A Few Philosophical Observations On The Digital Age

Have you checked in somewhere today? I’m guessing you haven’t. Five years ago, my Twitter feed was rife with people unlocking this badge and becoming Mayor of that coffee shop. Today, nothing. And so it wasn’t surprising to read VentureBeat’s coverage of Foursquare’s “controversial” relaunch – which, VB tells us, is "not looking good.”

Even more important than the decline of the check-in, though, is the fundamental question: Who cares? Aside from the founders. And the investors. And the staff. And the families of those three groups.

I understand that, to many of those people, the future of FourSquare is directly correlated with the levels of happiness or stress in their lives. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s a pretty small crowd. I’m guessing you’re not in it. So do you care? Is your life worse off because you are no longer a SuperUser, or because your friends no longer know your VIP status at Starbucks?



I read article after article on the state of the Internet. Story after repetitive story of rising stars turning into yesterday’s news, breathless coverage of capital raises for new social networks followed almost immediately by predictions of the demise of said networks. There comes a point where it all starts to seem a little -- forgive me -- ridiculous, like a word that you say over and over again until it completely loses its meaning.

Foursquare is in! Foursquare is out! Pinterest is in! Pinterest is out! Ello is inoutin out! The regularity with which we hear and recycle these stories is at odds with the urgent immediacy of the tone in which they are reported.

These stories contain another layer of dissonance: They adopt the position of reporting on a race, rather than on a continuous series of ever-unfolding stories. Despite all real-life evidence to the contrary, we still seem to believe in a Hollywood movie version of affairs, where there is a winner and a loser and things “end up” a certain kind of way. But nothing “ends up.” It only comes and goes at different speeds. Google will go, eventually. Facebook will go. They will be replaced by something new. We will, once again, be shocked and amazed and excited about the rise of the new thing and filled with schadenfreude about the fall of the old. And we will wonder, as we always do, how we ever survived without the new thing, and how we will ever survive without it.

We humans have a tendency to ascribe great importance to the stories in our lives. We seem to have a fixed internal inventory of importance to distribute, and we hand it out to whatever is in front of us. If the most dramatic thing that enters our consciousness is a story about Ello, we imagine that what happens with Ello is extremely dramatic.

Previously, in this column, I have suggested that it is our responsibility to combat this tendency by proactively consuming content of “greater” importance: Dave Girard’s heart-wrenching story of battling with depression, a report from The Guardian on how to build a fairer city, NASA’s recording of sound in outer space.

The implication, of course, is that those things are somehow “more” important. And perhaps they are, in some senses: They address bigger-picture concerns than whether people are still interested in checking in. But even these stories contain only the meaning with which we imbue them. Ultimately it comes down to a choice.

If, as Sartre says, all things are meaningless and purposeless, then nothing is important in and of itself. It is up to us to decide what is important, to create meaning and purpose. And, personally, I think we could do a better job than we’re doing now. But it’s up to you whether you think that matters.

1 comment about "A Few Philosophical Observations On The Digital Age".
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  1. Noah Wieder from SearchBug, Inc., October 31, 2014 at 3:39 p.m.

    Just like Windows became the OS for desktops for many, Google is theoretically the OS for the Internet for many. They are also not sitting still as a Search Engine. Innovation abounds at Google. I understand they treat employees well, and are pioneering self driving vehicles (the future) as well as many other technologies. The more they innovate and diversify, the longer they will thrive. I doubt we will see the demise of Google in our lifetime. The same I think can we said for Amazon. Started selling books, now look at them, they have become a manufacturer.

    Just as some people probably wondered if Hershey's or Johnson & Johnson could sustain, there are numerous century old companies.

    Innovation + great products and/or services + great customer service mixed with good corporate culture = business longevity.

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