Beware the dehumanization process.


The world of environmental blogging has been dealt a blow which is hopefully only temporary and quickly reversible. Andy Revkin, author of the NY Times blog, Dot Earth, my buddy (he was on the panel discussion of “Sizzle” at the 2008 Woods Hole Film Festival premiere) and longtime hero in the blogosphere (where heroes are scarce) had a stroke last Friday. Initial indications seemed to be that it wasn’t a stroke, only advance warnings (blurred vision), but judging from his comments now, it sounds like the doctors have deemed it an actual stroke. Which has left him (at least for the time being) slowed down in typing speed, though he’s in good enough shape to answer a couple of my emails, which is a HUGE relief.

Let me just say a few words of appreciation. I quit blogging in 2008. Happily. Andy is a much greater man than I. Day after day he has operated like an event coordinator at a barroom brawl, standing up and saying, “Okay, folks, what do we think about this aspect of climate change — and could you please try to not throw chairs or bottles at your opponents.”

At times, both sides have tried to beat the holy hell out of him as he’s delved in to one facet after another of the climate mess and tried to walk a middle line of fairness and honesty. He really deserves an award for blogging courage. But he’s also in the past couple years occasionally questioned just how valuable and productive such blog discussions are, as he did in his post last Friday as he announced he would be taking a break.


By coincidence, there’s an excellent piece in this week’s New Yorker (when isn’t there?) about “digital pioneer,” Jaron Lanier in which he hits similar notes. He authored the book last year, “You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto,” in which he describes social networking sites Facebook and Twitter as “dehumanizing and designed to encourage shallow interactions.” Yep.

I love his quote in the article about Facebook’s new face-recognition software, “It’ll just create a more paranoid society with a fakey-fakey social life — much like what happened in communist countries, where people had a fake social life that the Stasi could see, and then this underground life.” Actually, I think that dynamic is already here for anyone with half a brain.


Also love what Lanier said to an audience last year during one of his talks. After asking the group ┬ánot to blog, text, or tweet during his talk (how old-fashioned — actually wanting people to listen!), he said, “If you listen first, and write later, then what you write will have had time to filter through your brain and you’ll be in what you say. This is what makes you exist. If you are only a reflector of information, are you really there?”

So good. So profound. So accurate. And so relevant to blogging.

One last quote from the article. “Unlike more Luddite critics, Lanier complains not that technology has taken over our lives, but that it has not given us enough back in return. In place of a banquet, we’ve been given a vending machine. “The thing about technology is that it’s making the world of information ever more dominant. And there’s so much loss in that. It really does feel as if we’ve sworn allegiance to a dwarf world rather than to a giant world.”

Humans, with their blind obsession with “progress”, need voices of criticism and leadership to keep things in check. For me personally, I honestly can’t believe I was raised on all the moral lessons of George Orwell’s “1984” only to watch our stupid world move year after year closer to the very picture he painted. What can you do? Just appreciate and support important voices like Lanier and Revkin.

Here’s to seeing Andy back up to speed soon.