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The digital murder of the Gutenberg mind

Evolution_of_the_Book_Gutenberg

Here’s a double dose of dystopian cheer to accompany a warm and sunny Monday afternoon (or at least that’s the weather here in Central Texas).

First, Adam Kirsch, writing for The New Republic, in a piece dated May 2:

Everyone who ever swore to cling to typewriters, record players, and letters now uses word processors, iPods, and e-mail. There is no room for Bartlebys in the twenty-first century, and if a few still exist they are scorned. (Bartleby himself was scorned, which was the whole point of his preferring not to.) Extend this logic from physical technology to intellectual technology, and it seems almost like common sense to say that if we are not all digital humanists now, we will be in a few years. As the authors of Digital_Humanities write, with perfect confidence in the inexorability — and the desirability — of their goals, “the 8-page essay and the 25-page research paper will have to make room for the game design, the multi-player narrative, the video mash-up, the online exhibit and other new forms and formats as pedagogical exercises.”

. . . The best thing that the humanities could do at this moment, then, is not to embrace the momentum of the digital, the tech tsunami, but to resist it and to critique it. This is not Luddism; it is intellectual responsibility. Is it actually true that reading online is an adequate substitute for reading on paper? If not, perhaps we should not be concentrating on digitizing our books but on preserving and circulating them more effectively. Are images able to do the work of a complex discourse? If not, and reasoning is irreducibly linguistic, then it would be a grave mistake to move writing away from the center of a humanities education.

. . . The posture of skepticism is a wearisome one for the humanities, now perhaps more than ever, when technology is so confident and culture is so self-suspicious. It is no wonder that some humanists are tempted to throw off the traditional burden and infuse the humanities with the material resources and the militant confidence of the digital. The danger is that they will wake up one morning to find that they have sold their birthright for a mess of apps.

MORE: “The False Promise of the Digital Humanities

Second, Will Self, writing for The Guardian, in a piece also dated May 2:

The literary novel as an art work and a narrative art form central to our culture is indeed dying before our eyes. Let me refine my terms: I do not mean narrative prose fiction tout court is dying — the kidult boywizardsroman and the soft sadomasochistic porn fantasy are clearly in rude good health. And nor do I mean that serious novels will either cease to be written or read. But what is already no longer the case is the situation that obtained when I was a young man. In the early 1980s, and I would argue throughout the second half of the last century, the literary novel was perceived to be the prince of art forms, the cultural capstone and the apogee of creative endeavour. The capability words have when arranged sequentially to both mimic the free flow of human thought and investigate the physical expressions and interactions of thinking subjects; the way they may be shaped into a believable simulacrum of either the commonsensical world, or any number of invented ones; and the capability of the extended prose form itself, which, unlike any other art form, is able to enact self-analysis, to describe other aesthetic modes and even mimic them. All this led to a general acknowledgment: the novel was the true Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk.

. . . [T]he advent of digital media is not simply destructive of the codex, but of the Gutenberg mind itself. There is one question alone that you must ask yourself in order to establish whether the serious novel will still retain cultural primacy and centrality in another 20 years. This is the question: if you accept that by then the vast majority of text will be read in digital form on devices linked to the web, do you also believe that those readers will voluntarily choose to disable that connectivity? If your answer to this is no, then the death of the novel is sealed out of your own mouth.

. . . I believe the serious novel will continue to be written and read, but it will be an art form on a par with easel painting or classical music: confined to a defined social and demographic group, requiring a degree of subsidy, a subject for historical scholarship rather than public discourse. . . . I’ve no intention of writing fictions in the form of tweets or text messages — nor do I see my future in computer-games design. My apprenticeship as a novelist has lasted a long time now, and I still cherish hopes of eventually qualifying. Besides, as the possessor of a Gutenberg mind, it is quite impossible for me to foretell what the new dominant narrative art form will be — if, that is, there is to be one at all.

MORE: “The Novel Is Dead (This Time It’s for Real)

 

Image: Painting: John White Alexander (1856–1915); Photo: Andreas Praefcke (Own work (own photograph)) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Teeming Links – March 28, 2014

FireHead

It turns out that right as I was putting together last week’s Teeming Brain doom-and-gloom update, a new “official prophecy of doom” had just been issued from a very prominent and mainstream source: “Global warming will cause widespread conflict, displace millions of people and devastate the global economy. Leaked draft report from UN panel seen by The Independent is most comprehensive investigation into impact of climate change ever undertaken — and it’s not good news.”

Did President Obama really just try to defend the U.S. war in Iraq while delivering a speech criticizing Russia’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine? Why, yes. Yes, he did. (Quoth Bill Clinton at the 2012 Democratic Convention: “It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.”)

What used to be paranoid is now considered the essence of responsible parenting. Ours is an age of obsessive parental overprotectiveness.

FALSE: Mental illness is caused by a “chemical imbalance” in the brain. FALSE: The DSM, the psychiatric profession’s diagnostic Bible, is scientifically valid and reliable. The whole field of psychiatry is imploding before our eyes. (Also see this.)

And even as mainstream psychiatry is self-destructing, the orthodox gospel of healthy eating continues to crumble — a development now being tracked by mainstream journalism. Almost everything we’ve been told for the past four decades is wrong. In point of fact, fatty foods like butter and cheese are better for you than trans-fat margarines. There’s basically no link between fats and heart disease .

