(Self) Consciousness is a surface-screen that produces the effect of depth: of a dimension beneath it. And yet, this dimension is accessible only from the standpoint of surface, as a kind of surface effect: if we reach behind the screen, the very effect of “depth” of person” dissolves. -Slavoj Žižek, Organs Without Bodies, p.118
I’m reading this soon because the subtitle matches envyandboredom.blogspot.com, who keep on driving traffic my way.
We always mistake the library for the world. It frustrates us that they cannot find the thing they want to say, that nobody has asked and answered the question we want to ask, that our knowledge does not map 1:1 our experience. This desire has extended to reproduce life itself. Futurists like Martine Rothblatt are doing their best to make information map onto life to make it replace a life:
In Martine’s vision, at the end of Bina’s physical life, when her body gives out, there would still be a Bina — Bina48, a robot designed to interact with the world just like the original, right down to her sense of humor. –CBS News
This is a possibility that fits the definition of a life:
Information creates the potential for an immanent activation that activates the body’s coming to be this or that and its de-forming into a field of relation, an ecology of body-becoming. –Erin Manning, Always More Than One, p.20
Propelled by the force of in-formation, life is the tendings and habits and attunments, the appetition, that activate the singularity of this or that unfolding process. –Erin Manning, Always More Than One, p.21
To put it this way a life is not necessarily organic, and information presupposes the body. The idea that a life is just what is mentioned above is a fair one, albeit obscure, where we can talk about the life of a business and the life of a pebble but what is at stake is not just the transference of a life, but the transference of a consciousness, which is somewhat hard to prove. As the philosopher Riccardo Manzotti puts it:
Information could provide a sort of recipe to build, in the best scenario, a faithful replica of a past event, thing, or organism. DNA exploits the same principle. Even when there isn’t any variation–as is the case with clones–the new individuals are not the same as the past ones: they are new individuals that have many similarities with their original. –Riccardo Manzotti, Information Won’t Make Us Immortal
This is doubly so, as Bina48 will likely insist on being conscious and act that way. The ghost in that machine will likely find ways to express its Bina-ness, but it will never be Bina’s consciousness the way Bina’s was. This comes down to the entire problem of information: it only provides the force to activate the singularity of an unfolding process, but it is never enough to dictate an unfolding process itself. Even as we store it, at its core digital information will always be communicating, and most importantly, it will never be silent. For a host of other in-formations, Bina48’s silences will never be Bina’s once she’s gone. This is because information is always an expression, a force, never a lack. Digital information can always say yes or no at the bit level but it cannot say neither.
Writing, like all information, has the same problem. it cannot dictate the unfolding itself. Derrida points out in Writing and Difference that:
There is an essential lapse between significations which is npt the simple and positive fraudulence of a word, nor even the nocturnal memory of all language, to misconstrue that language is a rupture with totality itself. Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, p.71
Writing is isolated, and cannot express the meaning of silence. For the same reason, we cannot map a library to the world 1:1.
Four errors concerning this molecular and and supple segmentarity are to be avoided. The first is axiological and consists in believing that a little suppleness is enough to make things “better.” But microfascisms are what make fascism so dangerous, and fine segmentations are as harmful as the most rigid of segments. -Deleuze & Guttari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi.
But the ability to convey tone and emotion through text, without resorting to illustration, is one of the key challenges of writing. It’s what makes someone a good writer rather than an effective artist or illustrator. And though emoticons may make it easier to convey different moods without much effort, they have limitations of their own. “You couldn’t communicate only with emoticons,” linguist John McWhorter wrote in an email. “You have to know what you’re talking about, what happened, when and so on. Emoticons don’t do that.”
