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Humanist Archives: Nov. 26, 2018, 6:26 a.m. Humanist 32.225 - the psychoanalysis of everyday computing

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 225.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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        Date: 2018-11-25 17:37:02+00:00
        From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.221: the psychoanalysis of everyday computing


Mark Wolff invites us to revisit Brett Stephens invocation of Plato's
imprecation of writing (all three ironically done through the medium of
writing). In this revisiting I find a kernel marked by the signified
"Americanness" : the open cesspool of the American mind. There is no
monopoly on cesspools. But I here quote Chris Hedges from a CBC interview
(reading from his America, The Farewell Tour) because I think it is
germane to view an other (American) example of the discourses of decline
which seem to  come with an obligatory jab at technology. Hedges rallies
"those who fight against cultural malice" and urges them to remember

[...] these acts of kindness like the nearly invisible strands of a
spider's web spin outward to connect our atomized and alienated  souls to
others. This belief held although we may never see empirical proof is
profoundly transformative. But know this, when these acts are carried out
on behalf of the oppressed and the demonized, when compassion defines the
core of our lives, when we understand that justice is a manifestation of
love, we are marginalized and condemned by our sociopathic elites. Those
who resist effectively in the years ahead may not be able to stem economic
decline, the mounting political dysfunction, the collapse of empire and
the ecological disasters but they will draw from acts of kindness and the
kindness of others, the strength and courage to endure. It will be from
these relationships, ones formed the way all genuine relationships form,
face to face, rather than electronically, that radical organizations will
rise from the ashes to resist.

Just what is different about face-to-face and online interaction? This is
the very question that Mark Wolff asks us to consider: How is this
situation no different than what Plato worried about, and how is it

I could repeat the synapse view of the relations of the computer-mediated
to the in-person communication: sparks jumps the gaps between the social
and electronic networks. Instead I want to raise a consideration of a
triplet-at-play in our reading tradition stemming from Plato where writing
stands in for technology. We have three elements at play: seduction,
memory, writing.

Memory mediates between the other two and serves as the ground for
adjudication. It is with memory that we judge the fitness of the writing
and the goodness of the seduction. The question as to whether writing
damages memory is often the starting point of discussions. This is in
effect a move that lands us in media res -- right smack in the middle of a
narrative of decline. Trying to keep the seduction-memory-writing in mind
as a circuit problematizes any narrative be it of triumphant technology or
social decadence.

Seduction seems to be perennially under theorized. I would suggest that
there is an art to being seduced as much as there is to seducing (being a
good guest as much as being a good host). Plato via Socrates puts a
premium on seduction as a means of education, if I recall correctly.

For those interested in the Hedges, he reads the excerpt transcribed above
at at 52.07 minutes in

He reads it beautifully. I was almost seduced until that bit about the
"rather than electronically". It marks an exclusion which harbours in my
mind some return of the repressed. Psychopathology?

>         Date: 2018-11-25 00:05:35+00:00
>         From: Mark Wolff 

> In the essay by Bret Stephens I cited (https://nyti.ms/2DrlFfV)
> he laments a decline in seriousness and effectiveness of public discourse:
>> [We] tend to forget that technology is only as good as the people
>> who use it. We want it to elevate us; we tend to degrade it. In a
>> better world, Twitter might have been a digital billboard of ideas
>> and conversation ennobling the public square. We've turned it into
>> the open cesspool of the American mind. Facebook was supposed to
>> serve as a platform for enhanced human interaction, not a tool for
>> the lonely to burrow more deeply into their own isolation.
> Stephens would agree with Fran├žois Lachance that the technology
> alone is not the problem. After marshalling his dichotomies, Stephens
> makes this point:
>> That's what Socrates (or Thamus) means when he deprecates the written
>> word: It gives us an out. It creates the illusion that we can remain
>> informed, and connected, even as we are spared the burdens of
>> attentiveness,
>> presence of mind and memory.
> This is an ancient controversy, [...]

> Online media make it easier to say, think or do things one might not
> otherwise say, think or do. How is this situation no different than
> what Plato worried about, and how is it different?

Francois Lachance

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