[Re-posted from earlier today.]
George Saunders ponders the effects of computer technology on his life and work:
I have noticed, over the last few years, the very real (what feels like) neurological effect of the computer and the iPhone and texting and so on – it feels like I’ve re-programmed myself to become discontent with whatever I’m doing faster. So I’m trying to work against this by checking emails less often, etc etc. It’s a little scary, actually, to observe oneself getting more and more skittish, attention-wise. I really don’t know if people are “deep reading” less these days in favour of a quick fix on the internet – I think this is a thing one hears a lot, but when I travel to colleges here in the US there are always people reading Joyce and DFW and debating about literary difficulty and praising William Gaddis and so on.
I do know that I started noticing a change in my own reading habits – I’d get online and look up and 40 minutes would have gone by, and my reading time for the night would have been pissed away, and all I would have learned was that, you know, a certain celebrity had lived in her car awhile, or that a cat had dialed 911. So I had to start watching that more carefully. But it’s interesting because (1) this tendency does seem to alter brain function and (2) through some demonic cause-and-effect, our technology is exactly situated to exploit the crappier angles of our nature: gossip, self-promotion, snarky curiosity. It’s almost as if totalitarianism thought better of the jackboots and decided to go another way: smoother, more flattering – and impossible to resist.
Reading this and watching this riveting Tedx talk on the impact of online porn on young male brains – essentially numbing them to actual sex with real human beings and creating an epidemic of young men with floppy dicks (I refuse to use the term “erectile dysfunction” when simpler English can do) – has woken me up a bit. Writing and editing and producing 50 posts a day – and doing something very similar almost every day since Bill Clinton was president – must be affecting my brain. It’s not as powerful as the effect on the younger, developing brain, but, yes, skittishness, dissatisfaction, and constant stress have doubtless changed my entire mindset. And I can see the point about online porn making physical sex more difficult – especially if you spent your most formative sexual adolescence under the spell of constant, dizzying varieties of sexual imagery and video. How can one woman or one man even begin to replace that cornucopia of dopamine?
Our brains were designed to be turned on. But not this often, this instantly, this pleasurably and without any consequences at all. Once again, our frontal cortex is getting way ahead of our primate DNA. And the Tower of Babel grows ever taller.
Previous Dish on Saunders here, here and here.
(Image: Outside ad of a mouse-shaped prison via Copyranter)