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The Convivial Society, No. 5: Action
"In any case, we occupy a perplexing place, it seems to me, given the nature of the world constituted by digital media. By "world" I mean something like the interpretation of reality that we inhabit. It is within these worlds that our action derives motive force and intelligibility. Human beings have always shared the same earth, but we have lived in very different worlds.

The shape of our world in this sense is molded by a number of factors, some of which are felt by others and some which may be unique to us. Invariably, however, our technology and media come into play. They sustain the symbolic and conceptual infrastructure of our worlds. They nourish and constrain the imagination. They generate habits and patterns of thought. They not only supply the contents of thought, they condition what is thinkable. And our actions are meaningful within these worlds and the implicit narrative frames they provide for our lives.

It seems to me that one consequence of digital media is the proliferation of such worlds and the emergence of a public sphere in which these worlds become unavoidably entangled, for better and, very often, for worse. Under these conditions, our worlds fray and shear. Motivation is sapped, purpose depleted. Regrettably, one result of this is reactionary violence. But another result is nihilism. Another still is apathy or paralysis. Ironic detachment is yet another. This is just one way the conditions for meaningful action are undermined.

Action also requires a context in order to be intelligible and meaningful. It requires a time and a place. But we are alienated from both time and place, so we are often at loss as to what we are to do. This dynamic was already identified by Kierkegaard in the mid-nineteenth century as the telegraph contributed to the emergence of "the news" as we have come to know it: daily dispatches of happenings from around the globe.

Kierkegaard, in Hubert Dreyfus's summary, believed "the new massive distribution of desituated information was making every sort of information immediately available to anyone, thereby producing a desituated, detached spectator. Thus, the new power of the press to disseminate information to everyone in a nation led its readers to transcend their local, personal involvement . . . . Kierkegaard saw that the public sphere was destined to become a detached world in which everyone had an opinion about and commented on all public matters without needing any first-hand experience and without having or wanting any responsibility." Perhaps that very last line holds an important clue. Perhaps action demands responsibility and that is precisely what we are unwilling to take.

Hannah Arendt, too, had a great deal to say about action, which for her was a deeply political phenomenon in the sense that it was made possible by the plurality of the human condition. "Action, the only activity that goes on directly between men without the intermediary of things or matter," she wrote, "corresponds to the human condition of plurality … this plurality is specifically the condition — not only the conditio sine qua non, but the conditio per quam — of all political life." Action, as she noted, happened "without the intermediary of things or matter." She imagines, thus, the face-to-face encounter where action is speech and speech is action. It was through action that we disclosed ourselves before others and received in return the integrity of the self.

She distinguished between the private and the public realm, an ancient distinction, of course. The private realm was the realm of the family, the household. The public realm was the realm where individuals appeared before one another and where their words and their deeds counted for something. She also introduced a third category, the social realm. A more recent development, it was the realm of mass society. A realm of a diminished plurality that also entailed anonymity. Individuals are aggregated in the social realm, but they do not appear before one another and thus action, in her sense, was undermined.

Much of her analysis, it seems to me, can be applied to what has become the realm of our appearance: social media. It is where most of us turn to be seen and to make our mark, as it were. But we find that the technological intermediary that constitutes this space of our appearing works against us. The scale is all wrong. Rather than returning to us the gift of integrity, it amplifies our self-consciousness. It disassociates word and deed. It discourages responsibility. It tempts us to mistake performative gestures for action.

Arendt, however, was also the theorist of new beginnings, of natality, and with this I will bring these comments to a close: “But there remains also the truth that every end in history also contains a new beginning; this beginning is the promise, the only ‘message’ which the end can ever produce. Beginning, before it becomes a historical event, is the supreme capacity of man; politically, it is identical with man’s freedom. Initium ut esset homo creatus est– 'that a beginning be made man was created' said Augustine. This beginning is guaranteed by each new birth; it is indeed every man.”"
conviviality  lmsacasas  2018  tools  toolsforconvivilaity  zoominginandout  morality  purpose  reality  understanding  violence  digital  socialmedia  kierkegaard  apathy  hubertdreyfus  hannharendt  action  intgrity  self-consciousness  michaelsacasas 
june 2018 by robertogreco
Social Media and Loneliness | L.M. Sacasas
"In 1958, Hannah Arendt published The Human Condition in which she discussed the rise of the “social,” a realm she distinguished from the private and the public spheres. It was marked by anonymity. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, published in 1951, she argued that loneliness and isolation were the seedbeds of totalitarianism."



