(Roughly) Daily

“I will buckle down to work as soon as I finish reading the Internet”*…

From Aldobrandino da Siena’s Le Régime du corps (1265-70 CE)

Worried that technology is “breaking your brain:? As Joe Stadolnik explains, fears about attention spans and focus are as old as writing itself…

If you suspect that 21st-century technology has broken your brain, it will be reassuring to know that attention spans have never been what they used to be. Even the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger was worried about new technologies degrading his ability to focus. Sometime during the 1st century CE, he complained that ‘The multitude of books is a distraction’. This concern reappeared again and again over the next millennia. By the 12th century, the Chinese philosopher Zhu Xi saw himself living in a new age of distraction thanks to the technology of print: ‘The reason people today read sloppily is that there are a great many printed texts.’ And in 14th-century Italy, the scholar and poet Petrarch made even stronger claims about the effects of accumulating books:

Believe me, this is not nourishing the mind with literature, but killing and burying it with the weight of things or, perhaps, tormenting it until, frenzied by so many matters, this mind can no longer taste anything, but stares longingly at everything, like Tantalus thirsting in the midst of water.

Technological advances would make things only worse. A torrent of printed texts inspired the Renaissance scholar Erasmus to complain of feeling mobbed by ‘swarms of new books’, while the French theologian Jean Calvin wrote of readers wandering into a ‘confused forest’ of print. That easy and constant redirection from one book to another was feared to be fundamentally changing how the mind worked. Apparently, the modern mind – whether metaphorically undernourished, harassed or disoriented –­ has been in no position to do any serious thinking for a long time.

In the 21st century, digital technologies are inflaming the same old anxieties… and inspiring some new metaphors…

Same as it ever was– a history of the anxieties about attention and memory that new communications technologies have occasioned through history: “We’ve always been distracted,” from @joestadolnik in @aeonmag.

* Stewart Brand @stewartbrand


As we learn our way into new media, we might recall that it was it was on this date in 1946 that the first first Washington, D.C. – New York City telecast was accomplished, using AT&T corporation’s coaxial cable; General Dwight Eisenhower was seen to place a wreath at the base of the statue in the Lincoln Memorial and others made brief speeches. The event was judged a success by engineers, although Time magazine called it “as blurred as an early Chaplin movie.”

1946 television (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 18, 2023 at 1:00 am

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