2010 In Prospect

I wanted to share with you a very intriguing article in The Times that identifies the major trends in the year ahead. Two in particular have significant resonance for the book world and pick up on the issues that were discussed regularly here in the blogworld in 2009. The first is:

Constant Partial Stupidity – When you’re constantly scanning mobile phones and computer screens, your attention is so fragmented that you can’t concentrate on one thing. That ‘s known as constant partial attention. The next stage is that you’ll start forgetting things, missing important pieces of information and making mistakes, and you’ll never get around to quality thinking.

This matters at work where you’re scanning masses of fast-moving information, you’re under pressure to react quickly and you’re rushing. At home you have so many passwords in your head that you forget your PIN and can’t get money out, then you phone your bank and can’t remember the password.

Research will confirm that multitasking is a myth, we’ll see phrases such as slow media emerge as people realize that if you read things on paper you are more relaxed, you register more, you reflect and see the big picture. This is why paper is not dead and why, while news will mostly be delivered online, serious comment and analysis and novels will largely stay on paper.’

I thought this was really interesting as it chimes with my own experience. I love the blogworld and am a fan of the internet, but I don’t want to read a novel online and I would never swap my library for an e-reader. I’m also prone to checking my email too often, and it really does undermine my focus and concentration. Also, this is part of a larger gripe I have that we worship new technology in unhealthy ways. New technology isn’t the solution to all our problems, it’s often just novelty that has yet to reveal its disadvantages. I suppose it’s the blanket imposition of it I dislike – I’d rather we took some time and figured out what new technology is really good for, how it can alter our lives in the most positive ways, rather than how it can be turned into yet another expensive gadget that we are obliged to possess because it has replaced a traditional product. So publishers take note: the reading experience is what readers buy books for, and if we want a calm, reflective and relaxing experience, paper remains unsurpassed for providing it. This is not to say that e-readers don’t have their place – they do – but not as a blanket substitute for the traditional book.

The second item that caught my eye was:

Flight to the physical – If virtual connection can never match its physical equivalent, this is partly because we associate digital with speed, being disposable and therefore of low value, and partly because we like to hold and touch real things. When you’re living in a world that is volatile and uncertain, people seek the safety and security of something tangible. They don’t want shares in a software company, they want gold. Downloading a video is easy and efficient, but it’s a soulless experience compared with going to a good video shop, having a chat with a movie buff, and looking at row up on row of illustrated titles.

The public library, feared moribund in recent years, is in its element because it’s about much more than books. It’s a quiet and safe community space, an experience that enables you to access expertise from commercially uncorrupt resources, and that’s both ethical and resource-friendly.’

Isn’t that great? Libraries provide a vital counterpart to our fragmented, uber-commercialised world. They offer community, resources, an essential service and they are ethically untainted. Librarians do it for love. Here’s hoping that particular message does indeed take root. It’s struck me as all kinds of ludicrous that library services should be ever reduced at a time when the economy is going downhill and more people than ever need access to the free books they provide.

It was altogether an interesting article. It also spoke about ‘fear fatigue’, or the way that eventually, we will tire of endless scaremongering (swine ‘flu and the recent recession having been sensationalized beyond belief) and become either resigned or cynical. The author thinks this is healthy – hysteria can’t be good for anyone – but that really, we ought to have a more intelligent approach to the whole issue of risk. It also spoke about the way that increasingly people would insist on manufacturers being environmentally and politically ethical, and would want to source their goods in the immediate vicinity. Apparently the article was drawn from a book, Future Files, A Brief History of the Next 50 Years by Richard Watson. I thought he spoke good sense and might look out for the book as it made me think about the things I wish could change for the better. I have such a fear that we are going to go down in history as the generation whose greed destroyed the environment and the Western economies, and as the generation who chose entertainment over enlightenment. If I could wave a magic wand I’d enchant people into wanting less materially but more spiritually and intellectually. What big cultural change would you like to see occurring in 2010?

17 thoughts on “2010 In Prospect

  1. Both of those items are really interesting — thanks for posting about them. I like the argument about paper, and it reminds me of arguments I’ve heard that some of the most useful devices are those that block access to things that might distract us rather than giving us access to more and more things. Books do that, of course, and I can see people valuing other kinds of gadgets that work in a similar way.

