June 9th, 2010 20:07 EST
Are Electronic Gadgets Turning Us Into Cyborgs?
In yesterday`s New York Times Matt Richtell may have written the most important story of the decade when he reported that many neuroscientists have come to believe that the human mind is being rewired by electronic gadgetry and that we may be faltering under the bombardment of data bursts.
His story, Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price, " may well open the door to a wider public discourse about academic performance and the effects of gadgetry on human interaction.
The lengthy and thoughtful piece prompted me to question my bland assumption that our nascent voyage through cyberspace is largely benign. The story suggests that it may in fact be as fraught with peril as any voyage the starship Enterprise ever made, a concept that powerfully insinuates itself if we consider the human mind a kind of quadrant in space through which ideas travel at varying rates of speed on different missions.
The longest war in American history, our misadventure in Afghanistan, shared the front page with Mr. Richtell`s story. Indeed it was the off-lead, because it now seems apparent that Afghan profiteers have turned our bad judgment into an enormously profitable racket by bribing the Taliban to obtain safe passage for convoys with American tax money paid to them to guard those convoys.
Under the circumstances, the best American strategy might be to put Goldman Sachs in charge of the Afghan war. If the war is about screwing people, they certainly know how to do it. Or, if the war is about sheer exploitation, we could invite BP in on the game, and BP`s top executive could commiserate with the Afghan warlords and the Taliban about just wanting their lives back.
The implied tragedy on yesterday`s front page is not that the Afghan folly will go on beggaring us or that BP`s reckless greed will remain on the front pages for the rest of the year, it is rather that the Richtell story is likely to vanish while the lesser stories persist. That is often the case with news. It is tragic because we will better survive national insolvency than we will ignoring the consequences of rewiring our brains.
There are no easy answers to the questions Mr. Richtell has and scientist-interviewees have raised, just as there are no easy answers to resolving the Afghan folly or capping Deepwater Horizon. But that doesn`t mean we should turn our attention elsewhere.
I have no doubt, judging by my own casual observations, that gadgets like smart phones, tablets, laptops, iPods, and all the other cyber wonders, are changing our behavior, our focus, our manners, the conduct of our day. I think that a visionary society "a society, say, at least as visionary as Apple "would regard these developments as scientists would an experiment in a laboratory, with intense interest and a high level of discourse.
Otherwise consequences may sneak up on us that we won`t like. I have in mind as I write this a passage from Louis Ferdinand CÃ©line`s Voyage Au Bord de la Nuit, where he talks about Frenchmen between the great world wars walking to work instead of driving, to save fuel and wear and tear on their cars. Whoever heard of such an idea in postwar America? And yet today we can ill afford our cars or their fuel because we allowed the oil industry to talk us into a way of life that is no longer sustainable. And what did the industry care as long as the profits were pouring in? But we should have cared. BP is less to blame for the Deepwater Horizon tragedy than the society that turned a blind eye to the need for alternatives and regulation.
Matt Richtell and The New York Times have sounded an alarm. If we treat it as we have treated the issue of fossil fuel burnout or the Afghan war, we will pay the price, just as the Times headline suggests.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com