of answers, but the most frequent one was "In these days of short attention spans, people like a show that gets to the point and then is wrapped up in a single episode."

What struck me was that this was said without shame. When I was a kid, someone might have made the same statement, but he would have expressed it like this: "Unfortunately, attention spans are getting shorter, so..."

I've seen the "Law and Order" statement in several places now. Always said without shame, as if "short attention spans" are just like short skirts. They're in. Nothing to be ashamed of. We should cater to them, because they are the fashion.

("Masterpiece Theatre" used to import 13-hour series from England. Gradually, these went from being extremely popular to less and less so. Now, the producers have decided that they it's stupid to air long-form dramas. Doing so just drives their rating down. Three episodes is about the maximum, now.)

My other concern is that many of us are starved for tactile input. Touching things and manipulating them are rapidly becoming more-often virtual than actual.

One of my hobbies is drawing. I do it digitally. It's easier and less messy. A couple of years ago, I told a friend that I wanted to experience the mess. That I wanted to mix paint and slide a brush across a canvas. He asked me why I would want to do that and suggested that I use Corel Painter instead -- an application that simulates natural media. Inwardly, I was disgusted. Then I started using Corel Painter. I still haven't bought any actual paint. It's too messy. There's no undo.

Whatever. I'm in my 40s. I was lucky enough to have had a pre-Internet childhood, much of which was spent making stuff out of construction paper. I'm more worried about the children being born and raised, now. If I had grown up with xboxes, I'm SURE I would never have wanted to play in the snow. I would have had much for fun killing dragons.

I am not one of those Luddites who thinks the Internet is bad for people. I use the Internet every day and I work as a programmer. There are so many blessings the Internet has brought into my life, and, by-and-large, I do think it's been good for the world. But I worry about how we help children find a balance between the virtual world and the real world.

tl;dr? Okay: I'm worried about short-attention spans and lack-of-contact with the real world.
posted by grumblebee at 10:11 AM on January 10, 2010 [12 favorites]

I'm sure people have been bemoaning "short attention spans" since the beginning of time. Romans probably complained of "kids today" wanting to see lions chomp on Christians, and being unable to appreciate the grace of a well-fought gladiator fight. We've quotes from Ancient Greeks complaining of the lack of respect given by the "youth today," and they probably just mis-translated the part about lawns.

While half-hour or hour-long shows like Law and Order are popular, there are plenty of critically acclaimed and popular shows on HBO, Showtime, and AMC (Sopranos/The Wire/etc., Dexter, Mad Men) that don't cleanly wrap up at the end of each episode, and comprise long-form series.

There will always be plenty of people with short attention spans and no patience for the longer things, but just because the medium changes doesn't mean sweeping, grand works aren't possible. Video games are still a new medium, and while they're everyone's favorite punching bag, people also decried movies and television.

Trust me, people will still go skiing or running for real even if WiiSkiing becomes even more realistic. People will still read books (though maybe on Kindle) even after 3D CameronVision becomes the standard for movies.
posted by explosion at 10:33 AM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

posted by felix betachat at 11:05 AM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sure people have been bemoaning "short attention spans" since the beginning of time.

I agree with this up to a point, but I do think there's been a significant change in the the most recent generation. Greek dramas could last for an entire day. By the time I was born, day-long dramas were rare, but they still existed.

My parents took me to see the entire series of "Planet of the Apes" movies in the theatre. We brought lunch. We were in the theatre for about eight hours.

Sure, TV-stations show "Lord of the Rings" marathons, but that's different from sitting in a theatre, watching five movies in a row (with your whole family). I can think of about ten more examples of day-long dramas from my childhood. I'm sure they still exist, but off the top of my head, I can't think of any.

When I direct Shakespeare plays, my actors try to talk me into making cuts, because they're worried that the younger audience members will get bored if I don't.