  2. Hear, hear!! Amen to your remarks about books and libraries (though I’d expect no less from you)because I agree and am completely biased. Will watch out for Mr. Watson’s book; it sounds like the cultural equivalent of Freakonomics, which was most interesting. Does your magic wand reach this side of the Atlantic? Because I would like to see a move toward careful thought, too.
    Must remember “constant partial stupidity.” It sums up so much! What a great article. Thank you.

  3. Hooray for libraries being part of a major trend! Librarians do do it for love too. No one becomes a librarian for the money, I can attest to that🙂 I agree that people are too distracted by their gadgets and always being connected. We forget that we have a choice in the matter. I think there used to be firmer boundaries between work life and personal life, online and offline and we have allowed those boundaries to be so blurred that they practically no longer exist. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Perhaps as everyone becomes so overwhelmed with the flood of information, more and more people will begin to re-establish some new boundaries in order to eek out some private space that belongs solely to them.

  4. Marvelous food for thought on the edge of this new year and new decade. I do think we are on information overload, and find myself experiencing some of the exact symptoms described in your paragraphs about “constant partial stupidity.” Slower, more careful thinking and a more deliberate movement through life is much needed in our culture.

    I’m interested in reading more of Mr. Watson’s ideas…thanks for sharing🙂

  5. Well said, Litlove. I couldn’t agree more. My kids and husband are at the library as I post this. (He kindly took them though I usually do so that I could get out of one trip out into the frigid air today. Two more to go!)

    I’ll go with your magic wand, maybe two is more than twice the power.

  6. Really interesting stuff. I agree with both. I can multitask, but something always suffers–and sometimes it’s dangerous! And I think there is something wonderful about online community, but only to augment real, face-to-face interaction. I’m trying to achieve balance in that area🙂
    Happy New Year!

  7. I agree totally with this, although much as I love the book in the hand, looking across at my high-piled book cases and knowing all my overspills, now also starring in the garage, I think the ebook and ereader may not be such a bad thing!
    Oddly enough I have just started a book called ‘Hare Brain Tortoise Mind’, which the cover assures me will reveal ‘Why Intelligence Increases When You Think Less”. (Sounds promising for my ageing mind). It is prefaced by a quotation from one your favourites, Rilke, writing admittedly about being a creative writer, which ends: “It does come. But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide”.
    Doesn’t sound like today’s internet world!
    Happy New Year to you and yours.

  8. Great stuff. I’m glad more and more media are publishing studies on the problems of cell phones; a radio commercial here in California claims the lost attention is comparable to four drinks of alcohol before getting behind the wheel.

    A coworker is a convert to his e-reader. The one advantage I’ll grant is that, when he comes across a word he wants defined, ascrolling over it and clicking activates a definition. Neast trick–but I still like books better.

    Happy New Year, Litlove.

  9. You know what I think about libraries, LL, so that’s a very heartening prediction! And the constant partial attention thing is something I notice so much in myself – it takes me longer than it used to, immersing myself in one task or action – including reading – with the ironic result that I waste time. All this supposedly nimble multitasking isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. Give me absolute concentration any day.

  10. Fear fatigue has already arrived hasn’t it? At least I feel myself becoming very reactionary cycnical towards some of the crisis issues of 2009 and I’d take a guess that the overwhelming amount of issues we’ve been asked to be afraid of this year has had a negative impact on some of the really important call to action campaigns (global warming for instance). The general public just doesn’t really know what it should be concerned about because instead of giving them the facts action groups create emotive/fear evoking plees like that ‘will there be a happy ending’ advert, with the crying rabbit, so a cynical malaise is applied to all the issues.

    I think this year I’m going to try to break the email addiction by keeping myself off the net after 10 on weekdays, it does feel very unhealthy and I’ve mnagaed to create a mobile phone policy that keeps me form checking it every other second, even though it does incur more connected people’s wrath. I would like to see everyone become a little less connected, no one needs to be constantly texting when they’re with real life people, it’s rude. I’d also like to see a world where people are a little less certain, or fixed in their ideas. We all have ideas and principles we want to stick to but does every opinion we hold have to be set in stone?

  11. Long live the library, and ink pens, and letters in the mailbox. The kind we can’t wait to open and begin to read even as we walk back toward the house – the kind we tie up with ribbons and keep forever. Long live the printed page, and book spines standing shoulder to shoulder on our shelves. Long live old movies which really are about LOVE, and for listening to our grandparents tell stories from their past, and remembering those stories, and re-telling them to our children. And long live thinking more about courage than about fear. Long live making a difference.

