Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thinking grooves

PS has an interesting post on how the quality of citations in a topic depends on how easy it is to search for papers in that topic. I've been reading something on related lines: I get the feeling that a large part of our thinking is driven by tools that are popular only because they win in a "fast time vs slow time" setting.

Stop Press: This Slate article on the Slow Photography movement tells everything you need to know about slow and fast time.

"Fast time vs Slow time" is a very interesting idea in Thomas Hylland Eriksen's Tyranny of the Moment (which I found via Shreevatsa).  It really does deserve an entire book, but the short gist is this: "Fast time" is the state of mind associated with instant gratification; you feel hungry, and the next instant you have a ready-made hamburger in front of you. You feel bored, and the next instant you have a truckload of information porn about news of the stock market  and purported explanations for every half-decimal change, which somehow satisfies the urge for information. Fast time is the frame of mind where one indulges in these transactions.

Slow time is an almost 'opposite' state of mind. It's a slow picnic meal where there's no hurry to go anywhere, and the food itself is something of great interest. It's a slow, reasoned conversation with no sense of hurry or depleting attention span or need to put thoughts into 140 characters or less; the kind which you will remember a week later.

One of Eriksen's main points is that when fast time meets slow time, fast time always wins. I think of it in a slightly different fashion: Suppose there are many ways to do something. They are all somewhat balanced in how 'hard' they all are, and each of them have their own unique advantages and disadvantages. Then, if a much 'easier' way to do the same thing comes up, all the old ways will be lost irrespective of their advantages. I think a lot of this is happening to us.

Consider the idea of doing a literature survey on Google. It's barely a decade since Google (and the Internet) acquired critical mass to give some results on queries. But now, just because Google exists, any other way of doing lit searches seems inordinately difficult and remote. I frankly don't know what to do if I didn't have some kind of electronic search for lit searches, and suspect most people don't, either. The other day, I saw some chap giving a very interesting lecture on the 'mood' in the Kannada cinema industry during the 70s. I don't have the first clue where to go read up on it, because Google gives nothing!

I seem to be implying that the presence of armchairs increases the number of armchair anarchists, and in general makes real anarchy appear "harder"; the presence of reddit and it's infinite nuggets of bite-sized tl;dr-ified information makes reading real books harder. Seems like a stretch?

No comments: