Digital overload (or, in praise of boredom)

I am currently reading ‘Reclaiming Conversation’ by Sherry Turkle.

 

This post is not a review of the book (I’m still reading it). I will simply reflect on some points which set the background of the book.

 

Reclaiming Conversation is an overview on the state of affairs for how young people who were born in a time when fast speed internet and social media were around before them, unlike myself where I saw its emergence. The state of communication for these young people (and their families) is a picture of a world that I somewhat recognise but not fully.

 

It seems that there is a generation who takes communication by messaging apps as a default, so much so that it is preferred over an actual face to face interaction. The default of digital affects the way in which such persons interact with the world, in making relationships and articulating their feelings and intentions.

I began reading this book, then I was moved by a suggestion in it that I stopped reading it for two weeks. Some of the subjects which Turkle has interviewed for her monograph had suggested taking deliberate time off from social media and being around their phones. The heightened state of being involved in a perpetual conversation wherein the reactions of all parties are known as quickly as a satellite can put through a message.

 

This is a social situation that I recognise in some part. In my working life, I make a point about either calling or having a face to face about an issue that is really important. For example, to apologise to someone or to explain a complicated situation.

When there are so many modes of communication and modes of expression presented, I do suspect there’s a distinct overload and a reduction of clear thought. In using such apps as a mode of communication, our way of interacting can also be predominantly defined by the confines and scope of the app. We now have terms such as ‘ghosting‘ (outright ignoring a person after a detailed interaction online) or even ‘breadcrumbing‘, which consists of holding a pretence of committing to social engagements but cancelling.

I must admit I’m guilty of the latter. There are so many apps which present so much choice. It is the perception of choice that seems to limit us.

Turkle refers to how the social media age has killed boredom. With our phones we are never bored. Turkle asserts that boredom that invites creativity, being outside of our familiar and our comfort zone enables us to perceive the world in a new way or at the least, invite such a new perception of the world. I was quite taken by this because in recent years I’ve found that I’ve never been bored. There’s always netflix if I can’t think of anything, or my many pet projects. One of the pet projects of mine was to read a book a week. At the time it was ‘Reclaiming conversation’ by Shelly Turkle. I decided to change things up. Starting with not reading the book anymore.

I have a regular routine of listening to a music playlist on Spotify whenever I am walking. I decided one day to stop. I felt anxious without my playlist and I felt distinctly less than myself without it. When I was without my  spotify playlist, I realised that much of my life was on rails, like a ‘rail shooter’ game where the path of the journey is predetermined and the player is given the impression that they are in control. They aren’t.

Without my music I began thinking. I thought about whatever came to my head. With my music in my ears, especially with songs I’ve listened to hundreds of times (my last.fm account attests), I don’t really think. My thoughts are mostly repetitive and do not stray to anything different with the same songs. Without music I thought in an unstructured way. I began also thinking about music. I began thinking about music that I don’t listen to anymore and began to revisit it. I also began to think about Music (captial M, meaning music I play).

 

I began whistling, humming, Glenn Goulding it up. Without my spotify playlist I began thinking about tunes, 3 and 4 part harmonies, piano parts, clarinet fingerings and more abstract things as harmonic progressions. I began improvising in my mind, combinging thoughts and feelings that I do not normally combined. I remembered what Boredom and idleness was.

Nietzsche once said that his best thoughts came through walking. Nietzsche wrote in an age before Samsung bluetooth earplugs that take phone conversations, play music and read your heart rate. I began seriously thinking about a life with less apps, and time away from interconnecting my soul to the world wide web and internet.

I’m trying to rethink how to be less attached to the nebulous control of the many apps, computers, accounts, household appliances and wearable things have on my sense of autonomy, on my sense of self and even my entitlement to live a life with boredom. I suppose it is my way of trying to be a luddite in the most purposeful way.

 

As I get older I begin to appreciate the actions of those Luddites, destroying the mechanical weaving machines. Those weaving machines were a germ of the bourgeoning automisation of work, which we still see today. Those mechanical weaving machines redefined a way of working life as it was once known.

 

Perhaps I am having my own Ned Ludd moment.

 

Being without my spotify and bluetooth earbuds inspired me to revisit my Beethoven practice.

