Information Technology & The “Big Me” Excerpts from David Brook’s “Road to Character”

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Information technology has had three effects on the moral ecology that have inflated the Big Me Adam I side of our natures and diminished the humbler Adam II.

First, communications have become faster and busier. It is harder to attend to the soft, still voices that come from the depths.

Throughout human history, people have found that they are most aware of their depths when they are on retreats, during moments of separation and stillness, during moments of quiet communion.

They have found that they need time, long periods of stillness, before the external Adam quiets and the internal Adam can be heard. These moments of stillness and quiet are just more rare today. We reach for the smartphone.

2) Second, social media allow a more self-referential information environment.

People have more tools and occasions to construct a culture, a mental environment tailored specifically for themselves.

Modern information technology allows families to sit together in a room, each absorbed in a different show, movie, or game in the privacy of their own screen.

Instead of being a peripheral star in the mass-media world of the Ed Sullivan show, each individual can be the sun at the center of his or her own media solar system, creating a network of programs, apps, and pages oriented around their own needs. A Yahoo advertising campaign vowed, “Now the Internet has a personality—It’s You!” Earthlink’s slogan was “Earthlink revolves around you.”

3) Third, social media encourages a broadcasting personality. Our natural bent is to seek social approval and fear exclusion.

Social networking technology allows us to spend our time engaged in a hypercompetitive struggle for attention, for victories in the currency of “likes.”

People are given more occasions to be self-promoters, to embrace the characteristics of celebrity, to manage their own image, to Snapchat out their selfies in ways that they hope will impress and please the world.

This technology creates a culture in which people turn into little brand managers, using Facebook, Twitter, text messages, and Instagram to create a falsely upbeat, slightly overexuberant, external self that can be famous first in a small sphere and then, with luck, in a large one.

The manager of this self measures success by the flow of responses it gets. The social media maven spends his or her time creating a self-caricature, a much happier and more photogenic version of real life. People subtly start comparing themselves to other people’s highlight reels, and of course they feel inferior.

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