Earlier in the year, I had high hopes for “reading along” with Alan Jacobs’s “Living and Thinking in the Digital Age” course at Baylor. I got through a number of the initial handouts and articles (and even purchased and started the Kevin Kelly book. But, alas, things like the trip to England and my temporary vocational stretch nudged the course out of the way.
Which is what makes this read by Rick Webb so interesting. I don’t know much about the history of the internet and those who pioneered it, particularly what is often called the Web 2.0, but it seems that Webb has been highly invested in it (at least from a marketing and business standpoint). The subtitle of his “mea culpa”? I’m sorry I was wrong. We all were. Beyond that, Webb name-checks Kelly, whose book I started but did not finish.
One of the things that has struck me as both interesting and frustrating when talking to my friends who work with technology has been their reticence to ever point out the drawbacks of the digital age until recently, when some might deem a counter-response to the trend as being “too late.” I suppose we all have utopian visions when it comes to something.
In his essay, Webb writes through three potential ways of making sense of our current digital predicament. The first option is that whatever we have now isn’t what the original internet “prophets proposed.” The second option is that those in the lead did not “account for a period of adjustment.” The third option, then, is as simple question: what if we were fundamentally wrong? He brings up the questions of scale and nations and global connectivity in ways that mirror a number of concerns that are political but not seemingly connected to digital life. But, Webb asserts, “it would be irresponsible, at this point, to not consider that it’s wrong.” Webb continues:
And if you stop and think about it, how surprising is it that it’s wrong? We are biological organisms with thousands of years of evolution geared towards villages of 100, 150 people. What on earth made us think that in the span of a single generation, after a couple generations in cities with lots of people around us but wherein we still didn’t actually know that many people, that we could suddenly jump to a global community? If you think about it, it’s insanity. Is there any evidence our brains and hearts can handle it? Has anyone studied it at all?
It’s quite possible that the premise is completely false. And I’m not sure we ever considered for a moment that it could be wrong.
I would like every one that sold me — and everyone else — this bag of goods to address these possibilities. Failing that, I’d like them to offer other explanations for where we’re at now, and how we get to the promised land.
Perhaps the only thing more fascinating than the article itself is the volume of thoughtful response that the post engendered. Agree or disagree, some great thinking seems to exist on all sides of the debate.
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Having said that, and having announced the unclosed loop of living in the digital age, I am still and truly thankful for Andy Crouch’s Tech-Wise Family. I think of it often and have passed it onto others when the opportunity presents itself. It’s a great blend of thought and habit, which really has been a theme for 2017 in my life. Wisdom is a slippery thing sometime, particularly when all aspects of the world seems to move at a breakneck pace.
I imagine that the discussion about technology and digital like will continue well into the next decade, particularly as we try to make sense of what has happened in our culture and if any move away from the possible abyss really exists. Wisdom would say yes, I think.
(image from aimsun.com . . . that’s no moon to me- it looks more like a Death Star)