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Thursday, April 13, 2006

habits of the high-tech heart

I've been reading this phenomenal book, Habits of the High-Tech Heart by Quentin Schultze. I have been convicted on so many levels by this book. It is essentially trying to get behind our quest and thirst for technology and information and to critically assess whether or not these desires are good and how well technology and information contribute to propelling us towards what we were created for. Instead, Schultze argues that these things are actually detracting from what we were created to be and live for.

I am posting a series of quotes from the first chapter of this book that I hope will cause you to pick up a copy for yourself. If you are in a technology field, this is a must read. I encourage you to soak in these quotes and assess your own views about information and technology. Perhaps I'll get around to posting more about this in a few days.
Although the vast majority of people in the world lack access to computers, let alone to the Internet, information-rich elites and experts assume on behalf of others that efficiency and control are inherently good values that will necessarily improve society, enrich private lives, and empower individuals. They assume that a faith in technique is good, progressive, and beneficial for all (18).
Unless we focus as much on the quality of our character as we do on technological innovation, potentially good informational techniques will ultimately reduce our capacity to love one another (19).
Instead of intentionally embedding cyber-technology existing cultures, we let cyber-technology shape our ways of life (20).
The Internet, in particular, has become a portal to evil where many people learn that incivility is fun, crudeness is a game, and the individual alone should be the only arbiter of truth and justice (20).
Of course, dismantling all information technologies is not a realistic or even a good solution. Wholesale destruction is both impractical and rash--a quick-fix technique with no lasting value. Instead, we have to give as much attention to the habits of our hearts as we do to our cyber-endeavors (21).
Although we celebrate the arrival of the information society, we have not fully faced its implications. Along with information come misinformation and disinformation. Rumor and hearsay abound. Opinions fly through digital networks. Deceitful persons and institutions spread half truths (25).
The plethora of available information makes us ever more dependent on experts who supposedly can interpret it for us (25).
We are succumbing to a non-discerning, vacuous faith in the collection and dissemination of information as a route to social progress and personal happiness (26).
As a quasi-religion, informationism preaches the is over the ought, observation over intimacy, and measurement over meaning (26).
In cyber-culture, we are increasingly obsessed with documenting the present rather than understanding the human condition, particularly our moral situation. Uninterested in the hard work of nurturing virtuous character, we hope for technological solutions to our moral problems (27).
The second section examines how our informational practices position us as impersonal observers of the world rather than intimate participants in the world…We become promiscuous knowers, flitting from one bit of information to another, with no fidelity to an overarching worldview…Although we selfishly gain more knowledge about the world, we lose the more intimate knowledge of the world…'Surfing' is an apt word for our condition because it connotes living on the surface of reality (27).
The third section discusses our high-tech penchant for measurement over meaning…The resulting cyber-worldview is a closed system that elevates the value of control over moral responsibility. Manipulating information to cause particular 'outcomes' becomes more important than being virtuous persons or contributing to a good society (27).
The more we imagine our lives and our societies as informational systems, the more likely it is that we will manipulate and control human beings as mere cogs in digital networks (27).
It is a morally bankrupt faith in our own ability to engineer the Promised Land (28).
Modern technologies provide us with a myriad of ways to 'delete' the moral life by focusing only on immediate, instrumental activities (28).
High school shootings momentarily prompt the nation to examine the impact of violent video games on young people, but before long we are back to business as usual, producing promotional Web sites for violent movies based on the same video games (29).
Our desires to become skillful technologists increasingly dictates our moral decisions. We rarely think about what it means to be good and wise people; instead, we focus on whether we are technically connected. We assume that by adopting novel technologies we can solve the moral problems created by earlier ones. Supposedly, encryption will ensure privacy. Web site "blocking" software at public libraries will protect children from access to adult materials online. Our romance with information technology leads us to assume that moral issues are best solved technologically (29).
Many people buy the latest equipment before its value is proven; they love being on the cutting edge before their friends are. But what is the real value of greater processing speed, a larger monitor, or expensive software with so many bells and whistles that we will rarely use, let alone master? Informationism thrives when our rhapsodies about the latest technologies give us the illusion of being informationally up-to-date, socially elevated, and professionally successful (30-31).
As we follow the buzz of the latest popular culture, we have little time to think about the kinds of individuals that we are becoming, let alone the types of persons that we should be (31).
In spite of our optimism about information technologies, they do not always deepen our relationships with others. The more time and energy we spend using information technologies, the less likely we are to know intimately the world around us. Information technologies foster secondhand knowledge about rather than more intimate knowledge of (32).
As the pool of information grows, our actual knowing declines. Knowledge exists "out there" in cyberspace, not in our minds and hearts. The Web, for example, is an enormous flea market of informational odds and ends. Billions of pages exist in cyberspace, but no one can know even a small percentage of them intimately. Nor is there an overarching Web librarian who knows the Web's 'catalogue' well (32).
Information technology becomes a means of manipulating the world to get what we want (33).
They [school students] see school-oriented knowing as an instrumental of getting grades and earning degrees, not as a means of becoming a wise person and contributing to a good society. Similar patterns of objectified knowing and informational dis-intimacy occur in churches, where sermons are abstracted lectures about religious information. Religious bookstores today sell an amazing array of spiritualized self-help literature designed to solve believers' immediate problems rather than to show them how to nurture faith over a lifetime (33).
Reading online about the needs of the world, for instance, is never the same as personally knowing people in need (34).
Informationism encourages informational promiscuity: impersonal relationships based on feigned intimacies lacking moral integrity…[speaking about day-trading] promiscuity increases with the use of information technologies. Zigzagging in and out of the markets, they might not even care about the ethics of the companies involved; a corporation know for producing faulty products can be just as 'good' a stock play as a business with a social conscience (35).
From business to sex, informationism emphasizes amoral observation over virtuous intimacy. As ovservers in this digital arena, we are apt to see the world merely as a video game meant to be played for our own short-term pleasure--and if we find cheat codes, we will not hesitate to use them. Speed and success are more important than intimacy and discernment. If instead we become intimate participants in culture, we will see the world as an ecology in which we must reside responsibly. John Lukacs suggests that true knowledge is 'participant.' It 'consists of the relationship of the knower and the known.' Intimacy requires us to live harmoniously with others whom we both know and respect (36).
Daniel Boorstin suggests that Americans live in 'statistical communities' that define culture in quantitative terms, from economic data to demographic trends and social norms. When we adopt informationism, we see the world increasingly through the lenses of measurable norms, means, causes, and effects (35).
Our belief in the power of cybernetic systems to improve our world ultimately rests on the faith that our use of information technologies will make us better human beings. Computer programs that enable machines to beat humans at games of chance and skill are indeed impressive. But moral questions about human life are beyond the interpretive scope of information technologies…Machines will never understand the intimate meaning of existence, the moral nature of human life, the joy of relationships, and the goodness of responsible action. We are not designed as mere informational beings but as moral creatures who can pursue virtue (42).
No matter how many information technologies we devise, we cannot fashion them humanly unless we direct them toward coherent moral purposes. What is the telos to which our technologies should be aimed?...We congratulate ourselves for our informational accomplishments, but the real benefits or drawbacks of such innovations, in distinctly moral terms, elude us (43).
If human life is not intrinsically meaningful, we are all machines with no moral compass and no responsibilities (43).
The truth is that informationism divides human knowledge into bits of information devoid of moral meaning. We justify cyber-technologies in terms of our greater ability to collect and analyze information for the purposes of prediction and control. Numbers speak. Data impress. Measurements connote certainty. We even accept isolated technological facts as yardsticks for social progress, such as the number of television channels, the percentage of the population wired to the Internet, and the bandwidth of our digital connections. All such technological expansion symbolizes a greater human ability to socially engineer progress. We love information, and we cannot get enough of it (44).