Do you work in television? I don't any more, but I have. And I know many people who do. There really IS a decline in long-form drama and a very real, on-the-table discussion amongst producers that long-from is a mistake (from an economic point of view).

Yes, there are some notable exceptions. (Though some of these are problematic, such as "Deadwood" and "Rome," which never were completed.) But producers still worry. It's harder to pitch these shows than it used to be. And long-from shows tend to decline in terms of ratings as they continue.

In 1960, PBS aired "Shakespeare's An Age of Kings," a BBC production. This was a highly rated show on both sides of the Atlantic. People stayed home to watch it. Families watched it together. It is an adaptation of all of Shakespeare's histories.

The 60s were relatively the same distance from Shakespeares's time as we are. What social forces made such a show acceptable then but not now? Just TRY pitching it to PBS now. Why would the pitch fail?

But my main concern is not that attention spans are getting shorter. I'm not even convinced that they ARE getting shorter (though I suspect that they are). My main concern is that having a short attention span is no longer considered shameful -- something that we should work to overcome. I'm almost positive that's a new phenomenon.

When I write something implying that having a short attention span should be shameful, I feel like a fuddy duddy. (And writing "fuddy duddy" makes me feel more like one.) There's a loud part of me that is telling the fuudy duddy part, "Don't be such a snob. It's OKAY to have a short attention span. Why SHOULD be people ashamed!" I suspect that part is right. I'm mourning a bygone world in which I found comfort me -- but that doesn't need to exist.

So I agree with the main thrust of your argument: older people have always complained that the world is changing. Still, the world changes, and things generally work out okay. But "work out okay" doesn't mean that the old people are wrong. Usually, they are right. Something is lost. This is mitigated by the fact that change is not JUST loss -- it's change. Something is lost; something is gained. My argument is that, yes, attention spans are getting shorter. I think that's real. But I also suspect that, even if this leads to certain losses, it problem leads to gains as well. I am probably too old to see the gains.

I STRONGLY disagree with you about skiing, except in a literal sense. You're right, "people" will still go skiing. FEWER people. There will be -- and are (I've met them) -- a considerable number of kids who will have way fewer tactile experiences than their parents did. When I was a kid, it wasn't a choice. You HAD to have tactile experiences, because those were the only kinds that existed. If you wanted to build a sculpture, you had to use clay. Now you can use 3D Studio Max. (Which, even given my views, I would choose over clay -- just as I choose to draw in Photoshop.)

If you give a child complete freedom -- if you don't force him to go play in the snow -- why is he going to choose to build snowmen over fighting dragons? Of course, some children will choose to do so. But FEWER will than once did. I think WAY fewer. And I think this a problem for those children.

It's not that I think sports and by-hand craftsmanship will die out. They won't. But I don't care about that. I don't care about preserving these past-times for humankind in general. I care about specific, individual children. Yes, some people will continue to carry the torch. But what about those that don't -- that only see torches on the walls in DOOM?

And I don't think it works to force kids to play in the snow. Forcing and playing don't go together.

The big question is "does it matter"? Are kids really being harmed by lack of tactile sensation? I don't think anyone really knows. I suspect it is a problem. But that may be because I'm a fuddy duddy.
posted by grumblebee at 11:11 AM on January 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

felix betachat, I'm curious: did you read my whole post? I made the tl;dr joke at the end of it. Irony.
posted by grumblebee at 11:13 AM on January 10, 2010

Can't tell, been using the internet since I was seven. I guess it changed my perspective on computers from "wow these things are really cool" to "HOLY CRAP BBSES"
posted by maus at 11:17 AM on January 10, 2010

OK, I tried to read all of them (Though mostly superficially. To quote Pinker: Woody Allen... took a speed-reading course and devoured War and Peace in an evening. His summary: "It was about some Russians.") Here are my remembered highlights:

Jesse Bering because the reputation destroying aspect of the Internet is a uniquely important topic. (see revenge porn)

Paul Bloom because few people reflect on the abundance of niceness of the Internet, choosing to emphasize the flamewars and the fuckwad theories.

David Buss because the mate sorting aspect of the Internet is a good topic.

Judith Rich Harris for a pithy comment that resonates with me.

Geoffrey Miller because I also use the Internet as a "judgment enhancer" (for example Rotten Tomatoes Cream of the Crop critics as my reliable go to taste posse).

Karl Sabbagh. The "If you have cancer, don't go on the Internet" quote alone makes this one worthwhile.
posted by dgaicun at 11:28 AM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I too worry about too short attention spans and lack of human contact.

But I also know that my kids can find, and reference, information and services they need now much more readily than in the past.

I know that I tend to question "authority" a lot more, and really consider the source when some "expert" weighs in or the blogosphere goes off on a topic I don't know much about. I read more, and speak up less until I know enough to say something sensible.

I feel that I grasp new technology faster than I used to--and my kids incredibly fast--as a result of knowing pretty much instantly when something new and exciting is on the market.

And I don't just hear about new products through their own advertising, which helps in making informed purchasing decisions, another benefit of my "consider the source" training.

I'd say my own personal worries are that my kids, having always had the internet, and just technology in general, as a part of their lives, can't really comprehend what their world would be like without them.

They have a more simplistic world view. They want to see the world in black and white instead of shades of grey. I am very big on empathy and trying to understand the other person's point of view. They tend to make snap judgments and we then have to talk through them before they realize they are being dismissive or judgmental and need to slow down. I call this the Youtube Comments Effect.

They also don't really know what terms like "survival" and "sacrifice" mean. My oldest son, who literally could not find his way back to our house from a couple miles away if I blindfolded him, thinks it would be "fun" to "live off the land." Time--and a real job-- should help take care of this.
posted by misha at 11:34 AM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks dgaicun. But I don't understand the word "because" in many of your summaries. "Because..." doesn't make sense as an answer to "how is the Internet changing the way you think?"
posted by grumblebee at 11:34 AM on January 10, 2010

Time--and a real job-- should help take care of this.

Unless he has my job. I sit in front of a computer all day.
posted by grumblebee at 11:36 AM on January 10, 2010

because = why those particular short essays stuck with me.
posted by dgaicun at 11:42 AM on January 10, 2010

got it.
posted by grumblebee at 11:47 AM on January 10, 2010

Internet access sucks you in; in its desert freedom, it's an escape from more entangled freedoms; it's both cosmic and womblike, both psychedelic and a drug; there are no animals or mountains there except as representations; it's internally provincial; it is a stressor in many ways; it appears as a cure to the very problems it begets. Like book-reading or television-watching, but moreso: more acquiescent but also offering more lines of flight. It reflects society but also influences it. If the internet isn't allowed to self-realize, if its lifelike aspects are minimized and death takes over, I think it could be exhaustively dangerous, postmodernly fascistic. But if we're vigorous, it could heat us to a new state of being, a liquid humanity, posthumanity!
posted by mbrock at 12:04 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Internet has certainly made the broadcasting and sharing of "information" much easier, similar to what I imagine the Gutenberg press did to help the dissemination of books (and yes, I'm aware that thought's not original to me). On the downside, yes, there's certainly the possibility of dilettante-ism, and the Web does nothing to solve the issue of credulousness - "If it's on the internet, it must be true". But really, how different is the Internet from the situation after the Gutenberg printing press was invented? I wouldn't be surprised to learn that many of the same concerns came up in the late 15th century when all this new-fangled accessibility to book-learnin' was surely sneered at as a cheat or a short-cut to "real," hard-won knowledge.

