Can users of modern technology just say no, or are they slaves to the machine?
By Elizabeth Day THE GUARDIAN , LONDON 倫敦衛報
Wednesday, Nov 04, 2009, Page 9
2009年11 月4 日 (Taipei Time刊登)
It was when John Freeman started receiving more than 200 e-mails a day that he thought things needed to change. As one of the US’ pre-eminent literary critics, Freeman’s daily routine used to consist of going to a coffee shop in the morning to read and then returning home to write his reviews in the afternoon. But in his absence his inbox had swollen to unmanageable proportions.
當John Freeman 在一天之中收到超過兩百封電子郵件時，他開始思考改變的必要性。Freeman，一位美國卓越的文藝評論家，日常固定作息包含晨間至咖啡座閱讀，並於午後返家書寫他的索思。但在他外出離間，他的收件匣竟出現難以掌控的失序！
“It quickly destroyed my attention span,” Freeman said. “It was absurd. A friend visited from Kansas City, and we went to get a coffee. Forty-five minutes later, we came back to my apartment and I logged on to my computer. It took about two minutes for e-mail to download, marching down the screen like some sort of advancing army.”
“ 我的思緒瞬間瓦解！”Freema 說：“ 這很荒謬。我和一名從堪薩斯來拜訪的朋友去喝杯咖啡，四十五分鐘後我們返回我的公寓，回到電腦登錄上網。花了約兩分鐘的時間下載郵件，漸次收信的螢幕看來像某種形式的軍隊行進”。
“I had received 72 messages in less than an hour. At that point, I just felt there was no way anyone can keep up with this biologically. It seemed shocking to me no one had written anything critical about where this sprawling messagopolis was going,” he said.
至今年底 預計有18 百萬人使用推特。
To plug the gap, Freeman wrote The Tyranny of Email, an eloquent polemic about the state of modern communication that has just been published in the US.
According to Freeman, who is the new editor of Granta magazine and a former president of the National Book Critics Circle in the US, the modern tools of communication that are meant to connect us are actually driving us further apart. Instead of bringing us into closer contact with the global community, e-mail, instant messaging, texting and social networking sites all enforce the notion of what the French philosopher Guy Debord termed “the lonely crowd.”
根據 前美國 國家書評圈主席、現任葛瑞塔新主編Freeman表示，當今通訊工具看似使我們更易聯繫但實際上卻讓我們加深隔閡。電子郵件、即時通、發送簡訊、與社群網站都主張成為法國哲學家Guy Debord "孤寂社群” 的代號而非與全球共同體更親密。
Freeman argues that e-mail encourages us to eschew face-to-face conversations with friends or colleagues in favor of the terse and anonymous immediacy of a computer-driven exchange.
And as the usage of digital communication has increased exponentially, our efficiency has paradoxically declined: We spend so much time checking our inboxes or refreshing our Twitter pages that, Freeman said: “Our attention spans are fractured into a thousand tiny fragments.”
We are, it seems, a society in the grip of information overload. Last year in the UK we spent 537 percent more time on Facebook than in 2007 and sent approximately 40 text messages a month. By 2011, it is estimated, there will be 3.2 billion e-mail users worldwide.
我們似乎處在一個資訊超載的社會。去年在英國，我們花在臉書的時間比 2007年多537個百分比，且一個月發送大約40 封簡訊 。到2011年估計全世界有32億位郵件使用者。
Tom Stafford, a lecturer in psychology and cognitive science at Sheffield University, said users of modern technology are often driven by the same gambler’s instinct that motivates someone to play a slot machine.
“You never know when something is going to land in your inbox, so there is that tingle of excitement every time you check,” Stafford said. “There’s something about being in the process that’s really immersive. We’re engaged while it’s happening. It looks like it is convenient, but it’s not: you are distracted for the next half hour, asking yourself if someone has answered.”
“你無法確知將會收到何種郵件，所以每確認一次就感覺興奮的悸動，”Stafford 說。 我們沉浸在這驛動的過程，並融入其中。這看似便捷但並非如此 自問：若有人回應了， 你是否在下半個小時內感到意亂情迷。
Researchers at Loughborough University found that it took an average of 64 seconds for a person to recover their train of thought after interruption by e-mail: Those who check their e-mail every five minutes waste 8.5 hours a week in this way.
“There is no doubt that people use it as an avoidance tactic,” said Yoram Kalman, a post-doctoral researcher in online communication at the Open University of Israel. “The modern office worker works for an average of three minutes before an interruption occurs.”
“人們毫無疑問的用它來當迴避策略”一位在以色列開放大學做網路通訊博士後研究員Yoram Kalman 說：現代的上班族在中斷發生前平均工作三分鐘。
Kalman said that although we believe online and mobile technologies help us to get things done more efficiently, the mental impact lasts far longer than hitting the “send” button. Once we dispatch an e-mail, a text or an instant message into the ether, our minds go through a series of semi-conscious calculations about how soon the recipient will get back to us. We exist in a state of heightened anxiety until they reply, yet we could have got the answer by picking up the telephone or walking down the corridor to ask them in person.
