I am over 50. I was alive before the internet. When I read “The Shallows”, I got concerned about what the internet does do to the brains of our children. I started to feel old. Thankfully I picked up “Originals”, where old people are more creative than the internet generation. From that perspective, “The end of absence” is an optimistic book. We have something they do not have.
When I was young…..
When I was young, I was allowed and able to be alone. I could roam the streets and fields around my village, never to be disturbed by a call, a text, a tweet, or whatever else social media is throwing at kids these days.
When I travelled through India for six months in 1988, my only connection with my friends and family were letters at poste-restante at the GPO of the major cities. Allowing me to travel in splendid isolation.
Life before the internet
Soon enough, nobody will remember life before the Internet. However, for those older than 35, we still know the difference. Surely you must wonder. Are they missing out?
Continuous partial attention
“The end of Absence” talks about continuous partial attention. Once people get used to this state, they tend to thrive on perpetual connectivity.
Techno burn out
Perpetual connectivity in the short run boost energy levels and augment memory, but over time they impair cognition, lead to depression, and alter the neural circuitry in the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex—the brain regions that control mood and thought. Chronic and prolonged techno-brain burnout can even reshape the underlying brain structure. That is scarier than just being a pancake (that is from “The Shallows”).
Some now old statistics:
- We “like” 4.5 billion items on Facebook every day
- We send 144 billion e-mails every day
- We upload one hundred hours of video to YouTube for every minute of real time.
- Every second, we uploaded 637 photos to Instagram
- The average teenager now manages upward of four thousand text messages every month
- The media consumption rate among youths totals ten hours and forty-five minutes each day
- As more journals moved online, scholars cited fewer articles than they had before
Boredom is no longer possible
Boredom is no longer possible. The over 35s are the last of the daydreamers. Our children have lost absence and never comprehend its quiet, immeasurable value. We are the digital immigrants, who understand what was before. We know what it was not to be constantly distracted.
Distraction as a control tool
There is much in the book, and it touches on “From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg” and “Filter bubble”. It goes further than those books, and ultimately it comes down to using constant distraction as a control tool.
1984 or The Matrix
A digitised 1984. Combining AI, neuroscience, algorithms, augmentation, aggregated taste-making, and rigged crowdsourcing. Remember the Matrix? The Matrix is a technologically derived web of illusions, a computer-generated dreamworld that is built to keep us under control.
The aliens are too distracted too
The psychologist Geoffrey Miller, when pondering why we have not come across any alien species as yet, decided that they were probably all addicted to video games and are thus brought to an extreme state of apathy. The aliens are so distracted that they forget to send radio signals or colonise space. We might get there too. A population addicted to distraction and inauthentic reality. When we (the older people) die, they will not know any better.
There is hope
On September 1, 1859, a storm on the surface of our usually benevolent sun released an enormous megaflare, a particle stream that hurtled our way at four million miles per hour. Some telegraph stations burst into flame. Our chances of experiencing such a storm in the next decade are about 12%. Great Britain’s Royal Academy of Engineering has pegged the chance of a Carrington-type event within the next two centuries at about a 95% probability. A single lashing from the sun could shake our fantastic Machine.