domingo, enero 16, 2011

El lado oscuro de la tecnología

James Coplien, autor en aspectos de importancia en la construcción de software, menciona un artículo de BBC News, que pudiera ser escrito por Alain de Botton, o inspirado en él: una breve reflexión sobre un aspecto sobremanera negativo de las modalidades de adquisición de conocimiento que se imponen en la sociedad contemporánea: la necesidad de estar informado al día, la persecusión de cada nueva noticia:

One of the more embarrassing difficulties of our age is that most of us have quite lost the ability to concentrate, to sit still and do nothing other than focus on certain basic truths of the human condition.
The fault lies in part with our new gadgets. Thanks to our machines, of which we are generally so proud, the past decade has seen an unparalleled assault on our capacity to fix our minds steadily on anything. To sit still and think without succumbing to an anxious reach for a machine has become almost impossible.
But we can't just blame the machines. There is a deeper issue at stake - the feeling, so rife in modern secular culture, that we must constantly keep up with what is new.
The obsession with current events is relentless. We are made to feel that at any point, somewhere on the globe, something may occur to sweep away old certainties. Something that if we failed to learn about it instantaneously, could leave us wholly unable to comprehend ourselves or our fellow human beings. 

The news occupies in the secular sphere much the same position of authority that the liturgical calendar has in the religious one. Its main dispatches track the canonical hours with uncanny precision. Matins have here been transubstantiated into the breakfast bulletin and Vespers into the evening report.
The prestige of the news is founded on the unstated assumption that our lives are forever poised on the verge of a critical transformation, thanks to the two driving forces of modern history - politics and technology. The earth must therefore be latticed with fibre-optic cables, the waiting rooms of its airports filled with monitors, and the public squares of cities ribboned with the chase of stock prices.
Contrast this with how religions think of what is important. For the faiths there is seldom any need to alter insights or harvest them incrementally through news bulletins. The great stable truths can be written down on vellum or carved into stone rather than swilling malleably across hand-held screens. 

For 1.6 billion Buddhists, there has been no news of world-altering significance to their faith since 483 BC. For their Christian counterparts, the critical events of history came to a close around Easter Sunday in 30 AD, while for the Jews the line was drawn a little after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Roman general Titus, in 70 AD. 

Even if we do not concur with the specific messages that religions schedule for us, we can still concede that we pay a price for our promiscuous involvement with novelty. We occasionally sense the nature of our loss at the end of an evening, as we finally silence the TV after watching a report on the opening of a new railway or the tetchy conclusion to a debate over immigration. 

It is then we might realise that - in attempting to follow the narrative of man's ambitious progress towards a state of technological and political perfection - we have sacrificed an opportunity to remind ourselves of eternal, quieter truths which we know about in theory, and forget to live by in practice.

(...) Our favourite secular books do not alert us to how inadequate a one-off linear reading of them will prove. They do not identify the particular days of the year on which we ought to reconsider them as the holy books do, in the latter case with 200 others around us and an organ playing in the background.

There is arguably as much wisdom to be found in the stories of Anton Chekhov as in the Gospels, but collections of the former are not bound with calendars reminding readers to schedule a regular review of their insights.

We are reluctant to admit that we are simply swamped with information and have lost the ability to make sense of it. For example, a moderately industrious undergraduate pursuing a degree in the humanities at the beginning of the 21st Century might run through 800 books before graduation day.

By comparison, a wealthy English family in 1250 would have counted itself fortunate to have three books in its possession, this modest library consisting of a Bible, a collection of prayers and a compendium of lives of the saints - these nevertheless costing as much as a cottage. 

If we lament our book-swamped age, it is because we sense that it is not by reading more, but by deepening and refreshing our understanding of a few volumes that we best develop our intelligence and our sensitivity.

We feel guilty for all that we have not yet read, but overlook how much better read we already are than St Augustine or Dante, thereby ignoring that our problem lies squarely with our manner of absorption rather than with the extent of our consumption.

(...) Though technology has rendered it more or less absurd to feel gratitude over owning a book, there remain psychological advantages in rarity. We can revere the care that goes into making a Jewish Sefer Torah, the sacred scroll of the book of Moses, a copy of which will take a single scribe a year and a half to write out by hand, on a parchment made from the hide of a ceremonially slaughtered goat which has been soaked for nine days.

We should stand to swap a few of our swiftly disintegrating paperbacks for volumes that would proclaim, though the weight and heft of their materials, the grace of their typography and the beauty of their illustrations, our desire for their contents to assume a permanent place in our hearts.

The need to diet, well accepted in relation to food, should be brought to bear on our relation to knowledge, people, and ideas. Our minds, no less than our bodies, require periods of fasting. 
Uniendo la línea de puntos, estas reflexiones deberían sumarse a las que Nicholas Carr dedica al uso de Internet, o mejor dicho, al modo de conocimiento que Internet induce. De donde no cuesta mucho concluír lo cándido que es que un gobernante considere que la educación mejorará con un computador por alumno.

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