14.0335 wise-headed speculations

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Date: 10/10/00

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 335.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
       [1]   From:    lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)      (47)
             Subject: Re: 14.0325 Chomsky on the Internet
       [2]   From:    Arun-Kumar Tripathi <tripathi@statistik.uni-        (20)
             Subject: Professor Withrow's Speculation on the Future
             Date: Tue, 10 Oct 2000 07:05:03 +0100
             From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
             Subject: Re: 14.0325 Chomsky on the Internet
    Interesting, N. Chomsky's "intuitive" speculations on the nature of
    electronic communication posit conversation as the core criterium of
    success. However, the Internet is more than e-mail or conferencing. We
    could do well to remember its archival function. We could do even better
    to think of file transfer protocol as a mechanism that enables a flow of
    objects (taken in the anthropological and not strikly computing sense)
    along the lines of the research conducted by Mary Douglas.
    However, Chomsky has fetishised eye contact.  Even before the advent of
    telephony, there was a place for non face-to-face communication. I don't
    just mean the screen in the darkened cubicle of the Catholic confessional.
    To close one's eyes while in the embrace of a lover... The blind in
    Chomsky's world can never be whole. We are not what we behold. We are not
    what we perceive.
    If anything computer-mediated communication heightens a collective
    understanding that all communication is mediated which understanding, if I
    may say so, is the basis for the growth of healthy personalities (and a
    couple of morbid pathologies). Sloppy nostalgia does little directly
    to heighten understanding except remind us how easily we too may fall.
      > Question: What do you (Noam Chomsky) think about the Internet?
      > Answer (of Noam Chomsky): I think that there are good things about it, but
      > there are also aspects of it that concern and worry me. This is an
      > intuitive response--I can't prove it--but my feeling is that, since people
      > aren't Martians or robots, direct face-to-face contact is an extremely
      > important part of human life. It helps develop self-understanding and the
      > growth of a healthy personality. You just have a different relationship to
      > somebody when you are looking at them than you do when you're punching
      > away at a keyboard and some symbols come back. I suspect that extending
      > that form of abstract and remote relationship, instead of direct, personal
      > contact, is going to have unpleasant effects on what people are like. I
      > will diminish their humanity. I think.
    The type in the passage above is telling: "I will diminish their humanity
    [...]"  My humanity includes a place for Martian robots, the music of
    Patti Smith and the cries of Yoko Ono and the essays of a Paul de
    Man and the art of a Francis Bacon and such occidental cultural rituals as
    Halloween and Mardi Gras where both colourful and dull grey incarnations
    of Maritan robots might look without blinking a wannabe nominalist
    imperialist in the verbal eye to produce a syntagm of encounter. And the
    linguist, captivated by the look, just might not reflect the gaze back.
    A little coda inspired by With Martin Jay's opening to his _Downcast Eyes:
    The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought_
    (U of California Press, 1993).
    Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large
    Member of the Evelyn Letters Project
             Date: Tue, 10 Oct 2000 07:05:48 +0100
             From: Arun-Kumar Tripathi <tripathi@statistik.uni-dortmund.de>
             Subject: Professor Withrow's Speculation on the Future
    Greetings All,
    HI..below are some more thoughts and critics of Prof. Withrow, that I
    would like to share with all of you--
    It is great that we have the ability to reach out and touch people all
    around the world. I don't pretend to know what the end results will be, but
    it is exciting to be living and working in a world where the potential to
    somehow touch each of the six billion people of the world exists. I am
    accutely aware of the inequities and that at least a fourth of the world's
    population does not have access to a telephone or for that matter even
    seen a telephone.
    In the 1890s the most optomistic futurists thought that there might be one
    telephone in every USA village. It was inconcievable that the telephone
    companies would be advertising "family celphone." What the next century will
    bring is hard to guess. Kurzweil believes by 2020 we can have Mindprints,
    i.e. dump our brains into computers. Other futurists tell us it is not
    inconceivable that we will have direct brain to machine
    communications. It's a wonder future world. The challenge is for us to
    make the best of it and not squander it.
    Sincerely Yours
    Arun Tripathi

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