Category: Technology

How to Think about the Cell Phone

Weapon of Self-Destruction or Tool of Self-Improvement:

The cell phone. Is it a great thing? A useful thing? An annoying thing? An addicting thing?

A ton of writers have condemned the cell phone on all sorts of grounds. They’re tired of rude talkers who use it in restaurants, parks, and churches, and they’re disgusted by the way cell phones seem to give people a sense of being: “I cell, therefore I am.”

At least one writer, though, decries all this decrying. Jeffrey Tucker, writing at the Ludwig von Mises Institute (, cogently argued that it’s just more criticism of capitalism, of the Marxist sort. It’s an approach that’s been used repeatedly: Criticize a new technology as an extension of man’s alienation, pepper the essay with quotes from Nietzsche and Freud, and raise the specter of addiction. A few more such jeremiads and the psychiatric profession has a new mental illness to profit from, then maybe the government will get involved with funding.

Tucker also thinks it’s just fear of something new:

“Because our eyes see something new, something we haven’t been socialized to expect, and because the market is expanding and democratizing so rapidly, it creates the illusion of something having gone oddly wrong. Instead of seeking to understand it, the temptation is to reach into pop culture’s bag of ideological bromides and decry it as some sort of pathology.”

These are excellent points.… Read the rest

What’s That Twitter Imp Up To?

Is Jack Dorsey looking to a Bitcoin (libertarian) Internet model?

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t much bugged by Twitter deplatforming President Trump. I didn’t think it was cool, and it bothered me that a company displays such brazen arrogance, but I agree with the ACLU’s ultra-liberal Ira Glasser, who said a President always has plenty of speaking outlets.

I was uber-bugged—outraged, in fact—when Amazon killed Parler’s access to the Internet altogether and, if antitrust laws mean anything, Amazon should be facing severe scrutiny in this regard.

But Twitter? I was just annoyed and, of course, I’ve long been frustrated by Twitter’s ongoing and disingenuous Leftist agenda: “We’re just neutral content hosts. We don’t favor either side, but we do enforce a certain narrative because that narrative is true, so we block other narratives because they’re false.” (Nevermind that in the philosophical field of “narratives,” the premise is that none of them are true.)

But overall? I wasn’t outraged by Twitter’s decision.

What We Know about Dorsey

Jack Dorsey is to blame, of course, but let’s acknowledge a few things about Dorsey:

1. He founded Twitter 14 years ago. It now has 4,600 employees and 321 million users. That’s shocking growth. Dorsey can’t entirely control that company as a practical matter, and he can’t control it as a legal matter since he’s a minority stockholder.

2. He is presumably surrounded by Leftists, many of … Read the rest

Listening to Podcasts at Oxford in 1374 and Kansas in 1974

Why do we love those conversational podcasts?

If you were a student at a medieval university, you listened to lectures.

And listened and listened and listened to lectures, often more than ten hours a day.

But they weren’t like lectures at today’s universities, where hundreds of students sit in a hall and listen to a professor deliver a monologue.

The medieval morning lectures were like that, but come afternoon, the lectures morphed into dialogue. The professor would assert a position, a graduate assistant would field questions or objections posed by undergraduates, and discussion ensued. At the end, the professor would summarize that afternoon’s conversation.

It was the “Scholastic disputation.”

Each session was meant to unfold knowledge gradually, as informed and inquisitive minds rubbed against one another, sharpening each other in the process, like knives rubbing against a whetstone.

Kansas: Early 1970s

The disputation, like everything else Scholastic, evaporated over the centuries and gave way to the mass lecture hall, with one professor doing all the talking.

In the 1970s, three professors at the University of Kansas brought back the disputation.

The three professors were John Senior, Frank Nelick, and Dennis Quinn, and they led the Integrated Humanities Program, a program dedicated to the wild notion of restoring a sense of beauty and poetic knowledge in its students.

The Program had a lot of facets (e.g., waltzes, star-gazing, great books), but its centerpiece may have been … Read the rest

Cell Phones, Radio, and the Philosophy of Marshall McLuhan

Breaking down a 21st-century matter by bringing back a 1960s icon.

My first cell phone was the Motorola RAZR V3. That was in 2005.

I didn’t use it a lot at first, but it made me more accessible to my clients. I would often use it to return calls while walking, so I could exercise and earn money at the same time.

I did this the third day I had the phone, walking back to the office after lunch. I called the client at Point A and ended the call a half mile later, at Point B.

After I hung up, I felt like I was waking from a deep daydream. For a moment, I couldn’t even remember what route I had taken from Point A to B, though I had walked the route over a hundred times.

Since then, I’ve grown more use to walking and phoning, but I found that first experience a little unnerving.

How do you like to multitask?

I like multitasking if it’s the right kind. Reading a book while waiting for laundry to dry: smart multitasking. Reading a book while interviewing for a job: dumb multitasking. Ordering a Pabst while the head on your Guinness settles: fun multitasking.

What about multitasking with the cell phone?

