THE BLOG

Why "Talk" Culture will Destroy the World

05/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Hugh McGuire Founder of iambik.com, LibriVox.org, and Bitesizeedits.com

In the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani takes on the Internet, remix culture, post-modernism and the technology-induced Decline of Western Civilization. She quotes the usual suspects: Jaron Lanier, Andrew Keen, Nicholas Carr as well as Cass Sunstein, Farhad Manjoo.

While we should all think carefully about how technology can best be used, Kakutani (and her sources) seem to be fighting a strange battle. It's hard to swallow an article made up almost exclusively of quotes from various other thinkers, about how dangerous mash-ups are. If "cherry picking" ideas and mixing them into a shortened digital version, quotable at the water-cooler, or on Twitter, is such a terrible thing, what is Kakutani doing writing a mash-up of cherry-picked ideas and mixing them into a shortened digital version, quotable at the water-cooler or on Twitter?

The "problem," I think, is humans themselves. Unfortunately, this is what we like to do with information: we absorb it, process it, shorten it, and reassemble it... and then share and comment and talk about it.

It always surprises me that there aren't more articles about the dangers of one-on-one conversations: after all - shouldn't we be worried about, "the fragmentation of data that the conversations produce, as news articles, novels and record albums are broken down into verbal words and sentences shared between people at cafes everywhere; the growing emphasis on immediacy and real-time responses of the person in front of you; the rising tide of data and information that permeates our discussions; and the emphasis that conversation places on subjectivity."

The real danger to the future of humanity is not the web, it's much deeper: it's lurking in every conversation over a coffee or beer that anyone has ever enjoyed. The real danger isn't bits and bytes, it's our desire to talk about the things that interest us. God help us all.

If Kakutani & her sources can figure out how to eradicate our urge to communicate, they'll solve the lesser problem presented by technologies that let us communicate as we always have.

There are many reasons that we should carefully consider technology, and figure out how to use it to do more interesting things. But finding ways to stop people talking about things they care about, and making art out of things they love, or contextualizing information with commentary and curation ... none of that is very high on my list of things we ought to do.