David Rieff Thinks Critically About the Internet

The author says money not technology has weakened our ability to think critically.
  • Transcript


Question: Is technology killing critical thinking skills?

Rieff:    To me, it’s less about technology than about money.  I think that people fell in-love with money about 30 years ago.  And there was a lot more money… I mean, that’s what everyone forgets.  They didn’t just fall in-love with it because they were weak or wicked or… Indeed, they didn’t fall in-love with a period because they were weak or wicked.  Indeed, I don’t think people are… Just as I don’t think people are any smarter today than they were 200 years ago.  I don’t think they’re anymore vile today than they were 200 years ago.  So… But what I think happened was the potential for lots of people to make money.  Doing things in the past you couldn’t make money doing was profoundly corrupting.  And so, if you like a sort of “hollywoodization” of a spirit took place so that people wanted to do things that were money making.  My mother like living well but her idea wasn’t to… that what she would do would make a lot of money.  And there even economic… You know, when people of my mother’s generation came to New York, say, in the ‘50s, the end of the ‘50s in her case… But this was true from the 1920s through the end of the 1970s, I think.  You could live honorably.  That is to say you own an apartment.  It was a decent apartment in a decent neighborhood for not a lot of money.  You know, since the 1980s, in order to live in a great city like New York or London or Paris or LA, you pretty much have to have quite a lot of money.  Otherwise, you live 3 in an apartment or… and have a really terrible neighborhood.  And so, once you got that situation, once a dignified life on relatively small amounts of money became impossible and the possibility existed to make money if you join the kind of nexus of advertising and the media, the commercial media, well then it’s hardly humanly surprising when people went in that direction.  See, I think those issues… Maybe that’s just the vulgar materialist in me but I think those issues are much more critical… crucial, pardon me, to what happened over the last 30 years than some sort of, you know, shift in the [site crest doo doo], I don’t know, you know, people’s characters or whatever.  I mean, that strikes me as more essential.  Also, money… You know, this silly season of Wall Street, which we now… which has now ended.  George Soros said in an interview the other day… You know, I think the times of London that… You know, we’re never going back to the world of the last 25 years.  It’s not… I mean, of course, there’ll be an end to this recession or depression or whatever we want to call it.  But the idea that, you know, we’re going back to a world where markets only went up, where people, you know, seemed to have more disposable income every year where credit was promiscuously granted and promiscuously used, that’s over, he said.  And I… You know, that means that culture where someone who does video or writes novels can seriously imagine that she or he will also have the income of a, what we use to call a very rich person, now, will just be called the middle class person, that’s finished.  That’s over.  So I don’t know.  I’m not so sure that my mother’s way of being may not be more emblematic of the future than it was, maybe, of the last part of her own life.