We Shape Our Tools, and Thereafter Our Tools Shape Us
In 1995, Harper’s hosted a forum between four technology writers to examine how the internet was changing us. Though it occasionally betrays its age, the conversation remains insightful and prescient about the communications revolution underway.
Sven Birkets: In living my own life, what seems most important to me is focus, a lack of distraction—an environment that engenders a sustained and growing awareness of place, and face-to-face interaction with other people. I’ve deemed these to be the primary integers of building and sustaining this self. I see this whole breaking wave, this incursion of technologies, as being in so many ways designed to pull me from that center of focus.
John Perry Barlow: There is something so beautiful about that vision. I don’t know that I could do it as elegantly, but if I were to describe my aspirations I wouldn’t use many different terms from the ones you just did. Nietzsche said that sin is that which separates. And I think that information, as it has been applied primarily by broadcast media, and to a great extent by large institutions, has separated human beings from the kind of interaction that we are having here in this room. There was a long period when I adhered to your point of view, which is that the only way to deal with the information revolution is to refuse it. … And what I finally concluded was that there were so many forces afoot that were in opposition to that way of life that the only way around technology was through it. I took faith in the idea that, on the other side of this info-desert we all seemed to be crossing, technology might restore what it was destroying. There’s a big difference be- tween information and experience. What you are talking about, Sven, is experience. That is the stuff of the soul. But if we’re going to get back into an experiential world that has substance and form and meaning, we’re going to have to go through information to get there.