Machine Intelligence

July 11, 2004

I just read an article that states that Americans read much less today
than they did in 1992, when the internet started to become an
alternate medium that grabbed our attention. In fact, it seems that
the number of us reading for relaxation has dropped even more
dramatically, which in a warped kind of way means that we are so
stressed out that we do not need to relax any more!

I don’t agree that its right to blame the computer as the source of
this malaise. After all its but the medium, and to blame it would be
like shooting the messenger. But it has gone from being an active mode
of brain usage to a passive delivery mechanism, very much like
television, with all its deleterious effects on our minds. Its a new
form of addiction, and we are glued to it. While it provides
information, it might just be be saving us from thinking, which seems
to be a major objective for humanity nowadays.

But this was not what was intended for it, not by its designers or
makers. While it is now a medium of news and knowledge consumption, it
certainly did not expect to become so. Far from being consumptive, the
computer was intended to be an aggressive, thought-provoking knowledge
production device. It still is, but its major uses are often not in
sync with these out-dated modes in which the machines were used.

Just look at the way laptops are named: Thinkpad, Powerbook, Inspiron,
etc, all intended to be thoughtful, creative, energized. Its a pity
that the laptop has gone from being a device of inspired creativity
and thought, to being a souped-up juke box. Its a glorified phone,
offering 16-way conversation via IM at slower speeds than voice – why?

Do we use it to think any more? Or do we use it to simply let people
know we are here, on IM, ready to respond, ready to consume, anything
to break the productive cycle!

There is but one cure – stay away from the machine unless you need to
produce something. Else it will suck you in, feed you unwholesome
food, and drug you enough into wanting more soon afterward. And read,
read, read – on paper. Consume away from the machine, because it feeds
you mercilessly. Buy into the electronic diet, minimize the machine
interaction, it is the cholesterol of the information age.