Screenomania

Manifesto

 

Manifesto

The ad goes like this: “for only $321.00 per inch we will make you passive” …and it sells very well!
For only two narrow inches and 10 bucks you can receive the title of ‘mathematical ignorant’. Owning a calculator, you don’t ever need to know how much is 50 times 15. You hit the keys and, without thinking, you get the result (750 by the way). The fact that you may have received a result of 7500, because you accidentally hit the 0 key twice, and thus paid your bill accordingly is irrelevant. Naturally, the machine is to be blamed for this mistake. Sanity checks of machine output are not a common procedure anymore.
For only 3 short inches you can become a ‘memory less’ creature. This would be the result of investing wisely in a hand held data-bank. For example, you don’t need to memorizeyour closest friends’ phone numbers. You don’t need to remember the times set for your meetings or dates. You basically give up these useless virtues of yours to a smart, loyal, never forgetting machine. You may need, however, one cell of your own memory in your immediate control. In this cell you are to store and remember where you last put the stupid thing.
You can go one step further and lose your sense of direction as well. That is, if you go for the 6” car installed GPS screen. This buddy will tell you what your location is at any point of time. It may occasionally tell you that you have driven your car 20 miles into the sea. You better believe it friend, this is the screen you choose to trust in leading your paths.
You can go to an even greater extent. Why lose only your sense of direction if you can, for 12 good inches, lose your freedom of choice as well? Purchase the ultimate, always connected, top of the line laptop computer. ‘He’ will tell you what you need to know and what someone else thinks you should know. ‘He’ will allocate tasks, originated remotely from your manager’s home, or even keyed in by your own hands. You will politely be reminded, probably at the wrong time and place, when to address these issues. You will be emailed your missions and tasks 24 hours a day and you will receive the bad news just before you are ready to go to bed. This dear friend of yours has no problem beeping you in the middle of the night. Any time is a good time for ‘Him’.
And then there is the Internet. This might take a few more inches of high quality screen. Some of my friends use two screens at a time. Here you have the opportunity to lose everything in one go. You read five different articles at the same time. This is great. But what do you really remember from it? Nil. And you don’t actually need to memorize anything – the “history” and “bookmarks” will do this job for you. You can always look at it again tomorrow. But then why bother doing that either? Tomorrow you will find other answers to the same questions at a blink of an eye. Will you ever remember them? Will you be able to speak in depth and in a knowledgeable way about what you just saw on the screen? Was there any original thinking in your Web search? Was there something that somebody else could not find in this endless data source?
On the Net, there is always much more information than one can possibly consume and digest. And it pops up very quickly. “Computers provide one way to confront that (overload) problem; speed conquers quality”. [1] There are many pictures and thus reading becomes inconsequential. You can easily ‘cut and paste’ your way through without ever reading the material quoted. ‘Scan it  - paste it’!
Since there is an endless amount of data on the Net, proving unoriginality is almost impossible. Thus the presence of novel thoughts becomes obliterated. These sophisticated search engines take away from you even the job of investing time or thought in the research process itself.
Why go to the library and look at old books? You wouldn’t be able to find your friends there. Libraries keep a large amount of valued information in their books. “Computer enthusiasts, however, are not known for their support of public libraries and schools; they call for electronic information carried by networks. To look to those instruments first while ignoring everything history has taught us about how to educate and stimulate human mind is grave foolishness.” [2]. You are expected to deliver fast and the Internet is ‘The Source’. A good computer with minimal ‘intelligence’ can do this research job faster and paste everything together with its own software tools. The time we spend in front of the screen is used, for the most part, on searching for the most presentable material. We spend very little effort examining and learning about the subject itself.
So what do we have after investing our money in these bright screens? We do not calculate at all – we let our basic third grade skills be forgotten. We hate to think about what to do when, and so we use our data-bank, an ‘Office’ or ‘Home Office’ to manage our day-to-day life. We become lazy, not only in walking or climbing stairs. This war we lost a long time ago to a variety of machines. We became lazy in using the only skills we thought were unique to us: thinking, memorizing, organizing our life, learning, researching, looking and finding. ”Our cognitive abilities are, in turn, manipulated by tools cognition helped us create”.[3]