 

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The end of the frontier

I keep apologising every time I post about the amount of time I’m away from the blog. I have been working in real life at a very engaging job in a news organisation. The greatest joy of it is that it has enabled me to focus my philosophical thoughts in an extremely acute manner by way of doing something completely different. Perhaps a paraphrase of the Nietzsche quote would be in order: some of my best thoughts have come from doing expenses claims.

 

A lot has happened in the past few months, in the past few years, and the past few decades. I’ve already in my absence become out of date and a relic of a distant internet past. The kind of generation who apparently pronounces .gif in the wrong way and who didn’t get the note that civility in politics and online is over.

 

I grew up on the internet and lived through the many fun things of blogging, cloud computing and APIs, but the abstract issues of the mid 2000s like the threat to privacy or giving away our freedoms by participating in the machine are no longer abstract, and as the landscape has changed, the questions have too.

 

If we were to use an analogy, the world wide web (ed: used interchangeably with internet) has moved on to a different age. I was a fan of the new atheist, so-called rationalists. I used to like Christopher Hitchens. After his death, I enlightened myself about his ‘women aren’t funny’ essay and took to distancing myself from the default male perspective of his work. The left-right distinction simultaneously seems more relevant than ever and at the same time is increasingly inaccurate. The coming US president (supposedly) promises a massive social spending programme for jobs, and yet did so on a Republican ticket. In the UK, the leader of the Opposition, out of fear of irrelevance, made a statement conceding that migration caps are a relevant feature of future national policy.

 

In the middle of it is a form of populism. I’m not sure whether the populist leaders fully understand what they are trying to be the apex of. I’m reminded of the oft-stated analogy that some commentators make (thank you Quentin Letts) that having a popular base could be like Robespierre at the French Revolution.

 

Kant had the foresight to be cautious about the new ‘democracy’ of the French. Aristotle thought seriously of democracy but acknowledged there was always the element of mob rule.

 

In this time more than ever, there is such a need for philosophy, and yet philosophy in the academies is eating itself alive. From university administrations to the internal conversation about the diversity and inclusivity (or lack of) of the organisation, clear thinking seems to be hijacked as a brand of rhetoric.

 

I want to think that philosophy should have the role of the distant critic. The agenda of the Frankfurt school has become more relevant than ever. That includes if you disagree with them. Culture in the English-speaking world has gone into a direction that is deeply frightening. It makes me wonder if the intellectual discourse will turn inwards in the way that Roman philosophy was not really interested in common philosophical issues of metaphysics or epistemology, but focussed on the Socratic notions of a live well lived and how to deal with difficulties in life.

 

Philosophy must not be a salve to the politically wounded. Nor should it be a catnip. Our critical voices and our critical thinking must call bullshit. But we must also understand as best we can the underlying issues.

 

Some issues of consideration should be:

 

  • How the famous individual cuts the pretence of the political
  • Active and passive consumption (revisited)
  • The importance of narrative (truth is secondary)
  • Culture has become politics
  • (Politics attempting to become cultural)
  • Appealing to ideals in public discourse: rights, ‘democratic’, ‘privacy’
  • How ‘mainstream’ became marginal

 

2017 marks the year in which Martin Luther wrote his ninety-five theses a half century ago. The implications of which changed the world. People to this day still think about the extent and power to which the rise of Protestantism had impacted on the world. I wonder if the increasing ease of communications and our capacity to express ourselves, and our discord with the world has also affected the order of society. I suspect our Luther moment has already happened, but we are seeing the earthquake of its impact unravel.

 

Quotes about anti-progressivism

I thought there was an interesting comparison between two things I have recently observed which I think very much sums up a certain cultural state of affairs going on right now. In Kameron Hurley’s Geek Feminist Revolution, Hurley briefly discusses the issue of diversity in cultural media such as scifi/fantasy novels, comics and television (i.e. geek stuff), and the reaction that the increased social representation of characters is some kind of ‘political correctness’ or politicisation which is unwarranted. Hurley’s essay ends with:

[…] in truth, the future that Gamergate and the sad and rabid puppies are arguing so vehemently against, is already here.

Kameron Hurley, Geek Feminist Revolution (2016)

By another contrast, filmmaker Michael Moore, in a recent UK press interview described a certain presidential candidate of 2016 to be the sound of the last dying dinosaurs, responding in an atavaristic fashion*.

