THE MOORE THINGS CHANGE – Technology’s buffet
AN OLD LADY rebuked a young lady a few Sundays ago when she observed the youngster “texting” in church, of all places – while the pastor preached from the pulpit.Torrents of disdain rained down on the young woman’s head until she got the opportunity to explain that she was doing exactly what Grannie was doing, only in the 21st century way. Grannie was leafing through the pages of Proverbs in her old dog-eared Bible; the other worshipper was scrolling down the screen of her BlackBerry, also in Proverbs.The bemused young woman described the incident in the daily electronic Press – ironically, a most fitting medium: “I don’t walk with a Bible because I have an electronic copy on my phone and when the old people are turning pages in their book I am pressing keys to find the passages just like them.”The incident depicts the cultural shift that is taking place right before our very eyes as technology continues its onward march.The young woman is operating at the limits of today’s technology. Many American churches are encouraging their congregations to bring smart phones to exchange “inspirational messages” via Twitter and other social media. Soon, Barbadian churches will have to remove the notice Please Turn Off Cell Phones.While the old woman concentrates on Proverbs, the young one is, too; but she’s also receiving welcome distractions: an email has just arrived; one of her 5 385 Facebook “friends” is texting from Soca On The Hill: “Wish you were here!”; a stranger in Thailand uploads a YouTube clip of a Jack Russell chasing his tail; while her service provider offers to let her talk “as long as you like for 50 cents”.Nicholas Carr, in his new book The Shallows identifies what’s going on as “cognitive change” – the rewiring of the brain to cope with the deluge of information. He debunks the age-old theory that the brain’s circuitry is fixed soon after birth. Grannie’s attitude might support that theory but the young woman is demonstrating the brain’s ability to cope with – I would say, sample or taste – a veritable buffet of technological dishes all in one sitting: more and more email, text messages, tweets, video streams, and blinking banners, all vying for her attention, but hardly her digestion.Grannie and the pastor are holding on to the technology they know; the young woman is at ease with the technology of her time.The changes are everywhere. I walked into the Eagle Hall branch of the Public Library several months ago and found four youngsters sitting at computers. No one in the room was reading a book.And what about the future of the newspaper? The owners of this newspaper are too mature to take offence when I welcome those who are attempting a new approach by introducing a concept that exists only in cyberspace. I was there 37 years ago and am therefore sympathetic towards anyone with the guts to start a newspaper – on the Internet or through the death of trees.The book and the newspaper are not yet ready to lie down and die, but they’d better start writing their wills. Several newspapers have already melted into cyberspace. Nicholas Carr asserts: “The future of knowledge and culture no longer lies in books and newspapers or TV shows or radio programmes or records or CDs.” Last April, Time magazine made an interesting observation when the iPad, the latest attention-grabber, arrived: “Apple never holds focus groups. It doesn’t ask people what they want; it tells them what they’re going to want next.” That’s perhaps why rational humans would sleep outside stores to be among the first to buy the latest smart phone – bugs and all.In this 21st century, real freedom will be experienced only by those able to disconnect themselves from the technology that tethers us. We must stop calling these things phones and computers – they’ve become our alter egos.• Carl Moore was the first Editor of THE NATION and is a social commentator.