Category Archives: technology

Shallow thinking

I’ve just received my copy of The Shallows.\1/ I’m looking forward to reading it, but not right now, as I’ve several other books on the go at the moment. I did, however, peek at the prologue where Carr mentions McLuhan (how could he not?), and the fact that the Internet is the latest medium to spur the debate on the impact of new media.

It struck me that while the Internet revolution may be as significant, or more significant than the Gutenburg revolution, there is an interesting difference. (Perhaps Carr will cover this in the book.) In the Internet Age we have the impact of visual representations (on television and in films [movies]) of what computer technology might be able to achieve. People in Gutenburg’s time experienced a revolution that unfolded over time, but we are in the middle of one that has been imagined ahead of time, and in considerable detail. That must surely have a major impact on how the revolution will play out, for reality is fast outpacing our earliest imaginings.

The Matrix is one powerful representation, but I suspect that Star Trek is more powerful, for it is in Star Trek that (information) technology is presented as ubiquitous and almost totally benign. I don’t mean the original Star Trek series, but the more recent ones: Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and even Enterprise. It is the great boon to society. Everything can be solved by means of technology, and usually instantaneously. Information is always somehow available. It is only in the face of unexplained interference or sabotage that the tense drama of being stranded in hostile terrain can be played out, but those scenarios are few and far between. (How is is that crew members can get stuck in turbolifts when site-to-site transport can be used in other emergencies?) More often, Star Trek captains command their chief engineers to solve impossible problems in unbelievably short timescales. And they always achieve the impossible. Mission Impossible happens in every episode to the nth degree. Kirk, Picard, Sisco and Janeway are not the real heroes, rather they are Scotty, Chief O’Brien, and B’Elana Torres.

And this presentation of technology affects many other more popular films and television series, so even those who have never seen Star Trek see the Star Trek Paradigm visualized regularly. Mobile [cell] phones may not be Star Trek communicators or tricorders, but they are the twenty-first century prototypes of twenty-fourth century fiction. We want the Internet to become what the Federation Database has become.

This advance visualization must have a massive impact on the Internet Revolution. The Internet already affects the way we speak: we no longer look things up, we google them. And it must surely be affecting the way we think. The Big Switch\2/ made a lot of sense of things for me, and I’m hoping Carr will do the same in The Shallows. But no matter the pressure of the instantaneous Internet, I will savour the deferred gratification of holding back starting until I can devote sufficient time to serious reading and reflection.



1. Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember (London: Atlantic Books, 2010).

2. Nicholas Carr, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google (New York: W W Norton, 2008).

Neil Postman on Technology and Society

Tony Reinke has posted a lecture given by the late Neil Postman on Technology and Society. As far as I can make out, this is Postman’s lecture entitled “Questioning the Media” from Calvin College’s January Series lectures, delivered on 12 January 1998, though the video has a different datestamp.

I’ve only ever read Postman’s books before, so it was interesting to see and hear him lecture, and well worthwhile. I’ve always enjoyed his books, and learned a good deal from them. It turns out he was as good at lecturing as writing. His attempt at buying a Honda Accord towards the end of chunk 2 is very amusing (but not to death!). I found his analysis of the effect of technology on education and teachers that straddles chunks 3 and 4 particularly insightful, and still pertinent in the twenty-first century.

Here’s the whole thing as a playlist from the 7 chunks of the video.

I’m sticking with the perfect technology, too

Yesterday Tim Challies wrote an insightful piece that argues persuasively that books are the perfect technology. I couldn’t agree more. I haven’t succumbed to the temptation of the Kindle, though I’ve considered it, but I’m less and less persuaded by the benefits of electronic media for reading. Almost all of my serious reading is done from dead trees, and I think Challies is right when he says, “Despite being printed on dead trees, there is a living quality to books that is lost on e-readers.”

Apart from the way we interact with a real book versus an electronic one, I have some treasured volumes that could never be replaced by electronic copies. They belonged to real people from my past and my family’s past, many now in glory. They have memories that nothing electronic could ever match.

And I’m also sticking to pen(cil) and paper for my serious writing/thinking. I find that I produce much better writing that way than on the computer, though I usually transfer it later to the computer.

No batteries, no booting, just straight down to business: reading, writing, and thinking. Definitely the perfect technology.

Web Roundup

Some gleanings from the past month:

  • Are we heading for ecological disaster? Or is it all hype? Or perhaps there is a hidden agenda. It’s not often that dissenting voices are reported, and usually they’re written off as crackpots. That might be a little hard when they come with environmentalist pedigrees like Bjørn Lomborg and Indur M. Goklany. The Kairos Journal article “Is Economic Progress Killing Our Planet?” makes interesting reading. I’ve had a growing suspicion of the popular view for some time. It looks like there might be hard evidence to back up scepticism. Lombord has his own Web site at
  • Justin Taylor posted ‘On the Distinction between Christ’s “Passive” and “Active” Obedience‘ (Between Two Worlds, 15 May 2009). Very helpful in making the distinction clear.
  • The Soul in Cyberspace: An Interview with Gouglas Groothuis (Tim Challies, 6 May 2009) was an interesting piece that got me thinking again about the effects of technology. The quote that struck Tim forecefully, “Chistians are specially equipped to think rightly about technology,” also struck me.