Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Destroying Individuality and Freedom in the Name of Technophilia

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Destroying Individuality and Freedom in the Name of Technophilia

Article excerpt

This review essay by Juris Dilevko covers four books.

Destroying Individuality and Freedom in the Name of Technophilia

The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia Andrew Lih. New York: Hyperion, 2009. Hardcover ed. 246 pages. $24.99. ISBN 978-1-4013-0371-6.

Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto Mark Helprin. New York: HarperCollins, 2009. Hardcover ed. 232 pages. $24.99. ISBN 978-0-06-177311-6.

The Road to Big Brother: One Man's Struggle against the Surveillance Society Ross Clark. New York: Encounter Books, 2009. Hardcover ed. 140 pages. $21.95. ISBN 978-1-59403-248-6.

Edited Clean Version: Technology and the Culture of Control Raiford Guins. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. Paperback ed. 242 pages. $22.50. ISBN 978-0-8166-4815-3.

Developments in electronic communications technologies utterly fascinate us. For all intents and purposes, we are all technophiles now. Each time a new product, whether an e-book reader, a smartphone, or a tablet computer, is unveiled, we rush to be early adopters. Yet a burgeoning amount of scientific evidence suggests that such technologies are less than healthy. In 2010, The New York Times conveniently summarized some of the negatives associated with the use of computer technologies by adults in a series of articles collected under the rubric "Your Brain on Computers."1 Here were telling vignettes about the blighted lives of individuals who were electronically inundated by a deluge of trivial information that they were unable or unwilling to resist. Here were sober findings of researchers who had nary a good word to say about how computers, sleek enablers of this deluge, affected modern life: how they led to bad parenting practices; how they increased levels of impatience, forgetfulness, and narcissism; how they precluded the formation of meaningful memories; how they inhibited creativity, originality, and focus; and how they brought about an insatiable craving for the constant stimulus of incoming information to the extent that they harmed personal relationships, not to mention the emotional and psychological well-being of the individual chained to her/his electronic device of choice.

Additional evidence of these phenomena-and others-was provided in Nicholas Carr's 2010 book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, a devastating portrait of how, to quote David Brooks, "the multidistraction, hyperlink world degrades people's abilities to engage in deep thought or serious contemplation."2 For teenagers, the news was even worse. As reported by Randall Stross, studies from such diverse locales as Romania, North Carolina, and Texas showed that home ownership of a personal computer, along with the ability to play computer games or connect to the Internet, was detrimental to the educational achievements of students from lower-income households.3

So we know all that. Or we think we do. At least in theory, anyway, because subconsciously we convince ourselves that those findings do not apply to us. What is the harm in checking just one more e-mail or text message? What is the harm in playing a video game or exploring yet another web link? What is the harm in relying on Wikipedia for a quick fact? Andrew Lih, in his book The Wikipedia Revolution, with its us-against-them subtitle of How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia, will eventually provide a clue about where exactly the harm lies, but not before he attempts to show how Wikipedia has fundamentally transformed twenty- first- century life by giving voice to a heretofore silenced and far-flung network of "nobodies."

In many ways, Lih's paean to Wikipedia reads like the description of a long-overdue popular uprising. It is a blow-by-blow account of the origins of the collaborative Wikipedia endeavor, where each entry (or article) likely has dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of authors and/or editors-a process referred to by Yochai Benkler as "commons-based peer production," or simply crowdsourcing (qtd. …

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