"In 1913, Willa Cather had one of her characters in O Pioneers! describe his life in the cities this way:
Freedom so often means that one isn’t needed anywhere. Here you are an individual, you have a background of your own, you would be missed. But off there in the cities there are thousands of rolling stones like me. We are all alike; we have no ties, we know nobody, we own nothing. When one of us dies, they scarcely know where to bury him. Our landlady and the delicatessen man are our mourners, and we leave nothing behind us but a frock-coat and a fiddle, or an easel, or a typewriter, or whatever tool we got our living by. All we have ever managed to do is to pay our rent, the exorbitant rent that one has to pay for a few square feet of space near the heart of things. We have no house, no place, no people of our own. We live in the streets, in the parks, in the theaters. We sit in restaurants and concert halls and look about at the hundreds of our own kind and shudder.


I could go on, but you get the point."



"I’ve never understood why we should be relieved when we read about a study which concludes that a majority of people do not experience some negative consequence of technology. What about the often sizable minority that does? Do they not matter?"



"Technological fixes rarely alleviate and often exasperate social disorders, especially those that involve the most deeply engrained desires of the human heart. We’re better off refusing to treat social media as a remedy for loneliness or even as a form of community. Chastened expectations may be the best way to use a tool without being used by the tool in turn."
lmsacasas  michaelsacasas  2018  socialmedia  loneliness  hannaharendt  technology  technosolutionism  willacather  social  cities  isolation  urban  urbanism  online  internet  web 
may 2018 by robertogreco
The Convivial Society, No. 4: Community
"More recently, however, I've come to think that community is a yuppie word. Let me explain. I'm borrowing the formulation from Bob Dylan, who, when asked if he was happy on the occasion of his 50th birthday, after a long pause responded, "these are yuppie words, happiness and unhappiness. It's not happiness or unhappiness, it's either blessed or unblessed." I suppose one either takes his meaning or not. It occurred to me that Dylan's sentiment worked well with how the word community tends to get thrown around, especially by someone with a new technology to sell. It's just another commodity or accoutrement of the self. 

There's another problem, too. I once heard someone observe that only sociologists talk about community. No one who is actually in a community calls it a community. They call it what it is: a synagogue, a family, a neighborhood, a school, a sorority, etc. Or you don't call it anything at all for the same reason that a fish wouldn't talk about water, the reality is too pervasive to notice and name. If it names anything at all, it names an absence, a felt need, and object of desire. Unfortunately, it might also be the sort of thing, like happiness, that will almost certainly not be found when one sets out deliberately to search for it. What we find, if we find anything at all, will probably not be exactly like what we hoped to discover. A pursuit of community in this manner is burdened with a self-consciousness that may undermine the possibility of achieving the desired state of affairs. On this score, social media does not exactly help. 

To express wariness of community talk, whatever its sources, is not, however, to dismiss the importance, indeed, the necessity of the thing we desire when we talk about community. That thing, let us call it Community with a capital in order to distinguish it, is vital and people suffer and die for the lack of it. At its best, Community sustains us and supplies the context for our flourishing in the fullness of our humanity. Apart from it we are less than what we could be. Community, in its most satisfying forms involves the whole person, including the body. It nurtures us as individuals precisely by directing our attention and our care outward toward those to whom we are bound. And bound is the right word. In a Community, we are bound by ties of obligation and responsibility. To be in a community is to have the self spun out into the world rather than in upon itself.

The question that remains is whether or not that thing we seek can be found online. Or, whether it is useful to think of Facebook, or any other social media platform, as a community. Consider, for example, that the root from which we derive our word community reminds us that a community is bound together by what the hold in common, by their common wealth. But what exactly do we hold in common with every other user of a social media platform? For that matter, what exactly do we hold in common with those who are our Friends or Followers? What is our common wealth?

I have no interest in the denying the obvious fact that genuine and valuable human interactions occur online and through Facebook everyday. I'm certain that some have found a measure of companionship, joy, and solace as a result of these interactions. But do these interactions amount to a community? Or, to put it another way, what definition of community is being assumed when Facebook is called a community?

It seems clear to me that connection does not imply the existence of community much less Community. It also seems clear that while we may speak of Facebook as a platform that can theoretically help support certain kinds of communities, it is meaningless to call the network as a whole a community. Moreover, if the only fellowship we knew was a fellowship mediated through a social network such as Facebook, then our experience would be impoverished. But I don't imagine that there are many people who explicitly and consciously choose to use Facebook as a substitute for fully embodied experiences of community.

There are also important questions to consider about how we are formed by our use of social media, given the design and architecture of the respective platforms, and what this does to our capacity to experience community on the platform or find Community beyond it. Chiefly, I'm thinking about how social media tends to turn our gaze inward. The platforms foreground for its users the experience of being a self that is always in the midst of performing for an audience, and at a consequential remove from the immediacy of a face-to-face encounter. Moreover, it seems to me that the experience of community ordinarily presumes a degree of self-forgetfulness. Self-forgetfulness is not something social media tends to encourage.

Belonging is a critical aspect of the most satisfying kind of community. But belonging is an interesting word. When we speak of belonging to a community, we ordinarily mean to say that we associate with the community, that we count ourselves among its members. We might also mean that we are at home in the community, that we belong in the sense that we are accepted. But the word also implies that we belong to the community in the sense that the community has a claim on us. I think this last sense of belonging is critical; the most satisfying and fulfilling experiences of community presuppose this kind of claim upon our lives and we will, ultimately, be better for it, but it is also the case that we tend to mightily resist such a claim because we value our autonomy too much. As is often the case, we haven't quite counted the cost of what we say we want. "
communities  community  lmsacasas  2018  facebook  socialmedia  online  web  internet  conviviality  ivanillich  self  happiness  unhappiness  boundedness  belonging  experience  self-forgetfulness  purpose  autonomy  michaelsacasas  amish 
may 2018 by robertogreco
Eight Theses Regarding Social Media | L.M. Sacasas
"1. Social media are the fidget spinners of the soul.

2. Each social media platform is a drug we self-prescribe and consume in order to regulate our emotional life, and we are constantly experimenting with the cocktail.

3. Law of Digital Relativity: Perception of space and time is relative to the digital density of the observer’s experience.

4. Affect overload is a more serious problem than information overload. The product of both is moral apathy and mental exhaustion.

5. While text and image flourish online, the psycho-dynamics of digital culture are most akin to those of oral cultures (per Walter Ong).

6. Just as the consumer economy was boundless in its power to commodify, so the attention economy is boundless in its power to render reality standing reserve for the project of identity construction/performance. The two processes, of course, are not unrelated.

7. In the attention economy, strategic silence is power. But, because of the above, it is also a deeply demanding practice of self-denial.

8. Virtue is self-forgetting. The structures of social media make it impossible to forget yourself."
michaelsacasas  2017  lmsacasas  socialmedia  virtue  forgetting  attention  attentioneconomy  economics  power  silence  self-denial  walterong  figeting  addiction  emotions  digitalrelativity  relativity  space  time  perception  experience  online  internet  affectoverload  apathy  exhaustion  infooverload  secondaryorality  oralcultures  images  text  commodification  identity  performance 
may 2017 by robertogreco
Do Artifacts Have Ethics? | The Frailest Thing
"Years ago, Langdon Winner famously asked, “Do artifacts have politics?” In the article that bears that title, Winner went on to argue that they most certainly do. We might also ask, “Do artifacts have ethics?” I would argue that they do indeed. The question is not whether technology has a moral dimension, the question is whether we recognize it or not. In fact, technology’s moral dimension is inescapable, layered, and multi-faceted.

When we do think about technology’s moral implications, we tend to think about what we do with a given technology. We might call this the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” approach to the ethics of technology. What matters most about a technology on this view is the use to which a technology is put. This is of course a valid consideration. A hammer may indeed be used to either build a house or bash someones head in. On this view, technology is morally neutral and the only morally relevant question is this: What will I do with this tool?

But is this really the only morally relevant question one could ask? For instance, pursuing the example of the hammer, might I not also ask how having the hammer in hand encourages me to perceive the world around me? Or, what feelings does having a hammer in hand arouse?

Below are a few other questions that we might ask in order to get at the wide-ranging “moral dimension” of our technologies. There are, of course, many others that we could ask, but this is a start.

