Monday, August 13, 2007

The Death of Communication?

A recent post to the CNET News Blog by Candace Lombardi provides new grist for Norman Mailer's mill on mind rot:

Internet users are spending more time looking at content and less time communicating with others, according to an index of Nielsen/Net Rating statistics released by the Online Publishers Association(OPA).

In 2003, Internet users spent about 46 percent of their time communicating and 34 percent reading online content. Those habits seemed to have reversed in the last four years. From January-May 2007 about 47 percent of users' time was spent looking at content and 33 percent spent on communicating.

The change in media habits can be attributed to changes in technology over the last four years, according to OPA.

"The increased popularity of video is leading to more time being spent with online content," according to the OPA reports. Time spent communicating could also be less because more people are using instant messaging (IM), which is quicker than sending e-mail.

Search time also rose. In 2003 people spent 3 percent of their time searching and for the 2007 period measured they spent about 5 percent.

At the very least this provides a supplement to Mailer's observations about television, but it takes those observations beyond the pathology of the interrupted narrative. It also takes the observations I made yesterday beyond the failure to tell stories to a more general inability to say anything about anything. It also relates to a rant that I just posted on confused of calcutta involved with a failure to understand the role of recorded music in the social world.

The foundation for my rant was a remark I read by Igor Stravinsky quoted in David Schneider's book, The San Francisco Symphony: Music, Maestros, and Musicians:

To be a good listener, you must acquire a musical culture, as in literature. You must be familiar with the history and development of music. To receive music, you have to open the ears and wait, not for Godot, but for the music, and to feel that it is something you need. Others let the ears be present and they don’t make an effort to understand. To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also.

I used this as a point of departure to compare good listeners with good readers:

Just as the printing press provided an opportunity for more people to learn how to read, recorded music has provided an opportunity for more people to learn how to listen; but neither offers any guarantee that those people actually will learn.

The Internet has provided a new link in the chain. In one fell swoop it has integrated opportunities to learn how to read, how to listen, and how to view cinematic narrative; and I read Lombardi's post as a sad comment on how little those opportunities have been seized. What we learn is ultimately manifested through how we act; and, if we no longer have the will or the ability to communicate through electronic mail, then we should take this as a sign that, for all those opportunities, leaning is not taking place. There is only the hollow shell of sitting in front of the screen constantly trying to soak up more; but, if that "more" has no impact beyond more soaking, then we are no better than zombies. Furthermore, the "IM factor" does not really counter this effect. Instant messaging is far to impoverished to cover the scope of speech acts that constitutes the foundation of communication. It is little more than an exchange of gestures in the immediate present; so, if we are not zombies, then we have still regressed to the level of interaction of the great apes!

No comments: