In his influential 2011 book The Shallows, media critic Nicholas Carr examined the impact of the internet on subjective consciousness and a range of cognitive and emotional competences, including the ability to follow complex narratives and the capacity to identify empathically with the suffering of others. Towards the end of the book, Carr writes:
What matters in the end is not our becoming but what we become. In the 1950s, Martin Heidegger observed that the looming “tide of technological revolution” could “so captivate, bewitch, dazzle, and beguile man that calculative thinking may someday come to be accepted and practiced as the only way of thinking.” Our ability to engage in “meditative thinking,” which he saw as the very essence of our humanity, might become a victim of headlong progress. The tumultuous advance of technology could, like the arrival of the locomotive at the Concord station, drown out the refined perceptions, thoughts, and emotions that arise only through contemplation and reflection. The “frenziedness of technology,” Heidegger wrote, threatens to “entrench itself everywhere”.
It may be that we are now entering the final stage of that entrenchment. We are welcoming the frenziedness into our souls.
Writing for the Boston Globe this past April, Carr turns his attention to social media, with a particular focus on Facebook and the myth that hypertrophic connectivity automatically builds community and mutual understanding, fostering a new iteration of the technologically mediated Global Village utopia that has been around since the advent of mass electronic media.
The heart of his essay is excerpted below, intercut with images from Banksy’s 2014 mural depicting Mobile Lovers framed by the dark barbed wire of their smartly connected selves.