Sunday, February 20, 2011

High-Tech Sociopaths

Online anonymity has created what the computer scientist Jaron Lanier calls a “culture of sadism.” Some Yahoo comments were disgusting. “She got what she deserved,” one said. “This is what happens when dumb sexy female reporters want to make it about them.” Hillbilly Nation chimed in: “Should have been Katie.”
The “60 Minutes” story about Senator Scott Brown’s revelation that a camp counselor sexually abused him as a child drew harsh comments on the show’s Web site, many politically motivated.
Acupuncturegirl advised: “Scott, shut the hell up. You are gross.” Dutra1 noted: “OK, Scott, you get your free pity pills. Now examine the image you see in the mirror; is it a man?”
Evgeny Morozov, author of “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom,” told me Twitter creates a false intimacy and can “bring out the worst in people. You’re straining after eyeballs, not big thoughts. So you go for the shallow, funny, contrarian or cynical.”
Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” says technology amplifies everything, good instincts and base. While technology is amoral, he said, our brains may be rewired in disturbing ways.
“Researchers say that we need to be quiet and attentive if we want to tap into our deeper emotions,” he said. “If we’re constantly interrupted and distracted, we kind of short-circuit our empathy. If you dampen empathy and you encourage the immediate expression of whatever is in your mind, you get a lot of nastiness that wouldn’t have occurred before.”
Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, recalled that when he started his online book review he forbade comments, wary of high-tech sociopaths.
“I’m not interested in having the sewer appear on my site,” he said. “Why would I engage with people digitally whom I would never engage with actually? Why does the technology exonerate the kind of foul expression that you would not tolerate anywhere else?”
Why indeed?
Technology is not amoral.  It is a machine morality.  The technical morality promotes efficiency above all else.  For example, omitted from the above op ed piece is any mention as to why a MSM organization would allow these posts to be placed on their site.  They could easily moderate.  If Internet trolls are so despicable, the why allow them to post in the first place?  The controversy attracts and holders readers, of course.  Hence the technical requirements of technological commercialism may only equate "good" with more eyeballs.  Although hardly a revelation, it is part of a pattern that imposes itself on the human technological society and culture.  Of course, humans are not machines, and therein lies the conflict.  Technological society may materially elevate.  As a result, expectations are raised and cannot be met.  Well being ceases to be a factor.  Survival instincts grow decadent.  One must grow hard against nothing.  Sociopaths lash out.  So might everyone else, but who really wants to be like a sociopath?

And the mass stays in line a little longer.

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