‘Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?’ This is title of the famous Pop Art collage by English artist Richard Hamilton from 1956.
In it we see a body builder, a fashion model, a portrait of an unidentified Victorian man , a ‘young romance’ magazine cover, a hoover ad, a TV and a reel to reel tape recorder.
Hamilton’s image playfully mocks the way in which the saturation of media imagery influences the way we make our lifestyle choices.
Sixty years on, the satire looks fairly mild and humorous rather than disturbing. The world wide web has changed everything. TV and dumb magazine advertisements are the least of our worries.
Nowadays, with the information overload, our minds have become more nimble but the major drawback of all the online zapping is that we are rapidly becoming less capable of the kind of critical thinking that makes us unique individuals.
Nowadays, by the time kids reach 18 it is estimated that will have seen 500 hours of advertising spots while they will have spent just 5 thousand hours reading books.
Should we be concerned about this? Derrick de Kerckhove a Canadian born professor and disciple of Marshall McLuhan, thinks so.
The statistics about what he calls the “always-on hyperkids of today” are taken from de Kerckhove’s The Augmented Mind (40k, 2011).
In this short but cogently argued book he details how the rapid transformation of the digital world has re-wired our brains and fundamentally altered our behavior. One consequence of this is that “people are gradually delegating their capacity for imagining things on their own to processes that do their imagining for them”.
The internet is making people more curious yet, paradoxically, more passive too. We want to learn new stuff and be entertained at the same time.
Digital natives habitually think in images, not words, and having all the answers presented to us visually on a screen is very different from working out solutions for oneself in written texts.
De Kerkhove argues that a more active approach to learning is urgently needed: “The young person needs not only to inhabit the words and images, but to see herself as a performer of what she has learned, representing and owning the learning”.
He concludes: “People will keep control of their own lives and destinies as long as they keep reading”, a solution that is as logical as it is improbable. The fall in sales of physical books and the slow demise of public libraries proves that the lure of the regular ‘hit’ of e-knowledge is becoming dominant.
Online, we share, comment, seek followers and ‘friends’ to prove both we exist and are deserving of admiration. Richard Hamilton’s collage title could be therefore reframed for internet users as ‘Just what is it that makes me so different, so appealing?’
The answer, my friend, is floating in the Cloud ….. somewhere in Cyberspace.