004.2: Four Books Overview

Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget

Suggests that interacting with machines as though they were animate degrades us, that we in fact modify ourselves to suit the machine. As he writes early on,

When developers of digital technologies designs program that requires you to interact with a computer as if it were a person, they ask you to accept in some corner of your brain that you might also be conceived of as a program. When they design an internet service that is edited by a vast anonymous crowd, they are suggesting that a random crowd of humans is an organism with a legitimate point of view.

This happens in part, he suggests, because we don’t see ourselves as special and thereby locate metaphysics elsewhere.

In terms of my current work, I expect Lanier’s manifesto to challenge the notion of the capability and desirability of developing a way to have a relationship with an object. So far, what he blames on a lack of spirituality, I would lay at the feet of capitalism and poor engagement with our own histories, but I am remain willing to rethink that diagnosis. Moving forward, I should probably look for more sources that argue for the desirability of the current conception of the Internet of Things, particularly if I can find an articulation beyond convenience.

Finally, structurally, Lanier’s approach of identifying the segments we “energize” via particular designs (e.g., the noosphere energizes trolls) is a useful approach to considering the cultural effects of technology and may serve as an apt framing device going forward as I identify what I hope to “energize.”

Ian Farr, ed., Memory

What a wonderland of art! Memory brings — or rather returns to — a different perspective on memory: that wrapped up in the image. With documentary photographs and cinematic juxtaposition, the concepts and metaphors of memory are deeply visual. And it leads me to wonder if conceiving memory beyond the visual is a really important step in its material storage — if there is a certain amount of departure in this project. At the same time, from Proust to Breton, Bergson and Sartre, the introductory essay to memory draws together strings from my own past studies to make it clear that as different as this topic first seemed to me from former work I've done, it may instead be the drawing together of all those elements instead.

I also find it super helpful that the essays here, especially the introduction, propose distinctions and taxonomies I have yet to consider, particularly types of memory, from the documentary to the hybrid and imaginary.

N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman

Probably the most in my wheelhouse in terms of approach, Hayles takes a critical approach to the history of cybernetics in our culture and teases out its contradictions, promises, and destabilizations. I am excited to read this along with the following work to find where they support and diverge in the picture they paint of humans and devices living together.

Sherry Turkle, ed., The Inner History of Devices

The most practical of all the works, Turkle has average device-entwined humans speak for themselves. I'm not certain that the health-related interviews are as applicable as the memoirs centering around wilfull enmeshment, but I am willing to be wrong, and trust this book to show me if I am.