Guerilla Warfare of the Information Age

Ken Myers, of Mars Hill Audio, introduced me to The New Atlantis:A Journal of Technology and Society. In at least one of his talksand probably severalMyers referred to the journal in general, and to the work of Christine Rosen, in particular.

Rosen’s attention in The New Atlantis is often on how technology affects us as people, as human beings. The Spring 2008 issue contains her insightful article about multitasking, that holy grail of the information age. It caught me off-guard because I was in flagrante delicto, as they say–while waiting for my printer driver to install, I was checking e-mail, surfing four or five Web sites, and updating my FaceBook status.

After reading the article, I felt compelled to take a hard look at my own bitter romance with multitasking. My quest to “get things done” (apologies to David Allen), to “do more in less time,” has left me feeling more harried than helped. I have at times felt my attention so fragmented that I thought I could feel the synapses misfiring as I assaulted my own brain with too many stimuli, and too many decisions. And the poor thing, weakened as it was by the dastardly duo of Information Age guerilla warfare: television and the Internet.

Is it any wonder that small decisions, easy decisions, cease to be easy? When we have trained our minds not in discernment, but in distraction, should our frozen software come as any surprise? And forget accomplishing much that requires contemplation. I speak only for myself (though I suspect I’m not alone) in saying that I don’t give myself much space for deep thinking.

Which brings me to my novel. I took a short hiatus from this blog, hoping to turn my attention to writing something of more substance. I started the work, dashing out much tripe and trivia in the direction of significant prose. But I found myself distracted. Sitting in front of my laptop, I found my mind wandering not to the inner lives of my characters but to the contents of my inbox. When July 1 rolled around, and I had precious little to show for my hiatus, I quit everything in disgust.

All this sounds like a personal problem, I know; it is. Thankfully, that isn’t the end of the story. I attended another conference, this one small and intimate, intense discussion of big ideas coupled with time for rumination and reflection. And, away from most media for a week, I felt some healing begin. Reading (and not just the light, ephemeral reading that characterizes Web surfing) became a joy again. (And on the subject of reading, I commend to you To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence, a report of the National Endowment for the Arts. If nothing else, read the Executive Summary to get a glimpse of the state of reading in our society.)

Still, getting back to life as usual meant some challenges to my new romance with a contemplative, reflective life. Which brought me to Rosen. And it is Rosen’s conclusion, which contains this devastating sentence, that compelled me to go cold-turkey on one of my latest distractions:

When people do their work only in the “interstices of their mind-wandering,” with crumbs of attention rationed out among many competing tasks, their culture may gain in information, but it will surely weaken in wisdom.

“It will surely weaken in wisdom.” Wisdom’s the stuff that Solomon encouraged his son to get more of, to get strong on. Pursue wisdom like a woman, Sol said:

13 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
14 for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
15 She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed. (Proverbs 3:13-18)

As with all Rosen’s articles, this one’s worth your attention. Pay up.

I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I don’t have any at the moment. Just a desire for change. And in my searching, I’m trying out some old paths.

Thanks for reading.

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