I’ve been reading quite a bit, lately, about media and thinking and speed and time. And how it’s hard for many of us to find time for contemplation, quiet thought, and (good) writing (note the preceding very bad sentences). My current read (when I have time for it), Howard Rosenbberg and Charles Feldmans’s “No Time to Think” (2008), explores how the 24-hour news cycle values speed more than anything, to the detriment of accuracy and even clear thinking. An article I found at CNN.com (hmmmm, one of those guilty 24-hour news speedsters) reports that some scientists are saying that Twitter, because it encourages speed and brevity, will turn us into news consumers unable to truly feel compassion for those suffering and in need because we’re so busy speeding through the information that overwhelms us all day long in short blips (well, tweets). The idea is that eventually we’ll be so caught up in keeping up that we’re not able to develop compassion or to contemplate the bad things that are happening to other people that we (quickly) read about in our media stream.
I think that information speed and overload have been vexing us for quite some time. Twitter is not entirely to blame. It’s only the most recent service in a long line of available media that have, gradually, allowed us access to more and more information in shorter bits. And along the way we’ve been changing, for better or for worse, depending upon who you talk to. It started with books, you know. From there it’s just been one long road to more information in different forms–print, electronic, digital.
I won’t go into the long, sordid, fascinating history here. But it’s worth taking a long look back at developments in communication media to put into perspective the fears and widespread warnings that come with each new media development (Socrates was sure that writing signaled the end of Democracy). A colleague, George Rodman, and I (briefly) cover the history of developing media in the Western world and accompanying changes in sense of individuality in the first chapter of an upcoming anthology entitled Technology and Psychological Wellbeing (shamelessly I plug) published by Cambridge University Press (you can pre-order it at Amazon.com).
Most times, in my professorial mode of thinking, I can take solace in the fact that we’re in the midst of yet another change in communication media, that the warnings and laments of doctors, scientists and others is just part of the transition to new modes of communication that do, in fact, change us. Sometimes, though, on a personal level, I feel too quickly overwhelmed by the changes in communication media. I long for more contemplation, and less obligation to the electronic masters which I’ve allowed to re-shape how I work and even how I think.
Specifically, I’m finding it hard to find time to just think and write (at least write without using an excessive amount of parentheses, which indicates, I think, a need to display my inner dialogue while I write. Or maybe it’s just insecurity. Or maybe I’ve just grown to love parentheses). Personally, I’m too terribly busy reading and responding to emails to actually compose my thoughts about communication media or anything else. The emails come fast and furious and they demand my attention all day long. I feel as if I’m obligated to jump instantly on the request of anyone who emails me for information, with a question or with information. Soon my entire work day has been swallowed up by email demons. I realize, of course, that it’s my own fault for not carving out certain times in the day when I’m online doing email, and leaving other chunks for more contemplative communication-related activities (after all, I am a communication professional!). I myself have allowed the electronic emailing task to shape how I work. I’ve not stepped away enough.
That said, I’m willing to concede that in five to ten years my work habits in relation to electronic media might be completely different. All of ours might. By then I may find new ways to catch up with emerging communication media. Or I might drop out altogether.
There’s always the allure of a digital-free bike trek across one country or another (talk about a completely different way to get information). But by then everything will be wireless, anyway.