My view is that whether you're talking about books or the Internet, the relevant points are the same. Deep knowledge, wisdom, critical evaluation of both data itself and its sources, and so on aren't easily cultivated and have always required work and practice, and not least of all guidance from elders. The Internet itself does nothing to resolve - OR exacerbate - that.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:11 PM on January 10, 2010

Oh, and in response to jeremias, I think "remarkable" thinkers will continue to think remarkably - with, as I said above, some help and guidance getting started.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:18 PM on January 10, 2010

I think in layers these days... {thought entry point}[trivial things that can be quickly looked up] |[ things that require further reading] | [conclusions/hypothesis to be made about the world] | [actions that should be taken, dependent on the status of the previous layer] | [feedback, go back 2 layers, unless really new, then re-enter through the beginning].

Other stuff:

The internet is making a fool out of a good chunk of the news media presently (thus changing how I think about news). HuffPo has been too tabloidish for me to take a lot of the time, thus I have been reading The New Republic. Complicating matters, Twitter is a boon for conservative minded/thinking folk: 5 minutes and 140 characters or less away from publishing a potentially viral/popular thought (the complexity of liberal minded/thinking proves to be a problem here... I do not know of a better way of putting this, hopefully it does not come off as awful).

With this random bunch of stuff said, how the internet and to what the internet makes people think, or changes the way people think, continues to evolve. Compared to when publishing first started to become free and popular (when I was 14,15,16...18), I think about what I think a lot more than I used to prior to that and even prior to when internet was rather freely available. Most common question I ask myself: "Is there something wrong here? with me?" Becoming the most common thought: "There's a lot to learn and a lot you do not know..."

Fun stuff all around. Great post!
posted by JoeXIII007 at 12:20 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

grumblebee: My 21-year-old son is seriously addicted to Everquest and pizza delivered to our door. He still enjoys cooking things from scratch, and he was out in the middle of the last snowstorm we had and was having a ball with other real live humans. Again, I think it has more to do with how we raise our children than the mere availability of short-attention-span-inducing media or information.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:31 PM on January 10, 2010

I think "remarkable" thinkers will continue to think remarkably - with, as I said above, some help and guidance getting started.

Excellent points. Part of the issue may be that it is harder to know what this guidance from elders should look like. On the "front lines" of education, at least, there are challenges.

Case in point: 4 or 5 years ago I was responsible for creating a graphic & web design certificate program. I started the first two classes with the computers turned off, students learned some basic design skills with pencil, paper, ink, etc.

I had to field complaints from students to administration that they were feeling cheated. The program had a reputation for being "cutting edge" in regards to technology so they didn't understand why computers were turned off, why they weren't allow to access the web during class, etc.

In my case, it didn't end up affecting a thing. But I could see how in other circumstances (lack of admin support) it could have been different. The mere fact that a few students felt it acceptable to present the argument in the first place is telling.
posted by jeremias at 12:53 PM on January 10, 2010

Loved your essay on the changes in your work with designers, thanks!
posted by infini at 8:54 AM on January 10 [+] [!]

What in the world does this first comment mean? grumblebee is not one of the Edge authors.
posted by dgaicun at 12:54 PM on January 10, 2010

It is too cold to go out in the snow today. I'm just saying.
posted by njbradburn at 12:55 PM on January 10, 2010

Each of my thoughts, opinions, and observations is now only 140 characters long!
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:02 PM on January 10, 2010

dgaicun - on seeing the post I clicked through to grumblebee's profile, saw his twitter feed's last message which was inviting feedback on an essay on a topic that interests me and I didn't stop to think where I was feeding back, so to speak.

is that the influence of the hyperlinked web?
posted by infini at 1:10 PM on January 10, 2010

I know a lot less about a lot more, and I know a lot more about a lot less.
posted by seawallrunner at 1:40 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm sure at least some of us are old enough to remember slide rules, and then teachers' resistance to the rise of students' use of calculators in their stead. Now, slide-rule use is almost unheard of ... but has the field of mathematics suffered? Are cutting-edge engineering projects becoming a thing of the past?
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:45 PM on January 10, 2010

Now, slide-rule use is almost unheard of ... but has the field of mathematics suffered?

A bit. Students aren't as good at estimating what the order of magnitude the solution will be. "Right, it's 10 meters away, it's 50 dB loud where I'm standing ... it puts out 10E12 W. Ok, next problem." Let's not even mention built-in equation solving and integration.


Aside from a trivial, 'spellcheck is eroding my spelling' observation, and a less trivial 'I remember having a decent atten .... Ooooh, a Shiny Thing' I'd have to say I'm changing my thinking about the internet.

Here's the latest from The Register:
Google gets all Minority Report with Street View

Yes, Google is exploring the possibility of slipping ads into Street View, its virtual reality project that seeks to photograph the world and recreate it online.

According to Cnet, a Google presentation recently delivered to European marketing and ad agencies at least hints at a future where Street View does ads, virtually recreating the sort of ad-saturated dystopia portrayed in sci-fi cinema like Minority Report and Brazil.

(The Register really gets google; that's where I learned that google is an advertising company, not a cool search engine.)

More generally, I learned just how much the modern internet is about the corporatization of public space. First they make a cool toy, for you to share ... 'content'. blogblogblogblogblogblogblog, uploaduploaduploaduploaduploadupload, downloaddownloaddownloaddownloaddownload, chatchatchatchatchatchatchatchat, blogblogblogblogblogblogblogblog.

Then, all of sudden the masks slip off the faces of the geeks who run the thing and you look into cold dead eyes of a lizard wearing a suit.

And then the suits are putting up walls around the garden you and your friends made, and now they're charging you admission and selling access to you to advertisers.

The corporatization of public space - coming to internets near you.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:29 PM on January 10, 2010

Lera Boroditsky's response is my favorite, I think.
posted by painquale at 2:55 PM on January 10, 2010

What has the Internet done to us? Well for one thing my nephews can read and write...maybe not that well, but better than they could before they discovered the Internet via PS2 cheatcodes. Now they all have Facebook pages and text each other and actually seem to understand what they read, as opposed to when they were in middle school and couldn't figure out what Call of the Wild was about.

Thanks, Internet!
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:01 PM on January 10, 2010

Loved your essay on the changes in your work with designers, thanks!
posted by infini at 8:54 AM on January 10 [+] [!]

What in the world does this first comment mean? grumblebee is not one of the Edge authors.

I think we're dealing with a new MeFite who doesn't yet get the "stay on topic" rule (and I don't mean any offense to infini -- I'm just explaining).

I posted an article on my personal blog. I Twittered about it. infini must have read it, liked it, and decided to mention it here because it's my FPP.

I almost explained the comment earlier, because I didn't want anyone to go nuts trying to figure it out. But I also didn't want to seem as if I was prodding people towards a self-link that's unrelated to the Edge.org thing.
posted by grumblebee at 3:13 PM on January 10, 2010

Gah! infini explained it upthead. Sorry.
posted by grumblebee at 3:14 PM on January 10, 2010

Aside from a trivial, 'spellcheck is eroding my spelling' observation

When I switched to OpenOffice and didn't bother to allow spellcheck, I actually had to pay attention to what I was writing.

Though I had to download the UK firefox pack, as I got tired of all my -ise verbs getting marked as wrong with the default US pack.
posted by ersatz at 3:37 PM on January 10, 2010

Good line from Brian Eno: "...the variable trustworthiness of the Net has made people more sceptical about the information they get from all other media."
posted by neroli at 4:12 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

25 out of the 167 contributors are women. Fifteen percent. Compared to a lot of other panels and anthologies and lists, not terrible. But still...

Some things the Internet hasn't changed.
posted by neroli at 4:28 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anything Edge-related I react badly to. As MeFi has previously put it, Edge is a bunch of veddy veddy important people outlining the peons’ future.

I hit the only link in the text of the original post and found an unintelligible 1990s-style page with no actual essays. So they can’t even manage a Web site either?
posted by joeclark at 9:26 PM on January 10, 2010

I hit the only link in the text of the original post and found an unintelligible 1990s-style page with no actual essays. So they can’t even manage a Web site either?

The essays are lower down on the page.
posted by grumblebee at 6:49 AM on January 11, 2010

I liked the Brian Eno essay, and the one by Eric Fischl and April Gornik.
posted by fellorwaspushed at 5:41 PM on January 11, 2010

shirky is always worth reading; not anything he hasn't said or written about before, but still worth repeating:
To the question "How is Internet is changing the way we think?", the right answer is "Too soon to tell." This isn't because we can't see some of the obvious effects already, but because the deep changes will be manifested only when new cultural norms shape what the technology makes possible.

To return to the press analogy, printing was a necessary but not sufficient input to the scientific revolution. The Invisible College, the group of natural philosophers who drove the original revolution in chemistry in the mid-1600s, were strongly critical of the alchemists, their intellectual forebears, who for centuries had made only fitful progress. By contrast, the Invisible College put chemistry on a sound scientific footing in a matter of a couple of decades, one of the most important intellectual transitions in the history of science. In the 1600s, though, a chemist and an alchemist used the same tools and had access to the same background. What did the Invisible College have that the alchemists didn't?

They had a culture of sharing. The problem with the alchemists had wasn't that they failed to turn lead into gold; the problem was that they failed uninformatively. Alchemists were obscurantists, recording their work by hand and rarely showing it to anyone but disciples. In contrast, members of the Invisible College shared their work, describing and disputing their methods and conclusions so that they all might benefit from both successes and failures, and build on each other's work.

The chemists were, to use Richard Foreman's phrase, "pancake people". They abandoned the spiritual depths of alchemy for a continual and continually incomplete grappling with what was real, a task so daunting that no one person could take it on alone. Though as schoolchildren, the history of science we learn is often marked by the trope of the lone genius, science has always been a networked operation.

In this we can see a precursor to what's possible for us today. Just as the Invisible College didn't just use the printing press as raw capability, but created a culture that used the press to support the transparency and argumentation science relies on, we have the same opportunity.

As we know from arXiv.org, the 20th century model of publishing is inadequate to the kind of sharing possible today. As we know from Wikipedia, post-hoc peer review can support astonishing creations of shared value. As we know from the search for Mersenne Primes, whole branches of mathematical exploration are now best taken on by groups. As we know from Open Source efforts like Linux, collaboration between loosely joined parties can work at scales and over timeframes previously unimagined. As we know from NASA clickworkers, groups of amateurs can sometimes replace single experts. As we know from Patients Like Me, patient involvement accelerates medical research. And so on.

The beneficiaries of the system where making things public was a privileged activity, whether academics or politicians, reporters or doctors, will complain about the way the new abundance of public thought upends the old order, but those complaints are like keening at a wake; the change they fear is already in the past. The real action is elsewhere.

The Internet's primary effect on how we think will only reveal itself when it affects the cultural milieu of thought, not just the behavior of individual users. The members of the Invisible College did not live to see the full flowering of the scientific method, and we will not live to see what use humanity makes of a medium for sharing that is cheap, instant, and global (both in the sense of 'comes from everyone' and 'goes everywhere.') We are, however, the people who are setting the earliest patterns for this medium. Our fate won't matter much, but the norms we set will.

Given what we have today, the Internet could easily become Invisible High School, with a modicum of educational material in an ocean of narcissism and social obsessions. We could, however, also use it as an Invisible College, the communicative backbone of real intellectual and civic change, but to do this will require more than technology. It will require that we adopt norms of open sharing and participation, fit to a world where publishing has become the new literacy.
which is great and all, but i have to say i'm also still rather enamoured by the overarching theme in 2008's question on the potential for directed 'post-darwinian' evolution :P

posted by kliuless at 8:08 AM on January 12, 2010

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