For your own sake, focus on this column. Don’t think about your Facebook feed or your inbox. Don’t click on the ad above or the links to the right. Don’t even click on links within the column.
Failing to focus — succumbing to digital distraction — can make you lose your mind, fears Nicholas Carr, author of the much-discussed book “The Shallows.” At least, it can make you lose little parts of your mind. The Internet, Carr suspects, “is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.”
He’s not alone in his fears. Since his book came out there have been lots of ruminations — including one or two or three in The Times alone — on whether online technology is friend or foe, good for our brains or bad.
But maybe the terms of the debate — good for us or bad for us? — are a sign that we’re missing the point. Maybe the essential thing about technological evolution is that it’s not about us. Maybe it’s about something bigger than us — maybe something big and wonderful, maybe something big and spooky, but in any event something really, really big.
Don’t let the title of Kelly’s book terrify you. He assures us that he doesn’t think technology is conscious — at least, not “at this point.” For now, he says, technology’s “mechanical wants are not carefully considered deliberations but rather leanings.”
So relax; apparently we have a few years before Keanu Reeves gets stuffed into a gooey pod by robotic overlords who use people as batteries. Still, it’s notable that, before Reeves played that role in “The Matrix,” the movie’s directors gave him a copy of Kelly’s earlier book, “Out of Control,” as preparation. And Kelly does say in “What Technology Wants” that technology is increasingly like “a very complex organism that often follows its own urges.”