11.0231 exteriorising mind, and the cybercafe

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Wed, 13 Aug 1997 21:27:18 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 231.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> (35)
Subject: exteriorising

[2] From: Lorna Hughes <Lorna.Hughes@nyu.edu> (36)
Subject: Re: 11.0225 European cybercafes

Date: Wed, 13 Aug 1997 13:47:11 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: exteriorising

Some argue that the development of our species is tied intimately to our
inventions, at least those which exteriorise our mental life. Thus the
written record exteriorises memory, even more so the computer, which can
give virtual substance to something like our processes of thought. The
degree to which we depend on our external environment for proper operation
of mind is suggested by the common trauma of moving from one culture to
another, and this (I am told) is exacerbated by a move that involves a
change of language. My own experience has been quite striking, especially
considering that British and N. American cultures are, as these things go,
quite similar. Temporary moves are not a good test, I would guess, not even
for a year or so, say on a sabbatical; it's the one-way trip that brings out
the deep relationship between mental functioning and one's environment.

Such experiences lead one to think about the arts of memory, but I raise the
matter here because it seems to me that there is much for us to think about
in the relation between our use of computers and the way we may be going as
a species. This sounds more than a bit over the top, but I think it's worth
entertaining as a possibility. Apocalyptic thoughts should, I suppose, be
taken cum grano salis, but seeds of great changes start off small.

What led me to recall the trauma of displacement was musing with a friend of
mine about how difficult it sometimes is to, as I put it, shrink back into
the physical body after sending my mind out into the world through the
Internet. The compelling thing is often not writing to this or that
particular individual, or accessing this or that Web site, rather it is
simply *being online*. Of course one has such experiences, or something very
much like them, when reading a good novel, say, but it seems to me that the
online world is much more a matter of the vehicle. We open a channel of
communication, and what turns out to be the most significant fact is the
open channel, not what comes through it.

Living like this, how can we not become rather different? But where is this
pushing us?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk

Date: Wed, 13 Aug 1997 12:02:15 -0400 (EDT)
From: Lorna Hughes <Lorna.Hughes@nyu.edu>
Subject: Re: 11.0225 European cybercafes

Jim and others,

Remember the days when we planned our trips abroad around museums,
galleries and concerts? Now it seems that when I'm in Europe I spend more
time working out how to access my e-mail than anything else. It is either a
symptom that this is truly an electronic age, at the cutting edge of
dynamic communications exchange we can't afford to miss, or a symptom that
I really need to get a life...

Anyway, I have had lots of adventures trying to access my e-mail when I'm
in Europe (but I'll spare you the grisly details).
However, my research has concluded that the cybercafe is truly a great
invention, where accessing your e-mail is as easy as grabbing a cup of
overpriced cappucino. Most major cities have such an establishment now,
and they are listed in most guide books (The "Rough Guide" series and the
"Time Out" guides generally list them). There is even a list of European
cybercafes on-line at http://www.xs4all.nl/~bertb/index.html

I've used Cyberia in London for the last couple of years, and I think it is
fairly typical of most of CyberCafes. They generally have a long wait for
computers at peak periods (lunchtimes and after work) so it is a good idea
to call ahead and schedule time on the computer. That way you can do a
little bit of sightseeing while waiting for your computer. They have Telnet
capability as well as Netscape on all their machines. And you can always
justify your presence in such places in anthropological terms - your
average cybercafe is truly the Rick's cafe of the 90's ("in the end, they
all come to the Cybercafe") - you have wandering scholars checking their
e-mail, students surfing the net, people doing business on the mobile phone
while accessing their ISP, illegal gambling (alright, I made up the last
Anyway, it is all good fun. I'm looking forward to my European trip already...


Lorna M. Hughes E-mail: Lorna.Hughes@NYU.EDU

Assistant Director for Humanities Computing Phone: (212) 998 3070
Academic Computing Facility Fax: (212) 995 4120
New York University
251 Mercer Street
New York, NY 10012-1185, USA

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