The Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Carr wrote an article lamenting the lack of the Big Idea and extroverted inventions in this weekend’s edition of our national woe-rag. (At least, I suspect that’s what it will be until a Republican is elected president.) He said, "We're no longer changing the shape of the physical world or even of society. We are altering internal states, transforming the invisible self or its bodily container. Not surprisingly, when you step back and take a broad view, it often looks like stagnation—or decadence."
It is absolutely true that the big deals these days come from what seem to be small and perhaps even invisible ideas, whether it is the discovery of the Higgs Boson (or "God Particle"), the sale price of Instagram, or the spread of micro-social networks. We seem to be happy when we confirm what we knew, and connect with those we already know. There is also a fair amount of nostalgia at work, with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram recreating a kind of global Mayberry (RIP Andy Griffith, BTW), or Peyton Place, in which you know everybody and share the same aperçus over and over again. (Please tweet this blog. My Friends don’t always keep up with me.)
Carr thinks it is like Prozac—a way to numb us and keep us from progress. (Did you all enjoy the image on Facebook of ARCHITECT editor-in-chief Ned Cramer asleep at his summer retreat yesterday? I know I did.) I don’t think, though, that it is just a question of turning away from the outside world. I also don’t think it is all deadening and giving up. It is a question of the opening up of a new realm inside.
To a certain extent, this is the result of changes in the way we use time. I spend a great deal less time on the telephone these days (I used to wear a headset at work), and go to many fewer meetings. Instead, more and more, I sit in front of my computer or with my device on my lap, connecting virtually. My letters have become terse messages, and my research has moved from trudging to the library to browsing the upper right hand corner of a screen.