At 5:55 AM, April 14, 2006, Blogger Dan McGowan said...

As I read on another blog - "Information Does Not Create Transformation."

At 7:19 AM, April 14, 2006, Blogger Ryan Kellermeyer said...

Very interesting. I love the irony of reading quotes from a quasi-luddite book from the pages of the blog of a friend who I met in the real world first, but connected more deeply with online which then led to even deeper connection back out in the real world. In the new world of social ping pong, perhaps we still need the "net".

What the hell am I saying?

At 8:25 AM, April 14, 2006, Blogger rs said...

I like catchy statements like that D.

R - have we met before? Good name. And good comment - this book has caused me to do some serious thinking. This whole online "community" thing??? Is it really community? This book would say no.


At 11:13 AM, April 14, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Good stuff - I especially like the quotes that appear on pg 27. Thanks for sharing these Ryan.

I think one of the things we are trying to do here (with the blogs), is use technology to supplement community - I don't believe "virtual" reality/community will ever replace replace the real thing, but I think it can supplement it, deepen it (as Ryan K's comment points out).

Blogging can be a great way to bare your soul and let people see inside - to give people a little window into what goes on inside, to try and communicate how we see the world, think about life, value, meaning, etc. But it's never a substitute for the real face to face relationship (and I have been SO reminded of that this week).

Blogging can keep close friends connected, but it can never create close friendships the way real live facetime does.

It IS very interesting how few techie types ever bother to even question technology, to think about the values and meaning behind the systems we build. It never ceases to amaze me how many amazingly bright people are so incredibly shallow when you start asking about meaning and values in life and relationships.

And finally to Ryan S - no, I don't think you've met Ryan K (I know him from S&T), but I suspect you guys would like each other. So Ryan - meet Ryan! :-)


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