Lenise Phillips - Manifesto

1. We ought to restructure our teaching methods to better accommodate a generation who has started to “learn through technology” as a result of our “re-wiring.”

Despite the age-old adage claiming you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, Carr adamantly argues that our brains our plastic and malleable. As a result of a rapid modernization due to technological advancements, Carr argues we know longer have the same capacity for intellectual contemplation as we once had just decades ago. Fortunately for us, the one thing that seems to have changed about our mental capacity is that we are now able to take in and process a lot of information at one time. So it’s not that we aren’t capable of intellectual contemplation; it’s just that the way we now learn and process information has changed. Instead of criticizing a generation that seems lazy and unmotivated to be active, we need to restructure our teaching methods to better accommodate a malleable and re-wired generation.

It’s true that we underestimate the mental capacity of the newest generation—remember when we watched cartoons like Pinky & The Brain that challenged our way of thinking and processing information even at an age as young as 7 or 7? Now we have episodes of Dora the Explorer that assume our kids need everything spelled out for them—we assume that, since technologies such as the Internet and eReaders (Leap Frog's Leapster Explorer) are intuitive, the users of these technologies are less so. We need to recognize that this isn’t the case—a young person’s ability to learn and use a technology in a astonishingly short amount of time is indicative of his/her intellectual capacity. Just because we no longer think in the same way previous generations did, or just because we don’t use our free time in the same way, does not mean we are not a progressive and intellectual society.

2. Despite technology’s power and influence over a society, we ought to remember that it is the culture of a group of people that decides which technological advancements to accept and adopt into a society.

Kurzweil does a pretty good job of scaring all of us simpletons shitless with all of his futuristic predictions about the singularity and the obsoleteness of human intelligence. However, Kurzweil forgets a couple crucial elements in his paranoid predictions: accessibility, funding, and want. He assumes that everyone is going to have access to a sort of super-human technology that will allow us to live forever, but let’s not forget those remote parts of Africa or South America that currently don’t have access to any sort of technology that we Americans use on a daily basis (e.g., cell phones, Internet, computers). We can make all the technological progress in the world, but just because it exists doesn’t mean all 6.6 billion of us will be able to use it.

More importantly perhaps than accessibility is the issue of funding. Maybe Kurzweil forgets what it means to struggle financially since he’s apparently BFF with Bill Gates, but the rest of the world ain’t exactly rollin’ in dough. Time is money and so is technology. We can barely come up with enough money to solve world hunger let alone to make sure we all live forever so as to ensure the exhaustion of all our sustainable resources at an exponentially high rate.

But finally, we don’t all live in a culture of Ray Kurzweils where immortality is a desire as seemingly tangible as saving enough money for a Maserati—we don’t all want a sports car. Sometimes we just want a piece of machine to get us from point A to point B. Some cultures don’t want to make wireless Internet accessible to everyone, everywhere. Cultures pick and choose which technologies they want to integrate in to society, and as long as we remember that, we are safe from falling victim to a twisted self-fulfilling prophecy because of Kurzweil’s outlandish observations of human behavior.

3. We ought to accept the limitations of technology and the subsequent fact that we will not be able to live forever thanks to nanobots roaming in our bloodstreams.

Call me a pessimist, but I don’t think we’ll ever get to a point in technology where we can live forever and still be considered human. Sure, we may be able to create some humanoid robot that can mimic human emotions, but that’s all it’ll ever be—mimicry. Because humans are the ones who create, develop, and maintain current technologies, we need to recognize that our own human capacity and intelligence can only create certain technologies. We’ve made advancements beyond our wildest imaginations, from the invention of light-bulb to the development of the computer, but those advancements can never surpass human intelligence simply because they are the product of such intelligence.

In this way, Kurzweil’s prediction that we will someday possess the technology to live forever appears to be more the delusion of a man desperately trying to hold on to a non-existent reality. The desire to live forever is an unsurprising one—cultures have been passing down stories and legends of alleged elixirs of life for generations, but death is a very real and necessary part of life. Kurzweil may be hiding behind his predictions as a way to deny the possibility of death, but even the most healthy and attractive die as a result of non-health-related incidents (e.g., a car accident). Even if we did become capable of inserting nanobots into our bloodstreams to keep us young, attractive, and healthy, what problem would we solve? Certainly not overpopulation. Certainly not poverty. Certainly not war.

Though I have to give it to Mr. Kurzweil, his idea would make an excellent movie. Or has that been done before?

