The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection

Decent book on the very real cultural shift that’s happening as we are forever wedded to our devices, never daydreaming, the concept of reverie falling by the wayside, busy busy busy. Harris describes my generation as being digital immigrants, having to adjust to the new realities, while younger folks are the digital natives who were born connected to the internet, never lacking answers at the click of a keyboard. The digital immigrants are the only ones able to identify what is missing, what life was like before and after. What are the consequences of this hyper-connectedness that create artificial relationships? Empathy has declined 40% over the last 30 years in a University of Michigan study (p 30). We are the last of the daydreamers. What effect will that have on our attention spans, our creations, our real quality of life? “We see more, yet our vision is blurred; we feel more things, yet we are numbed.” With the help of algorithms, the content you consume online is more personalized, confirming beliefs you already have, the “filter bubble.” This glorification of your own taste is detrimental to real learning, you’ll never encounter something that stretches your boundaries or challenges you. “Televisions and computers are crutches for your attention. And the more time you spend on those crutches, the less able you are to walk by yourself.” The obese brain rears its head – we can no longer afford to indulge the automatic desires of our brains for distraction.
Harris finds it difficult to read War and Peace, but then buckles down and focuses, removes himself to a wifi-free-zone of his house. “Any devoted reader knows how important it is to have a proper cave in which to commit the act.” Yet another data point against digital reading, eye-tracking studies confirm that “when we read online, we read in a cursory way, we scan for information, taking in 20% of the words on a web page, often far less.” Manguel on movement toward digital text:

For me the experience is one that is above all superficial. That is, the digital text has no physical reality for me. And it seems to require a certain urgency and speed, which is not what I look for when I’m reading. (p 16)

There are some chapters that seem unnecessary to the argument, existing mainly because Harris desires to go behind the scenes at hookup apps like Grindr and Manhunt. Overall a worthy read if you can overlook his subtly hostile tone toward women.