Wednesday, February 22, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: A Plea for Human Contact

First define progress. If technology figures into your definition, then you might very well be describing what Maggie Jackson refers to as the new Dark Age that has disconnected people from each other. Then describe intelligence. If you mention the ability to multitask, then you might already be too entrenched in the Dark Age to notice you're in it.

Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age lists a litany of evidence to argue persuasively that beginning with the invention of the telegraph and continuing through smartphones and robotics, we are becoming increasingly mobile, less involved with our immediate environment, and more isolated from human contact. We spend less time with each other than we do with our gadgets, including TVs. This diminished participation in face-to-face contact contradicts our inclination as social animals to be part of a community. As MIT professor Sherry Turkle puts it, the gold standard of human relations remains in-person contact.

Since nearly all of us read, write, listen, and talk with a computer for many hours each day, we may not be so much straying from the norm of human communication as we are creating a new norm. This notion directly affects how we email, text, and skype each other in our daily business transactions.

Inspired by cultural geographer Yi-Fu Tuan's aphorism, "place is security and space is freedom," Jackson cogently delivers on an agenda that surpasses mere reflection on the threat of technology. She considers what it means to be human in these times.