The Internet, Tamed

Justin E. H. Smith in his own blog:

ScreenHunter_08 Jan. 09 14.24 If the Internet is cocaine, Facebook is crack. While information is pulverized in a Google search, it is in turn crytallized by the 'news feed' into more potent nuggets, more potent because they are supposedly coming from 'friends'. Like crack, what they actually deliver is little more than a desire for further nuggets. I think this is what Richard Klein (describing cigarettes) claimed is characteristic of the experience of the sublime.

Facebook's potency resides in the personalized character of the stream of information, and in the sensation that it is being delivered directly to you as a result of real agency and even solicitude. But it cannot be fully personalized, and on reflection I note that I've spent a lot of time reading about and looking at things that are really of no interest to me whatsoever. I've figured out how to block Farmville and MafiaWars and obscene stuff like that, but there's no way to similarly keep at bay the barrage of images of other people's babies (a sensitive issue at this stage of the life-cycle), nor the whooping and hollering of sports fans (no less tedious in its written than in its audible form), nor all the bickering about having to grade papers among my academic peers, nor the predictable self-affirmations of the mainline liberals who make up the greater part of my cohort.

Certainly I do read a lot of things that interest me. The best updates are the ones that hew to a consistent theme (like the friend of mine who posts nothing but news of the latest film he has watched, and asks his friends to name films that share similar elements). But all in all, it is considerably less edifying than the books I've just checked out of the library. To extend my earlier analogy a bit further, I feel the need to go back to authentic Andean tradition, and to chew on raw coca leaves for a while– that is, to start reading books again, from cover to cover. It is not that this is an inherently superior mode of learning; in fact I believe it is dying out. But it is how I first started learning, and recently I've begun to miss it.

My first experiences in the library in which I will be working for the next several months have been characterized by a sort of noetic ecstacy (neurochemically very different, I think, from the experience of the flashing red light). I am permitted to go in after hours, and to browse the stacks entirely by myself. In large part, perhaps, because the building is a stunning example of sleek, midcentury-modern architecture, I am easily put in mind of the supercomputers that were, around the same time and not so far away, being constructed by IBM. When I browse the stacks, it is as if I am somehow going inside the Internet, or the thing that would eventually be distilled into the Internet, but that used to be an expansive physical enviroment, filled with information in heavy chunks, books, which one could grab, open, and read, rather than search, click, and skim.

More here.