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Mar
1st
Thu
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Nicholas Carr on Information and Contemplative Thought

“The internet is a culmination of a much longer-term social trend that goes back to the beginning of mass media. People place less and less value on contemplative thinking and more on practical, utilitarian types of thinking, which are all about getting the right bit of information when you need it and about using it to answer very well-defined question. We are in a long-term process of altering our view of what constitutes the ideal intellectual life: Moving away from the ideal of conceptual thinking, reflection and taking the big picture and moving to this very utilitarian mode of constantly collecting little bits of information, not really ever wanting to back away from the flow. Society and individuals can change, but to me the trend is in the direction of interruption, distraction and shallow thinking. (…) I think we will see an acceleration of existing trends, rather than a shift in a new direction.” “
Nicholas Carr, American writer who has published books and articles on technology, business, and culture, "We Turn Ourselves Into Media Creations", The European,  31.01.2012.
Nov
22nd
Tue
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It is the great irony of life that a mindless act repeated in sequence can only lead to greater depths of absurdity, while a mindless act performed in parallel by a swarm of individuals can, under the proper conditions, lead to all that we find interesting.
Kevin Kelly, writer, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, and a former editor/publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World, Addison-Wesley, 1994, p. 292.
Sep
16th
Fri
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Robert Bellah on human evolution, culture and religion

"“Nothing is ever lost” means that what we are now goes all the way back through natural history. We are biological organisms and not simply computerized brains. By focusing totally on the present, thinking only about science and computers, and forgetting four billion years of life on this planet, we are losing perspective on who and what we are. We’re running great risks of doing things that will not be good for us. The cost can be very high indeed if we reach the point where we can’t adapt to our own increasingly rapid adaptations. We run the risk of early extinction. So this certainly isn’t a triumphalist story, but it is trying to get at what, in the very long run, leads to the amazing creatures that we are. (…)

I discovered the cognitive neuroscientist Merlin Donald’s notion that human culture, in evolutionary terms, moves from episodic, to mimetic, to mythic, to theoretic—that made all kinds of sense. To some extent, ontogeny repeats phylogeny, because children go through something like the same thing. So it’s a deeply interdisciplinary study. I’m drawing on biologists, evolutionary psychologists, and child-development researchers all in order to understand the deep roots of what would ultimately become religion.”

Robert Bellah, American sociologist, now the Elliott Professor of Sociology, Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, interviewed by Nathan SchneiderNothing is ever lost: an interview with Robert Bellah, The Immanent Frame, Sept 14th, 2011
Jun
20th
Mon
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William Deresiewicz: ‘We live at a time when friendship has become both all and nothing at all’

"Facebook isn’t the whole of contemporary friendship, but it sure looks a lot like its future. (…)  [In ancient times] Friendship was a high calling, demanding extraordinary qualities of character—rooted in virtue, for Aristotle and Cicero, and dedicated to the pursuit of goodness and truth. (…)

Inevitably, the classical ideal has faded. The image of the one true friend, a soul mate rare to find but dearly beloved, has completely disappeared from our culture. We have our better or lesser friends, even our best friends, but no one in a very long time has talked about friendship the way Montaigne and Tennyson did. (…)

Friendship is devolving, in other words, from a relationship to a feeling—from something people share to something each of us hugs privately to ourselves in the loneliness of our electronic caves, rearranging the tokens of connection like a lonely child playing with dolls. (…)

Until a few years ago, you could share your thoughts with only one friend at a time (on the phone, say), or maybe with a small group, later, in person. And when you did, you were talking to specific people, and you tailored what you said, and how you said it, to who they were—their interests, their personalities, most of all, your degree of mutual intimacy. “Reach out and touch someone” meant someone in particular, someone you were actually thinking about. It meant having a conversation.