 

*an interesting caveat, was that Michael Moore in his interview described the EU referendum as a senseless decision, like a premier league team voluntarily willing to be demoted. Of course, as we all know, we decided to be relegated…

 

M

BOULEZ EST MORT (1925-2016)

I found out about Boulez after a 12 hour day at work, which led to going to the gym afterwards, and then, an ill-advised decision to get some local takeaway. At that local takeaway the news happened to be on, and I found out that the great tower of classical music (or art music or modern classical or whatever its called now), had died.

 

Boulez was quite a notable composer. Dancing between the modernism of the serialists and the aleatronic avant-gardists. Boulez was a conductor as well as composer, which seems to be increasingly rare. Boulez was a classical composer in an increasingly changing world. Boulez represented for me that ever so receding (like a mature man’s hairline) link to the old classical (17th/18th century) past of the great composers.

 

I think the circumstances in which I found out about Boulez says a lot about the time we live in. But I am convinced that Boulez’s life is one of those accounts that will be remembered for centuries.

 

I thought I’d link to a few articles about Boulez while I have your attention.

  • Mark Brown from The Guardian has an obit here [its basically the law for me to refer to anything from the Guardian now]
  • Tim Page from the Washington post refers to a wonderful anecdote from Darius Milhaud (of les six)
  • Justin Davidson from Vulture notes how Boulez navigated through the conservatively musical trends of his time.
  • Andrew Clark from the FT hints at how Boulez may serve as a visionary for the future in a tradition of music obsessed with the past.
  • Paul Griffiths of the New Yorker highlights how Boulez seemed to be part of the very fabric of art music in the mid-century, name-checking the greats of Messiaen and Bernstein as if it were some superhero team up movie or Forrest Gump of music.
  • The BBC’s Front Row remember Boulez’s life with George Benjamin and Nicholas Kenyon.

The book as a work of art

I recently had the opportunity to read Roberto Calasso’s ‘The Art of the Publisher’ recently released by Penguin Books. It was quite nice to read something in a single sitting, instead of taking years to go from cover to cover (i.e. Aquinas, Gibbon).

There were two things that particularly jumped at me at a book that otherwise didn’t especially meet my general oeuvre of interests.

The first and main point. Calasso’s main thesis in his series of essays was that a Publisher’s opus should be considered as a unified artistic whole. That is to say, looking at the range of everything a publisher has put out. A good publisher, according to Calasso, is not necessarily a financially successful one. It’s probably more middling, just about breaking even, according to Calasso. The suggestion (this will lead to my second point) to me was that unsuccessful publishing houses can be the greatest of them all.

Why should a publisher be considered as a singular aesthetic unity? Well, it can be on the basis of the output of titles they have. We might consider if there is anything common between them, or contrasting between them. We can also consider the factors about a book that are unique to physical books (and not to e-books or newer forms of publishing through PDFs etc). The feeling of the paper, the cover art, the way in which we have a tactile and visual experience of a book.

I have a Cambridge Edition of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and the footnotes can sometimes be longer than the page, which is immensely useful for scholarly purposes compared to having endnotes. Likewise, the typesetting of the Antinomies of Pure Reason of having the thesis and antithesis displayed on the same page parallel to each other is an exciting masterful decision as a reading and exegetical experience. I am slightly convinced of the idea that a publishing house can be considered as an aesthetic unity. However I’m a little bit cautious of the cynicism that Calasso had on the issue of e-publishing.

My second point is a little one. In one of the most amazing throwaway comments, Calasso gives an example of Suhrkamp Verlag. A little German publishing house which has been liquidated recently in 2013. Suhrkamp apparently is considered as visionary to Calasso and (apparently) his contemporaries for their decision to publish the works of certain people who have inspired a whole genre of literature that we might now call: Critical Theory. They made a pittance but they committed themselves to publishing the works of those none other than Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno.

Despite the fact that most of my European literature comes from translations or audiobooks or even PDFs – I am convinced of Calasso’s point that we owe a great deal to the publisher as a gatekeeper of literature. Today I think of the likes of Verso or Zer0 books as a publishers today making bold decisions on works that should have a wider distribution.

Hello All,

So its been a long time since I’ve posted on here. Due to life being very busy and work being more prominent – I have been focussing on things other than philosophy. I am expressing myself these days through the more accessible and ‘easier’ medium of instagramming and tumblring.

I have an upcoming book review on O’Connor’s Adorno title from the Routledge Philosophers series (headed by B. Leiter, which also contains the very excellent ‘Kant’ by Paul Guyer in the series).

I have also gone into a small foray of reviewing music – particularly albums of the ‘extreme metal’ genres. I feel that writing about music and reading about music has taken more of my attention intellectually lately. I would hope that I can have the attention and intelligence to write about Kant and the sciences someday in the future.

Regards to any of you still reading this blog. I’m not dead yet.

M

The sweet life of social media (On modern Authenticity)

Lately I have found, in addition to using notebooks to express myself, I have found that words aren’t my preferred medium of expression right now. I don’t particularly have any deep thoughts about Kant or philosophy or culture but that is far from saying I’m not engaged in mental matters.. I’ve lately been really interested in Khanacademy’s maths courses and I am doing a few coding and API pet projects. Some of which I am interested in seeing the consequences or implications/applications of. I guess you can say I’m just tinkering a lot lately.

 

I’ve said in the past that I’m not a fan of social media, or I try to understand the new platforms around but not indulge in them so much. The blog is soo 2000s, and it reminds me a little bit of Barney Stinson’s character who used to say ‘haven’t you read my blog?’. Interestingly as the show How I Met Your Mother moved away from the 2000s, that recurring gag had less usage. Blogging is as established (and thus passe) as Facebook was once edgy and for cool insiders. I also have less and less time to blog anything particularly interesting, or anything I’m willing to air as an interesting thought.

I used to believe that platforms like twitter and tumblr were facile means of self expression to communicate things of very little depth. I still think that to a large extent. However I am tweeting a bit more and instagramming prolifically despite it. Perhaps this is my ‘kool aid moment’, or (to mix the metaphors) – joining the crowd cos I can’t beat ’em.

I try to communicate myself through instagram and twitter by capturing aspects of my life or things I am interested in or things that just capture what life is like in the present moment. For example, I share my interest in the comedic actor Matt Berry with an occaisional #mattberry accompanying a silly picture of his. I am cautious of the way that media platforms put forward a selective or aspirational version of self, which I consider a bit cynical or inauthentic. The way that I like to post things on instagram are to show things in the real world that I find funny. An example of this was that I was in a department store this week and I saw a brand of condoms which had a picture of a chicken (cock) with a helmet on, the allusion to protecting one’s cock being obvious. I also sometimes like to capture things that I see in my local community. Adverts for missing kittens is commonplace, another thing I sometimes capture is if I see a lot of cans of alcohol on a street corner, which I feel has an emotive impact on nearby residents about the state of the area they live in.

There are other things that I like to capture just as repeating motifs, I like to capture pictures of cows whenever I see it, which is an affectionate joke with a friend of mine. I like to take pictures of whenever I have some of my favourite foods or watch my favourite films. I’ve found that when I tweet or post something on facebook that I see people having different perceptions of me. I am portrayed as a unified individual to all people through twitter or IG, because anyone with internet connections can see who I am on those platforms. However the things that people may like or dislike on them reflect their perspectives of who I am. To illustrate, I find that a certain clique of my friends (intellectual liberal types) often ‘like’ whenever I post an article on some political topic that has their overarching point of view, while another group of friends really like when I post pictures of cats and/or yetis. The people that I follow and like to follow on social media reflect who I am as a person and my ‘brand identity’ – I am seemingly a cliched Guardian reader but I also like The Spectator and New Statesman; I like following fitness inspiration and body-positive people. I also really like following some of my former teachers and lecturers to see what kind of work they are doing. I am also a fan of Pusheen the Cat, who brings joy and happiness to all.

There is an odd kind of personhood and extension of mind that goes on with this odd social life. In meatspace it is expressed by a person constantly with their face to a phone screen, which I must unfortunately say is ubiquitous in today’s age. I’m not sure if I’m possibly portraying myself as more intereesting than I really am in social media. My aim through my blogging and instagramming is to show that I am in fact, very dull and boring in what I post and am interested in. That would be a very odd criterion of success, but a signifier of my actual social experience.Maybe I should post pictures of me playing about on my phone, which would acccurately depict my life through a mirror.