Everyone has heard the debate about driving and cell phones. One study says that cell phone driving is as dangerous as drunk driving. The … Read the rest

Is the Netflix Documentary a Paean to Catholic Convert and Daily Communicant Marshall McLuhan?

The Social Dilemma uses the intellectual framework built by McLuhan, but the similarities stop there

The Social Dilemma documentary has broken records. According to its main star, Tristan Harris, 38 million households in the first 28 days saw it on Netflix.

That’s incredible.

What’s even more incredible?

The whole documentary is a salute to Marshall McLuhan.

Well, it’s a tribute to Neil Postman, who was a loyal McLuhan disciple.

Harris, who is largely responsible for sounding the alarm bell about what the social media industry is up to, appeared on “The Joe Rogan Experience” last week. He concluded the interview with these glowing words about Postman’s classic work, Amusing Ourselves to Death:

It literally predicts everything that is going on now. I frankly think that I’m adding nothing . . . Neil Postman called it all in 1982.

I appreciate it when contemporaries admit that they are standing on the shoulders of giants—and McLuhan/Postman were giants—but I think Harris’ comment is a little too generous.

The theme of the documentary

The Social Dilemma addresses the attention economy. The social media companies’ entire business model is to capture attention. They do this through algorithms that engage us by giving us what we want . . . without us asking for it.

And even without us knowing we want it.

The social media companies gather our information—what we’ve viewed, what we’ve purchased—and feed it into an … Read the rest

Ben Franklin and the Mouse

How I finally accepted multi-tasking

It had been there for years, but I had never noticed it.

Until one morning when I found myself with a telephone receiver tucked under my neck while I talked with an acquaintance, a computer mouse in my hand while I surfed the Internet, and a pile of snail mail in front of me that I scanned between web page downloads.

My power of attention had suffered a serious blow and I didn’t even see it coming. I suddenly realized: The much-vaunted act of multi-tasking had settled in me. It unnerved me a bit, so I watched myself for a few weeks and discovered that I could hardly do anything without wanting to do something else at the same time.

Sure, there were exceptions. Sex, for instance, could still keep my attention. I’m guessing an armed robber with a psychotic laugh and an AK47 could, too. I could also stay focused when checking my investments.

So sex, fear, and money. Those things could demand single-task attention.

But in nearly all other activities, the urge to be doing another thing at the same time was there.

Why do we multi-task?

I don’t know when it started. I think I’ve had the multi-tasking disposition for years. Even back in college, when leisure was life, I kinda liked doing laundry because I could study at the same time.

I’m guessing multi-tasking was stamped … Read the rest

The Architecture of Speed

Thoughts build your everyday existence. Technology affects your thoughts. The implications? Ask Marshall McLuhan.

Sometimes I’m Gothic. Other times, Tudor-ish. In the morning I might be Romanesque, but by the afternoon I’m Bauhaus.

The architecture of my mind changes day-to-day, hour-to-hour, sometimes minute-to-minute. I generally want to live a life of good deeds, uplifting counsel, and noble thoughts. But as a typical human being, the mental architecture of a particular day or hour might be more inclined to make me obsess about money, be loud, or tell ribald jokes.

The most troubling thing: the architecture I wake up with or shift into during the day isn’t a conscious choice. I don’t wake up and say, “Well, yesterday I was Gothic: grand, prayerful, elevated in thought, word, and deed. Today, I want to be Victorian-like: noble, demur, of refine appearance. Tomorrow, I’ll be Romanesque: sleek, elegant, and a temple to the pursuit of money.”

It doesn’t work like that. I wake up or find myself in the middle of the day with a mental architecture I didn’t choose.

Pretty much the only thing I can do is work with it the best I can. The ease or difficulty of working with it depends on what I want to do.

If the architectural style that day is Romanesque and I want to make a lot of money, it’s a great fit. But if I want to be in … Read the rest

Did Video Bring Us BLM, Riots, and COVID Hysteria?

A new essay about the Marshall McLuhan disciple, Neil Postman

black crt tv showing gray screen
Photo by Burak K on

You like dead white guys? How about a dead white guy who was the disciple of a dead white guy?

I do. I also like DWG Marshall McLuhan and his disciple, DWG Neil Postman, whose Amusing Ourselves to Death is a classic (his Technolopy is also very good). 

Postman is the subject of a recent essay at the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourses (a publication that has increasingly been catching my attention). If you’re interested in how the media of television, smartphones, and social media, I believe it’s a “must-read.”

Postman called television a propagator of “irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence.”

That seems an apt description of the first presidential debate, as well as of broader trends we have witnessed this year. Indeed, it’s pretty obvious that our digital age, in innumerable ways, aggravates our social and political distemper.

In order to understand Postman, it’s necessary to understand McLuhan’s iconic saying, “The medium is the message,” which means that extensions of ourselves (e.g., a hammer extends our muscles) alter us in fundamental ways, regardless of the message loaded onto the medium.

So, for instance, TV alters us fundamentally, regardless of whether we’re using it to watch Masked Singer or the MacNeil/Lehrer Report. The mere fact that we are viewing TV changes us. The content doesn’t matter nearly as much as … Read the rest