Do we gain anything? Are we going up on the evolutionary ladder? Aren’t we letting go of our unique skills? Can we use our brains to their utmost capabilities or are we becoming extremely passive? Is it that by a permanent use of the calculator we may be gaining time and yet, at the same time, be loosing our head? And then, what do we do with this so-called ‘gained’ time? Isn’t it, rather, that we spend all the time gained on ‘watching’ something else take place on other screens in front of our eyes? Isn’t it all about being passive?
We are making our ‘thinking muscles’ useless. The squirrels in the back yard become more and more intelligent everyday by overcoming the barriers to get to the birdfeeder. To survive winter every squirrel must find its way to the food source, overcoming new obstacles in its path. They can be seen planning before making the next move. They go up on the evolutionary ladder while doing so. We, on the other hand, get our food ready made all the time. There is no thinking involved. Some stupid machine remembers, calculates and makes the decisions for us. The thought process has been obliterated. We are regressing.
We are becoming non-thinking, surrendering to circumstances, and machine rule oriented creatures. The following example, from the airline industry, is just one of many which demonstrates this: Imagine you have an airline ticket from Boston to Dallas and then to New York. But you want to skip Dallas and go straight to New York . What will you do? The employee at the  ‘Fly-Smart Airlines’ desk will tell you that, although it is may save your time and their money to fly you direct, it can not be done. Apparently, the computer, the Big Boss, would not tolerate the change in routing. And that homo sapien behind the screen, the one born and raised to think, is not allowed to use this basic skill even if it has benefits for all.  He or she cannot override a decision made by a machine. They are not trusted to be given as much authority as a small piece of silicon. It could be a highly educated station manager, and yet he or she is limited to mere keyboard use. The respected computer makes the decisions. So it is machines that think for us and not, as in the ideal quote, “Machines should work. People should think“[4]. After all, without an “OK” flashing on the screen nothing moves. Whatever happened to the futuristic idea that in “ the electronic revolution ...(the) most boring jobs can be done by machine…(and) the opportunity for personal creativity will be unlimited”? [5] Is it only a utopian dream? We are already in the electronic era and yet, we are using our brains less than ever.
So the screen, with which we interface all the time, is getting smarter and smarter. It gets new skills and more power every two years or so. It displays the answers before we are finished keying in the questions, making us feel clumsy and slow.  This entity continually corrects our mistakes and tells us how to communicate with it. For example, quoting from MS Windows 98, “Next Time Turn Windows Off Properly“[6]. They also have the tools to correct our spelling mistakes, keeping in their domain human skills that are now considered by us unnecessary. Then when we want to handwrite a love letter using our fountain pen, we realized that by not giving any attention to spelling in the last several years we have lost the skill. Of course, the screen wants all of our letters under its control. It will be happy to interpret our grammar mistakes and correct our thoughts and feelings if needed.
The computer is developing faster than we are, relegating us to the position of a typist at best. In the near future even this skill will be lost, as voice recognition software will become perfected.
All of the above is supposed to save us time. And yet this ‘time gain’ is used to watch other screens, suggesting a cross the board screen conspiracy. One screen could be our 20” bedroom TV making us lose touch with our mate. Another would be our 33” family room TV. This redirects the focus of our attention away from the active interpersonal relations of the family, to a passive non-communicative source. Certainly not the last on the list, and not small enough not to be left out, is our mini 1” cellular phone screen. It enjoys chasing us down in order to provide us with updates on the latest crash on Wall Street even when we are trying to watch a beautiful sunset and relax for a moment.


________________________________________
[1] Langdon Winner, Mythinformation
[2] Langdon Winner, Mythinformation
[3] Donald A. Norman. Things that makes us smart
[4] Thomas J. Watson
[5] James Martin, Telematic Society
[6] But I did shut down properly, damn it.

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