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Fata Morgana
2009-06-16 18:56
on lingering, time, and digital media
sociotechnical systems, technological determinism, technology
I recently encountered this passage in an online journal (ironic, given its content), and found that it stuck in my mind for days afterward. In the article as a whole, the author (somewhat snarkily) muses on what has become of attention and time in our digital world. Without veering into technological determinism, he addresses the fact that using digital media isn't just a matter of choosing to do so -- there is an element of compulsion, of "domestication," possibly even of a lack of discipline (which I know I'm guilty of at times). I've been thinking a lot about this recently, both in research and in my personal life, so perhaps it resonated with me because of that. Here are the opening two paragraphs (for those of us -- me included, usually -- who don't have the time to click through ;~)). I may want to find that Proust passage to include in my own research ...
The pages in Proust's long novel describing a first-ever telephone call are often admired for their rare sensitivity to the experience of a new technology. The narrator is speaking, across the miles of cable, to his grandmother. More than speak, he listens. The telephone separates previously united aspects of his grandmother—her voice and physical presence—and through isolating the voice reveals something that the narrator had missed in the flesh: "having [her voice] alone beside me, seen without the mask of her face, I noticed in it for the first time the sorrows that had cracked it in the course of a lifetime."

Proust's passage has no equivalent in any contemporary fiction I know when it comes to an account of a first email read, or first social networking profile posted. Even so, it can't tell us much about what we may really wish to know about technology: never mind losing your virginity—what is it like to live with someone? Proust seems to have recognized that domestication, as the technologists call it, was harder to describe than initiation. In a later volume, he refers in passing to the telephone as "a supernatural instrument before whose miracles we used to stand amazed, and which we now employ without giving it a thought, to summon our tailor or order an ice cream."
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2009-06-21 04:32 (UTC)
(no subject)

I just got back from Disneyworld, and if you are unconvinced that America has an obesity problem, you just gotta hang with the Mouse. We ate there on the meal plan (which gets you a sizeable discount, but also forces everyone in your room to be on the plan as well so you can't split meals). I found it immediately difficult to eat as much as I wanted and leave the rest. It's easy to pick at reasons why this was (the food was simple and sweet and fatty, I was jetlagged and overstimulated and the comfort food lifted me), but in truth it was hugely because I am a monkey responding to monkey cues put in place by an organization that specializes in monkey cuing. I wasn't angry at Disney Co. for cuing me (I went to Florida largely to be cued), but it did make me realize that people are animals first and reasoning creatures second.

The discussion of always-onness in your referenced post struck me as following a similar pattern. There is just so much on the internet, and it's not all hugely satisfying but it cues like mad, and we've designed it to appeal to our cues.

Some stuff doesn't work, just as some of the Disney rides and food fail. I find Facebook desperately uninteresting---I don't like a big cocktail party, I'm practiced and usually good with long-form storytelling, and so forth. Yet if I don't join the Facebook party, I miss things that happen in my social network, and my monkey-me needs to know that stuff as soon as it happens so I don't get blindsided.

LGGWG, in it's own way, is me trying to create an internet space I want to be part of. I want to play games when I'm online, and I don't want to play card games or Scrabble; I want to play war games and I want to play them with other people who love them too, and want to linger over a board table-talking.

But it cues like mad. I've thought about rate-limiting games so that it isn't too life-disrupting, but then I remember something my brother said about online game experiences (and he's an explorer there and tries everything)---you have to let people dose themselves; they know their limits.

And I just wrote this post rather than finish the book I was reading while in Disneyworld, a book I found quite compelling (despite being a somewhat cliche collection of fantasy tropes, it felt so rich and subtle compared to what I had done during the day). Why? Today is the first day in 6 I've finally had full access to the internet.

Interesting factoid: Although lots of people call each other on cell phones for location purposes in WDW, I saw almost no one surfing the web or otherwise entertaining themselves with their phones. I realized that the only people doing that were alone (in one case, riding a ride alone while texting intently whenever the ride got slow(!)), and almost no one who goes to a theme park goes with people he/she doesn't intend to talk to.
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