Friday, November 8, 2013

Datafication Redux II: Evgeny Morosov

Evgeny Morosov is a Luddite with a Luddite’s true nostalgia for a way of life that has passed. The way of life is what is known as the mitteleuropaishe esthetic of Kafka and Max Weber, Joseph Roth and Stefan Zweig. In the past, this Belarusian writer, has railed against the depredations of the information age and in a recent New Yorker essay “Only Disconnect: Two Cheers for Boredom,” (The New Yorker,  10/28/13) which tips it’s hat to E.M. Forster’s famous line “only connect,” he goes on the attack against the attack on boredom by social media. However though Morosov is arguing for boredom, he is never boring. In trying to describe the plight of socially mediated man buffeted by an “information overload” that is boring in the wrong way since it “doesn’t provide time to think; it just produces a craving for more information in order to suppress it,” he cites the German cultural critic, Siegfied Kracauer, the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre and the German sociologist George Simmel whose l903 essay “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” describes the Faustian bargain cosmopolitan man makes in his rejection of simpler ways of life. He also makes reference to a character named Mercer in David Eggers recent released novel The Circle, about a Google like campus, who “compares social media, with their constant prompts for more interaction and feedback, to snack foods that are packed with precisely determined amounts of salt and fat in order to keep us wanting (and eating) more and more.” However, the kind of old-fashioned unadorned boredom Morosov is arguing for is a little like cursive handwriting, a talent that is slowly diminishing due to atrophy. It, in fact, may be something that has totally vanished from the palette of human emotion by a certain time in the future. Congenitally blind people whose retinal damage has been repaired aren't always able to see since their neurogenic pathways are not acclimated to sight. Similarly, the problem with the kind of cleansing and potentially creative boredom that Morosov is arguing for is that there are those of us who might not even be able to recognize it, in the unlikely event we far enough away from our smart phones and Google glasses to experience it. In fact, if the flood of stimulation and datafication continues, the old-fashioned boredom that Dr. Seuss talks about in The Cat in the Hat, when he says “The sun didn’t shine and it was too wet to play so we stayed in the house all that cold, cold wet day," may someday be banished from the nightmarish universe some now call “the internet of everything."

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