On a Technocultural Curve

The Providence Journal’s recent editorial on technology and the cultural slide has an outdated ring to it:

Computers are “extending” our intelligence through a panoply of electronic devices. But whether we are creating anything of more value is debatable. We spend more and more of our lives hitting computer keys but not more time thinking, and the general level of culture does not seem to be rising — indeed it seems to be sinking into an attention-deficit-disordered world wherein, to paraphrase Henry Ford, history has become “bunk.”

As I see it, the actual culprit behind the Projo’s complaints is the television, and computers — and high-tech in general — are undoing some of the damage done. In years past, for instance, we bloggers and blog readers would have had no outlet for direct interaction to matters of politics and society encouraging us to mold the items rushing past us into debate-grade arguments. Around the jobsite, my young coworkers — who used to quote inane movies back and forth — are discussing strategies for advancing in open-ended videogames — some taking as their objective the building of entire civilizations, others remaining less edifying, but still involving transnational interactions and a sort of cybermaturity that comes with building a successful identity and orchestrating long-term plans.
As for the culture, overall, I’d say that things have been sliding for so long that it’s difficult to tell whether the curve is continuing, leveling, or even beginning to turn up a bit. A crassness developed prior to the computer era on which leeches such as pornographers have better been able to capitalize. Technology also offers, however, an opportunity to decrease the passivity in the activities of the young and old alike. If in the format of a game, children can create, record, and mix music, for example, it might draw out their own unique qualities, whereas their elders’ MTV merely layered corruption upon their gasping souls.

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17 years ago

This sounds oh so familiar. First it was billiards. Then radio. Then television. Then pinball games. Then arcade games. Then home video games. Now it’s computers. Trust the ProJo, the local bastion of the ‘old ways’ to decry the forward motion of reality.

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