Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Measuring your personal density

I read stuff.  Quality stuff, not the kind that the racist bully quotes from ;)

Even when the quality stuff is darn difficult to understand.  After all, if the world were easy to understand, then by now all of us would have known about everything there is to know, right?

One of the advantages in this approach of fumbling around in difficult essays is this: I find some wonderful ideas that make a whole lot of sense to me.  Makes the slogging worthwhile.

Like the following I came across in a lengthy essay in the NYRB:
When the smartphone brings messages, alerts, and notifications that invite instant responses—and induces anxiety if those messages fail to arrive—everyone’s sense of time changes, and attention that used to be focused more or less distantly on, say, tomorrow’s mail is concentrated in the present moment. In Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), an engineer named Kurt Mondaugen enunciates a law of human existence: “Personal density…is directly proportional to temporal bandwidth.” The narrator explains:
“Temporal bandwidth” is the width of your present, your now…. The more you dwell in the past and future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are.
I like how the author makes me understand with "attention that used to be focused more or less distantly on, say, tomorrow’s mail is concentrated in the present moment."  The past and the future seem to be getting obliterated with the emphasis on now.  And this dramatic and rapid transformation of the "temporal bandwidth" is seriously messing up our personae.

It is not the technology that is at fault.  The fault lies in us.  We humans can choose to use technological advancements in the manner in which it could/will strengthen us, instead of making us more vulnerable than ever before.
Every technological change that seems to threaten the integrity of the self also offers new ways to strengthen it.
Exactly!  If I were to use the "temporal bandwidth" language, I suppose the technology has made it possible for me to appreciate the past, even as I worry about the future, and appropriately think about the now.  The here and the now are not in terms of the smartphone's ability to deliver instant gratification, but in ways that help me gain inner strength.

One of my go-to-experts on such matters, Nicholas Carr, has also responded to this essay; he writes:
The intensification of communication, and the attendant flow of information, aids in the development of personal density, of inner density, but only up to a point. Then the effect reverses. One is so overwhelmed by the necessity of communication — a necessity that may well be felt as a form of pleasure — that there is no longer any time for the synthesis or consolidation needed to build density. Little adheres, less coheres. Personal density at this point becomes inversely proportional to informational density. The only way to deal with the expansion of informational bandwidth is to constrict one’s temporal bandwidth — to narrow the “Now.” We are not unbounded; tradeoffs must be made.
Yes, tradeoffs must be made about the now.  I hope I am making the right calls, at least once in a while.


Ramesh said...

No; you are not making the right tradeoffs. Because .....

You read stuff. Certainly. But your next sentence "Quality stuff" must be qualified with the words "mostly" and at summer time "occasionally".

What else can I say about a Nabokov reader :):) Hahahahahahah

Sriram Khé said...

You are going to have long summer reading my blog then ;)

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