Lisa’s CCK08 Wordpress Blog

October 16, 2008

Thoughts on Waste, Efficiency, and the Web

Filed under: Musings,Week 6 — Lisa M Lane @ 4:52 pm

We can be all connected, but do we have anything meaningful to say?

The mobile (or cell) phone works through satellites and huge towers and relay stations, and people use it to make sure hubby gets soda on the way home from work. (cartoon). The student phone conversations I hear outside my office are clearly not content-based. Most are immediate personal reporting: “yeah, I’m OK, I just got out of class, you going to the beach later?” These young people barely talk to each other on campus; all their friends are on the phone, and the people next to them are distant. Much of the technology is thus wasted in terms of creating and maintaining quality communication with others.

Television has the capability to bring extraordinary content into every home, but most of the channels on TV are dedicated to sensationalism and shopping. TV watching can be highly educational, but most of it isn’t. The popularity of reality shows is a clear indication that people are not experiencing much reality in their daily lives. Much of this fantasy world comes in through the TV itself, and through their computer screens. The television networks encourage you to go to your computer and log your opinion on the news byte, the current pitcher, the contest winner. The lure of convenient participation is more important than what is entered.

When we travelled by slower methods of transportation, everything took longer. That meant we met people along the way, ate different foods, heard different accents, and experienced different ways of life. Now we see nothing but clouds between this part of the world and the part we’re going to. We have gained convenience at the cost of beauty and diversity of personal environment. This increases productivity. Its cost is high.

The internet is addictive in its sheer convenience, but does it make for a better world? Organizations that do good can use the internet, but so can those that do evil. Much of the world does not have access to the web, and when they gain it the exposure to things they cannot have implodes communities, as television does. Yes, there is great potential for learning in the underdeveloped world using computers, but that use is only peripherally one of social networking: what the developing world needs is facts, science, specific ideas, not conversation. It can have the conversation on its own.

Our young people use the internet, as Mark Bauerlein writes, to cement themselves in a perpetual state of adolescence, keeping obsessive tabs on friends, fads and fashions instead of extending their cultural understanding or citizenship skills. A wealth of information is available via the net, and, like our libraries, few access it for the purpose of self-improvement so they can contribute to society. They access to answer their own personal needs, be they medical, sexual, or political. The interactive web lets every internet user have a voice, and many of them are loud. But very few of them are saying anything that increases the intellectual capacity of those who read or view it. At their mildest, they can amuse. At their most inflammatory, they can engender hatred. And they can do either at great speed.

Convenience, whether of communication, geography or information, leads to waste. Waste of resources, waste of time, waste of heart, waste of feelings. The articles for this week by Francis Heylighen attempt to deal with the issue of information overload in terms of efficiency and loss of control and anxiety because people cannot handle the overload. He argues that ephemeralization lubricates society’s systems by letting information flow more easily between points, but makes the results harder to predict. His solution seems to be a “global brain”, a system with no center, where intelligence is collective and flexible, and individual use patterns are transformed into massive filters. Limiting the information coming to the user is the way to deal with anxiety.

That creates convenience of output, at the cost of exploring alternative paths easily. It suggests that the way you work today is how you should work tomorrow, the way you explore and play is consistent. It seems to prevent waste, and may make sense in a macro context. But for the individual person, exploratory opportunities are wasted, though time and stress is saved. And what if the personal anxiety did not originate in the overload of information, which can be stopped by turning off your electronic devices? What if it originated in the fact that the access to everything is so very convenient, and the soul realizes that things which come too easily are worthless?

There are a number of people I know who deliberately do not get too connected, deliberately do not take the time to learn much about the web. They frustrate me because they only go online for a few things, like ordering books or looking up something specific. They don’t Twitter or blog — those are things mostly educational technologists and politicos do, and it’s time we looked at why. It’s not just a lack of understanding as to what the internet can do. It’s a desire for peace and quiet, self-reflection, avoidance of the cognitive overload that we already had before the internet. It’s handling the problem at the input end. These friends rarely use their cell phone or watch TV, but they read a lot and are culturally highly literate. They enjoy life, are conventionally educated, know how to relax, and can access what they need without losing sight of traditions, personal relationships, neighborhoods, and efforts to deal with the many problems (poverty, illiteracy, fanaticism) that Heylighen admits we have been totally unable to solve. They have something to say, and what they say is about human philosophical questions, not machines: how to be a good person, what the role of the individual is in society, how you can help the people with whom we share the planet, and how to tread lightly on the earth. Surely here the content is more important than the connections, and it isn’t wasted.



  1. Hi Lisa!

    There is a lot of truth and wisdom in your post. I did not spend as much time on internet before CCk08 course, I blogged a little, twitted a little and kept the weekly online meetings I have with Webheads, BaeLers, Friends and Family.
    Internet is addictive and can take you away from enjoying life if you’re not careful. Thanks for remainding me of the importance to share content.
    ;aru :X

    Comment by Maru — October 17, 2008 @ 3:58 am

  2. Traditionally the developmental tasks of young adults have been to find work and relationship. Both of those tasks are aided by getting the news out that you are available and having a large network of “friends” to keep you in mind when they hear of opportunities. With or without technology, they’d be socializing because it’s what kids do.
    There are some advantages to information overload. With reader, I can glance at hundreds of interior decorating, design, wedding and art sites. Within a relatively short period, what you truly like begins to shine like diamonds amongst this sea of images and you focus on your own specific tastes.
    Because my online time has shifted from google reader to connectivism, I did a massive cleanup of my google reader. I totally deleted 15 folders and massively reduced several others. Knowing what to eliminate was easy because I went from knowing what in general I was interested in to having a closer idea of where my vein of gold might lie. Panning for gold requires sifting through piles of sand and then picking out and keeping the few gold nuggets.
    Free access to unlimited amounts of information is in its gold rush stage. Either people will decide the internet is a massive time waster or they will choose their niche. Hopefully it will help kids find their specialty in high school as opposed to switching majors in college and university until they stumble upon what is the best fit for them.

    Comment by ruthdemitroff — October 17, 2008 @ 6:56 am

  3. Ruth, I agree, and am not against tons of information — quite the contrary, I’m worried about it being filtered by others. You are controlling what you keep or drop in your reader, based on your preferences. And indeed, people are already choosing. What I find interesting is how many are choosing to limit rather than expand their internet presence.

    Comment by Lisa — October 17, 2008 @ 4:02 pm

  4. I suspect the argument is the same as whether one should be a a dilletante, a generalist or a specialist. Do we want to range broad or deep? Is it better to be a world citizen or focus on one’s own village or have the most friends on facebook? Whatever one chooses has a reward and a price? Old feminists can understand Hiliary Clinton’s career path because the lifetime of choices and costs indicate a long, rugged, convoluted journey with choices that left doors open. Sarah Palin feels more like Santa Claus flying in on a sleigh pulled by 8 tiny reindeer. I’m seeing her and the excitement she stirs up but my brain can’t process flying reindeers meeting the criteria of the quest story with it’s long and arduous journey full of great testing and acts of bravery and sacrifice. If you think in terms of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe or The Wizard of Oz, literature would suggest those who journey quickly are scarey.

    Comment by ruthdemitroff — October 19, 2008 @ 4:37 pm

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