Born before 1985? Then you’re a ‘digital immigrant’

Young woman at row of desks with open laptop and apple

Excerpt from this article:

Michael Harris’s fascinating The End of Absence, which should be required reading for anyone born before 1985 (and anyone else interested in tech). Harris’s topic is us – “digital immigrants”. The last generation that will remember the world before the internet. He writes: “We have in this brief historical moment… a very rare opportunity… These are the few days when we can still notice the difference between Before and After… There’s a single difference that we feel most keenly; and it’s also the difference that future generations will find hardest to grasp. That is the end of absence – the loss of lack. The daydreaming silences in our lives are filled; the burning solitudes are extinguished.”

The book is a paean to the quiet pleasures (and productive frustration) created by absence – of noise, distraction, entertainment, other people…and the consequences of a partly digitised, constantly connected existence. It sets out to answer questions like: are we losing the ability to think deeply? To remember? How is “continuous partial attention” changing our culture and our brain chemistry? Our aptitude for distraction might have an evolutionary imperative (it’s how we notice the approach of predators, apparently), but in the context of the internet, is it damaging us as much as our disposition toward fat and sugar, which was equally useful to prehistoric man? The answers are more interesting and not so luddite as you might be imagining (though the actual Luddites get a few words of praise because of what they stood for – children’s and workers’ rights – rather than the technology they took against).

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