Monday, October 27, 2008

Recovery Dreams (3.0?)

Moralistic as it may sound, I continue to believe that our current economic crisis needs to be examined not under the lens of economic theory but as a consequence of a predominant cultural Weltanschauung, which encompasses not only an addiction to consumerism but also the faith-based conviction (most popular among those who consume and those who feed their habit) that innovation solves all problems. I am thus more than a little concerned that Andrew Keen, in the latest post to his Great Seduction blog, seems to be looking seriously towards Silicon Valley for those who will pave the road to economic recovery:

In some garage or dorm-room, some smart kids are figuring out the future of media and technology. Global financial meltdown or not, Silicon Valley’s creative destruction – its law of motion -- is unstoppable. My own sense is that we need software and services that resynthesize the digital and real worlds. As NYU sociologist Dalton Conley suggests in his 2009 book Elsewhere, USA, technology has unmoored us from our real lives:

Our daily lives have changed, slowly but radically, over the past three decades. The division between work and home has been all but demolished; our weightless, wireless economy encourages us to work 24/7; marketing has invaded the most intimate aspects of our lives; leisure has become a lost art.

Silicon Valley thus needs to work on reuniting work with home. Having destroyed leisure with their always-on media, the smart technologists needs to reinvent it. The digital economy now must figure out ways to speed up the analog world. Silicon Valley's laws of motion must become America's laws of motion.

This may ultimately be little more than a convenient misreading of history, which attributed the economic crisis that began to emerge at the end of the twentieth century with the irrational exuberance of Web 1.0 thinking and now lays the current catastrophe at the feet of Web 2.0. In his quest for "a consummation/Devoutly to be wished," Keen may have come up with little more than a candidate recipe for the next boom-and-bust cycle. Nevertheless, Conley's source text may be of some use if we are still interested in the question of how we got into our current mess.

While I think Conley may have a point with his punch line, it is more important to recognize that leisure most likely constitutes only a sliver of the "necessary arts" we have lost. I continue to hold to the belief that our very "sense of reality" (that oft-used phrase that I cribbed from Isaiah Berlin) has been significantly eroded, rather than enhanced, by recent technologies; and those "social software" Web 2.0 technologies are among the most corrosive. At the risk of going all Heideggerian, I wish to suggest that the fundamental art we have lost is the art of "being in the world;" and we have lost it because Silicon Valley has been such a successful breeding ground of positivist junkies who cannot see beyond the boundaries of the objective world. Can we seriously expect that the guys (and gals) who destroyed leisure are capable of reinventing it? At best, they will invent new ways for us to amuse ourselves to death (with apologies to the memory of Neil Postman).

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