Thinking and the internet (2)

More from the Edge.org survey about internet thinking.

1. From Brian Eno’s response:

I notice that the idea of ‘community’ has changed — whereas that term used to connote some sort of physical and geographical connectedness between people, it can now mean ‘the exercise of any shared interest’. I notice that I now belong to hundreds of communities — the community of people interested in active democracy, the community of people interested in synthesizers, in climate change, in Tommy Cooper jokes, in copyright law, in acapella singing, in loudspeakers, in pragmatist philosophy, in evolution theory, and so on.

Community as a concept has been emptied of its original meaning and been replaced by its opposite — niches, the sign of refusal to deal with the compromises and explanations and negotiations that come from belonging to a community.

The Invisible Committee manifesto made a similar point about the “environment”.

What has congealed as an environment is a relationship to the world based on management, which is to say, on estrangement. A relationship to the world wherein we’re not made up just as much of the rustling trees, the smell of frying oil in the building, running water, the hubbub of schoolrooms, the mugginess of summer evenings. A relationship to the world where there is me and then my environment, surrounding me but never really constituting me. We have become neighbors in a planetary co-op owners’ board meeting. It’s difficult to imagine a more complete hell.

No material habitat has ever deserved the name “environment,” except perhaps the metropolis of today. The digitized voices making announcements, tramways with such a 21st century whistle, bluish streetlamps shaped like giant matchsticks, pedestrians done up like failed fashion models, the silent rotation of a video surveillance camera, the lucid clicking of the subway turnstyles supermarket checkouts, office time-clocks, the electronic ambiance of the cyber café, the profusion of plasma screens, express lanes and latex. Never has a setting been so able to do without the souls traversing it. Never has a surrounding been more automatic. Never has a context been so indifferent, and demanded in return – as the price of survival – such equal indifference from us. Ultimately the environment is nothing more than the relationship to the world that is proper to the metropolis, and that projects itself onto everything that would escape it.

2. From Gerd Gigerenzer’s response:
He argues that the internet is the latest in a series of technologies that “shifts our cognitive functions from searching for information inside the mind towards searching outside the mind.” That is to say the informational organization schemes of our brains are supplanted by the ones that organize information online.

But search has gone from social to antisocial, he suggests: “This is not to say that before writing, the printing press, and the Internet, our minds did not have the ability to retrieve information from outside sources. But these sources were other people, and the skills were social, such as the art of persuasion and conversation. To retrieve information from Wikipedia, in contrast, social skills are no longer needed.”

The search engine of the past was making smart friends and asking them good questions. Now we can fire a bunch of phrases into Google and peruse what comes back. More convenient, but atomizing. We now must deliberately choose to collaborate; ad hoc collaboration stemming from information sharing and seeking is disappearing. Also disappearing perhaps are the diplomatic arts of everyday life.

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