Sunshine Recorder

Link: Nicholas Carr on Information and Contemplative Thought

The European: Is that because of the technology’s omnipresence or rather the way we engage with it? You have described how the immersion of browsing the web can’t be compared to that of reading a book.
Carr: If you watch a person using the net, you see a kind of immersion: Often they are very oblivious to what is going on around them. But it is a very different kind of attentiveness than reading a book. In the case of a book, the technology of the printed page focuses our attention and encourages a linear type of thinking. In contrast, the internet seizes our attention only to scatter it. We are immersed because there’s a constant barrage of stimuli coming at us and we seem to be very much seduced by that kind of constantly changing patterns of visual and auditorial stimuli. When we become immersed in our gadgets, we are immersed in a series of distractions rather than a sustained, focused type of thinking.

The European: And yet one can fall down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia; spending hours going from one article to the other, clicking each link that seems interesting.
Carr: It is important to realize that it is no longer just hyperlinks: You have to think of all aspects of using the internet. There are messages coming at us through email, instant messenger, SMS, tweets etc. We are distracted by everything on the page, the various windows, the many applications running. You have to see the entire picture of how we are being stimulated. If you compare that to the placidity of a printed page, it doesn’t take long to notice that the experience of taking information from a printed page is not only different but almost the opposite from taking in information from a network-connected screen. With a page, you are shielded from distraction. We underestimate how the page encourages focussed thinking – which I don’t think is normal for human beings – whereas the screen indulges our desire to be constantly distracted.

The European: Recently, there’s been a rise in the popularity of software tools which simplify the online experience – such as Instapaper or fullscreen apps – all of which leverage the effect you described by emulating the printed page or the typewriter. They block out distractions and rather let the user stare at the plain text or the blinking cursor.
Carr: I am encouraged by services such as Instapaper, Readability or Freedom – applications that are designed to make us more attentive when using the internet. It is a good sign because it shows that some people are concerned about this and sense that they are no longer in control of their attention. Of course there’s an irony in looking for solutions in the same technology that keeps us distracted. The questions is: How broadly are these applications being used? I don’t yet see them moving into the mainstream of peoples’ online experience. There’s a tension between tools that encourage attentive thought and the reading of longer articles, and the cultural trend that everything becomes a constant stream of little bits of information through which we make sense of the world. So far, the stream metaphor is winning, but I hope that the tools for attentiveness become more broadly used. So far, we don’t really know how many people used them and in which way they do.

(Source: sunrec)

Link: The Absurd: Camus and Kierkegaard

"To exist in such a way that my opposition to existence expresses itself every instant as the most beautiful and safest harmony, that I cannot." — Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

"What can a meaning outside my condition mean to me? I can understand only in human terms." — Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

Incommensurability is the lack of a common measure between two things. The incongruence that presents itself in the situation of incommensurability gives us two options: We must either abandon one term or leap from one to the other without explanation. We are put in the position to choose when faced with a paradox; something that is self-contradictory demands that we either refuse to grant one of the terms that contradicts the other or transcend our understanding - leap over it - and grant both terms despite their incommensurability. If, as many thinkers declare, human life involves a paradox, then simply living demands that we choose one of these options. Existentialism, as a branch of philosophy that concentrates heavily on paradox, offers many different perspectives on the significance and implications of the incommensurable aspects of the human condition. Kierkegaard and Camus referred to man’s position in the world as “the absurd;” though the term is shared between them and their definitions are not dissimilar, their approach to the absurd and the conclusions they draw therefrom are, well, incommensurable. In both of our thinkers’ writings, man with his concrete experiences represents one of the terms of the incommensurable; the other is what man longs for: unity, clarity, justification - in a word, God. What should we do without a common measure between what we live and what we want, the former being certain, the latter being unknowable yet desperately longed for? Is there a correct attitude toward the paradox? Since Kierkegaard and Camus share a similar starting point and end worlds apart, one leaping over the understanding and the other revolting against the incomprehensible, a discussion of their attitudes toward the incommensurable will provide two extreme positions for analysis. This could result many ways: One of these poles may stand out as the clearly correct approach; perhaps neither will ring true, but their extremity may refer us to a middle path; perhaps no conclusion can be found for such a question, because paradox may not admit of a right or wrong approach.

When discussing the lack of a common measure between man and the objects of his desire, we know the instrument of measurement of the first term: the understanding. The absurd is that which surpasses the understanding, that which defies its logic and offends its sensibility. The absurd is the incommensurability between man and God. Kierkegaard, a zealous Christian, is often referred to as the father of existentialism - interesting to consider today, since the modern connotation of “the existentialist” is highly atheistic, or at least agnostic. Kierkegaard’s thought, though, is a clear precursor to modern existential philosophy; in his treatment of paradox, he diminishes the status of reason and exalts human passion. His preference of a lyrical writing style over the more traditional linear, dialectical structure indicates his emphasis on mood rather than logic. His ideas of paradox and the absurd unfold in his writings on faith, namely, in Philosophical Fragments and Fear and Trembling.

Philosophical Fragments concerns man’s ability to know truth. In it we find the Socratic idea of midwifery and immanent truth called into question. Kierkegaard does not provide an argument against it, but provides an alternative based on a hypothetical premise: If we are divorced from truth, how can we learn it? His answer is, of course, Jesus, but this is not the focus of my present discussion. The most relevant part of the Fragments for my concerns is Kierkegaard’s chapter on what he calls the “absolute paradox.” What he describes here is essentially a drive toward intellectual self-destruction. “This…is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think.” (37) Thought wants to transcend itself, but it cannot, since this would require pulling itself over its own limits. Kierkegaard gives a name to that against which the understanding wants to destroy itself: the unknown, or the god.

