Leon Wieseltier has just written quite an interesting piece for the New York Times. (Just between you and me: it come with juicy gossi… well, context too, for it echoes many of the themes previously covered by The New Republic before he and a number of other editors loudly rebelled and quit the magazine because a Facebook founder bought the magazine and wanted greater profits. You can read the gossi… well, context here).
Wieseltier’s piece is an informing alarm about the dangers of our drive for greater technology and fixation on quantification. It calls instead for good-old but ever timely wisdom, “humanism” in his terms. We need to reflect well on the technology we use.
Every technology is used before it is completely understood. There is always a lag between an innovation and the apprehension of its consequences.
This is a crucial insight. The phone I hold in my hands makes me behave and relate to others differently than I did before – and it may change me without me realizing that or how it does. And gadgets are getting even more intimate. Andy Crouch has provided an illuminating analysis of the promise and peril of the new Apple Watch, for example. Wieseltier provides this other illustration regarding the unprecedented amount of information we find online, more than all previous encyclopedias put together:
Searches for keywords will not provide contexts for keywords. Patterns that are revealed by searches will not identify their own causes and reasons. The new order will not relieve us of the old burdens, and the old pleasures, of erudition and interpretation.
Wieseltier’s most illuminating observation, however, is broader: he points to how the very technology we use fosters a certain worldview. If we are not attentive, we are tempted to buy into an ideology that makes more processing power–which is just the means to other things, right?–the end of human civilization.
Here’s a humanist proposition for the age of Google: The processing of information is not the highest aim to which the human spirit can aspire, and neither is competitiveness in global economy. The character of our society cannot be determined by engineers.”
Where does this lead us? In my opinion, to the good old-fashioned need for thinking. To critical reflection. To strive for wisdom. Who knows, even to reading some other Wondering Fair articles today! (Blink-blink, just between you and me: start with this take on the quantification of happiness here.)