Sunday, April 14, 2013

News From Captain Obvious: Frequent Texters Likely To Be Airheads!

Honestly. They've bothered to research this, apparently. The article in question: Frequent Texters comes from Winnipeg University.

A lot of it is fluff, full of buzzwords. But the meat of it concerns college-age students who are texting two and three hundred times per day. According to the article, they "tend to be significantly less reflective than those who text less often."

Somehow, I don't think they're using the term 'reflective' to mean 'shiny'.

Underneath the academic-speak and the utterly obvious observations (what sane individual can find time to text two hundred times a day? If that figure is distributed over, say, a sixteen-hour waking period, you're still looking at one text every five minutes.) you do get a glimpse of an interesting phenomenon. Questions arise.

Who are these people? Why are they more interested in commenting than in actually taking part or observing? How does a culture of people like this sustain itself? If you're constantly engaged in sending texts, who is receiving them, and what value are those texts providing?

I think I may have mentioned before that I don't much like mobile phones. They have their uses. I'm glad to have mine when I go away to conventions and the like, because it allows me to make use of the very limited time at such events. I can catch up with people I get to see very rarely, and make good use of the opportunity to be together.

Beyond that? The things are appalling.

I'm fascinated by people's increasing dependence on smartphones. Oh, they're awfully good at looking information up via the Internet, but when it comes to recalling it, and then actually fitting it into a pattern and making use of it, I see less and less. And there's a thing: you can call up information to answer a question, yes. But figuring out uses for that information, ways to put answers into action -- that takes concentration, time, and imagination.

We've been down this path before, culturally. When we began printing and distributing books -- paying information into a shared cultural database -- we abandoned the practise of memorising long pieces of narrative. These days, the idea of somebody memorising the Iliad and the Odyssey for performance purposes seems... heroic, really. Impossible!

It wasn't, though. At one time, feats of memorisation of that sort were relatively commonplace.

How many of you still remember phone numbers? How many of you can go the to the supermarket for more than ten items without logging it into your handy memory adjunct. (We used to use lists on paper. I'm not in favour, I admit. Paper is messy, while digital files are easily dealt with. There are definitely useful things about these critters.)

So we're outsourcing our memories. And we're de-emphasising face-to-face contact, choosing to stay in touch through digital means -- which changes our capacity to 'read' people, and changes the way we express our own emotions, and so forth. And all of this is the tip of an iceberg. For every stupid study like the one I've cited from Winnipeg U Department of the Fucking Obvious, I would guess there are a hundred much more subtle effects nobody has yet considered.

The more of our capacities and our qualities we hand over to the shared cultural cloud, the fewer we are required to maintain as individuals. It's amusing at the moment, watching the next generation grow up with a whole range of digital communications skills that my generation lacked -- while simultaneously lacking an array of abilities and qualities that defined my generation, and previous generations. Change is always interesting.

I just wonder what's going to happen when we drop some seriously important individual qualities or abilities into the cultural cloud.

Is it possible that one day, the very definition of "human" will require connection to the cultural cloud? Will people lose enough individual capacity that they become dependent on their interface with a databank that has more 'humanity' than they do?

Has it happened already?