Meanwhile, researchers are giving psychedelics to cancer patients to help alleviate their despair — and it’s working:

They almost uniformly experienced a dramatic reduction in existential anxiety and depression, and an increased acceptance of the cancer, and the changes lasted a year or more and in some cases were permanent. . . . [Stephen] Ross [director of the Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse at Bellevue Hospital in New York] is part of a new generation of researchers who have re-discovered what scientists knew more than half a century ago: that psychedelics can be good medicine. . . . Scientists still don’t completely understand why psychedelics seem to offer a shortcut to spiritual enlightenment, allowing people to experience life-changing insights that they are often unable to achieve after decades of therapy. But researchers are hopeful that will change, and that the success of these new studies will signal a renaissance in research into these powerful mind-altering drugs.

Don’t look now, but the future is a social media-fied video game:

In five years’ time, all news articles will consist of a single coloured icon you click repeatedly to make info-nuggets fly out, accompanied by musical notes, like a cross between Flappy Bird and Newsnight. . . . Meanwhile, video games and social media will combine to create a world in which you unlock exciting advantages in real life by accruing followers and influence. Every major city will house a glamorous gentrified enclave to which only successful social brand identities (or “people” as they used to be known) with more than 300,000 followers will be permitted entry, and a load of cardboard boxes and dog shit on the outside for everybody else.

Deflating the digital humanists:

[To portray their work] as part of a Copernican turn in the humanities overstates the extent to which it is anything more than a very useful tool for quantifying cultural and intellectual trends. It’s a new way of gathering information about culture, rather than a new way of thinking about it or of understanding it — things for which we continue to rely on the analog humanities.

Science and “progress” can’t tell us how to live. They can’t address the deep meaning of life, the universe, and everything. So where to turn? How about philosophy, which is unendingly relevant:

We are deluged with information; we know how to track down facts in seconds; the scientific method produces new discoveries every day. But what does all that mean for us? . . . The grand forward push of human knowledge requires each of us to begin by trying to think independently, to recognize that knowledge is more than information, to see that we are moral beings who must closely interrogate both ourselves and the world we inhabit — to live, as Socrates recommended, an examined life.

Take this, all of you scoffers at Fortean phenomena (and/or at Sharknado): “When Animals Fall from the Sky: The Surprising Science of Animal Rain

Finally, here’s a neat look at the evolution of popular American cinema in 3 minutes, underlaid by Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”:

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teeming Links – July 12, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This week, a change in format: The Teeming Brain’s long-running “Recommended Reading” series will henceforth be titled “Teeming Links.” It will also shift to a streamlined format that does away with the former practice of including extensive excerpts and publication information from the linked items. I want to curate and share lots of fascinating, valuable, troubling, and sometimes necessary news, essays, videos, podcasts, and other things with you, and with multiple competing responsibilities and commitments continuing to mount in my life, this is one way to further facilitate that.

So, without further ado, here’s today’s entry:

NSA PRISM: George Orwell’s ‘1984’ is flying off the shelves (UPI)
“1984” book sales skyrocket following NSA surveillance scandal — sales rise 7000 percent.

Bilderberg Group? No conspiracy, just the most influential group in the world (The Telegraph)
Conspiracy theorists claim it is a shadow world government. Former leading members tell the Telegraph it was the most useful meeting they ever went to and it was crucial in forming the European Union. Today (June 6, 2013), the Bilderberg Group meets in Britain.

Tired of helping the CIA? Quit Facebook, Venezuela minister urges (Reuters)

‘Quit Google, Facebook’ suggests tech expert as surveillance scandal deepens (Wired)

Uri Geller psychic spy? The spoon-bender’s secret life as a Mossad and the CIA agent revealed (Independent.ie)

The Masters of Deception (Paul Levy for Reality Sandwich)
If we don’t understand that our current world crisis has its roots within and is an expression of the human psyche, and instead become entranced into believing that the many problems we face as a species have a concrete, objective and extra-psychic origin, we are doomed to unconsciously repeat and continually re-create endless suffering and destruction in more and more amplified form, as if we are having a recurring nightmare.

The Greatest Epidemic Sickness Known to Humanity (Paul Levy for Reality Sandwich)
Wetiko/malignant egophrenia is a disease of civilization, or lack thereof. The wetiko virus is the root cause of the inhumanity in human nature, or shall we say, our seemingly inhuman nature. This “psychic virus,” a “bug” in “the system,” in-forms and animates the madness of so-called civilization, which, in a self-perpetuating feedback loop feeds the madness within ourselves.

An intriguing consciousness theory, but skeptics want evidence (NBC News)
The idea that consciousness arises from quantum mechanical phenomena in the brain is intriguing, yet lacks evidence, scientists say.

Our Undue Focus on Long Life (The Atlantic)
Americans are living longer but not necessarily better.

“Why did you shoot me? I was reading a book”: The new warrior cop is out of control (Salon)
SWAT teams raiding poker games and trying to stop underage drinking? Overwhelming paramilitary force is on the rise.

Strange Sightings in New Milford: Extraterrestrial or Not? (Litchfield County Times, Connecticut)
“Eight eye witnesses saw a caravan of unidentifiable flying vehicles in the Northville corridor of Litchfield County over Route 202,” they wrote in an e-mail to The Litchfield County Times.

Digital Keys for Unlocking the Humanities’ Riches (The New York Times)
The next big idea in language, history and the arts? Data.