My last post was about the individual — well this weekend Evgeny Morozov, whose book on The Net Delusion, I have recommended here before, wrote a fine Op-Ed on the Facebooked, Social Networked, Googled net: http://tinyurl.com/76m3zpr The idea that the net is not a clearn open door, but rather is as sticky as, well, a web — where you leave traces of yourself all over the place for others to gather, collect, analyze, and sell — is hardly news. Indeed the world of parents, teachers, and librarians quickly raised alarms about chat rooms and predators. But Morozov — with charm, grace, and wit — points out a totally different hazard: the old term for using the web as to “surf” and the visual image of that might be freedom: an individual out on a board, riding the crest of a wave, ocean spray in his hair — daring, free, exploring anywhere impulse, skill, wind, and wave took him. No more.
The goal of the Social Network giants is to “frictionlessly” link us to our interests (as established by previous foreys) and to others with similar tastes. It is as if we were now in Hawaii, out of the waves, but tethered by invisible, and unbreakable, cords to every other surfer dude in the world — we become involuntary catamarans — every solo now just one outrigger matched by others and pulling a load. We are less and less exploratory, more and more bound into little circles, while the aggregators of information know more and more about us.
This is not like warning kids about dirty old men pretending to be cool teenagers and arranging fatal dates. It is more like living in Feed or some other dystopian novel — where the enemy is our friend and our friend’s actual ability to help us. It is as if, in the Golden Compass trilogy, our daemons turned digital, but then like cyber sheep dogs nudged us into line — making it ever easier to follow previous curiousities and to be linked to others like us — in other words to remain in an artificial childhood where we never really explore and grow. The great value of physical books and physical libraries — you need to browse, to pass other books as you meander — to your flush up against the unexpected, and by yourself to decide whether to explore it.