Utopia is creepy

Nicholas Carr is a a blogger of insight. He has the advantage of paying a lot of attention professionally to Silicon Valley,. He believes that the owning class in the Valley schemes to absorb every moment of your consciousness into their devices. Every moment. His collection of essays is in book form under the title Utopia is Creepy, and I recommend it warmly. The essays are bite-sized aperçus from his blog, Roughtype.

In one essay his subject was driving cars, and his point was that Silicon Valley had a lot of difficulty accepting what he calls “informal experience”.

“When it’s not a recreational routine, when it’s performed out in the world, as part of everyday life, then driving, in the Valley view, can only be understood in the context of another formalized realm of experience: that of productive busyness. Every experience has to be cleanly defined has to be categorized. There’s a place and a time for recreation, and there’s a place and a time for production.

This discomfort with the informal, with experience that is psychologically unbounded, that flits between and beyond categories, can be felt in a lot of the Valley’s consumer goods and services. Many personal apps and gadgets have the effect, or at least the intended effect, of formalizing informal activities. Once you strap on a Fitbit, you transform what might have been a pleasant walk in the park into a program of physical therapy. A passing observation that once might have earned a few fleeting smiles or shrugs before disappearing into the ether is now, thanks to the distribution systems of Facebook and Twitter, encapsulated as a product and subjected to formal measurement; every remark gets its own Nielsen rating.”

Nicholas Carr is a provocative essayist and author, and while not as extravagantly original as Marshall McLuhan, he is in that same league: he engages in wide-ranging critical thought about media, computers, and the places they and their designers are taking us. In short, pay attention to him.

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