Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 221. Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London Hosted by King's Digital Lab www.dhhumanist.org Submit to: firstname.lastname@example.org  From: email@example.com Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.218: the psychoanalysis of everyday computing (96)  From: Mark Wolff
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.218: the psychoanalysis of everyday computing (84) -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: 2018-11-24 14:08:38+00:00 From: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.218: the psychoanalysis of everyday computing Francois Lachance has, I think, successfully pointed out the rhetorical issue with the precise phrasing of the passage in question. The writer has taken the convenient dichotomy of easy and hard, with built-in presumptions of relative merit. (Perhaps ironically, those he addresses have taken the opposite view, that easy is good or better than hard.) It is not difficult, however, to take the meaning of what he is saying rather than an overly analytical focus on the specific choice of words, and I think what he has said is essentially sound. (Replace the word "hard" with something more like "more challenging and the rewards greater.") I have often pointed out to my nephew, who tends all too often to take the easiest and most immediate route, that the easy road leads downhill, while the best views are more often to be found on the mountaintops than in the valleys. One may, of course, split hairs over this phrasing as well, but we should probably accept that all metaphors have limitations and that the idea being communicated is the thing on which to focus our attention. The internet is full of interesting information, and some of it is even true. (Determining which is which is the challenge.) There is, of course, a great deal of information that is not available on the internet, and there is a great difference between data, information and knowledge. Way back in 1995, when the internet was just beginning to capture the world in its web, Clifford Stoll wrote a book called Silicon Snake Oil. It was widely criticized at the time, in spite of Stoll's personal reputation as an astronomer and system administrator, and Stoll himself has referred to it as his "howler," at least in regard to many of his predictions (which is always a tricky business). Many of his concerns, however, have proven to be valid and insightful. (His writing, sadly, is not the best or most compelling in terms of organization or style.) I think of it often along with the early promises of what television would be. One by one, channels that did once provide a good deal of information have slipped into absurdities, such that the so-called History Channel is little more now than Pawn Stars, Ancient Aliens and the Curse of Oak Island ("could this soda bottle have been used by the knights templar?"). There will always be a greater market for extravagant and entertaining nonsense than for deeper thought and more analytical approaches. One might even say that this fate is preordained since the first is easier to produce and absorb and the second is harder on both counts (if also, ultimately, more worthwhile). As I often point out at work, Cassandra's curse was not that she was wrong in predicting bad outcomes, but that she was right and no one would listen to her because it isn't what they wanted to hear. Jeffrey A. Savoye The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore https://www.eapoe.org > Date: 2018-11-24 02:23:14+00:00 > From: Francois Lachance > Subject: [Correction Re: [Humanist] 32.215: the psychoanalysis of everyday computing] > > Willard > > The Bret Stephens piece quoted by Mark Wolff seems with is repetitive > sequences to be an enticing argument. > >>> Tweeting and trolling are easy. Mastering the arts of conversation and >>> measured debate is hard. Texting is easy. Writing a proper letter is >>> hard. >>> Looking stuff up on Google is easy. Knowing what to search for in the >>> first >>> place is hard. Having a thousand friends on Facebook is easy. >>> Maintaining six >>> or seven close adult friendships over the space of many years is hard. >>> Swiping >>> right on Tinder is easy. Finding love -- and staying in it -- is hard. > > But its logic is betrayed by an two assumptions that are not inductively > or deductively true: > > (1) X is easy, Y is hard therefore Y is better > > (2) Y takes longer and therefore is better > > I do not trust the dichotomies that are marshalled here. To tweet well is > an art of concision that takes practice. To text with any touch of > brilliance requires a knack for combining words that will tickle attention > -- providing connectors for conversation. Searching is often a race > against the algorithm pushing its own response which sacrifices precision > -- the art of searching depends on learning to bank on the aleatory. > Friendship is often nourished by acquaintance -- from those superficial > encounters I sometimes bring back tidbits to share with those I have a > deep and abiding relationship with -- like the posting to a discussion > list that led to my reading Stephens's opinion piece and my own little > rant here. > > And it has been easy (but not instantaneous). > > There I feel better now. > -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: 2018-11-25 00:05:35+00:00 From: Mark Wolff Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.218: the psychoanalysis of everyday computing On Nov 23, 2018, at 9:16 PM, Francois Lachance wrote: > I do not trust the dichotomies that are marshalled here [(1)X is easy, > Y is hard therefore Y is better; (2) Y takes longer > [than X] and therefore is better]. To tweet well is an art of > concision that takes practice. To text with any touch of brilliance > requires a knack for combining words that will tickle attention -- > providing connectors for conversation. Searching is often a race > against the algorithm pushing its own response which sacrifices > precision -- the art of searching depends on learning to bank on > the aleatory. Friendship is often nourished by acquaintance -- > from those superficial encounters I sometimes bring back tidbits > to share with those I have a deep and abiding relationship with -- > like the posting to a discussion list that led to my reading > Stephens's opinion piece and my own little rant here. No doubt there are brilliant users of Twitter, Google, and Facebook. You can learn a lot with these online media (myself included) and I try to teach my students how to use these media effectively and responsibly. But the question here is not if social media is worse than other forms of communication. This thread began with a question by Willard: > It has led me to wonder where and how computing in general, > and computationally aided enquiry specifically, fit into our > psychic lives and vice versa. […] I mean what is happening to > our ways of reasoning and to other cognitive processes through > the unguarded (if it is) back door. Would not a better understanding > of this help us understand so much more about what we computing > humanists are doing -- or not doing, and should? In the essay by Bret Stephens I cited (https://nyti.ms/2DrlFfV) he laments a decline in seriousness and effectiveness of public discourse: > [We] tend to forget that technology is only as good as the people > who use it. We want it to elevate us; we tend to degrade it. In a > better world, Twitter might have been a digital billboard of ideas > and conversation ennobling the public square. We’ve turned it into > the open cesspool of the American mind. Facebook was supposed to > serve as a platform for enhanced human interaction, not a tool for > the lonely to burrow more deeply into their own isolation. Stephens would agree with François Lachance that the technology alone is not the problem. After marshalling his dichotomies, Stephens makes this point: > That’s what Socrates (or Thamus) means when he deprecates the written > word: It gives us an out. It creates the illusion that we can remain > informed, and connected, even as we are spared the burdens of attentiveness, > presence of mind and memory. This is an ancient controversy, one that connects with Willard’s question about “what is happening to our ways of reasoning and to other cognitive processes”. Humanists continue to ponder the effects of the written word as a technology on reasoning and knowledge, and that inquiry should not jump to the conclusion that raising concerns about how social media create problems should not be taken seriously if it is possible (for some, at least) to use social media effectively and responsibly. Of course one can do marvelous things with online media. If everyone were drawn to the finest examples of online public discourse, the world would be much more enlightened. The example of Donald Trump on Twitter shows however that one can tweet with a "touch of brilliance,” demonstrate "a knack for combining words that will tickle attention -- providing connectors for conversation,” and still lead us to cesspools of bigotry and ignorance. Online media make it easier to say, think or do things one might not otherwise say, think or do. How is this situation no different than what Plato worried about, and how is it different? mw -- Mark B. Wolff, Ph.D. Professor of French Chair, Modern Languages One Hartwick Drive Hartwick College Oneonta, NY 13820 (607) 431-4615 http://markwolff.name/ _______________________________________________ Unsubscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted List posts to: email@example.com List info and archives at at: http://dhhumanist.org Listmember interface at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted/ Subscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/membership_form.php
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