It’s very, very early in the morning. It’s 2:40 am, to be exact, and I have been trying to avoid making a blog post since about 1:00 am. But it’s becoming clear that I won’t go back to bed until I do, so I’ve finally conceded and I am now typing.
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Everything meaningful in life in the present is routinely submerged beneath a torrential flood of logistics and meta-logistics. Getting things done is a thing. No regard for what it is that is getting done, or how to exercise judgment about what belongs on the list of things to get done.
© Aron Hsiao / 2017
I am convinced that we are doing the wrong things.
The information revolution, which once, many years ago, romanced me as it did many others, has delivered primarily enhancements in logistics, which themselves open the eyes to further enhancements in logistics that may be provided by reintensification of the logic of the same revolution.
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Start at Google. Type something. Click something. Tap something. Open an app. Use it.
Follow your nose for an hour. Or two hours. Become lost in the network, lost in your device. Go down the rabbit holes. Learn and learn some more. Consume the data and feel the insight and power that it apparently provides. Then, when you’re finally sated, slide back in your chair and reflect.
What did you gain?
The networks are entirely full of actionable information. Information about doing and getting things done. Logistically powerful information.
Once, the concept of “insight” had nearly theological implications.
Now, insight is not a concept at all; it is a resource, like uranium or gasoline, and you burn it in order to propel yourself more quickly down the road.
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© Aron Hsiao / 2001
In 1991, we all vaguely thought that someday we’d stare at these screens and be surrounded by a universe of meaning. It would be a course on the history of Western literature—on steroids. It would be the Gutenberg Bible—on steroids. It would be the Tao Te Ching—on steroids. It would be Western literature, the Gutenberg Bible, the Tao Te Ching, and the works of Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Dante, and Henry Miller, somehow all revealed to us and to one another in ways that shocked meaning into dizzying new heights of intensity.
It would be meditation and library flânerie, on steroids, with compelling, baffling photographs to accompany them, streetcars leading to enlightenment—on steroids.
It is easy to forget this.
What the network has led us to collectively develop, as an emergent epiphenomenon of our self-directed activity, are:
The bus schedule—on steroids.
The parts catalog—on steroids.
The congressional record—on steroids.
The instruction manual—on steroids.
The Merck manual—on steroids.
The high school gossip note—on steroids.
The grocery store checkout tabloid—on steroids.
The inevitable conclusions to be drawn from all of this are that (1) our culture is a misdirected one, more orthogonal to meaningful things every day, (2) that we are not very interesting, and (3) on a similar but different note, we are working increasingly hard every day to repress our imaginations.
© Aron Hsiao / 2003
The information society is machine for hobbling culture, repressing imaginations, promoting charlatans, and organizing commonplace behaviors, whose only virtues were once that they were at least subject to the variation that results from—and gives evidence of—the individual soul, in ever more mechanistic and totalitarian ways.
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The information society has been a failure.
Doubly so by virtue of the way that its dazzling efficiency and proliferation prevents us from noticing precisely what it places before our eyes—bus schedules, parts catalogs, congressional records, instruction manuals, medical manuals, high school gossip, and tabloids—and from from missing (and, indeed, forgetting about the very existence of) all the things that it doesn’t.
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It is time to flee the digital library of logistics and return to the analog library of literature.
I like to imagine (committing sin as I do so in today’s world) that our souls are still there waiting for us—but it’s unclear for how much longer this will be the case. It seems only a matter of time before they are washed away, along with the old printed stacks, by the continuing deluge of antiseptic innovation and the apparatchiks that row their canoes pedantically in its flows.
Only in the very early morning, when you can’t quite see “facts” any longer, can you see the horrible truths of things.