  12. I so agree with the idea of distraction inhibiting productivity and making it difficult to think. I have colleagues who won’t leave their offices for even a moment without their blackberries and will interrupt meetings and conversations to read them when they start buzzing. I’m trying to detox from blackberry overdose — one of my plans for 2010.

  13. Dorothy – what you say about preventing distractions rather than producing them seems to hit the nail on the head. I’d be interested in any technology that really simplified my life rather than adding another demand to it!

    Bluestocking – and a very happy new year to you, too.🙂

    ds – I do love the way blogging connects me with other totally biased people!🙂 I also liked the term constant partial stupidity. I have whole weeks like that!😉 I wish my magic wand stretched – I’m sure it’s just a case of international magical solidarity.

    Stefanie – it ought to happen, right? That at some point we remember that coming home from work to do something completely different was a good thing – as opposed to coming home to spend more time on the computers we just left behind. You’re quite right to say that the boundaries have been erased, but they are merciful when in place, preventing over exertion and encouraging variety. I should try and improve my boundary-keeping this year – I only say this because I am definitely a culprit!🙂

    Becca – since chronic fatigue, I have been most interested in mindfulness, the slow, attentive appreciation of what we are doing minute by minute. I’m getting more interested in slowness generally – I think it fosters creativity and insight. I couldn’t agree more about information overload!

    Lilian – you get your magic wand out too, and I’m sure we’ll be unstoppable!🙂 Nice of your husband to take the children – and hope you have a lovely library in the vicinity. We’re stuck with freezing weather over here too at the moment – -10 degrees!!

    Gentle reader – a very happy new year to you, too! I always thought I was a good multitasker but in fact I find I can do an awful lot more with some peace and focus. And I do love the online community, but so many studies suggest it can lead to isolation. It will be interesting to see what develops out of our current situation. Can’t find a thing wrong with blogging, though!😉

    Pete – I wonder how much it’s becoming a generational thing – that people over, say 35 are beginning to wonder what the cost of this kind of obsessional cultural development is, whilst those under 30 are convinced we are just luddites! And thank you so much for the link – how very helpful and useful.

  14. Bookboxed – and a very happy new year to you! It is good of you to embrace the e-reader, but I am a BIG fan of book stacks (my husband less so, it has to be said!). I do like the sound of that book you are reading and the Rilke quote is quite gorgeous. Thank you for sharing that – I’m going to keep it by me over the next few months. Exactly what I wanted to hear.

    Ombudsben – a very happy new year to you too! I can see how getting definitions of words as you read would be a great thing, and I agree with you completely about phones and cars. Even the sound of mine ringing as I go along is extremely distracting. It’s lovely of you to pop over for a visit! Do hope all is well with you and yours.🙂

    Doctordi – I know – it’s harder than it used to be for me, too! I blame that solely on the technology, naturally.🙂 Getting peace and focus is the trick, though – if there were a gadget that would provide it for me, I’d get that one like a shot.🙂

    Jodie – I know just what you mean. I find I get really fed up with media manipulativeness, and long for some objective study to give me facts, not emotive propaganda. And do people really get annoyed because your mobile phone isn’t constantly on? Wow. That’s obsessiveness. What right do they have to your continual attention? It is funny how these things make people behave – they’ll ignore the cashier in a shop in order to answer a call, but berate a friend who isn’t instantly available!

    Grad – why does your comment sound like utopia to me? Am I just getting older?🙂 No, I think it’s just that those values are beautiful and humane ones, and we should think carefully about jettisoning the past for an uncertain future!

    Cam – that sounds like a very good January detox plan! I know people who need to be surgically separated from their blackberries. Back in the 70s when I was a child, I remember that the goal was more leisure time for everyone. What happened? By the end of the 80s, it was the done thing to be abused by the workplace, as if it gives anyone status! And a very happy new year to you, by the way!

  15. Those are both great and make me feel better about attitudes towards technology. I think people are sometimes far too connected. It’s great in many ways, but don’t people ever just want to turn it off sometimes and have a little peace and quiet? Solitude seems awfully underappreciated these days. I watch students in groups sometimes and they are all talking on their cell phones and it seems they’re paying not attention to those around them. Working in a library a coworker and myself talk about all the constant changes and agree that just because something is new and fancy doesn’t mean it is necessarily better. Much better to step back and assess first and then pick and choose. I sometimes wonder how much further we can go with all this and if we’ll regret things when life has so completely changed!

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