The Roman Emperor Claudius was once called to join his army in battle by a chain of bonfires lit from Britain to Rome in 43AD. That is about as far away from instant messaging as you can get. Even then, society had cemented a demand for types of broad communication which years later would evolve into a world of instantaneous everything.
Robert Prisig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance writes, “The stream of national consciousness moves faster now, and is broader, but it seems to run less deep. The old channels cannot contain it and in its search for new ones there seems to be growing havoc and destruction along its banks. . . .” The problem portrayed is the same that Marshal McLuhan spoke of when he said, “we may be drowning”, and which Todd Gitlin would describe as, “information overflow”.
Written in 1974, Zen comes from the perspective of an age when all the old technologies of today were brand new, and the biggest of all new media, the internet, was in its infant stages -when Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP) were still being perfected by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn. There are remarkable similarities in Zen to current conversations about media, most which either render “the overflow” problematic or praise its democratizing effect.
The Web 2.0 is the world of instant everything that represents a time where the maturity of the internet has become as much of a harness (see maturity link) as it is a sling-shot for information and conversation with a worldwide range and quickness unprecedented in the past. If we are made, as Prisig writes in 1974, “a stranger in our land” by all our technologies, than what does this mean for the web 2.0? How might Prisig’s motorcycle meditations reflect upon our relationship with technologies?
Like John and Sylvia, many of us who see value in relationships with the other dissent from reliance on technologies and lament “the good old days”. Still, as a journalist, a total deflection of the web is the equivalent to career suicide; and besides, who doesn’t like the ease of access it provides? The point should not be that any effort to escape from technologies is futile. We need to force ourselves as journalists and citizens to engage creatively with these technologies that let us know our “friends” and “freinemies” as well as distribute the news. But, we also need to be aware that a torrent of text, images and sound can overwhelm us; observable anytime you witness someone’s brain shut down when the answer isn’t instant, obvious or readily available. And heaven forbid there be a few seconds of silence while one thinks!
The majority of us are, like John, not narrow-minded, lazy or stupid but flat out refuse to keep up on the maintenance of a healthy relationship with technology. This involves not over-doing it and not under-doing it. Inability on our part is to be discounted right away, “either one of them could learn to tune a motorcycle in an hour and a half”, Presig writes, and we know this.