Cover image for Digitopia : the look of the new digital you
Digitopia : the look of the new digital you
DeGrandpre, Richard J.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York :, [2001]

Physical Description:
xvi, 190 pages ; 22 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QA76.9.C66 D44 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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As psychologist Richard DeGrandpre spells out in this panoramic guide to the new digital culture, all is not necessarily well in our emerging digital dreamworld. As new technology abounds, we are becoming digitally mastered. In twenty-five provocative and original essays, DeGrandpre questions whether we have adequately considered the implications of a fully wired world, and finds that never in history has it been more true that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Author Notes

Richard DeGrandpre is a psychologist and independent science writer and has been published in a variety of both professional and popular publications.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

The advertising suggests that laptops and cell phones will give their users unadulterated freedom by letting them conduct business and trade stocks while sunning on the beach. But the ability to work or shop from home (or, even more insidiously, on vacation) means we are never free from the pressure to earn or spend money, observes DeGrandpre (Ritalin Nation). In this energetic book, he warns that new technologies will enslave rather than free us, and that the experience of being constantly "jacked in" keeps us dangerously alienated from the "here and now" and the mundane but often necessary experiences of everyday social interaction. Yet DeGrandpre does not indict laptops and DVDs per se; his target is what he calls the "digital ethos" our cultural consensus that faster is always better. For the many whose bodies and minds adapt all too easily to the rapid-fire changes in technological efficiency, he observes, there is a growing digital dependency. In effect, we become addicted to being hyperstimulated and constantly entertained. DeGrandpre's analysis of the generation gap between "wired" children and their "analog" parents is perhaps the most illuminating part of the book. At the same time, he cautions against the complacent fantasy that everyone else is a techno-slave while the reader is somehow free. While some of DeGrandpre's observations will be familiar to anyone who's ever sat on a crowded commuter train, last Christmas's lackluster techno-gadgets sales suggest that this book will find a sympathetic audience, though perhaps one more interested in the print edition than the electronic version. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Marshall McLuhan redefined the nature and influence of media when he declared in 1964 that the medium is the message. It's not what you're watching that's important, McLuhan told us, it's that you're watching. As visionary as McLuhan was of the electronic age, he could hardly have anticipated the meaning his message would have for us only four decades later, basking as we are today in the dawn of a digital age. Cyberspace and its World Wide Web, cell phones and other modes of wireless communication, new digital devices for music, video, video games, and television -- these are the portals through which we are entering a new digital age. As these new modes of experience suggest, going digital represents a revolutionary breakthrough in our capacity to extend, simulate, and re-create what was once the one and only reality. In doing so it opens up the possibility of our hypergliding down a path we have long been traveling, one that ends with both mind and matter downloaded into a virtual machine. Left unchecked, the ultimate irony of our unbridled attempt to master all of nature, save our own human nature, could be realized in the digital near future, where the only things left standing are a dead world exhausted of nature and one all-too-real virtual machine. The medium is the message more than ever before, for the digital information age promises a technological transformation of every aspect of reality, and us with it. When Bill Gates speaks of the coming digital world, I am confident that most people know what he means. The digital technology of mobile phones, DVDs, personal digital assistants (PDAs), digital TV (DTV), and Sony PlayStations is ubiquitous enough that the reader will have taken at least a peek into the digital future.2 The fact that you could be reading these words off a handheld illuminated screen speaks volumes about the changes currently taking place. Nevertheless, understanding that a digital age is in the making is very different from understanding the social and psychological implications of living in a digital age. This book stems from my belief that the meaning these changes will have for us is poorly understood today, and that gaining a greater understanding will require a critical questioning of some long and closely held assumptions. Not least of these is the assumption that life will be better in the emerging digital dreamworld. Looking at the new digital you, what we actually see is a worsening of various social and psychological symptoms and the appearance of a whole host of new ones. In no particular order, these include the substitution of an always more alluring surrogate reality for social reality; the decline in the ability of everyday reality to provide people's lives with rich and lasting meaning, which coincides with the emptying of reality; the collapse of time and space that comes from living at the speed of electricity; the shrinking attention span that comes from living in a world filled with the clutter and clamor of a 24/7 society; the unfulfilled desire that comes with living in one reality while having our desires cultivated in another; the proliferation of technologies that mediate our experience, such that social interactions that were already mediated are now filtered through additional layers of artificial intelligence; the epidemic of people falling to every occasion, with new wireless gadgets allowing us to indulge every impulse; and the loss of memory and self-unity that results from living on the surface of reality, feeding off sugar-coated bits of fleeting information. Rather than try to clarify each of these here, let me just give a few specifics to bring things into focus. As amazing as are inventions such as the Internet and wireless e-mail -- allowing you to travel the world with your fingertips and reconnect with long-lost friends and family members -- there is a darker side. Research has begun to show that jacking in to cyberspace is not necessarily going to help your overall social life, creating as it does in people greater feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression. There