Nothing Personal, But You Look Stupid When You Text

Is Web 2.0 the end of Humanity 1.0? The Washington Post supposes so in a misty watercolored think piece about how all this constant interconnectedness is making us miss the smell of the roses, or something like that:

Technology has drawn us into our interconnected webs, in the office, on the street, on the park bench, to the point that we exist virtually everywhere except in the physical world. Robert Harrison, a professor of Italian literature at Stanford University, laments that when students pass through the school's visually stimulating campus, iPhones, BlackBerrys and all the evolving devices and apps draw them into their blinkered personal realms. "Most of the groves, courtyards, gardens, fountains, artworks, open spaces and architectural complexes have disappeared behind a cloaking device, it would seem," he writes in his book "Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition."

This retreat from the natural world is most evident in the young, but it is not a generational phenomenon, he argues. Instead, the ubiquity of the computer is changing the very essence of the human animal. We are in the midst of a historical change in "our mode of vision," he says, "which is bound up with our mode of being."

Reason completists will recall Harrison as the author of Dominion of the Dead, a lovely study of funerary practice mentioned in my zombie cinema woolgatherer of yore. Harrison's diffidence about rude digital communication is in a different mood than but akin to the techno-utopianism of another Post subject:

Actually, we have become symbionts, says Katherine Hayles, author of "How We Became Posthuman." Just as a lichen is the marriage of a fungus and an algae, we now live in full partnership with digital technology, which we rely on for the infrastructure of our lives. "If every computer were to crash tomorrow, it would be catastrophic," she says. "Millions or billions of people would die. That's the condition of being a symbiont."

Hayles is among a number of intellectuals who see this dependence as not necessarily bad, but as advancing civilization and, above all, just inevitable. "From Thoreau on, we have had this dream we can withdraw from our technologies and live closer to the natural world, and yet that's not the cultural trajectory that we have followed," says Hayles, a professor of literature at Duke University. "You could say when humans started to walk upright, we lost touch with the natural world. We lost an olfactory sense of the world, but obviously bipedalism paid big dividends."

Back in the 1990s, a group of my friends and colleagues -- using the combination of smoke signals and semaphore that passed for instant communication in the Clinton era -- banded together to form something called the TechnoRealist movement. I didn't join in, though I did help out with the parody CryptoFabulist movement, which unfortunately didn't survive the Y2K catastrophe. I never thought I'd say this, but maybe we need some of the TechnoRealist sensibility these days, to chart a course between the doomsaying of nostalgic professors and the obnoxiousness and arrogance of everybody who's got the money (or, let's be honest, the debt) to keep funding a generous monthly data plan.

Because the luddite and the utopian are both overreacting to what is essentially a stylistic change. Not to put too fine a point on it, but every person on earth looks like a slob when he or she texts. Presidents look like slobs when they text. Starlets look like slobs when they text. Slobs look like slobs when they text. My friends and and family look like slobs when they text. I look like a slob when I text.

Understand that I am not commenting on the goldenness of your particular data stream, bad as that may be. (It's not so much that Twitter is for old people as that the form of the Tweet inevitably reads like senile raving.) I'm talking about how you actually look when you text: the hunched shoulders, the slack jaw, the bunched-up sea otter paws.

There's no shame in looking like a slob. The shame is in not knowing. It was for just this reason that our Cro Magnon ancestors used stone tools to build crude telephone booths, that the Romans (the original exporters of data-rich globalization) adhered to the principle that trade follows the water closet. There are plenty of activities worth doing that are not worth doing in sight of others. Yes, it's exciting when you learn that the power of symbioncy -- like the power of orgasm -- is right in the palm of your hand. That doesn't mean the rest of us want to look at it. It's enough to make me nostalgic, not for a less technical age but for an age when upight Americans still drew a line between Decent behavior and Common behavior.

Related:

Don't believe my shilling for Facebook. Gawker explains that Facebook has become evil.

Stephen King takes the rise of the post-human datasphere to its logical conclusion.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • db||

    the obnoxiousness and arrogance of everybody who's got the money (or, let's be honest, the debt) to keep funding a generous monthly data plan.

    Actually, it's the money.

  • db||

    And I know that I look like a slob. I actually take pride in looking like a slob when I can afford not to. There are better things on which to spend my money than appearances.

  • ||

    Its one of the main benefits of being a shut-in. I love it.

  • Morris||

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but every person on earth looks like a slob when he or she texts. Presidents look like slobs when they text. "Starlets look like slobs when they text. Slobs look like slobs when they text. My friends and and family look like slobs when they text. I look like a slob when I text."

    You look like a fucking slob when you write, Cavanaugh.

  • ||

    Listen! Do you smell something?

  • db||

    The PKE readings are off the charts!

  • ||

    Symmetrical book stacking. Just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947.

  • Franklin Harris||

    You're right, no human being would stack books like this.

  • juke||

    Morris,
    I for one welcome an intelligent, dissenting viewpoint. But coming here just to insult and yell obscenities serves no purpose but to make you and your own team look bad.

  • ||

    Understand that I am not commenting on the goldenness of your particular data stream

    That's gold(enness) right there. This place needs more urine jokes.

    I'm talking about how you actually look when you text: the hunched shoulders, the slack jaw, the bunched-up sea otter paws.

    Don't forget the almost walking into stuff, barely listening to an ongoing conversation, and constantly receiving incoming text ringtones. All of which I myself am guilty of.

