A provocative inquiry into the necessity of “a new map with the digital world and the traits it calls for, and with the old physical world and the traits it calls for, and with the borders clearly marked where the two realms conflict.”
Refreshingly, Axelrod (Director, Creative Writing/Loyola Univ. Chicago; A Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude, 2015, etc.) doesn’t deliver a screed against cybertechnology but rather a series of philosophical meditations on the consequences of connecting ourselves digitally to the point where the realm of the screen is a world unto itself. In the woods of Vermont, where he had found sanctuary from media stimuli, he reflected on how “everything I encountered—or didn’t encounter—was quietly altering my sense of time, my sense of place, and the quality of my attention and memory. What I was experiencing was changing how I was experiencing.” His return to civilization resulted in sensory overload, as long walks in the woods gave way to crowded sidewalks of pedestrians focused on the experience provided by their earbuds and omnipresent smartphones, both connecting and isolating each one of them. Throughout this illuminating journey, Axelrod explores how conversational inquiry has reduced itself to texts and tweets, how a Google search has convinced a civilization that everything it needs to know can be known instantly, and how GPS gives us directions that undermine the serendipity of finding one’s own way. He discusses the concept of “neural Darwinism,” how “natural selection happens on both sides of your eyes” and “certain populations of neurons get selected and their connections grow stronger, while others go the way of the dodo bird.” The author also ponders identity, interaction, mystery, and the strange sense of returning to one place, physically and geographically, while adapting to the cyber realm, where “we’re effectively living in two places at once.”
The wide focus of a generalist makes readers reflect profoundly on what we lose as the cyberworld tightens its leash.