Nicholas Carr, Digital Jeremiah

Easily one of my favorite critics of wired culture is Nicholas Carr, who is at the top of his game in a couple of recent posts from Rough Type, aka, the "realtime chronicles."

Get used to the sarcasm. As someone who has been on the barbed end of it because of a brief flirtation with the kind of digital utopianism he routinely mocks, and as an introvert who has an inexhaustible desire for less stimulation from the devices he carries, I've certainly come to appreciate it.

Up first, Carr share an insight gleaned from a forthcoming book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb - an IdeaFestival speaker in 2008, by the way - on the nature of information in the land of circuits: the more you look at the data, the more noise you're likely to encounter. The fault lies with us.

In my mind this statistical truism sheds light on so much of contemporary culture, which has never been so connected. And yet - and yet - through a combination of our own frailties and an interminable news cycle we've become, with good reason, jejune, skeptical about the information on offer. Yeah, there's a bit of noise in the signal.

I won't go so far as to say that the news is for suckers, but comics have certainly found it useful. Having left The Onion, Baratunde Thurston has started a new company, Cultivated Wit, devoted to the proposition that truths that can't shared in earnest might be delivered in a punchline. He's on to something; the facts ain't what it used to be. I'm looking forward to hearing Baratunde at IdeaFestival 2012.

Carr also goes after a certain modern promise. Our wetware, having co-evolved with its world over an endless expanse of time, crowns its bearers with creaturely intimacies - the scent of an apple orchard, the warmth of a lover, the jeweled depths of a truly dark sky. It is hard won knowledge. And thanks to neuroscience we also know that the synaptic leaps that make that knowledge possible take place before any conscious understanding. Our own minds lag the real world.

"But there's hope...." Taking a shot at one well known cyber evangalist and some-over-the-top language about the promise of personal technology, Carr goes on to dryly and pointedly mock the idea that our digital devices will ever anticipate our wants. Our apps have a hopeless task, not the least because knowing what we want is part of the problem.

He's not for everyone, but we need voices like Carr's. He doesn't prophesy against the wired world, just the dingbat-ery that its intimate embrace will ever have a pulse.


 Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by Ben Husmann