Now we’re just broadcasting our stream of consciousness, live from Central Park, to all 500 of our friends at once, hoping that someone, anyone, will confirm our existence by answering back. We haven’t just stopped talking to our friends as individuals, at such moments, we have stopped thinking of them as individuals. We have turned them into an indiscriminate mass, a kind of audience or faceless public. We address ourselves not to a circle, but to a cloud. (…)

Friendship (like activism) has been smoothly integrated into our new electronic lifestyles. We’re too busy to spare our friends more time than it takes to send a text. We’re too busy, sending texts. And what happens when we do find the time to get together? (…) The more people we know, the lonelier we get.

[‘About me’ section]: Identity is reducible to information (…)  So information replaces experience, as it has throughout our culture. But when I think about my friends, what makes them who they are, and why I love them, it is not the names of their siblings that come to mind, or their fear of spiders. It is their qualities of character. This one’s emotional generosity, that one’s moral seriousness, the dark humor of a third. (…)  Character, revealed through action: the two eternal elements of narrative. In order to know people, you have to listen to their stories. (…)

Posting information is like pornography, a slick, impersonal exhibition. Exchanging stories is like making love: probing, questing, questioning, caressing. It is mutual. It is intimate. It takes patience, devotion, sensitivity, subtlety, skill—and it teaches them all, too. (…)

Now, in the age of the entrepreneurial self, even our closest relationships are being pressed onto this template. (…)  “There do not seem to be any singletons—disconsolately lurking at the margins—nor do dyads appear, except fleetingly.”

William Deresiewicz, formerly an associate professor of English at Yale University, is a widely published literary critic, ☞ William Deresiewicz on the meaning of friendship in our time
See also: ☞ Dunbar’s Number: Why We Can’t Have More Than 150 Friends
Apr
27th
Wed
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We have turned [our friends] into an indiscriminate mass, a kind of audience or faceless public. We address ourselves not to a circle, but to a cloud. (…) Friendship is devolving, in other words, from a relationship to a feeling.
William Deresiewicz, formerly an associate professor of English at Yale University, is a widely published literary critic, The Chronicle of Higher Education, cited in Charles Petersen, In the World of Facebook, The New York Review of Books, Feb 25, 2010.
Mar
20th
Sun
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We have greatly overestimated value of access to info and greatly underestimated value of access to each other.
Clay Shirky, American writer, consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies, at SXSW 2011 cited in Kristina Loring’s The Long Game of Social Change, Design mind, Intrapreneur, March 12, 2011
Feb
14th
Mon
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If the crowd disperses, goes home, does not reassemble, we say the revolution is over.
Ryszard Kapuściński, Polish journalist, writer, reporter (1932-2007)
Jan
25th
Tue
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Civilization is an experiment, a very recent way of life in the human career, and it has a habit of walking into what I am calling progress traps. A small village on good land beside a river is a good idea; but when the village grows into a city and paves over the good land, it becomes a bad idea. While prevention might have been easy, a cure may be impossible: a city isn’t easily moved. This human inability to foresee — or to watch out for — long-range consequences may be inherent to our kind, shaped by the millions of years when we lived from hand to mouth by hunting and gathering. It may also be little more than a mix of inertia, greed, and foolishness encouraged by the shape of the social pyramid. The concentration of power at the top of large-scale societies gives the elite a vested interest in the status quo; they continue to prosper in darkening times long after the environment and general populace begin to suffer.
Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress, Da Capo Press, 2005, p. 109.
Nov
30th
Tue
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In the beginning we lived in caves. Then we lived in houses. Now, we’ll live on the Internet.
The Social Network cited in Amanda M. Fairbanks, Should Graduate Degrees Be Earned on Facebook?, GOOD, Nov 29, 2010 (tnx  myserendipities)
May
29th
Sat
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William Deresiewicz on solitude


Salvador Dalí, Woman at the Window (Muchacha en la ventana), 1925 

“We live exclusively in relation to others, and what disappears from our lives is solitude. Technology is taking away our privacy and our concentration, but it is also taking away our ability to be alone. (…)

Romantic solitude existed in a dialectical relationship with sociability — if less for Rousseau and still less for Thoreau, the most famous solitary of all, then certainly for Wordsworth, Melville, Whitman, and many others. For Emerson, “the soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude; and it goes alone, for a season, that it may exalt its conversation or society.” The Romantic practice of solitude is neatly captured by Trilling's “sincerity”: the belief that the self is validated by a congruity of public appearance and private essence, one that stabilizes its relationship with both itself and others. Especially, as Emerson suggests, one beloved other. (…)

