The Heart of the Event

Everywhere what is sought is the ‘heart of the event’, the ‘heart of the battle’, the ‘live’, the ‘face to face’ – the dizzy sense of a total presence at the event, the Great Thrill of Lived Reality – i.e. the miracle once again, since the truth of the media report, televised and taped, is precisely that I was not there. But it is the truer than true which counts or, in other words, the fact of being there without being there. Or, to put it yet another way, the fantasy. What mass communications give us is not reality, but the dizzying whirl of reality […] – Jean Baudrillard

On April 25th, Matt Buchanan posted his article The Medium of The Moment on The New Yorker‘s web page. It’s an interesting little piece, arguing that Twitter is the medium of the moment because its primary aim is to deliver information in terms of nowness which isn’t exactly the same as newness:

Nowness is not simply newness, or the new: the question Twitter used to ask of users when they went to compose a tweet, “What’s happening?” is a direct inquiry about the state of now.

Fair enough, Facebook’s been asking very similar questions – “What’s happening?”, “How are you feeling?”, “What’s on your mind?” (stop harassing me!) – and yet … Buchanan has a point. In 2010, Nicholas Carr published a book named The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Carr describes how he began to notice a decline in his overall ability to concentrate. Not only were he and some of his correspondents distracted much more easily, they also felt a high ADHD-like need for stimulation and appeared less able than before to focus deeply on anything for prolonged periods of time. The speed with which, he says, data can now be gathered online has made the reading of an entire book seem a tiny bit obsolete. Instead of going over hundreds of pages to find the bits and pieces of information you need, it’s a hell of a lot simpler to just google it. Thus, in a bit of a McLuhian fashion, Carr sets out to link possible neural changes to the age of cheap, fast, always available data by retracing what happened to society whenever a new medium was introduced (be it maps, the transition from oral to written culture or Gutenberg’s press – in case you’d like to know a bit more, watch this video).

Taken from Lehrblogger

What can science tell us about the actual effects that Internet use is having on the way our minds work? No doubt, this question will be the subject of a great deal of research in the years ahead. Already, though, there is much we know or can surmise. The news is even more disturbing than I had suspected. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators, and Web designers point to the same conclusion: when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. It’s possible to think deeply while surfing the Net […] but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards. – Nicholas Carr

In short: according to Carr, any new medium has the power to change society by affecting the brain’s neuroplasticity. The way we surf the Internet heavily impacts the way we think. Twitter and the like, for instance, provide our brains with a shot of dopamine each time we check our notifications and messages – a shot we become addicted to so easily, we barely even notice it’s happening. It’s such an entertaining and seemingly harmless drug, that it’s quite likely the most socially accepted one to date. But, coming back to Buchanan’s claim, why in this world of free dopamine shots would Twitter be the medium of the moment? Why not Facebook? Well, here’s a suggestion. I don’t know about your Twitter timeline, but mine quite literally exploded during Europe’s annual eurovision song contest – while Facebook, in comparison, felt a bit like attending a (really boring) funeral. Although I refused to watch, I know of almost every single thing that happened during eurovision, which even prompted me to rename it – I now call it the eurovision tweet contest. But it doesn’t stop there, we’re constantly witnessing Twitter’s dazzling speed. Remember the pope, or Buchanan’s example of the Boston Marathon bombings (and the many mishaps associated with it), and yes .. even Steve Job’s death.

Taken from Tweeteronix

At the heart of the event, without having to see it or tune in, without ever having to be there. A web version of reality that is, just as Baudrillard predicted in 1970, more dizzying than reality itself, more explosive, more direct, more now than now: nowness. It’s a speed thing, and (with the possible exception of Reddit) no social media platform’s better able to satisfy this need than Twitter. A total presence, that is always both listening and watching. A constant stream of messages, all-delivering, all-devouring. Also, a lot more sloppy, more emotional and more fragmented (the most glaring omission often being… objectivity). But Twitter isn’t alone of course. Nowness is just as much Google’s business – after all, your click-stream data sells like ice cream on a hot summer’s day. But, is it all bad? Carr, who like most of us likes and regularly uses the Internet, doesn’t necessarily seem to think so. However, he does leave us with a warning:

The Web’s connections are not our connections—and no matter how many hours we spend searching and surfing, they will never become our connections. When we outsource our memory to a machine, we also outsource a very important part of our intellect and even our identity.

Now, I’m not saying I want us all to give up on the Internet, or alternatively ourselves. No, I wouldn’t want that. What I would want however is to know that by the time I have children, instead of learning how to use a tablet, or connect to social media with Google Glass, they also learn how to read and understand lengthy arguments. I hope they will still enjoy sitting under a tree holding their favorite book (even if it’s the e-reader version, which frankly might help us save some trees). Yes, I hope we’ll remember that contemplation matters and cannot be replaced with being connected all the time. For, outside this heavy whirl, far beyond the constant penetration of nowness, there is a place in our minds which needs to be fed. And, despite what some media gurus may believe, to survive and grow, it needs a lot more than constant stimulation. Instead of being at the heart of the event, the live, the schizophrenic condition of the 21st century, it needs to remember how to be at its own heart, how to be in a state of absolute tranquility. What it needs is the right to be by itself, in its very own here … and its very own now.


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