There is no denying that electronic media has become an integral part of our contemporary culture in America. Music always plays in the background of public places, people are constantly on their cell phones checking online social media or Googling the answer to a question. The Internet and its technology have propelled us into an age of instant gratification. Maybe everyone can survive in this new era, but can only those with the skills necessary to use this technology thrive, or does it take more than electracy to make a modern man (or woman) successful?
What is Electracy?
Gregory Ulmer, a professor at the University of Florida, developed a theory of electracy that attempts to explain what skills are necessary to best achieve digital media literacy and utility potential. Ulmer says of digital media that this electracy “is being invented, not to replace religion and science (orality and literacy), but to supplement them with thought, practice, and identity, (Ulmer). Ulmer goes on to explain electracy and its connections with practical reasoning (the happy medium between pure and aesthetic reasoning) and the close associations with electracy and entertainment. Ulmer fancies electracy as a science of sorts that, as a form of practical reasoning:
- Is reasonable
- Is willing
- Is rational
- Is deductive
- Deals with right/wrong, and
- Is concerned with freedom,
all in the context of developing thought, practice, and identity in a digitized world. Nicholas Carr, a writer for The Atlantic and author of “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” would disagree with Ulmer’s assertions about the role of digital media in thought and identity development, and in fact argues the opposite. Carr writes about digital media’s effects on thought and identity, but he suggests that the result of so much digital media use is degeneration. He quotes Friedrich Neitzsche (a writer who bought a typewriter to use instead of the more traditional pen-and-paper), who said that “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” When Neitzsche switched to the new writing tool, a friend notices that his writing had changed (“…had become even tighter, more telegraphic”). If what sociologist Daniel Bell said about “taking on the [intellectual] technologies that we use [to extend our mental rather than physical capacities],” and those technologies that we are taking on, the worlds we engage in, are virtual – how can our identity then be tangible, much less authentic?
We rely so heavily on this virtual Net for information, but what guarantees do we have that the information is accurate, that the “net” will be there to catch us and is worth our trust? As we continue to rely on these technologies more heavily, do we sacrifice our identities and our personalities to the screen?
Think about it for a second – when was the last time you sat through a meal or an event or a reading for class without checking your Facebook or Twitter? Do you remember the last time you got lost in a book (the kind you hold in your hand with physical pages that must be turned – not an eBook)?
Carr notes the fact that deep reading, even for literary types, has become more difficult in this new media age. Scott Karp, Carr notes, who majored in literature in college, has stopped reading altogether because the web has altered his way of thinking and, thus, his ability to read. Carr likens information distribution on the Internet to an ocean. Those who were once divers in a sea of words now zip along the surface like someone on a jet ski. And if deep reading is inextricably linked to great thinking and it is the great thinkers that are known for helping society progress on the evolutionary scale, where will the Net takes us if it takes away our ability to think? Will we still be able to make progress, or will we be thrust out into an infinite frontier with no ties to help keep us grounded so we can keep our eyes set on destination progress?