Harmful efficiencies

by Rob Horning

12 August 2008


Noting a recent study by James A. Evans that suggests research conducted in the era of online publications has become shallower, Nicholas Carr makes this interesting point:

When the efficiency ethic moves from the realm of goods production to the realm of intellectual exploration, as it is doing with the Net, we shouldn’t be surprised to find a narrowing rather than a broadening of the field of study. Search engines, after all, are popularity engines that concentrate attention rather than expanding it, and, as Evans notes, efficiency amplifies our native laziness.

That’s efficiently expressed.

Carr pins the blame on the internet for fostering this move, but it seems to be a trend that consumerist innovations always have tended to reinforce. Consumerism relies on greater throughput of experience,  to assure perpetual growth. This means that a corresponding ideological shift necessary to persuade us that this acceleration in consumption is pleasurable. Hence, the marketing and media industries symbiotic fusion in our culture. Media transforms experiences, even thought itself—the ability to probe deeply into research questions, for example—into atomized products suitable for the logistical processing that has expanded the markets for other goods. At the same time it disperses this process to individuals as a model for how they should conceptualize their own experience. We learn that this reification of thought and experience is actually “convenience” or “efficiency” and therefore inherently good, as it will allows us to have (that is, after ideological distortion, to be and to do) more. And more is better less. Duh, everyone knows that.

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