Solitude, Emerson said, “is to genius the stern friend.” “He who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from traveling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” One must protect oneself from the momentum of intellectual and moral consensus — especially, Emerson added, during youth. “God is alone,” Thoreau said, “but the Devil, he is far from being alone; he sees a great deal of company; he is legion.” The university was to be praised, Emerson believed, if only because it provided its charges with “a separate chamber and fire” — the physical space of solitude.

Today, of course, universities do everything they can to keep their students from being alone, lest they perpetrate self-destructive acts, and also, perhaps, unfashionable thoughts. But no real excellence, personal or social, artistic, philosophical, scientific or moral, can arise without solitude. Emerson said “The saint and poet seek privacy.” (…)

William Deresiewicz, The End of Solitude, The Chronicle Review, January 30, 2009

Emerson says that you need to not travel all the time in other people’s opinions. If you want to be able to think for yourself, if you want to be able to have original thoughts, which is not only good for you, but good for all of us, that we have people who are thinking creatively, you need to get away from other people’s opinions, other people’s values also, so you can chart your own direction. I think that’s the first value of solitude.

I also think we live such connected lives, such networked lives, that in a way, that’s a little harder to define. We lose a sense of our own integrity or our own selfhood. (…)

Mrs. Dalloway from Virginia Woolf’s novel goes up into her room in the middle of this very busy day of hers and just looks in the mirror and gathers herself together and remember who she is apart from her husband and the friend she’s inviting to her party and the busy London streets that she’s just been walking through, and very happily walking through.

But she needs that time to, as I say, gather herself into herself. I think that’s another thing we lose when we lose solitude. (…)

Soliton is incredibly important to me. I generate most of my ideas by thinking, sitting in my armchair and just thinking about things, thinking about what I’ve been reading, thinking about what I’ve been hearing. The interactive part is very important. I talk to friends about things. People write to me about things I’ve written. I do read things online and not online. But I need a lot of time to be able to process all these and to be able to think about it, and to be able to remember also what it is that’s important and what it is that I want to do. So solitude is very important to me, and I do guard it jealously and that’s why I don’t have even have a cell phone. (…)”

William Deresiewicz Interview on “The End of Solitude”, Spark, CBC Radio, Feb 19, 2009 

See also:

William Deresiewicz on Solitude, Leadership and multitasking, The American Scholar, spring 2010
William Deresiewicz on multitasking and the value of solitude
William Deresiewicz on Solitude and Leadership
☞ Leon Neyfakh, The power of lonely. What we do better without other people around, The Boston Globe, March 6, 2011
Aug
30th
Sun
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You are waiting for the revolution? Let it be! My own began a long time ago! When you are ready (god, what an endless wait!) I won’t mind going with you for a while. But when you stop, I shall continue on my way toward the great and sublime conquest of the nothing!
Renzo Novatore, Italian individualist anarchist, anti-fascist poet, philosopher and militant (1890-1922), Towards the creative nothingcited in Wildcat, Of Onions and Infocologies Thriving in the age of hyperconnectivity
May
22nd
Fri
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"Now for the evidence," said the King, "and then the sentence."
"No!" said the Queen, "first the sentence, and then the evidence!"
"Nonsense!" cried Alice, so loudly that everybody jumped, "the idea of having the sentence first!"

— Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground
This manuscript - one of the British Library’s best - loved treasures - is the  original version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll,  the pen-name of Charles Dodgson, an Oxford mathematician.

"Now for the evidence," said the King, "and then the sentence."

"No!" said the Queen, "first the sentence, and then the evidence!"

"Nonsense!" cried Alice, so loudly that everybody jumped, "the idea of having the sentence first!"

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground

This manuscript - one of the British Library’s best - loved treasures - is the original version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, the pen-name of Charles Dodgson, an Oxford mathematician.