Thoreau and Freud walk into a blog . . .
Today's post is from Fred Williams, who will be the other presenter, along with Bruce Arrigo, at the Symposium. He discusses his own concerns about technology and responds to Bruce's post, invoking Thoreau and Freud, and then brings up some thought provoking questions of his own.
In response to Bruce's admission that he's never blogged before, I'll admit my own limited involvement with social media -- and fairly serious distrust of the privacy and other social implications of them. I've rarely posted comments to blogs, preferring to send an email to the author. As a prosecutor, I had a role in some people having to wear an ankle bracelet as a part of their probation, and refused to wear the one my boss wanted me to wear (i.e. a cell phone). I still don't carry a cell phone, both because of the privacy issues (all your movements can be continuously tracked with it) and because I read and was influenced by Thoreau many many years ago on the human need for solitude and contemplation. Yet I've come to prefer the internet to libraries, and reading a book on my laptop because its easier -- and ethical -- to mark it up and take notes from the electronic version.
Social media, the Facebooks and Twitters of our brave new world, may well be both the replacements for the traditional newspaper and a fundamental facilitator of the Arab Spring and other movements which may improve democracy in some countries. Or not. Only time will tell whether some autocrats are pushed out and others grab power, and the actual, empirically verifiable, role of various technologies in whatever happens.
In response to his question of whether we relate to others "better" through these media, I'd contrast quotes from Thoreau and Freud:
"One would like to ask: is there, then, no positive gain in pleasure, no unequivocal increase in my feeling of happiness, if I can, as often as I please, hear the voice of a child of mine who is living hundreds of miles away or if I can learn in the shortest possible time after a friend has reached his destination that he has come through the long and difficult voyage unharmed?" Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, NY: Norton, 1961 (Strachey trans. & ed.), p. 35.
Whatever one thinks about the gains and losses, especially of emotional and cultural values, is there an inevitability to technological, social, cultural, and psychological change from modern communications? Could the Sumarians have stopped the changes which eliminated writing on clay tablets, no matter how deeply this affected their culture and the aesthetics of the traditional physical embodiment of ideas in their society? Think of the loss when beautiful hand written and illuminated books were replaced with ugly printed ones. But few could have access to culturally and economically significant information and ideas before printing.