This is a really interesting, wide-ranging interview with Reza Aslan. I’m just gonna get out of the way and let him talk:
I mean the truth is that there is a kid in Los Angeles right now that has more in common with a kid in Indonesia because they like the same music and the same movies, than either of them have in common with their own communities. So the very concept of society has shifted. This is one thing that I never get tired of talking about, that from the dawn of humanity the definition of society and community was geographically defined. Community means, who is around me; who’s next to me? That’s my community. Until twenty years ago. From when we started walking upright to about twenty years ago, that’s what society meant. And it doesn’t mean that anymore.…We were talking about this and it occurred to us that when we were in high school we didn’t have email. I completely forgot about this. We didn’t have email, and we didn’t have cell phones. So we were all sitting there, suddenly remembering that in order (because I had a very tight-knit group of friends in high school) to get in touch with each other we would have to call our parents. And we’d have to say, “Is Reza home?” I don’t remember it. As far as I know I’ve always had email and I’ve always had a cell phone. But to be confronted by that change is to become aware that we are living through this catastrophic global transformation.…My very good friend Eli Pariser—he’s writing a book, he created MoveOn. He’s writing this really fascinating book—and this part is not all that unique because it’s something that most tech people would say, is that when we were younger and the Internet was coming along, the excitement was that this would be a truly democratizing thing, this was going to be the technology that not just changed the way we communicate and the way we identify with each other, but it was going to democratize understanding, it was going to create so much access that knowledge would become second-hand. Everything you want to know is now available to you. And what we found over the last half-decade is the exact opposite has happened. What the Internet has done is it’s even more fractured people, it’s become the ultimate sounding board, you never ever have to be confronted by any opposing views for the rest of your life anymore.Guernica: We’re at a time that is very similar to the printing press being invented. I think about this all the time with my students: For a long time I would get on them, I mean, I still get on them in their essays about punctuation, but there are things students are doing with language right now that I was really upset about for a long time and then I thought, “But is it possible we are at a moment when a new language is being created?” And that is terrifying.Reza Aslan: I always love, if you ever read Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, he essentially created spelling. Before that you spelled things however you wanted to spell it, phonetically. And then Johnson wrote a dictionary and then that’s how it’s spelled, forever, all of a sudden. So I wonder if we’re sort of in a similar place like that where if I see text-speak or something, I won’t poke my eyes out with a hot iron, but then I think, Jesus, is this how everyone is going to be writing in a hundred years? And is there anything to be done about that or is it just the evolution of language?Guernica: And I’m also beginning to understand it. I used to get a text from someone and I’d have no idea what’s being said. But now I am beginning to understand the language. And that’s fascinating how at some point it goes beyond my choice even (if that makes sense).Reza Aslan: But, there will always be people like you and me to complain about this.