4. We should use our connectedness and global online presence to initiate and stimulate social action.

The Internet has become an invaluable tool to today’s society. It gives us the opportunity to meet and connect with people from all over the world. But more important than this unique opportunity available to us is the fact that, according to Clay Shirky, we have this cognitive surplus at our disposal without even realizing it. What he means by that is that we have an insane amount of free time, and nowadays we spend that time online participating in someway—that participation might be something as mundane as LOLCats and LameBook or it might be something more influential such as Free Rice or Ushahidi. Shirky takes on a more optimistic view of human behavior by claiming that our yearning for connectedness online reflects a universal desire “to make the world a better place” in some form or another (17).

I want to bring up Shirky’s example in his book Cognitive Surplus when he talks about the South Korean band DBSK’s fansite and the subsequent social revolution that resulted due to a discussion on the site’s forum. Because of young girls’ involvement in something seemingly mundane like a boy band with hip clothes and cute hair, these same girls were able to provide something infinitely more meaningful to their society: movement. As these girls protested the selling of U.S. beef in their markets, the government reacted violently, but because of digital media and a participatory culture, nations around the globe were quick to condemn the South Korean’s behavior towards these innocent girls.

You never know what your involvement in LOLCats could potentially lead to, so harness your creativity and all that cognitive surplus you have lying around and start participating online—you could be part of a social revolution without realizing it.

5. In countries where freedom is both a right and a privilege, we should not hide behind our anonymity on the Internet, especially when such anonymity can have potentially dangerous consequences.

One of the most beautiful and dangerous things about the Internet is that you can be anyone you want to be. You say things you wouldn’t say to someone’s face—you tell jokes you’d never be brave enough to tell to a crowd full of strangers. But while being anonymous can be innocent when commenting on your favorite recipe blog, withholding your name when making more negative remarks can be not only hurtful but also potentially emotionally and physically damaging.

If you want to personally attack someone on the Internet while remaining anonymous, it’s certainly within your right to do that. However, let’s not confuse our rights with what is ethical. Too often, we hide behind our right to freedom of speech as a justification for being cruel and cowardly. I’m not saying there are never instances in which anonymity isn’t an incredible blessing, but we need to make an effort to stop hiding behind our keyboards. If you have the time to personally insult people on a public forum because you don’t like the content of their YouTube video or blog post, be confident enough to stand by your opinions and who you are. Write your name down.

We’ve talked a lot about cyber-bullying, and more specifically the most recent incident at Rutgers University, which led to a young man’s suicide as a direct result of online bullying. While his attackers in this instance did not remain anonymous, other people around the world have participated in such bullying without realizing the potential consequences that could result.

How does that one phrase go again? If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all? Maybe in this society, we’ll have to revise that to something more along the lines of: If you wouldn’t say it to them in person, don’t say it at all.

6. We should make more of an effort to cultivate and maintain relationships in such a way that these relationships do not have to depend on the accessibility and convenience of social media or technology (e.g., Facebook, text messaging, etc.).

Social awkwardness seems to have begun with the arrival on AOL Instant Messaging. Even though I complain about how socially awkward the younger generations are due to Facebook and text messaging, I remember a time when I spent loads of time talking to “friends” on AIM, saying things I probably wouldn’t have had the nerve to say in person. We’ve talked a lot about how technologies has desensitized us in certain ways, and in a lot of areas, it has desensitized our understanding of the value of friendships and relationships. It’s okay to wish your friends happy birthday on their Facebook wall now because sometimes it’s too awkward or painful to have a phone conversation. People don’t take time to write emails anymore, let alone actual letters to send by snail mail. And even though this doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t care less about that person, it does mean you’re beginning to take him/her for granted. Because our friends Facebook profiles are always accessible to us, we have this warped sense that we’re talking directly to them by writing on their wall at 1 in the morning. But texting and wall-writing are not adequate substitutes for forming and mainting relationships. We need to work hard to remember this.

Remember that thing about time being money? Well it is—but time also shows what you value. So take the time, and show friends you value them. Take, for example, Shirky’s observation of the daycare center who started charging a fine for parents who were late to pick up their children. The daycare workers thought this would encourage parents to be on time, but it essentially devalued the relationship between the workers and parents. Parents no longer felt obligated to do the right thing and pick up their children on time so the workers could go home. Money took away the parents’ guilt. This same mentality could be said about friendships that depend on online tools such as Twitter and Facebook. When you take away the face-to-face contact in a relationship, the nature of the dynamic changes. If you were planning on meeting a friend and realized you were going to be late, you’d send him/her a text and that’d be the end of it. There is rarely any guilt associated with it because, hey, I texted him right?

By not taking real time to talk to people outside a computer screen, we are showing them that we value them at a superficial level and only when it’s convenient for us.