Culture At Large

Creating our own technological prisons

Andy Rau

Excited about your cute, shiny new iPod? Here's some rain for your little parade. Christine Rosen, writing for Godspy, has some challenging words for our technology-obsessed culture:

Today, an increasing number of us consume culture through mediating technologies—the camera, the recording device, the computer--and these technologies are increasingly capable of filtering culture so that it suits our personal preferences. As a result, we are more willing to test and to criticize. As we come to expect and rely on technologies that know our individual preferences, we are eager as well to don the mantle of critics....

But although our media for viewing culture, particularly TV, encourage us to be critics, they do not require much critical judgment or even focused attention. As Benjamin suggested, "the public is an examiner, but an absent-minded one." Benjamin correctly feared that this avid but absent-minded criticism would lead to a lowering of culture and a public increasingly vulgar and simple-minded in its ability to understand art. "The conventional is uncritically enjoyed, and the truly new is criticized with aversion."

Rosen fears that our reliance on personalized, intermediary technology--think iPods that play exactly what we want to hear, blogs that dish out the opinions we want to read, open online communities that let us be experts in whatever field we claim--is making us shallow, and is trapping us in cultural echo chambers of our own devising.

If Rosen is even half right, she's identified a serious spiritual crisis in the making. What do you think--is Rosen just playing the knee-jerk reactionary, or is she on to something? Are we putting our everyday technologies to good use, or are we being intellectually crippled by them?

(It's Friday afternoon, and I'm all out of Deep Thoughts this week, but this should be some challenging weekend reading/thinking.)

On the same topic, see also this article from earlier this year: None the wiser for new-age life.

Topics: Culture At Large, Science & Technology, Technology