Meanjin has a stellar essay up at their online editions section by Kate Crawford on the pervasiveness of noise in our society. I had a couple of thoughts regarding it that I thought I’d jot down quickly on my lunchbreak. No guarantees that they are at all coherent:
- The dismissal of Clay Shirky’s quote ‘There is no such thing as information overload, there’s only filter failure’ as a ‘merely prosthetic’ one is interesting. It’s true that this is an individualistic view–an end-user way of dealing with the problem. But the alternative suggested, that a dialogue be opened up between users and producers of technology such that some modicum of silence, some distance can be maintained from the torrent of digital stimuli that assault us daily, seems naive to the extreme. Especially given my experience that most of the people that use these services such as 4square, facebook, and Twitter like using them. They like seeing their friends mundane status updates. They like finding out if they have visited a place often enough to become its virtual mayor. They like playing Farm owner on a digital piece of real estate. Fucked if I know why, but they enjoy the noise. To say that they will ‘grow out’ of this stage and need some societal code of conduct in place to live by when that happens seems a bit presumptuous.
- On the other hand, I agree with Kate that the conversation needs to be had. While the only active proponents might be a small subset of those using the technologies, historically it has never been a good idea to ignore minorities. However, at this point in time, translating conversation into societal action will be one hell of a tough gig while everyone is still so enamoured with the technology. It seems like a case of laying the groundwork now and waiting for the right time to spring it.
- As such, it does seem, presently, to fall to the individual user to set up his or her defences against the noise. As someone who uses their computer to write, I used to use a methods such as Leechblock and other Firefox plugins. I’ve since come to the conclusion that the best option is just to have a laptop that hasn’t got a network card, and lie in bed away from any other distractions. It’s a simple hack, but it works.
- On the other hand, if the responsibility of artists is to provide new insight into the world around them, then isn’t it their responsibility to be ‘plugged in’ to some extent? Writing about being in a society that is connected requires that we be connected ourselves. Of course, Kate doesn’t suggest we unplug entirely so the consideration of spaces of disconnect wouldn’t be mutually exclusive to the plugging in of artists to the zeitgeist. On that note, what is the best analogue to the Fermi cage cafe mentioned, do you think? I’d hazard a guess at libraries, as long as you left your phone at home and ripped out your network card.
Anyway, like I said, absolutely stellar stuff from Kate Crawford. And if you like that, be sure to subscribe to Meanjin, it’s worth it.
I would also like to add that the delayed release of these essays and articles that Meanjin practises is a really great way to get people to engage with them. While I am sitting on my couch reading my hard copy of each edition, I’m not likely to jump up and run to my computer to respond to the articles. But by re-releasing them online and linking them from their blog, they remind me of what I was thinking about while I am in front of a computer screen and therefore in a state that is apt for reply.