I’m blogging from the Princeton Firestone Library’s rare books room, with ancient texts open in front of me. How weird is that? And so, live from 1822 (the date of my particular edition), I bring you the following unforgettable passage from Alexander von Humboldt’s Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent:
I beheld a missionary violently agitated in proving, that Infierno, Hell, and invierno, winter, were not the same thing; but that they were as different as heat and cold. The Chaymas are acquainted with no other winter, than the season of rains; and the Hell of the whites appeared to them a place, where the wicked are exposed to frequent showers. The missionary harangued to no purpose: it was impossible to efface the first impressions, produced by the analogy between the two consonants: and he could not separate in the minds of the neophytes the ideas of rain and Hell, invierno, and Inferno.
Just hours ago, my coblogger did an awesome and spirited post about why she ain’t gonna tweet. Good for Sheril—and she asserts that it’s just a personal decision, which is totally fine. I have made the same personal decision, at least until further notice.
But Sheril also pointed out some “problems” with the technology in her original post—or rather, problems with what it may cause us to become. She linked a hilarious video underscoring a serious point, namely, that a technology like Twitter might, for some people, put their minds on speed…encouraging them to write faster and faster, and think less and less–becoming (drum roll) a distraction.
Inevitably, there were many responses to Sheril’s post saying, well, it’s just a new technology—not good or evil, just tech, so use it or don’t, and let others do as they please. E.g.:
Sean Carroll said: “I don’t see why anyone should complain about a technology that nobody is forcing them to use. If other people like it, what’s the big deal?”
And Thingsbreak said: “It’s what you make of it, like all new tech. You’d think someone who gave a talk entitled “I am new media (And so can you!)” would be a little less quick to tell Twitter to get off her lawn.”
Off her lawn? I can assure you, Sheril is no fogey.
And hold on a minute: It’s certainly an individual choice, but that’s not all it is. If everyone starts using a technology that changes his or her behavior, then society also changes. This change may be good, and it may be bad. But don’t tell me a cascade of individual choices doesn’t have bigger consequences.
I’m no Luddite, and neither is Sheril. I don’t think that the verdict on Twitter is yet in. But at the same time, I don’t think I’m the only one out there lately who sense that just maybe, not every aspect of how the Internet affects the media–or our thinking–is an improvement. In fact, there’s actually science on this: See “Rapid-fire media may confuse your moral compass,” EurekaAlert’s breakdown of a recent study from USC neuroscientist Antonio Damasio.
I can attest to one thing–I personally sense that my attention span today is not what it once was before blogs, Twitter, constant Google chats, my Iphone, etc. Does that mean I have stopped doing these things? Have I gone and pulled a Thoreau? No. But I’m pretty sure technologies have changed me significantly over the past decade. And with the benefits, there have perhaps also come some costs…and this is the deep point of Sheril’s post.
Fully two years ago, in Mass. v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Bush administration’s EPA to determine whether vehicular carbon dioxide emissions endanger public health and welfare under the Clean Air Act.
The Bush administration essentially ignored this direct order.
Now, FT reports that the Obama EPA is on the verge of doing the opposite–which is an extremely big deal. The EPA already submitted its endangerment finding to the Office of Management and Budget; the next step, as I understand it, would be full administration approval.
Basically, if the EPA starts moving towards global warming regulations, then Congress had better put its weight on the scales quick, or else “unelected bureaucrats” (to anticipate the negative spin) will be determining how we deal with carbon dioxide emissions, a decision with dramatic implications for the economy and the future.
Everybody agrees that it’s better for Congress to pass a new law on global warming than to have regulations go through the administrative process at EPA. And yet if Congress fails to lead–and so far, it’s hard to tell whether there will really be 60 Senate votes–then there’s every reason to expect the Obama EPA will just keep on moving, doing what the Supreme Court said to do.
Members of Congress who oppose global warming legislation this year really ought to keep that in mind. The reality is that global warming regulation is going to happen, one way or another. Any responsible leader in this context would try to get us the best, democratically enacted policy–not to block progress.