Already programmed: responses

Connected, but alone?

Sherry Turkle argues in her TED talk, “Connected, but alone?” that too much texting is bad for us: she anticipates the unpopularity of the talk because this isn’t something people or companies want to hear. People are more comfortable with machines, which enable interaction without real emotional risk. But, they also can’t really empathize with us.

The argument that texting leaves out a lot of cues, and is a bad medium of conversation makes sense (even though I’d like to point out that it allows for other things, like video, photos, group chat, and sharing of virtual content that gives a different richness to these exchanges). I struggle with the assertion that we are more alone than we used to be. Maybe this is true, but I find it hard to imagine that the work required to maintain a basic standard of living, and the isolation of people that didn’t fit into a previously even-more-rigid social structure, allowed for greater social connection and less loneliness in years past (in Western societies). She gives anecdotes of cases where people she’s interviewed specifically avoided in-person interaction, but I wonder how common this really is, and what the alternative would have been before the internet and before texting. Maybe these individuals would have been even worse off.

 

We are all cyborgs now

Amber Case’s talk, “We are all cyborgs now,” is funny because she makes the absurdity of our new rituals around technology so apparent. She notes the difference between other human tools and computers is that computers act as an extension of our mental selves, rather than our physical selves. One point (which serves as the basis for one of Yueping’s projects!) is this idea that we find ourselves rummaging through this external brain, unable to find our documents or an old google search.

I really don’t need much convincing the we’re already cyborgs, which is her main thesis. I just loved how observant this talk is, and I wonder if other’s see these machines as extensions of our bodies in the same way?

 

Program or be programmed

Rushkoff’s talk, “Program or be programmed,” is a discussion of his book by the same name, where he makes the case for media literacy. That he feels he needs to persuade people of its importance is kind of ironic since this is the antidote for otherwise being blindly coerced by our history, social context, and capitalist/corporate environment.

I ended up watching his talk, “Open source democracy” (coerced by the youtube playlist) as well, because his historical accounts that bring us into our present socio-economic context and the proposals he makes for addressing the related issues are equally fascinating. That we should learn to code because it changes the way we think, and has real social/political/world consequences recalls Papert’s Mindstorms! And his call for local economies, local solutions, and local engagement recalls Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy.

Skeptically, I think even with greater awareness of how we are coerced, manipulated, “programmed,” I don’t think we have the power to fully reclaim our agency. Cognizance of these mechanisms only helps to the extent that we have power over our reality, and even if we are to argue in favor of free will, this would only give us control over a tiny proportion of our lives. Is it lucky then, if your programming allows you to see through the program?

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