Pastor Niemöller visits the Internet

Our goal is to get the user in and out really quickly. All our design decisions are based on that strategy.
Irene Au, then Google director of user experience, 2009
Eventually, you’ll have the implant, where if you think about a fact, it will just tell you the answer [sic].
Larry Page, Google co-founder, 2004

Pastor Niemöller visits the Internet, or a Luddite cry

First they came for the writers of letters
and I did not speak out
because I made the switch to e-mail, long ago.
Then they came for the musicians
and I did not speak out
because mashups of old YouTube videos are where it’s at.
Then they came for the encyclopedists
and I did not speak out
because Wikipedia is fit enough, and more than that, it’s absolutely free.
Then they came for the journalists
and I did not speak out
because I mistook the babble for the liberty of the press.
Then they came for the readers of books
and I did not speak out
because you can skim a Kindle in bed, with the lights off (imagine that!)
Then they came for the authors of books
and I did not speak out
because I had become a multimedia multitasker with multipersonalities.
Then they came for the ancient past (pre-1995, I mean)
and I did not speak out
because I was too busy, finding out what’s happening, right now.
Then they came for knowledge and wisdom
and I did not speak out
because I was facts built out of bits by then.
Then they came for my friends
and I did not speak out
because they’d still be there to like me on Facebook, wouldn’t they?
Then they came for my mind
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

{Excerpt from a forthcoming piece, No Man but a Blockhead; inspired by back-to-back readings of Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not A Gadget and Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Thanks as ever to Dr. T for the signposts. Remember–always bite the hand that feeds you.}

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14 responses to “Pastor Niemöller visits the Internet

  1. The first time I saw the idea that a corporation would try to require implants in peoples brains was in The President’s Analyst, a comedy starring James Coburn, in 1967. The phone company was the ultimate bad guy, wanting to implant a phone in everyone’s brain.

  2. I’m very glad to see that an absence which had extended beyond two months was not a permanent one.

  3. First the traditionalists came for my Twitter feed and I didn’t speak up, because I only tweeted on the crapper.

    Then they came for my Facebook, and I didn’t speak up because who cares about virtual piña coladas?

    Then they came for my blog and I didn’t speak up because it wasn’t monetized.

    Then they forced me to subscribe to a Murdoch paper and I didn’t complain, because they have Page 3.

    Then when I tried to research anything I found I had to go to a special room in a special building far away and learn a frustrating search engine called a card catalog.

    Then when I tried to find intelligent public debate by non-professionals there was none.

    They came for Spike Japan and I was already voiceless.

    • Weak. Twitter and Facebook could disappear tomorrow and the world would be the same as it was, though, on the whole, a little less inane.

      • Weak.

        You’re too kind, Jeffrey. I hummed and haa’d about adding the following “stanza”:
        Then they came for civility
        and I did not speak out
        because you don’t need fucking civility when you’re A(a)nonymous!

        But I thought better of it, because the A(a)nonymous play on the general nature of anonymity on the Internet and on the juvenile hacker movement is a bit cumbersome, and also because I had a self-imposed 10 stanza limit.

        Twitter and Facebook could disappear tomorrow and the world would be the same as it was, though, on the whole, a little less inane.

        But, but, but… Pastor Niemöller Visits the Internet isn’t principally about Twitter or Facebook, which are the targets of the penultimate and antepenultimate stanzas alone. The clue is in the title, and also in the title of one of the reference books—it’s about the Internet as an entity. That it’s not about Twitter or Facebook should also be apparent from the two lead-in quotations, both of which are from Googlistas. And the stanza ostensibly about Twitter:
        Then they came for the ancient past (pre-1995, I mean)
        and I did not speak out
        because I was too busy, finding out what’s happening, right now.

        which adapts the Twitter slogan, is really about this extraordinary compression of time, a reverse telescoping of time, that is occurring right now, as we speak, on the Internet. It’s not just about the pre-1995, post-1995 divide, either. Try and find me a website or forum or whatever from between 1995 and 2000. It’s almost impossibly tough, because whatever vestiges there are have been swamped by the newer. And this is a consequence of the exponential growth of data—we were at half a zettabyte in 2009 and three zettabytes last year. By 2030 it will surely be nigh impossible for anyone but a dedicated archivist (and who will employ them?) to find anything left that we are writing, recording, performing, or creating right now.
        And I think your failure to recognize what Pastor Niemöller Visits the Internet is really about (I’d wager decent money that you are not a fan of Twitter and Facebook but are actually quite content with the rest of the grab-bag of goodies the Internet provides) helps to prove the point of stanza five:
        Then they came for the readers of books
        and I did not speak out
        because you can skim a Kindle in bed, you know, with the lights off (imagine that!)

        We think we’re reading on the Internet, but we’re deluding ourselves, most of the time. This, to my mind, is one of Nick Carr’s most persuasive and evidence-backed points—studies have shown using eye-tracking software that people hop, skip, and jump down a page of Web text, often in the shape of the letter “F”—reading most of a first line, then reading half of a line a few rows down, repeating until satisfied or bored. But as the average Webpage is accessed for well under a minute, not much of anything meaningfully cognitive can be going on.
        I’ve plenty more in the ammo bag, but I’ll save it for later.

  4. Wonderful irony to quote a poem on a site whose existence is itself a refutation of the sentiment expressed.

    • Not “a quotation” of a poem, well aware of some aspects of the irony, thank you, and to have a personal blog on the Internet does not mean that you have to take a slavishly uncritical stance to every single last technological or techo-entrepreneurial innovation. To think so would be–is–akin to demanding of users of paper that they have nanocircuited brain reconfiguration surgery to enhance their Internet compatibility because they have already taken one perilous step down the path away from papyrus. I’m amazed so few people cannot see this for the childish logical fallacy it so obviously is.

      • Sorry, didn’t realize it was your own. The comment was kind of meant as a compliment on the quality of your blog.

    • Now that is brilliant! I think the Onion nails it particularly hard early on with:
      …said Dr. Richard Menken, lead author of the report, looking up briefly from the gleaming quadrangle that sits on his desk. “In fact, it’s hard to find a single minute during which the American public is not completely captivated by these shining…these dazzling….”
      “I’m sorry,” Menken continued. “What were we discussing again?”

      Nicholas Carr summarizes the Net experience with a phrase from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets–“distracted from distraction by distraction”, which just about sums it up. This is from the first of the four quartets, Burnt Norton; it’s worth the context:
      Only a flicker
      Over the strained time-ridden faces
      Distracted from distraction by distraction
      Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
      Tumid apathy with no concentration

      Burnt Norton is ambiguously prophetic elsewhere if you read it with “Net-mind”:
      Not here
      Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.

  5. I understand the intent of your post and I’m old enough to have encountered the original when you were likely still in short pants or, at best, being bullied by upper form dullards for being so smart.

    As for incivility, guilty as charged.

    You are half right: I think Twitter is stupid as 99% of the people using it have nothing to say and don’t deserve to be “followed.” It brings to mind Skinner’s line in “Walden 2″, about someone not really having anything to say (too many years since I’ve read the book so I may be mis-remembering).

    I enjoy FB, however, as I’ve made “friends” of people I’d otherwise never
    meet. It’s no more ridiculous than ham radio operators, the precursors really, and as a communication platform, as the saying goes, is only as good as it’s input.

  6. Like someone needed to do a study to conclude this. I would have thought reading a couple dozen Tweets from the rich and famous as well as the great unwashed would have been sufficient.

    http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entry/pew-twitter-reaction-often-diverges-sharply-from-public

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