Over at K-Punk, Mark has an interesting post up on the impact of digital technologies on our lives. As Mark writes:
Earlier in the same note, Fabio refers to my claims that the young in particular are “too wired to concentrate” and that “[t]he consequence of being hooked into the entertainment matrix is twitchy, agitated interpassivity, an inability to concentrate or focus.” Aptly enough, with the Accelerationism event coming up, the phrase “too wired to concentrate” comes from Nick Land’s great piece “Cybergothic”. “Wired” here, evidently, means connected as well as hyped up. In writing those passages, I had one eye on Foucault (or Deleuze’s reconstruction of Foucault in the “Societies of Control” essay) and the other on McLuhan. Being “too wired to concentrate” is not inherently a problem; indeed, in many contexts outside the classroom is often an advantage. But such attentional dispersion is a problem when it is inserted into the old concentrational-disciplinary system, where it is massively dysfunctional. Many of the current and upcoming crises of education will turn on this mismatch, and there’s a class dimension here. I suspect that literate students are likely to gain even more advantages in the future, as literacy becomes an ever rarer skill. Many A-level students and many university students I’ve taught don’t read – they scan text via screens, which is a very different thing. Screen culture is connective, not reflective.
The “twitchy, agitated interpassivity” I describe – from which I’m far from being exempt myself – it is what Linda Stone calls “continuous partial attention” It’s not a simple matter of opposing pleasure to duty. As digital addicts we are much like Matt Dillon’s junkie in Drugstore Cowboy, “working harder than a construction worker on overtime”. The constant craving to be connected, or to click through to the next link, or to check to see if mail has arrived, is intensely demanding: cyberspace is a hard taskmaster, and one that is never satisfied (and which, similarly, leaves us feeling dissatisfied any drained). Increasingly, I find reading books to be a refuge from digital twitch, and, in that way, more enjoyable – than ever. (That’s one reason that I greet the rise of ebooks with something of a shudder.)
Oddly this post resonates nicely with Ian’s recent analysis of “social games” on Facebook.
I really don’t have much to add to either Mark or Ian’s posts, except to say that the iPhone has destroyed my life. Prior to getting an iPhone is was never a cell phone user. Now I find that I am continuously plugged in. Whether I am planning conferences and publications with others through emails, texting back and forth with friends, constantly checking my blog to see whether new posts have come in, checking feeds to see if anyone else has posted, actually blogging, or just looking things up on the web like tardigrades that happen to pique my interest, I am constantly twitching to check my iPhone and actually get anxious when the battery is low or it’s not nearby (I’ve taken to sleeping with it nearby on my bedside table).
In fact, so terrible is this compulsion that part of the notorious Derrida discussion took place while I was sitting on the beach in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. My parents complained that I was constantly checking my phone while I visited them in Philadelphia. With the iPhone I now exist in a strange spatio-temporality. Here I am, in the space and time of my lived body, while simultaneously living in a global spatio-temporality where I’m simultaneously talking to Tim in California, Graham in Egypt, James Williams in Scotland, and Mel in Georgia. As a result, it’s as if I’m simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. Most fundamentally, I am not fully present in any of my activities. I’ve been, as Bogost puts it in his memorable term, “brain hacked”.