THE verb for my year in 2019 is “share.” I hope to make “reflect” my choice in the coming 2020.
The digital portal leaves nothing unchanged, not even a Luddite like me. A Luddite is a technophobe in contemporary times. The term was first used for early 19th-century British workers protesting their displacement by labor-saving industrial machines and shortcuts in safety procedures.
According to a March 2011 “Smithsonian Magazine” article by Richard Conniff, Ned Ludd was an apprentice in Leicester who, after he was reprimanded for producing shoddy textile on a weaving machine, chose to bludgeon the equipment.
From this act of rebellion was born a mythical leader known as Captain, General or King Ludd, who supposedly rallied workers clashing with capitalists and government troops to protest against machines causing widespread poverty and hunger among working families.
What does a more than 200-year-old failed protest have to do with my choice of Verb of the Year, an idiosyncratic practice I intend to shape the next 365 days?
As Conniff points out, Luddism endures because it symbolizes less a romanticized ideal of pretechnological life than an inducement to reflect on technology’s effects. From Thomas Carlyle’s essay in 1829 on the mechanical age, Conniff quotes how technology causes a “mighty change” in our “modes of thought and feeling. Men are grown mechanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand.”
Instead of content or the “message,” circulation is the real driver of online dissemination. Political and media theorist Jodi Dean argues that only the “addition to the pool” matters in communicative capitalism, with everything else being “irrelevant”: what it is all about, who sends it, who responds.
In the digital stream of data commodities, ready to be harvested and traded, the electronic act of “sharing” captures the hardening of minds and hearts. Do I recall the messages liked and shared in the year that was? In the neverending streaming, swiping and clicking replaces the human reflexes of pausing and reflecting.
Ironically, in the age where everyone leaves digital cookies for tracking and tracing, the extent and depth of digital engagement is a somber, anemic harvest.
So my choice to focus on the analog stems from this frustration that the ephemerality of digital engagement is embedded in my failure to sift, reflect, and write—activities that come spontaneously with the predigital activities of experiencing, relating face-to-face, even turning a physical page in a physical book and writing by hand in a journal.
Unlike “share,” “verb” is a word not yet co-opted by or transliterated in the digital platform. So is “reflect.”
December 29, 2019
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