We Need to Slow Down Communication
From autocomplete email to algorithmic news feeds, technology has turbocharged communication, but meaning and signal is being lost along the way
Co-authored with Clive Thompson
At One Zero, we recently discussed the “efficiency delusion” in tech — the mistaken belief that removing “effort, steps, and hassle” always makes things better. We’re continuing the conversation here by talking about communication. The main question on our minds is this: When should communication be slowed down?
The following is an edited excerpt that captures the flavor of a recent dialog.
Evan Selinger: You recently said something that’s very interesting about how things have changed during the transition from your last book, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, to the new one, Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World. “The problem is that nobody cares whether or not tech is making us smarter. What they care about is whether tech is making us better — morally better.” Where is this discussion happening?
Clive Thompson: When I’m giving talks now, people are always asking ethical questions about our comportment towards one another. For example, how is social networking impacting behavior? Folks don’t want to talk about issues like intelligence and cognition. They just really want to know if digital technology is creating a generation of assholes.
Early on, people were concerned about their individual attention spans and whether they’d be able to read as much. But with the growth of highly algorithmically determined feeds architecting the attention of the civic sphere, people started worrying more about larger civic and ethical issues. Are people becoming more nakedly partisan? Are they more likely to be rude to one another? Are young people immersed in a coarser culture than they should be?
ES: Ah, so the issue is where our collective attention is going.
CT: Yes. Take Facebook’s news feed. As a design principle, it worked well in the short term. But long term, it’s been a catastrophe. That’s because speeding up our ability to see what’s going on around our…