Alice Robb for the New Republic unleashed another “kids these days” piece of clickbait in the name of grammarians and assorted fuddie-duddies everywhere. It must be easy to pen essays decrying an entire generation for being unable to covey emotion without illustration while having your piece lovingly bookended by nice stock photos, with a generic font on well-designed web pages. Indeed, the tone of the piece is actually softened by its surroundings and comfortably corporate setting. Robb’s division between “text” and “image” belongs to a neverland where typography and design were never considered important. Taken out of original context, McWhorter’s quote takes on new levels of no-duh-ness. People communicate with emoticons specifically because they are communicating with people who don’t need significant amounts of additional context. To say you couldn’t communicate with emoticons alone is so obvious as to be nonsense, and Robb failed to do her source any favors by shifting the quote to make such an obvious point against whippersnapper straw-people. But of course, a good grammarian will rely on the writing vs. talking defense: we normally don’t talk the way we write or vise-versa. But even then poor speaking skills and habits happen. Like emoticons, but still different, the use of vocal tics like “like” and “um” are primarily emotive, adding another layer of commentary and interpretation to otherwise dry text:
We should admire, not belittle, kids who use it [like]. Far from being banished from polite or public dialogue, their discourse markers should mark our own—they should be imported as a sign of a meticulous grasp of the truth that there is no settled truth, that all narration is subjective, that every account must always be qualified.
Adam Gopnik, The Conscientiousness of Kidspeak
Gopnik maybe overstates his case, but his defense is worthwhile. We are, after all, talking about people who are still growing up, still learning. Perhaps once they’ve been through a college grinder and gotten a good n’ proper learnin’ then they too can wield weighty words and wordplay against each other in linguistic battles of the wits as Robb would so welcome. But their innate sensitivity might get lost. It is fine to promote the use of “proper” communicative skills that are designed to carry maximum symbolic frieght to the widest number of possible readers. That is the essence of “proper” grammar: to give agreed upon guidelines for broad communications. That is, of course, not all all what texting with emoticons or a face to face conversation is about. It is a wild misplacement of communicative rules as a form of social unease:
Labov’s experiment suggests that punctilious attention to “proper” usage may come from a place of insecurity. The extreme form of this is hypercorrection, in which “a real or imagined grammatical rule is applied in an inappropriate context, so that an attempt to be ‘correct’ leads to an incorrect result.”
Katy Waldman, Does This Make Me Sound Insecure?
Robb’s essay is a form of hypercorrection. Doubly, as it is posted on Mashable, the internet k-hole of silliness for digestible smartness. When you are stuck pretending that text and text alone rules like Britannia, it is easy to forget the small things that make interpersonal communication go, both visually and otherwise. I pose my last case: a girl who smiled in a selfie at Auschwitz. If there ever would be a story that raises the ire of the stiff-backed everywhere, it is this one. But again, what is missed is that the harshest critics took what was once a small, personal communication by a young woman as a media event, as something that should follow “the rules” of propriety and journalistic excellence. They noxiously misapplied rules that had no standing in order to pass judgement:
By being completely ignorant of how some would interpret her vague digital communication (the only thing that’s obvious from her photo is that she’s happy and she’s at Auschwitz. The rest is not clear), she’s influenced a global conversation on the limits of self-involvement. Some have come to her defense, reminding us all that she’s just a kid with a dead dad who shared her love of history.
The only reason why Breanna is on the receiving end of so much hatred is because she had the audacity to smile at a concentration camp. I hate to break it to you all, but Breanna Mitchell smiling at Auschwitz is not the worst thing that ever happened at Auschwitz. I dare say that it’s not even in the top 5,000.
Dave Schilling, In Defense of Taking Selfies in Depressing Places
This is a call for a new ethics of grammar. For ignoring the rules when they don’t need to be applied. Otherwise, we will simply end up sounding like this:
It’s no surprise that millennials have embraced emoji and their pixelated cousins, emoticons. Ambiguous, superficial and cute, they’re perfectly suited to a generation that sends Hallmark e-cards ironically, circulates step-by-step guides to “being deep,” and dismisses “deep meaningful conversations” as “DMC’s.”
Don’t worry, the kids are having contextually rich DMCs. It is our job as educators, as adults, and as people who honestly care to model good grammar when need be. More importantly, we also model ethical behavior that doesn’t overstep bounds, pass poor judgement, or cause undo harm.
You could no longer read as if your life depended on it. This is the other side of the now perennial cries of the decline of reading, of the humanities, of literary culture, of all that. What psychoanalysts call the decline in symbolic efficiency is more about the decline of the repressive function that excommunicated those that read the wrong way. –McKenzie Wark, Excommunication: Three Inquiries in Media and Communication