Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Tyranny of the Instant

I never thought the Zen (New Age) mantra 'be here now' could have a down-side.  But, a preoccupation with the 'here and now' to the exclusion of historic perspective and sensible moderation can be dumb, if not downright dangerous.

Consider the hoax Tweet last week that President Obama had been injured in an explosion at the White House, which sent the stock markets tumbling. See NY Times story, 'Twitter Speaks, Markets Listen, Fears Rise.' Of course, in that case, the culprits were micro-trading high-frequency algorithms not human agents.  And, when humans checked the hoax out, the markets regained their losses.

One of the fundamental problems with Twitter is its one-dimensional concentration on the present tense to the exclusion of all other time and place perspectives.  Tom Chatfield discusses this in his book, How to Live in the Digital Age, where he observes: 'In an age of constant live connections, the central question of self-examination is drifting from 'Who are you?' towards 'What are you doing?'  Much as we hunger for connection, if we are to thrive, we need some sense of ourselves separate from this constant capacity to broadcast.  We need tenses other than the present--other qualities of time--in our lives.'

Chatfield recalls watching Jaron Lanier at South by Southwest in 2010, where he (Lanier) told his audience, 'The most important reason to stop multitasking so much isn't to make me feel respected, but to make you exist.  If you listen first, and write later, then whatever you write will have had time to filter through your brain, and you'll be in what you say.  This is what makes you exist...'

So we are back to being here now, not broadcasting here now.

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