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79 Theses on Technology. For Disputation. | The Infernal Machine
"Alan Jacobs has written seventy-nine theses on technology for disputation. A disputation is an old technology, a formal technique of debate and argument that took shape in medieval universities in Paris, Bologna, and Oxford in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In its most general form, a disputation consisted of a thesis, a counter-thesis, and a string of arguments, usually buttressed by citations of Aristotle, Augustine, or the Bible.

But disputations were not just formal arguments. They were public performances that trained university students in how to seek and argue for the truth. They made demands on students and masters alike. Truth was hard won; it was to be found in multiple, sometimes conflicting traditions; it required one to give and recognize arguments; and, perhaps above all, it demanded an epistemic humility, an acknowledgment that truth was something sought, not something produced.

It is, then, in this spirit that Jacobs offers, tongue firmly in cheek, his seventy-nine theses on technology and what it means to inhabit a world formed by it. They are pithy, witty, ponderous, and full of life. And over the following weeks, we at the Infernal Machine will take Jacobs’ theses at his provocative best and dispute them. We’ll take three or four at a time and offer our own counter-theses in a spirit of generosity.

So here they are:

1. Everything begins with attention.

2. It is vital to ask, “What must I pay attention to?”

3. It is vital to ask, “What may I pay attention to?”

4. It is vital to ask, “What must I refuse attention to?”

5. To “pay” attention is not a metaphor: Attending to something is an economic exercise, an exchange with uncertain returns.

6. Attention is not an infinitely renewable resource; but it is partially renewable, if well-invested and properly cared for.

7. We should evaluate our investments of attention at least as carefully and critically as our investments of money.

8. Sir Francis Bacon provides a narrow and stringent model for what counts as attentiveness: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”

9. An essential question is, “What form of attention does this phenomenon require? That of reading or seeing? That of writing also? Or silence?”

10. Attentiveness must never be confused with the desire to mark or announce attentiveness. (“Can I learn to suffer/Without saying something ironic or funny/On suffering?”—Prospero, in Auden’s The Sea and the Mirror)

11. “Mindfulness” seems to many a valid response to the perils of incessant connectivity because it confines its recommendation to the cultivation of a mental stance without objects.

12. That is, mindfulness reduces mental health to a single, simple technique that delivers its user from the obligation to ask any awkward questions about what his or her mind is and is not attending to.

13. The only mindfulness worth cultivating will be teleological through and through.

14. Such mindfulness, and all other healthy forms of attention—healthy for oneself and for others—can only happen with the creation of and care for an attentional commons.

15. This will not be easy to do in a culture for which surveillance has become the normative form of care.

16. Simone Weil wrote that ‘Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity’; if so, then surveillance is the opposite of attention.

17. The primary battles on social media today are fought by two mutually surveilling armies: code fetishists and antinomians.

18. The intensity of those battles is increased by a failure by any of the parties to consider the importance of intimacy gradients.

19. “And weeping arises from sorrow, but sorrow also arises from weeping.”—Bertolt Brecht, writing about Twitter

20. We cannot understand the internet without perceiving its true status: The Internet is a failed state.

21. We cannot respond properly to that failed-state condition without realizing and avoiding the perils of seeing like a state.

22. If instead of thinking of the internet in statist terms we apply the logic of subsidiarity, we might be able to imagine the digital equivalent of a Mondragon cooperative.

23. The internet groans in travail as it awaits its José María Arizmendiarrieta."

[continues on]

[A collection of follow-ups and responses is accummulating here:
http://iasc-culture.org/THR/channels/Infernal_Machine/tag/79-theses-on-technology/

For example: “79 Theses on Technology: On Attention”
http://iasc-culture.org/THR/channels/Infernal_Machine/2015/03/79-theses-on-technology-on-attention/

And another round-up of responses:
http://text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com/2015/04/more-on-theses.html ]
alanjacobs  anthropology  culture  digital  history  technology  attention  dunning-krugereffect  anosognosia  pleasure  ethics  writing  howwewrite  jaronlanier  alextabattok  stupidity  logic  loki  cslewis  algorithms  akrasia  physical  patheticfallacy  hacking  hackers  kevinkelly  georgebernardshaw  agency  philosophy  tommccarthy  commenting  frankkermode  text  texts  community  communication  resistance  mindfulness  internet  online  web  josémaríaarizmendiarrieta  simonwiel  society  whauden  silence  attentiveness  textualist  chadwellmon  surveillance  2015 
april 2015 by robertogreco

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