1. What sort of person will the use of this technology make of me?
2. What habits will the use of this technology instill?
3. How will the use of this technology affect my experience of time?
4. How will the use of this technology affect my experience of place?
5. How will the use of this technology affect how I relate to other people?
6. How will the use of this technology affect how I relate to the world around me?
7. What practices will the use of this technology cultivate?
8. What practices will the use of this technology displace?
9. What will the use of this technology encourage me to notice?
10. What will the use of this technology encourage me to ignore?
11. What was required of other human beings so that I might be able to use this technology?
12. What was required of other creatures so that I might be able to use this technology?
13. What was required of the earth so that I might be able to use this technology?
14. Does the use of this technology bring me joy?
15. Does the use of this technology arouse anxiety?
16. How does this technology empower me? At whose expense?
17. What feelings does the use of this technology generate in me toward others?
18. Can I imagine living without this technology? Why, or why not?
19. How does this technology encourage me to allocate my time?
20. Could the resources used to acquire and use this technology be better deployed?
21. Does this technology automate or outsource labor or responsibilities that are morally essential?
22. What desires does the use of this technology generate?
23. What desires does the use of this technology dissipate?
24. What possibilities for action does this technology present? Is it good that these actions are now possible?
25. What possibilities for action does this technology foreclose? Is it good that these actions are no longer possible?
26. How does the use of this technology shape my vision of a good life?
27. What limits does the use of this technology impose upon me?
28. What limits does my use of this technology impose upon others?
29. What does my use of this technology require of others who would (or must) interact with me?
30. What assumptions about the world does the use of this technology tacitly encourage?
31. What knowledge has the use of this technology disclosed to me about myself?
32. What knowledge has the use of this technology disclosed to me about others? Is it good to have this knowledge?
33. What are the potential harms to myself, others, or the world that might result from my use of this technology?
34. Upon what systems, technical or human, does my use of this technology depend? Are these systems just?
35. Does my use of this technology encourage me to view others as a means to an end?
36. Does using this technology require me to think more or less?
37. What would the world be like if everyone used this technology exactly as I use it?
38. What risks will my use of this technology entail for others? Have they consented?
39. Can the consequences of my use of this technology be undone? Can I live with those consequences?
40. Does my use of this technology make it easier to live as if I had no responsibilities toward my neighbor?
41. Can I be held responsible for the actions which this technology empowers? Would I feel better if I couldn’t?"
artifacts  objects  ethics  technology  2014  morality  via:tealtan  limits  knowledge  responsibility  time  place  experience  habits  behavior  assumptions  michaelsacasas  culture  lmsacasas 
november 2014 by robertogreco
Louis C.K. Was Almost Right About Smartphones, Loneliness, Sadness, the Meaning of Life, and Everything | The Frailest Thing
"“I think these things are toxic, especially for kids …” That’s Louis C.K. talking about smartphones on Conan O’Brien last week. You’ve probably already seen the clip; it exploded online the next day. In the off-chance that you’ve not seen the clip yet, here it is. It’s just under five minutes, and it’s worth considering.

Let me tell you, briefly, what I appreciated about this bit, and then I’ll offer a modest refinement to Louis C.K.’s perspective.

Here are the two key insights I took away from the exchange. First, the whole thing about empathy. Cyberbullying is a big deal, at least it’s one of the realities of online experience that gets a lot of press. And before cyberbullying was a thing we worried about, we complained about the obnoxious and vile manner in which individuals spoke to one another on blogs and online forums. The anonymity of online discourse took a lot of the blame for all of this. A cryptic username, after all, allowed people to act badly with impunity.

I’m sure anonymity was a factor. That people are more likely too act badly when they can’t be caught is an insight at least as old as Plato’s ring of Gyges illustration. But, insofar as this kind of behavior has survived the personalization of the Internet experience, it would seem that the blame cannot be fixed entirely on anonymity.

This is where Louis C.K. offers us a slightly different, and I think better, angle that fills the picture out a bit. He frames the problem as a matter of embodiment. Obviously, people can be cruel to one another in each other’s presence. It happens all the time. The question is whether or not there is something about online experience that somehow heightens the propensity toward cruelty, meanness, rudeness, etc. Here’s how I would answer that question: It’s not that there is something intrinsic to the online experience that heightens the propensity to be cruel. It’s that the online experience unfolds in the absence of a considerable mitigating condition: embodied presence.

In Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, his unnamed protagonist, the whiskey priest, comes to the following realization: “When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity … that was a quality God’s image carried with it … when you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate.”

This is, I think, what Louis C.K. is getting at. We like to think of ourselves as rational actors who make our way through life by careful reasoning and logic. For better or for worse, this is almost certainly not the case. We constantly rely on all sorts of pre-cognitive or non-conscious or visceral operations. Most of these are grounded in our bodies and their perceptual equipment. When our bodies, and those magical mirror-neurons, are taken out of play, then the perceptual equipment that helps us act with a measure of empathy is also out of the picture, and then, it seems, cruelty proceeds with one less impediment.

The second insight I appreciated centered on the themes of loneliness and sadness. What Louis C.K. seems to be saying, in a way that still manages to be funny enough to bear, is that there’s something unavoidably sad about life and at the core of our being there is a profound emptiness. What’s more, it is when we are alone that we feel this sadness and recognize this emptiness. This is inextricably linked to what we might call the human condition, and the path to any kind of meaningful happiness is through this sadness and the loneliness that brings it on.



But the smartphone is not altogether irrelevant. It is part of a practice that is itself a manifestation of the problem. The problem is not the smartphone, it’s this thing we’re doing with the smartphone, which, in the past, we have also done with countless other things."
louisck  michaelsacasas  via:tealtan  2013  culture  digital  internet  behavior  empathy  commenting  alanjacobs  anonymity  blaisepascal  grahamgreene  cyberbullying  loneliness  sadness  humancondition  humans  human  happiness  web  online  meanness  rudeness  cruelty  smartphones  tolstoy  lmsacasas 
november 2013 by robertogreco

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