Tag Archives: culture of distraction

Ray Bradbury passed away last week, leaving a legacy large and full of gems like this 2001 advice to writers. Care of Elise Hu, here is a snippet of a 2002 interview Bradbury did on NPR, portions of it unaired, relevant to our culture of distraction thread:

But if we finally correct this in our school system, what kind of student should we deliver to the world? A student who has wide ranging tastes — all kinds of literature, and basically, we should head in the direction of having young people read science fiction.

Why? Because we live in a science fiction time. The last century we invented flying, we perfected the railroad system, we made telephones available to everyone in our culture, and then we invented radio in 1922, and it began to dominate our culture. Then television came along in 1945. So we’re surrounded by all these devices.

We are a device oriented culture. So how can you not want to read about what these things are doing to you and to others and to the world?

And we invented atomic power in the middle 40s, and that became a Christian invention. Why do I say that? Because it prevented wars after the first big dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. After that we were able to back Russia down and make the wall in Berlin fall, all because of atomic power. All this being true, you can’t neglect it, you must write about it. And the mainstream writers of our time didn’t write about it. So they became very boring.

Young people graduating from high school should be curious about the impact of the fax machine, of the telephone, of atomic power. So you write stories for them. And during the last 20 years, science fiction has come into its proper place and is being taught in middle schools and high schools and colleges, because people are curious about a world where we promised to go to the moon, and we finally do.

Culture of Distraction

From the Hacker News discussion of my Silicon-Valley-is-destroying-the-world remark I came across a Joe Kraus talk on We’re Creating a Culture of Distraction. (I’m a huge fan of Joe and excited to see he’s on WordPress now.)

It’s also important to read Paul Graham’s Acceleration of Addictiveness where he compares addictive technology to alcohol and cigarettes, society developed “antibodies” to the danger of cigarettes, but it took about a hundred years, and technology is changing much faster than that now.

The most prescient here is Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, originally published in 1985. It’s long, but I’m going to quote the foreword in its entirety because it’s worth reading a few times over:

We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

Oh, and we just launched new comment push notifications for iPhone and iPad. It’s one of those days. ;)

Radically Simplified WordPress

Had an interesting chat with Anil Dash today at the GigaOM/PaidContent conference in NYC, here are some tweets from the talk:

If you’re curious about P2 check out p2theme.com where you can sign up pretty easily.

I learned this from the Complex interview with Young Guru. (Which they present in slideshow format, for some reason.)

A few very kind words from Jay Rosen:

And finally we talked about how WordPress is actually on its third or fourth pivot, as in the most important contributor to growth of the platform changes over time, which turned into this article which has been making the rounds:

WordPress was first for pure blogging, then became embraced as a CMS (though some people still deny this), is seeing growth and innovation in being used as an application platform (I think we’re about a third of the way through that), and just now starting to embrace social and mobile — the fourth phase of our evolution.

As with each of our previous transitions there are large, established, and seemingly unshakable competitors entrenched in the same space. This is good because we can learn from those that came before, as we always have, and good competitors drive you to be better. As before, people will probably not notice what we’re doing at first, or deny it’s happening as folks who still say WordPress “isn’t a CMS.”

Function reforms form, perpetually. As John Borthwick put beautifully today, “A tablet is an incredible device that you can put in front of babies or 95-year-olds and they know how to use it.” How we democratize publishing on that sort of platform will not and should not work like WordPress’ current dashboard does. It’s not a matter of a responsive stylesheet or incremental UX improvements, it’s re-imagining and radically simplifying what we currently do, thinking outside the box of wp-admin.

There are hints of this already happening in our iPhone and Android apps, but even though I’m thinking about this all the time I don’t have all the answers yet — that’s what makes it fun. WordPress is going to turn nine years old this Sunday and I’m as excited to wake up in the morning and work on it as I was the day we started. I think when we turn 10 in 2013 the ways people experience and publish with WordPress will be shorter, simpler, faster.

“Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries,” the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, “and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” He also famously remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

Pico Iyer on The Joy of Quiet.