Thursday, June 10, 2010

LRB · Stephen Burt · Always On

An excerpt from a thoughtful review of several recent communication- and social networking-related books

Even where life online has not changed what we see, or how we define ourselves, it has changed the speed at which we do it. ‘At one time I can be banking, paying bills, checking my email, Facebooking, emailing my parents, talking online to my friends, checking the TV Guide on the internet, and researching possible graduate schools,’ a 22-year-old tells Watkins. Such habits, Watkins thinks, produce ‘continuous partial attention’ (CPA): along with a craving for fast entertainment, an ‘always-on, anywhere, anytime, anyplace … sense of constant crisis’, ‘an effort NOT TO MISS ANYTHING’. If social networks are usually Good Things, CPA is a Bad Thing: no matter how often we check our home pages and inboxes, how often we check the news, there is still the chance of more news a minute from now. ‘Everything must be attended to,’ Freeman writes in The Tyranny of Email: ‘The faster you reply, the faster the replies come.’ He decries, predictably enough, our ‘ethic of being “always on”’, which makes us ‘task-oriented, tetchy, terrible at listening as we try to keep up with the computer’.

LRB · Stephen Burt · Always On

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