The world has changed. Sometimes its hard to notice. This is what “shifting baselines” is about. And this is also what an excellent article this month’s Atlantic Monthly titled Is Google Making Us Stupid is about. Much more than just the idea of getting lazy and using Google to remember things for you, the article talks about the entire shift of ability to focus and experience deep emotions that has taken place. I love this article.
For over twenty years I have felt what this article has to say. Since way back in the eighties when Beavis and Butthead introduced a new way of maintaining constant, shallow laughter that never has any depth to it. Since average citizens began learning how to speak directly and calmly to the television cameras on the same day that their loved one was murdered (you see it every day here in L.A., its incredible how composed people are these days speaking to cameras), since surfers learned how to have one of their own drown and instead of going home in shock and grief, they end up just keeping on surfing, saying amongst themselves, “he would have wanted us to do this” (as happened in January of this year).
Technology has changed us. The article talks about this. About how the advent of books and printing changed storytelling and even the depth of emotion. It’s not clear if this is a good or bad thing. For all the bad ways that books changed society there are as many or more great ways they improved society. The same may be true of the current shallowing.
Today people talk about some novelist being a “classic storyteller,” but that’s a joke. Classic storytelling doesn’t work in today’s shortened attention span society. As the article says, we are “pancaking” – developing wider, shallower interests. And this is the focus of the very profound Flash piece called EPIC 2014 from a few years ago. And it is the message of what I still think is the greatest movie civilization has ever produced…Idiocracy.
Who you callin’ stoopid.