is also growing evidence that by adding additional portals to virtual reality, we are supporting a general abandonment of the social and ecological world. This means that even if you are happily plugged in, or you do not plug in at all, you may nevertheless suffer as mainstream society goes digital. Research also shows that the rise of the Internet and the proliferation of such things as digital cable have encouraged even greater passivity in people's lives, with America becoming a spectator nation. Pointing to this trend, public health researchers report that Americans experienced a dramatic rise in obesity in the 1990s, which led in turn to a significant increase in the most common form of diabetes. International epidemiological studies also suggest that the materialist ethos that drives our land of desire is making increasing numbers of people psychologically sick. As this has unfolded, many of us have gone from being reduced to consumers to being reduced to patients as well. This decline in mental health manifests itself in forms from depression to drug addiction (including alcohol addiction), to problems of hyperactivity and impulsivity (including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD), to problems of hostility and violence (for example, road rage and school violence), with drugs now appearing as panaceas for nearly every ailment from sexual dysfunction to social phobias. In all these categories, America is number one. This is the look of the new digital you -- the look of that free, unencumbered, wireless you, a you who wants not to be confronted with the here and now but rather distracted from it at all costs. In the old-fashioned, unplugged world, other people were extensions of ourselves, and we could not cope without them; in the emerging digital world, high technology is an extension of ourselves, and it seems we cannot cope without it. Having suggested these trends, I must add that these are mostly side effects and symptoms, and they do not reveal what is really taking place behind the digital curtain. In taking a look behind it, as we do here, the questions raised and the tentative answers provided suggest a number of unsettling conclusions about the future of the future and our place in it. Among these is the conclusion that the modern period -- modernity -- has in large part been defined by an accelerating flight from reality to virtuality, especially in America. By this I mean that people's lives have moved away from the immediate world of the here and now -- the unplugged world -- and toward a more abstracted, artificial reality -- the plugged-in world. The social philosopher Henri Lefebvre has described the result: "We are surrounded by emptiness, but it is an emptiness filled with signs." With the mind cultivated by the endless possibilities of a plugged-in reality, our lives have fallen into contradiction. We are increasingly torn between a fading reality that once provided lasting meaning and a digitally enhanced virtuality that reigns all powerful because it promises an escape from our growing sense of meaninglessness. With this abandonment well under way, the digital revolution marks an all-important shift from the modern to postmodern period -- from modernity to postmodernity. This period has only just begun, however, and we are no more prepared to anticipate the coming changes than were those who lived on the edge of another time, when the world went modern. More than anything else, the postmodern age will be a time when the very nature and meaning of reality fall into question, and us with them. Here we will see a further extraction of our lives from the slow and sensuous world of the here and now as we become fully interfaced with virtual worlds. We will also see a further blurring of what is natural versus what is artificial, as the capacity to take nature apart and rebuild it marches on. In short, we as a society are on the verge of stepping through to the other side of the looking glass, where the essence of nature -- human nature included -- is digitized into a data stream of zeroes and ones and downloaded into a virtual machine. The coming digital world that Bill Gates and others promise will take us to a time that has, literally, no place. The name of this placeless place is digitopia. Excerpted from Digitopia: The Look of the New Digital You by Richard J. DeGrandpre All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Part I. Going Digital
Introduction: some coming attractionsp. 3
Digitally Mastered: on the nature and meaning of all that is digitalp. 8
Four DNA Bases, Twenty-six Letters, a Zero, and a One: how code continues to take over the worldp. 14
The One and Only Reality: not appreciating what reality really is, we have squandered its substance and materialityp. 19
The Real and the True: how the academics' debate over objectivity and truth missed the pointp. 26
Surviving Survivor: how to survive when lost between virtual reality and real virtualityp. 31
Digital Mechanics: measuring the impact of the digital revolutionp. 36
Part II. The Long Journey Into Digitopia
A Short History of the Digital Self: first stripped naked, then jacked in, and soon to be downloadedp. 43
Unplugged Media: indigenous oral cultures and the first four selvesp. 49
Plugged-in Media: child of projection: the fifth selfp. 57
The Coming of Digital Age: cyberpunks and the sixth selfp. 63
Part III. The Psychology of the Digital Age
A Digital Ethos: just log on, jack in, and drop outp. 69
The Sad and Lonely World of Cyberspace: what psychological research can (and cannot) tell us about america onlinep. 75
Virtual Reality Shapes the Mind in Its Own Image: a psychological theory of why virtuality rulesp. 82
A Digital Virus: how the digital revolution feeds off a crippled social spherep. 87
Fight and Flight: instead of fighting for a better world, we're taking flight into virtualityp. 94
The Drama of the Digital Self: no more struggle between the will to power and the need for mutual recognitionp. 100
Digital Dreams, Concrete Realities: how the desires of the plugged-in world spill over into everyday lifep. 105
Feeling Oh, So Analog in an All-Too-Digital Age: why faster computers and better graphics will never be enoughp. 111
The Incredible Shrinking Attention Span: how you accommodate yourself to a distracted way of lifep. 117
Pharmacological Aid: on our way to digitopia, drugs have become prosthetics for a self under siegep. 123
Part IV. The Geography of Digitopia
Living in Timeless Time and Placeless Space: in search of place in the age of cyberspacep. 133
Constructing Digitopia: making our digital dreamworld a technological realityp. 140
Part V. The Future of the Future
The (Bill) Joys of Technology: fearing the future that already isp. 155
Our Fantastic Voyage: wild ride or technological tailspin: can we tell the difference?p. 164
Acknowledgmentsp. 171
Notesp. 173