Sunday, May 24, 2009

Less A Person

I was hooked on the Internet almost as soon as I first came into contact with more than fifteen years ago. It was a slow dial up connection in a British Council Library in Kolkata and you paid for your use by the hour. It was not horribly expensive but you just did not sit around forever. I guess new users like myself, were yet to understand the full potential of the medium to determine what we might do with unlimited, unfettered access to it.

You came with a plan and stuck to it the best you could given the many temptations to stray via hyper-links. I remember tearing through Bulfinch's Greek Mythology as quickly as I could and emailing chapters of text to myself for reading later. This was the first time that I had been experienced reading for pleasure without needing a physical book. It would be hard to describe the sense of exhilaration that I felt - suddenly the world had acquired a dimension that had till then not existed. All this over a lethargic and rather capricious dial-up connection !

I have yet to be unfascinated by the Internet and all that it makes possible. My life has changed fundamentally because of it - if I had to learn to breathe and survive on something other than oxygen it would be no different. Reading this comment by actress Keira Knightley made me wonder about the dehumanizing aspects of the medium :

The actress said being chained to e-mail and Twitter accounts makes her feel like less of a person.

"I find it dehumanizing to constantly check e-mails or social sites which have become so fashionable," she continued.

I don't know about being "chained" to the net - that does have a strongly negative connotation. However, needing that constant, always-on connection to the web could be termed a dependence of the kind that is not natural or organic to what makes us human. Extending the same logic, any innovation that brings about massive social and cultural changes could be viewed in the same way. Movable type could have been the "dehumanizing" influence of its time just as Twitter/Facebook are today.

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