Saturday, July 11, 2015

Pancake people of the universe!

Julia Faye in Frank Urson's Chicago (1927). Via MoviesSilently.
Shorter David Brooks, "Building Attention Span", July 10 2015:
What's up with all this twittering and twattering? Everybody needs to hitch up their trousers and join a damn book club!
The subject today is a debate that has perhaps been best summarized by Jon Swartz, in USA Today, vintage 2010:
The ongoing debate on the Internet's social merits has raged for years. And the advent of Facebook, with its 500 million users, has further underscored the talking point: Does social media like Facebook and Twitter make us more social or anti-social?

If you believe a new survey, the answer is a resounding "yes."
I knew it! They does make us more social or anti-social! But which?

No that isn't the subject, I just thought it was funny. The subject is, as Nicholas Carr put it in 2008, "Is Google Making You Stupid?" or, as Nicholas Carr put it in 2012,  "Does the Internet Make You Dumber?" (He has also wondered whether GoogleMaps and GPS are Bad for Our Brains and whether Automation Makes Us Dumb, and composed a book on The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, 2011, which suggests he maybe needs to get offline for a while himself, but what do I know?).

One odd thing Carr does in the 2008 Atlantic article, and also in the 2011 book, is to quote the avant-garde playwright and director Richard Foreman, who said, in a statement on his 2005 play The Gods Are Pounding My Head,
this very—to my mind—elegiac play does delineate my own philosophical dilemma. I come from a tradition of Western culture in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and "cathedral-like" structure of the highly educated and articulate personality—a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West.
And such multi-faceted evolved personalities did not hesitate— especially during the final period of "Romanticism-Modernism"—to cut down, like lumberjacks, large forests of previous achievement in order to heroically stake new claim to the ancient inherited land— this was the ploy of the avant-garde.
But today, I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self-evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the "instantly available". A new self that needs to contain less and less of an inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance—as we all become "pancake people"—spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.
And Brooks quotes it too, or rather starts quoting and then ambles out of intelligibility and unconsciously into his own preoccupations,
The playwright Richard Foreman once described people with cathedral-like personalities — with complex, inner density, people with distinctive personalities, and capable of strong permanent attachments.
Though without referencing Carr, which I imagine is where he got it (don't see Brooks frequenting the Ontological-Hysteric Theater in St. Mark's-in-the-Bowery, somehow, though one never knows, do one?).

There's also a good deal of discussion of crystallized vs. fluid intelligence, the crystallized kind being presumably for cathedral people and the fluid kind for pancake people. And griping over the low-friction socializing of online life, which is the world's greatest cocktail party, doesn't favor your crystallized intelligence, and changes your brain, according to Susan Greenfield, Baroness Greenfield, whom he does reference, whereas he reckons if one belongs to a book club, he really does go on about that, one's brain probably just keeps on crystallizing.

I've been completely unable to find out who came up with bringing together the crystallized intelligence theory with the "Is this stuff making us dumb?" meme—could be Brooks himself, but there's a candidate in the person of Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a Professor of Business Psychology with an interest in Online Dating Entrepreneurship, who absolutely brings crystallized intelligence into the question "Is Technology Making Us Stupid (and Smarter)? How the internet makes life more complex — by making complex things simple" (Psychology Today, May 7 2013).

As you can see I don't have much to say about this number myself. I can't make a decent case for calling it plagiarism, or argue much with it either. Brooks himself is a polenta person, constantly agitating himself, congealed but never quite set; if only he could sit on the griddle long enough to become as coherent as a pancake!

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