“Face-to-face communication has always been a little awkward,” Freeman said. “How long do you hold eye contact? Where do you put your hands? Your breath might smell or you might have worn that sweater which makes your neck disappear. All this anxiety is erased over e-mail, but along with it we lose quite a lot of the awareness that there is another person there. There’s no body language or look of abject terror in someone’s eyes to slow us down when we’re about to blunder. So we type things we would never say in person.”
“面對面的溝通總是有點尷尬” Freeman 說：眼神應交流多久? 手應放在哪 ?
The popularity of modern forms of communication has also led to a decline in more traditional ways of keeping in touch. A 2005 study by the British government’s Department for Education and Skills found that a third of girls aged 16 to 19 had never written a letter, with the figure rising to more than half among boys. Current postal strikes bear testament to a mail service in decline: There has been a 10 percent annual fall in the number of letters and parcels delivered by Royal Mail, largely attributable to increased use of e-mail. Compare this with the Victorian era, when letter writing was both a form of entertainment and a necessary means of keeping in touch — Henry James had more than 1,000 correspondents, while William Makepeace Thackeray wrote 15 letters every morning.
在現代普及化的交流方式，也導致一些以傳統保持聯繫的方式式微。英國政府在2005年對教育與技能的一份研究中顯示，16 to 19歲的女孩有三分之一不曾寫過一封信，同類研究在男孩中數量則超過一半 現行的即時郵通方式打擊日益下滑的郵務服務系統。因電子郵件的日益使用，交付英國皇家郵政的信件和包裹的數量每年下降百分之十。
But there are less quantifiable effects. Psychiatrist Edward Hallowell said the stress of trying to process information as rapidly as it arrives is reducing us to quivering wrecks of indecision and demoralization. As e-mail becomes easier and quicker to use, we are finding it increasingly difficult to sift the relevant information.
Hallowell believes that the modern workplace, with its dependence on Internet discussion forums and reply-to-all e-mail circulars, induces an “attention deficit trait” that has been aggravated by the introduction of the BlackBerry, a gadget that ensures we now have continuous access to our inboxes and social networking feeds. In 2006 the Wall Street Journal coined the term “BlackBerry orphans” to denote the scores of children who felt neglected by their parents’ obsessive compulsion to check their electronic messages.
“It’s proved impossible to completely drop out of e-mail contact,” Freeman said. “It’s become fundamentally embedded in just about every kind of work, especially journalism. I think people should use it less, and try thinking of attention as an ecology worth preserving in small acts like writing a letter or a postcard.”
“The other big problem is that text is mutable. We might think we said what we meant, but there are so many ways to interpret language, and many forms of humor don’t translate well into text alone. So a huge percentage of e-mails are misunderstood,” he said.
While our intentions can be misinterpreted without face-to-face contact, there is also the broader danger that our over-reliance on technologies will have a negative impact on language itself.
Naomi Baron, a linguistics professor at American University in Washington, argues in her book Always On that instant messaging, mobile phones and blogs are magnifying the casual “whatever” attitude towards formal writing among the younger generation.
在華盛頓美國大學一個語言學教授納米貝隆，在她的著作Always On裡抱怨在年輕的世代，即時通訊、手機和博客其誇大的 “凡是都可”的隨性態度箝制了正式寫作。
Examination boards routinely report that “text speak ” has crept into school test papers. Whereas biographers or historians can draw upon a wealth of written archive material from previous centuries, there will be substantially less preserved for the future because so much of our cyberspace chatter is transient.
“By its very nature, e-mail or text is not a convivial medium of communication,” said Tom Hodgkinson, editor of the Idler magazine and author of How To Be Idle. “Something about it makes people communicate in an unsatisfactory way with bad grammar, bad spelling and bad punctuation, in mostly terse sentences. It makes you hurry.”
本質上，電子郵件或文本不是一個友善的通信界面，” Tom Hodgkinson說， Idler雜誌的編輯，和”如何閒置”的作者。在大部分精簡潔的句子中，夾雜著不良語法，不良的拼寫和錯誤的標點符號未盡如意的進行溝通。它催促你快點。“
Hodgkinson attempted to give up e-mail two years ago, but his resolve lasted just two weeks.
“It was just impossible when I was trying to edit a magazine,” he said, “but I have started writing my books first in longhand, with an ink pen, and then transferring it to a computer. I find that my thoughts flow much better that way.”
“Offices used to be very noisy and full of clatter. Now everybody sits in their own horrible bubble on Facebook instead of actually talking to each other,” he said.
Still, it is not all bad. Freeman acknowledges that there are “enormous benefits” to modern forms of communication.
“It’s made all kinds of work more convenient … people have a desperate need to be in touch. I’m just arguing that it needn’t always have to be at the speed that e-mail travels,” he said.
But Yoram Kalman sounds a cautionary note against using technology as a scapegoat.
“Usually, if you look behind the technology, you find culture, social behavior and you find people,” Kalman said. “Technology is neutral, it depends what you use it for.”
So perhaps, in the end, most of us want to be tyrannized.
“通常，如果你看看技術的背後，你會發現文化，社會行為，然後你會發現人性。”卡爾曼(Kalman) 說。 “技術是中立的， 這取決於你怎麼用它。也許，最後，我們大部分都希望被凌虐。 (尚未潤飾, 以上數據已有異動 請注意刊登時間)