Monday, April 11, 2011

Desperately seeking nothing of real importance

It's testament to Google's power that it's now a verb. We don't just search, we 'google' something.

Googling, like Facebooking, is ubiquitous. And with ubiquity often comes a fortune.  These businesses have made themselves rich by making themselves essential.  But essential for what?

I recently had a piece in the Canberra Times, 'Desperately seeking nothing of real importance'.  It looks into costs of these billion-dollar inventions - not in dollars, but in time and energy.

I'm a fan of the internet and its innovations, but sometimes our native impulses are waylaid by them.  A sample:
Every day, millions of us are... feverishly texting, checking emails, Facebooking, Twittering. Some of this is employment-related: tight deadlines, international timelines. But not all. There’s an intensity to our technology use, which is more reminiscent of a crisis than the banality of office work or lounge-room leisure: hastily-typed messages, frantic webpage clicks. The behaviour has an urgency to it – yet the situation is not really urgent.
Researcher Jaak Panksepp at the Washington State University calls this ‘seeking’ behaviour: foraging, sniffing, anticipating, craving. It’s something we share with other animals, and it has a primal urgency to it. But it’s not just about discovering food or a mate – we can get ‘seeky’ about concepts, impressions, connections. Panksepp refers to this as ‘the granddaddy of the systems,’ which motivates everything from hunting to science to sport. It’s a state we enjoy, which is more about anticipating than actually receiving reward. And it takes only a little novelty and challenge to encourage it: something new, curious, puzzling.
Modern technology is the perfect cue for seeking: a Google search triggers a thousand browsing clicks; a Facebook profile launches a tour of a hundred virtual friends. The same brain functions that push us to seek food, shelter or find vital information also sucks us into pointless digital play. We act like we’re in an emergency, but we’re actually crouched over a laptop or iPad, scratching for new hits.
(Photo: Erik Moller)

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