Link: The Sound of Solitude

We are all cocooned in noise, and can escape from one another’s only when immersed in our own. What effect is the sound-culture having on our self-awareness and faculties of thought?

As George Michelsen Foy details in his book Zero Decibels, the urban environment is full of noise stressors — car traffic, the rattle of subway cars, the inane phone conversations of strangers. The engine of a city bus idles at 90 decibels. This isn’t new. What’s new is our coping strategy. Instead of retreating into the quiet of private space, we retreat behind our headphones, blocking out the offending sounds with our own wall of noise.

It’s only natural that we should seek refuge. But in our eagerness for a semblance of solitude, we’ve lost much of what made solitude traditionally valuable — namely, peace and quiet.

Music isn’t the only culprit. At home we have our televisions and other consumer electronics, our computers with browser bookmarks for video sites like YouTube and Hulu, our vast libraries of games, movies, and other audiovisual entertainments. The proliferation seems infinite. Apple is projected to sell 60 million iPads this year alone, and its App Store is currently counting down to its 25 billionth download.

It’s high time we seriously consider what effect the sound-culture is having on our self-awareness and faculties of thought. “We have no real precedent to tell us how life-forms mature and are conducted at anywhere near the levels of organized noise which now cascade through the day and the lit night,” Steiner wrote.

With the dubious benefit of four more decades in which this cascade of noise has only grown in volume and intensity, we can now say it seems to stunt or impede important faculties. Developmental psychologist Lorraine Maxwell has found that excessive noise causes stress in schoolchildren and impairs their attention and memory. Noise also affects their desire to socialize and participate in groupwork. Children both young and old, she wrote, “withdraw from communicating with their classmates in noisy environments.”

As a culture, we are now afraid of silence, and hold suspect those who indulge in it. We are afraid perhaps because music has become our lingua franca, our common ground, the most universal means of sharing experience. Where this is true, silence means disconnection, withdrawal, social death. But only in silence can we learn to think often and well. And bad thinkers notoriously make bad actors.

This: ‘Most men will not swim before they are able to.’ Is not that witty? Naturally, they won’t swim! They are born for the solid earth, not for the water. And naturally they won’t think. They are made for life, not for thought. Yes, and he who thinks, what’s more, he who makes thought his business, he may go far in it, but he has bartered the solid earth for the water all the same, and one day he will drown.
— Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf

Link: Nicholas Carr on Information and Contemplative Thought

The European: Is that because of the technology’s omnipresence or rather the way we engage with it? You have described how the immersion of browsing the web can’t be compared to that of reading a book.
Carr: If you watch a person using the net, you see a kind of immersion: Often they are very oblivious to what is going on around them. But it is a very different kind of attentiveness than reading a book. In the case of a book, the technology of the printed page focuses our attention and encourages a linear type of thinking. In contrast, the internet seizes our attention only to scatter it. We are immersed because there’s a constant barrage of stimuli coming at us and we seem to be very much seduced by that kind of constantly changing patterns of visual and auditorial stimuli. When we become immersed in our gadgets, we are immersed in a series of distractions rather than a sustained, focused type of thinking.

The European: And yet one can fall down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia; spending hours going from one article to the other, clicking each link that seems interesting.
Carr: It is important to realize that it is no longer just hyperlinks: You have to think of all aspects of using the internet. There are messages coming at us through email, instant messenger, SMS, tweets etc. We are distracted by everything on the page, the various windows, the many applications running. You have to see the entire picture of how we are being stimulated. If you compare that to the placidity of a printed page, it doesn’t take long to notice that the experience of taking information from a printed page is not only different but almost the opposite from taking in information from a network-connected screen. With a page, you are shielded from distraction. We underestimate how the page encourages focussed thinking – which I don’t think is normal for human beings – whereas the screen indulges our desire to be constantly distracted.

The European: Recently, there’s been a rise in the popularity of software tools which simplify the online experience – such as Instapaper or fullscreen apps – all of which leverage the effect you described by emulating the printed page or the typewriter. They block out distractions and rather let the user stare at the plain text or the blinking cursor.
Carr: I am encouraged by services such as Instapaper, Readability or Freedom – applications that are designed to make us more attentive when using the internet. It is a good sign because it shows that some people are concerned about this and sense that they are no longer in control of their attention. Of course there’s an irony in looking for solutions in the same technology that keeps us distracted. The questions is: How broadly are these applications being used? I don’t yet see them moving into the mainstream of peoples’ online experience. There’s a tension between tools that encourage attentive thought and the reading of longer articles, and the cultural trend that everything becomes a constant stream of little bits of information through which we make sense of the world. So far, the stream metaphor is winning, but I hope that the tools for attentiveness become more broadly used. So far, we don’t really know how many people used them and in which way they do.

 
I jump up: it would be much better if I could only stop thinking. Thoughts are the dullest things. Duller than flesh. They stretch out and there’s no end to them and they leave a funny taste in the mouth. Then there are words, inside the thoughts, unfinished words, a sketchy sentence which constantly returns: “I have to fi… I ex… Dead… M. de Roli is dead… I am not … I ex…” It goes, it goes… and there’s no end to it. It’s worse than the rest because I feel responsible and have complicity in it. For example, this sort of painful rumination: I exist, I am the one who keeps it up. I. The body lives by itself once it has begun. But thought—I am the one who continues it, unrolls it. I exist. How serpentine is this feeling of existing—I unwind it, slowly… If I could keep myself from thinking! I try, and succeed: my head seems to fill with smoke… and then it starts again: “Smoke… not to think… don’t want to think… I think I don’t want to think. I mustn’t think that I don’t want to think. Because that’s still a thought.” Will there never be an end to it?
— Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea