A mind is like a parachute
It might save your life,
but you have to know how to use it first.

Friday, June 29, 2012

So what about all that thinking?

This blog originally claimed to be set up as a place to think about thinking, complete with all the pompous pointlessness that endeavor implies.  And yet it looks like there has been no thinking at all going on.  What gives?

Well I had to rework a lot of my original approach to things and I ended up organizing some ideas offline and taking a new look at the whole damn concept.  Because it's not really thinking I want to think about it is reality.  And how our perception of it shapes the way we THINK about it.

Oh, yeah, well that's more original.  Look, every simpleton with a year of college and a blog wants to call himself a deep thinker on the ways of life.  I get that.  But this is different.  And in order to explain why it's different, I will need to take some time.  

Because I have had this nagging concept floating around in my brain for three or four years now.  It collects and disperses like a kind of persistent fog.  At times it seems like I am on the verge of piecing the whole thing together in some sort of cosmic revelation and other times it seems like a disjointed jumble of thoughts no more coherent than the conversations of people in a crowded movie theater before the lights to go down.

In the past couple years I have been introduced (well not personally because he's dead) to Marshall McLuhan and his awesome reflections on how media influence our perception.  This discovery has been serendipitous because I have been trying to piece together how this new thing we call social media reshapes every aspect of our lives.  Now don't get me wrong, "social media" is just a crappy shallow fad on par with disco music.  But it is also a profound reorganization of how we communicate.  And how we think.

What does Twitter or Facebook have to do with thinking?  Well, if you accept that how we think and what we think about are greatly influenced by the things we see and hear, then a great deal.  In ways few people really appreciate, the ability to tweet a message to an unlimited number of people across the globe in a matter of seconds is profoundly re-organizing the way our Hive-mind behaves.  And our Hive-mind is merely the collection of all of our little minds.

And so the personal act of thinking -- even thinking about thinking -- is now more than ever before influenced by the technology that allows us to express information of the most critical importance and (more often) chatter of the most inane kind.  

The very idea of how we think about the world (and our place in it) is increasingly influenced by the new tools of social media.

Now when Marshall McLuhan said "The medium is the message" he was not simply saying, for example, that the message the television is best at imparting was a self referential one (i.e. "watch more television").  Rather he was pointing out that the very media we use to communicate affect what we communicate about.  

Let's look at another technology to make that point more clear.  If the "medium" were the lightbulb and we were to say "The medium is the message" we would not just mean that "The light bulb conveys the message of light".  No, we would also have to consider the impact that light has on our lives.  All of the changes in our society caused by the convenience of electric lighting  are all part and parcel of the message that the light brings to us -- the information that a lightbulb conveys.  So the first lightbulb did not simply proclaim, "Let there be artificial light."  Instead, it screamed, "I am about to change you and the society around you in ways you have not even begun to contemplate because you have not yet lived with electric light."  Yeah, Lightbulb is wordy like that.  But in his proclamation comes the proof that, "the medium is the message."  The thing that carries the information is loaded with communication we have not yet even learned to hear.

Something as innocent as a tweet, a 140 character message in a bottle (granted a bottle that goes everywhere and all at once) is announcing to us, "I will bring down governments, reshape your economy + transform the very way U think about the world around U #TwitterTransformation".

 Yeah, Twitter's even more pompous than Lightbulb.  But he has a point.  And that's worth thinking about.

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