  • Hear me roar||

    "-- like the power of orgasm -- is right in the palm of your hand." Another article geared toward men. We prefer finger tips!

  • ||

    I prefer a woman's fingertips. Much more fun that way.

  • Hear me roar||

    prolefeed, with men the end does justify the means. "I prefer a _________________ (fill in the blank) fingertips."

  • db||

    Understand that I am not commenting on the goldenness of your particular data stream

    This is never to be questioned. Mine is full of B vitamins.

  • ¢||

    i drnk only sprsso n gnnss so strm is goldn lol

  • Nipplemancer||

    i have big thumbs and a small phone, i always look stupid when using it.

  • ||

    Texting while driving definitely makes you look stupid.

  • Franklin Harris||

    I thought buying a smart phone was supposed to fix that!

  • ||

    +1

  • ||

    And yet it has the opposite effect, once you start trying to use the web and write work e-mails it. Juggling the manual along with the phone doesn't help matters.

  • brett l||

    I think its great to watch people text in meetings. Its like a meerkat troupe, one or two heads are always up while everyone else forages their way through actual work.

  • ||

    This retreat from the natural world is most evident in the young, but it is not a generational phenomenon, he argues. Instead, the ubiquity of the computer is changing the very essence of the human animal. We are in the midst of a historical change in "our mode of vision," he says, "which is bound up with our mode of being.

    Anyone else pretend this guy was talking about books when you read it?

    The truth of the matter is that the "digital" generation has read more words and written more words per capita then any other generation in history. WTF is the problem?

  • ||

    The problem is that some of them are joes, or Tonys, or MNGs (though MNG is occasionally rational) ...

  • ||

    Hey, they're reading good stuff, even if they can't absorb it.

  • ||

    Am I the only person left on Earth who doesn't text? If I want to write something, I'll send an email. If I have a phone out, I'll just call the guy.

    p.s. And I hate IM too.

  • ||

    As a (slightly) older texter myself, I'll just say that it's useful for those of us who always hated talking on the phone and now have a (mobile) substitute. You have more time to consider what you're texting, and the other person also can think before responding. It's also useful when you want to send a message without necessarily forcing the recipient to drop everything and talk on the phone, another advantage in a business context.

  • JD||

    Agreed with that. Phoning somebody says, "Drop whatever you're doing and talk to me right now." Texting's a handy form of "push" communication that's less intrusive, which is why I like it.

    And the whole "you look like a slob" thing sounds like Get Off My Lawn-ism anyway. Look at these ridiculous people with their new-fangled "telly-phones" pressed to their ears all the time, talking to people we can't see! And these folks what got their noses stuck in books all the time, hunched over and going near-sighted!

  • ||

    Not fond of texting either. I prefer to hear the other person's voice for tonal inflection.

    I find more and more people prefer text though, and the art of subtle conversation is dying a slow death.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I found an undocumented feature on my cell which I call "voice text". I connect my phone with someone else's, I speak the text I want to send into the phone, and the person hears that text audibly through their speakers. I'm told it even comes through in my own voice. And they can do the same back. It's pretty cool, although who knows if it will catch on.

  • ||

    Like most art, there is only a niche following that actually knows and cares about it, the rest just want something to put on their walls so they don't look like a transient squatting in their own home. Style in conversation is overrated.

  • Zeb||

    I don't text. In fact, I don't even have a cell phone. And I am quite content to be the last person in the world without one.

  • Xeones||

    The alt text almost got me in trouble at work.

  • The Thinker||

    I slouch when I'm on the crapper. Is that a problem?

  • ||

    You should try to maintain a posture that projects your vast intellect.

  • 5||

    tmi

  • ||

    But I love to text. Texting is kewl.

    RT
    www.total-privacy.es.tc

  • ||

    Robert Harrison, a professor of Italian literature at Stanford University, laments that when students pass through the school's visually stimulating campus, iPhones, BlackBerrys and all the evolving devices and apps draw them into their blinkered personal realms. "Most of the groves, courtyards, gardens, fountains, artworks, open spaces and architectural complexes have disappeared behind a cloaking device, it would seem,"

    Earth to Professor Harrison; nobody who's twenty years old looks at that crap. Long before the advent of constant connectednes, I ignored those ostentatious artifacts of civilisation.

    I was looking at girls. Twenty year old girls, with round bottoms, and long, smooth soft legs.

    Smooth

    supple

    soft skin.

    Smooooooooth

    Umm, what was the question?

  • Russ 2000||

    Tim,

    Excellent.

    It's amazing how non-slovenly I now look simply because of the lack of text messages I write in public places.

  • Russ 2000||

    The only problem with all these forms of communication (telephones, television, internet, printed words, spoken word... OK, language in general) is that both the sender and the receiver are almost always completely full of shit.

  • Paul||

    Tim, your friends' Technorealist website looks a little Web 0.5 pre-release beta. Or is that the point that flew over my head?

  • ||

    Caption: KILL teh TABLE-EATERS! We will nvr understand y they go around chopping dn trees 4 tables when they hv perfectly gud tummies 2 eat off of!

  • nfl premier jerseys||

    What you had mentioned is quite reasonable! Beautifully written article sir. Choose your premier jerseys here with the lowest price and the best quality.
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    nfl premier jerseys
    Dallas Cowboys premier jerseys

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement