Sunday, January 3, 2016

Revisiting the Map-Territory relation

A while back, I wrote a short bit on the map-territory relation with respect to our interactions with (digital) media. Soon after that, in February of 2014, I was invited to speak at Cafe Riche (the ‘Folisofiekafee’) in Church Square in Pretoria on the same subject. That lecture then became part of my second year teaching. To crystalize my thoughts on the subject I’ve written the following.
For the longest time, many people have thought that by splitting and dividing reality up into words and meanings, into messages and multiple interpretations, we are able to control the degree to which we are influenced by the world. In other words, many assume that by naming reality they have set up the co-ordinates according to which reality must function; by translating the experience of the truth into language, they assume that they have understood the truth itself. By naming things they have assuming that that have some control over the things themselves. But the truth is always stranger than fiction and reality is bigger than our obsession with naming. This must be the case, I suppose, for we have created fiction and various labels to suit ourselves.
I say this not to disregard the importance of fiction. In fact, I think that fiction must have its place, for it can help us to navigate the reality. Human beings have always tended to rely on stories to make sense of the world, to make it discernable, palatable and relatable. In fact, stories may even make life more livable. But in telling our stories, we need to be careful not to fall into the trap known as the narrative fallacy, which is the name given to the tendency we have to automatically read a story into things that are not narratives, as well as the tendency to assume that just because we understand a story aboutsomething we must actually understand the thing itself.
The story is not the reality, even though it is most definitely a part of reality. The fiction is part of the truth, but not the truth itself. The name is not the thing itself.
Nevertheless, fiction may not just be something we find in stories; that is, in myths, movies and tabloid newspapers, among other things. Rather, it seems that fiction is a symbol for anything that we invent and then consequently interact with. Fiction as a construction is just one medium amongst many others; it is something made, which then shapes the way that we interact with the world that we encounter.
That, of course, would be one definition of a medium. Another one would be, as Marshall McLuhan suggests, that a medium is any extension of ourselves or anything that introduces a new scale or pattern into our associations. For instance, clothing extends the skin and, as fashion has shown us, changes the way that we see and understand people, as well as (more functionally) what sort of weather we are willing to put up with. It is often said that the clothes make the man; and while this is literally false, it is metaphorically true. As another example, a bicycle extends our feet, and so changes the pace at which we live, as do motorbikes and cars and trains. The telephone extends our ears and mouths, and a cellphone builds on this by extending our eyes as well via a screen. And anything connected to the internet — to that massive neural network called the world wide web — extends our minds and our central nervous systems out into the world.
But, of course, while media are extensions of self, they are amputations too. Extend one thing and you’re likely to lose another. Extend your ears and mouth when talking on a cellphone and your ability to drive well is significantly diminished because it renders you somewhat disembodied. These same cellphones will connect us to almost anyone across the world while simultaneously preventing us from connecting with the person or people right where we are.
* * *
So, what do media do? The best way to see this is to try and see media without any content. That way we will see that media force us to rethink our world, not just in terms of encoding and decoding; that is, in terms of content and meaning (or language about the world we live in). Media primarily cause us to rethink our world in terms of context and environment. By rethink, I do not simply meanconceptualise. Media affect us beyond the level of concepts, at the very level of our interactions with the world. For example, the simple invention of an axe causes us to interact with trees differently. Thus we could say that media trump their messages; they bring about changes in the ways that we relate to the world and to each other by operating at a pre-conceptual level that often escapes our conscious awareness and our various ways of articulating our awareness through language (although, to be clear, language is also a medium that shapes our interactions with the world).
Since media intervene in the world as it appears to us, it is obvious that they are anything but inconsequential. This is something we find reflected upon even in a very well known story from Plato’sPhaedrus, which tells us about a conversation between the Egyptian god Thamus and an inventor named Theuth. When a very pleased Theuth shows a skeptical Thamus his brand-new invention of writing, he reports that this invention will make the Egyptians wiser than ever before, and will also give them better memories. Thamus is not convinced. He tells Theuth that this invention of writing will not improve memory at all; writing, to him, is merely a receipt for memory; it is, by analogy, a map to the territory of memory. And with regard to wisdom, Thamus continues, the inventor Theuth is even more mistaken, for writing will produce only a shallow semblance of wisdom — a virtual pseudo-wisdom of a kind that will only manage to mimic the real thing.
Before we side with either Thamus or Theuth, however, we need to recognize, as Neil Postman notes in his book Technopoly (1992), that they are both really one-eyed prophets, incapable of the kind of stereoscopic vision that we need to properly understand how best to interact with media. Theuth sees only the good of the medium, whereas Thamus sees only the bad. Media give and they take away. They are, to use mythological imagery, Trojan horses: gifts that steal. Of course, the gift is a gift (it is something added), but there is certainly some thievery here too (something is taken away). Mediaextend, but they also amputate.
Nevertheless, since most people tend to focus on the more illuminating and giving aspects of media, my aim here is to dwell awhile on the darker effects — the implicit and often unnoticed thievery of media. In particular, I want to look at the various consequences that arise when the map (the mediated construction as we consciously conceive of it) supplants the authority of the territory (the primary and holistic experience of things in reality). I want to look at what happens when the fiction (the content) intrudes a little too much into the reality (the context). How does this affect our debates, our psychologies, and our relationships with life and belief? What do we need to restore the broken relationship between mediation and holistic personal experience? While I won’t be able to solve every aspect of these riddles, I can at lest begin to suggest an outline for navigating the tension between the medium and the message.
A story about this issue can be particularly instructive. Once upon a time, an explorer left the safety of his homeland and went off to the Amazon jungle. For him the experience of this wild, untamed territory was quite beyond anything he had ever imaged and was certainly also beyond anything he could properly describe. So, on returning home, he decided to draw a map to show his kinsfolk how they too could experience something of the wonder that he had experienced.
As it turns out, the people loved the map. They made copies, put the original into a museum, and set up entire schools of thought to interpret the map and argue its significance. Debates were held to consider the different interpretive approaches — there were feminist interpretations and postcolonial interpretations, religious interpretations and irreligious contestations. But no one bothered to go out experience the Amazon jungle for himself, and the explorer was left wondering why he had drawn the map in the first place.
This story is echoed quite beautifully in Lana and Andy Wakowski’s movie The Matrix (1999)in which Neo, the primary protagonist, is confronted with the ways in which the map — the mediated world known as the Matrix (“the world that has been pulled over [his] eyes”) — may in fact be “blinding [him] from the truth” that he actually has no direct access to the real world at all. The truth is that he lives in a dreamscape created by a massive computer simulation. Everything he tastes, touches and smells is brought about by neurological stimulations that he is completely unaware of.
His mentor and guide Morpheus, named after the god of dreams in Greek mythology, speaks to him about this alarming fact as follows: “What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life — that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” What Neo feels is that his world has been thrown out of whack. His sense of wholeness and connectedness has been utterly disrupted by this simple fact: a map has replaced the actual territory. Morpheus has a good point: What is madness, after all, but the disconnection between the mind and reality? What is insanity but the firm and unshakeable belief that the fiction is the reality?
This same idea is toyed with in Christopher Nolan’s movie Inception (2010)in which the dream world (another map) has become so indistinguishable from the real world (the territory) that the audience is never quite sure whether the line that separates the two is even there at all. This is precisely what happens when the map replaces the territory: fiction is assumed to be truth.
Another example of this map-territory confusion, with a twist, is found in the fourth season of the old television series Blackadder IV. In one scene, General Melchett, accompanied by the awkward Captain Darling, wants to show off the progress of the British in World War 1 to a young officer named George. What follows is a brief snippet from the screenplay:
Melchett:         … Now let’s talk about something more jolly, shall we? Look, this is the amount of land we’ve recaptured since yesterday.
[Melchett and George move over to the map table.]
George:           Oh, excellent.
Melchett:       Erm, what is the actual scale of this map, Darling?
Darling:         Erm, one-to-one, Sir.
Melchett:       Come again?
Darling:       Er, the map is actually life-size, Sir. It’s superbly detailed. Look, look, there’s a little worm.
Melchett:     Oh, yes. So the actual amount of land retaken is?
[Darling whips out a tape measure and measures the table.]
Darling:       Excuse me, Sir. Seventeen square feet, Sir.
In this scene, Captain Darling points out that the map and the territory can, in fact, be the same thing. Indeed, in a hypermediated world like ours, it is very likely that the mediations and the reality can be taken to be very same thing. This is worth bearing in mind as we move forward. We’re not dealing with a clear split between media and reality, because any artificial split between mediations and reality would be just another construct (i.e. something further mediated). Rather, we’re dealing with therelationship between media and reality while bearing in mind that media are part of reality. Again, by analogy, the Matrix is part of the reality in The Matrix, and the dream is part of the reality in Inception.
Of course, having read a story about an Amazonian explorer or watched either or both of the above movies, or this the scene from Blackadder, we could justifiably proclaim that these stories are just silly. We would like to think that we are enlightened, after all; we empirical existentialists trust our senses and our sensibilities, and movies like The Matrix and Inception are just what they seem to be — clever fictions for an age of doubting Thomases. Choosing to be totally agnostic about the truth of world we live in is like choosing immobility as a means for transportation: it may be interesting for a little while, but it isn’t ultimately very practical or sustainable; it’s not really going to get us anywhere, right? However, keeping in mind that the dichotomy between mediation and reality is a constructed one, perhaps we need to think for a moment of some very obvious ways that the map can replace the territory in the very world that we live in. We need to consider how actual media obscure themselves as well as the rest of the territory that they are mediating.
One example of how a map can replace reality is found in parking pay stations. I can’t speak of the phenomenon with regard to the international stage, but you get these in every shopping mall in South Africa these days. Having spent your money and precious time in your very own consumerist paradise, you will walk to the exit to pay for the parking space that your car has taken up while you were off gallivanting. This is what parking pay stations are for: they mediate between you and the world outside the mall. You have to pay to be able to gain entrance into the non-consumerist landscape. How ironic. So you insert the parking ticket, you discover what you owe, and you pay. Simple enough.
Often, though, and rather annoyingly, the coin that you’re trying to give to the pay station doesn’t get taken up. Instead, it just falls through the machine into the change slot. You try again. The coin falls through again. So, because everyone else does it and because that just happens to be your last usable coin, you take it and rub it against the side of the machine. The idea, you guess, is that the friction will heat the coin up so that it will expand, making it ‘sticky’ enough to be grabbed by the machine. The only trouble is this: It doesn’t really work. There is, in a reality not mediated by the actions of imbeciles, absolutely no reasonable way that anyone can argue that rubbing a coin against the side of a parking pay station is helpful. If anything, rubbing a coin against the side of the pay station is just going to make things worse. The coin is actually shrinking as the friction does its work. In all likelihood, then, this action is just preventing the coin from being useful for pay stations in the future.
The gods of the shopping mall, as I like to call them, have had every opportunity to put notices up to explain just how moronic this coin-rubbing exercise is, but they tend to do something else instead. Often you will find so-called ‘scratch plates’ that have been put up onto the pay stations. With these scratch plates in place, the myth has replaced the facts. Now the coin-rubbing is positively welcomed. It doesn’t work at all, of course, but people choose to believe in it anyway. It’s a placebo without the return. It is analogous to slavery, albeit of a mental kind: work without pay, effort without the payoff. The fact that the coin happens to get taken up after you’ve rubbed it is an effect of the machine simply doing its job, not of any kind of coin-rubbing.
Still, scratch plates are a clear example of how the map can replace the territory within reality itself. This is not some weird alternative reality, but a very real example within the world we live in. You don’t need a virtual Matrix or dreamworld like the one in Inception to keep myths alive. The same thing goes for the close-door button in elevators. I’ve tested this out and it seems to me that there are some (although not all) close-door buttons that don’t actually work. They’re there to create the illusion of a causal relationship; the illusion that you have some part to play in the closing of the lift doors. In reality, the doors close in their own time, apart from our intervention. The map (the close-door button) replaces the reality (the lack of genuine influence).
But how does the map come to replace the reality in this way? It seems to me that you need three interrelated things: ignorance, forgetfulness, and habituation. Ignorance has already been illustrated in the above examples: there is a simple lack of knowledge and awareness about the Matrix or the dreamscape or the nature of parking pay stations. Ignorance is a sign of mental fatigue — a general lack of desire in people to properly examine the world that they live in, to see what they are actually looking at. Ignorance isn’t bliss, in my view; ignorance is irritating. Although all of us will always be ignorant ofsomething, it needs to be recognized that a lot of this ignorance is actually willful: it is a choice.
Secondly, there is forgetfulness, which is linked to ignorance in a way. Forgetfulness also leads us into a map-territory relationship dysfunction. Take, for example, the way that idioms are created. Today we know what it means when someone explains that it’s raining cats and dogs or when there isn’t enough room to swing a cat, but we have forgotten where these phrases come from. In these idioms, though, at least we still have a sense of what the meaning is. So the map may have replaced one reality; i.e. actual circumstances out of which the idiom arose, which involved dogs and cats sliding off roofs when heavy rain came or target practice involving cats. But, the map can still be helpful, albeit in a slightly obscure way, for guiding us in our engagements with another reality (the present moment).
Habituation also leads to a warped map-territory relation. In short, we get used to things. Another story is helpful in this regard. There was once an old monk who, whenever he was on the way to his evening prayers in the chapel, was always pestered by a stray cat that had recently adopted the monastery as its new home. So the monk found a way to lure the cat to some food in the monastery courtyard and then tie it (gently, and in keeping with animal welfare codes, of course) to a tree. Before you get too bogged down trying to imagine how he did this, just notice that his method is not the point of this story. Anyway, having tied the cat to the tree, the old monk was then free to pray in peace. When the monk died some years later, his disciples decided to follow his example. So they would, each of them, lure the cat into the monastery courtyard, tie it to a tree and then go off to the chapel to pray. Some time later, when the cat eventually died, the monks (now thinking that the act of feeding and tying up the cat was imbued with some deep liturgical and spiritual significance) then decided to get a new one. And so it carried on. The original act, we would do well to remember, was deeply sensible. What followed is deeply debatable. The process of having the map replace the territory here was a process of changing the meaning of the actions in question.
The same thing is seen in the famous five-monkey’s experiment. I’m not sure if it is true, but it works as an analogy anyway. Some scientists put five monkeys into a large cage. There in the cage was also an appealing-looking bunch of bananas hanging from the top of the cage, and a ladder that would allow the monkeys to get to the bananas. It did not take long before one of the monkeys spotted the bananas, and consequently began to climb the ladder. As he did this, however, the scientists sprayed all of the monkeys with a torrent of ice-cold water, leaving them all drenched and unhappy. Later, another monkey would try to go for the bananas, but the scientists kept on spraying those monkeys with that cold water until they all learned that the consequence to their banana-mongering was always going to be unpleasant.
Then, one of the monkeys would get replaced by a new monkey, who obviously did not know the drill. He would then go for the bananas almost immediately. The other monkeys, in a desperate attempt to prevent the blast of water that they ‘knew’ was coming, immediately grabbed the new guy and beat him up. The spray of water did not follow, so the monkeys must have assumed that their actions worked to stay the hands of the angry hosepipe. Then, another of the original monkeys would be replaced. He too would go for the bananas, only to receive the same treatment as the previous newcomer. What is most disturbing about this, though, is that the previous new guy joins in with the bullying. The same process of replacing one of the original monkeys with a rookie happened until all of the monkeys in the cage had utterly no understanding of what caused the other monkeys to be so terrified of the consequences of reaching for the bananas. They just did what they did because that is what was, it seems, always done.
The same sort of process happens, although arguably less violently, when we learn how to read and write. Initially, it’s really difficult work. The letters are terrifyingly alien and connecting such strange shapes with precise sounds seems, at first, to be a kind of insanity. But eventually the process becomes so easy that we don’t have to think about it at all. Mediations become invisible. And this is true for all media.
I got my first cellphone when I was twenty, and it seemed incredibly strange to have the possibility of sonic intrusions become permanent. Now, cellphones have become normal to me and to you. Those of you who have grown up with a cellphone in one hand and a dummy in the other would think the absence of a cellphone odd, not the presence of one. Not having a cellphone seems far weirder now than having one is. The strange becomes normal, and the normal becomes unfamiliar. The familiar becomes invisible. That is habituation.
Most of the above examples, if we are honest, are somewhat frivolous. Other examples exist that are much more serious. Various forms of bigotry and prejudice, for instance, would reflect how the map replaces the territory. Fundamentalisms of different kinds — religious, irreligious and nonreligious— may also fall into this same trap. Ideologies and hegemonies need to be noticed for what they are: negotiable pattern making systems. But, as far as I can tell, reality itself is a pattern challenging system. It makes itself known as that thing — that splinter in the mind — that tells us that our relationship with the world is imbalanced.
The territory is always calling the map into question.
* * *
What I want to focus on below, to conclude what has mostly been a very detached, ideas-focused reflection, is the way that digital mediations cause problems with the map-territory relation. Before I get there, though, I need to point out that the solution cannot involve any simplistic and misguided attempt to simply destroy the map completely. Even the Matrix trilogy suggests that such an eventuality would be detrimental; thus, the Matrix is not overcome but accommodated. Mediation is inevitable. In any case, destroying one form of mediation (one map) will always involve another form of mediation (another map). And the various maps we use — rhetorical theory, for instance, or hermeneutics, or more rigid methodologies such as scientific empiricism — do not necessarily involve the negation of other maps. If I, for instance, opt to write with a pen, I am not rejecting the possibility of using a computer to jot down my thoughts. Maps overlap and intertwine, because reality is relational.
Nevertheless, properly rethinking the map-territory relation with regard to media must involve properly diagnosing where we are now in this digitally mediated culture. I would suggest three dominant ways in which the map has come to replace the territory, although my diagnostic list is far from exhaustive.
* * *
  1. Interpassivity
The idea of interpassivity is nicely symbolised by America’s greatest contribution to Western Culture: canned laughter. Okay, that previous sentence is meant to be ironic, but let’s look at what canned laughter is. The basic idea is that when you’re watching television at the end of a long day, the inane sitcom in front of you may not be genuinely funny enough to make you laugh. So the producers of those shows include a “live studio audience” — how alive they are is, of course, debateable. The result is that you hear them laughing at the show you’re watching so that you don’t have to. They’re enjoying themselves so that you’re excused from participating.
Interpassivity is the corollary of interactivity. Media that involve our interactions automatically become interactive, thus increasing the way that two separate things — say, you and the computer — affect and influence each other. But the degree to which interaction is allowed may differ from medium to medium. When everything becomes instant (coffee, email, fast food, etc), the amount of action required from the participating subject is decreased. The subject becomes, in effect, inactive and thus passive.
Interpassivity is experienced through a number of media, of course, and not only through digital media. In universities, professors get to be intellectuals so that students don’t have to be; in electoral booths, people get to vote so that other people can make decisions for them on their behalf; and when you go for a job interview, your university certificate will represent your entire educational experience so that you don’t have to go through another three or four or five years to prove that you’re capable of doing the job that you’re applying for. On other matters, policies are made so that no one actually has to do anything. From these examples, I’m sure you can see that some interpassivity may be a good thing. But making interpassivity the norm is obviously hugely problematic.
Where interpassivity becomes most problematic, in my view, is in the relationship of belief and action. When action is divorced from belief, belief itself has been outsourced. If you say, for instance, that you do not believe in consumerism while you are drinking a McDonald’s milkshake, your belief has been outsourced to those who actually live as if they don’t believe in consumerism. If you say you believe in God, but act as if he does not exist, the same thing happens. Or if you do not believe in God, but act as if he does — well, that is a different issue, but it plays into the same territory: the ironic gesture separates action from belief.
In the world of Facebook, this consequence of interpassivity is found everywhere: you don’t, for instance, need to be an activist who actually changes things; now you can just ‘Like’ a Facebook status that is for/against an important issue and your ethical duty to the world is (so you think) done. This is called clicktivism or liketivism by some people. In fact, in the world of Facebook you don’t seem even need to be a real friend to anyone, because it ‘friends’ people on your behalf.
Then, think about the entire experience of globetrotting that you get through the internet. You also don’t have to go to Paris yourself, really, because you can use the internet to bring Paris to you, through images and videos and #jesuisCharlie hashtags. The whole rigmarole of organising the trip and stepping onto a plane, and so on, is easily done away with.
Interpassivity, as one of digital culture’s trends, suggests that convenience has become a dominant cultural value. Reading a book is so tedious and tiresome, for example, that summaries become essential for school kids and university students. Learning how to spell is so difficult that spell-checkers are relied upon a little too heavily. The examples are almost endless, but the point remains that the map (of media) has replaced the territory (of our own involvement in the world) by making it easy for us to just not get involved.
* * *
  1. Digiphrenia
                  The notion of digiphrenia comes from Duglas Rushkoff’s brilliant book Present shock, as do quite a few of the ideas belowObviously it references schizophrenia, which suggests a kind of mental illness where fantasies intrude into one’s interactions with reality, sometimes in the form of voices or other delusions. Schizophrenia tends to involve a lot of contradictory elements because the fantasy and the reality are always vying for attention, without always allowing for the possibility that reality should take priority.
Anyway, digiphrenia suggests a kind of ‘mental illness’ where a false sense of time intrudes into the natural rhythms of time as we experience it. Take our bodies, for instance. They have a kind of flow during the day, which involves moments of high alertness and moments of lethargy or sleep. I have heard it said that there are two kinds of people: those who love getting up in the morning and those who hate people who love getting up in the morning. The point is, everyone has a different relationship with time, which is in keeping with our material experience of reality.
So there is this natural biological time that we have embedded into our skin and bones, and then there is virtual time, which is what the digital world runs in/on. Virtual time is always on, always connected, always living and working at a pace that is literally unreal: The map (virtual time) has replaced the territory (real time). The digital clock blinks time to forces us into a kind of perpetual present-tense. Every time you get a notification — a Tweet, a beep, a text, an email, a phone call, etc. — the general expectation of virtual time is that you are or should be available. No matter if you want to sleep, or just take a break, or just put your cellphone away; digital time keeps demanding that you stay here now, now, now, now, and so on.
* * *
  1. Roboticisation and depresencing
Linked to this digiphrenia and its unfair demands on our time, is something we could call roboticisation, which demands that we dehumanise ourselves. This roboticism is linked to the fact that we are “always on”: a beep or a ring from our phone causes us to respond in a kind of automatic and unthinking mode. We start to live more reactively than actively (as in the problem noted above of interpassivity).
Moreover, I’ve already hinted at this above, but it’s worth highlighting: electronic media, from cellphones to the internet, create a kind of distance between us and our immediate world, and that includes our friends and family. We become depresenced: removed from our presence in our own world. Try spend time in blissful silence like you do in real life with someone over Skype. It can’t happen, because you’re not really there, are you? You’re somewhere else. Electronic media connect you to everywhere but where you are.
Just think of how relationships are treated in social media. On Facebook, you get ‘friended’ or you ‘unfriend’ with the click of a button. On Twitter, people get ‘followed’ and if that doesn’t remind you of stalking, then I’m not sure you’re paying attention. On LinkedIn, you can get connected to anyone, even those that you don’t know, because the assumption is that it is a ‘professional’ relationship, i.e. an impersonal relationship.
The world becomes a very abstract thing, and electronic media normalise this sense of removal and distance. We are left, as Sherry Turkle suggests from her research, alone together: there, but really not there at all.
* * *
All of this culminates in a general lack of awareness about what we are doing here. A while back Coca-Cola released an advertisement on the “social media guard” that openly mocked the way that digital technologies create barriers between people. And then, irony of ironies, the advertisement went viral. Of course, part of this irony is embedded in Coca-Cola’s legacy as the so-called “Real thing.” It is a drink that pretends to quench your thirst, but which just makes you thirstier. We are living, symbolically speaking, in the economy or ecology of the sugar rush; we have replaced genuine nutrition with sweets and genuine relationship with superficial interactions. The tragedy of this is that we are left, largely, thirstier, more detached from reality than ever, and even more desirous than ever.
What we need is what I am going to call an “evental reconfiguration of the map-territory relation.” Note that the word is evental (as in event), not eventual. We need an event or more than one event: something that happens to completely reconfigure our perceptions of everything and change our hegemonic vantage points. In other words, we need some kind of intervention that can bring about a sense of humility about the reach of media and a clearer perception of the ways that media act both additively and subtractively as extensions and amputation.
An event is that which calls into question the map, without calling for the need to discard it. To discard it is simply to replace it with another map. Remember that mediation is unavoidable. To understand what an event is, it helps to reference one of the Ancient Greek words for time that we do not really have an English equivalent for. That word is kairos, which roughly means the impact of a moment of time. We usually understand time in terms of chromos or chronology, but kairological time suggests that some moments are more powerful and more memorable. And this basic idea is what we need to be aiming for. When digital technologies, for instance, force us into the perpetual present, it helps to be reminded of the natural rhythms of life that happen outside of that construction.
In my view, two events (kairological moments) are particularly sorely needed. The one is silence, which has almost certainly become the rarest and most valuable commodity in a world of frantic rushing around. We need to learn to be alone without being lonely, and we need to learn to enjoy things without always wanting more. In fact, our always-wanting-more is the clear result of the fact that we have, to such a huge extent, lost the ability to enjoy things (Coke’s other slogan “Enjoy Coca-Cola” is, of course, an ironic plea for us to not enjoy anything: because desire is never really satisfied). If we do not learn to embrace silence, presence will be irrecoverable to us.
The second event is the event of the face of the other. The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas said that this was the starting point of all ethics: the direct encounter with the other as a unique and valuable human being. Recognition is the beginning of wisdom. The face of the other removes our desire to live at the level of the ideas and forces us back into concrete reality.
Does this mean we need to get rid of the digital or the electronic? Well, no. It means, quite simply, putting it back in its place: recovering a clear sense that it is really just a map, and the map is not the territory.

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