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Computers, the Internet, and the Abdication of Consciousness

An Interview with Stephen Talbott
by Dolores Brien

The thrust of Stephen Talbott's deeply thought and deeply felt work is to awaken us from our psychological somnambulism vis à vis the technology which permeates our personal life and culture.

In his unsparing, probing book, The Future Does Not Compute, Transcending the Machines in Our Midst, (O'Reilly & Associates, 1995), Talbott begins with a question: "Can human ideals survive the Internet? His reply is only if we arouse ourselves to responsible consciousness. Focusing on the computer and the Internet as the dominant technologies of this time, he argues that they do not exist purely exterior to us. As creatures of our own making, they are actualizations of capabilities, certain tendencies, biases, desires and intentions-not all benign and at best one-sided-which are active in the human psyche. But we fail to see ourselves in them because, says Talbott, we have "abdicated consciousness." Unaware as we are, we seem not to care about the effect they are having on us and so will do nothing about it. Offering no or little resistance to its advance into our lives, we have adopted a passive, even fatalistic view of this technology in which we are embedded and upon which we are increasingly dependent.

We surrender ourselves to it, however, at a terrible cost, not the least of which i