06 March 2008

The Discussion that Ensued

As alluded to in my previous post, much discussion ensued following Borgmann's opening remarks. The other "official" guide at the consultation is Donald Kraybill, sociologist. Apart from Kraybill (DK) and Borgmann (AB), remarks of other participants are indicated with numbers. And, no, none of them are me.

Kraybill: What is the good news? What do we proclaim in a culture of high tech? To what do we attend. Focal practices in Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life, focal practices seem individualistic and oriented toward leisure. Where is the community? Resistance and transformation (as in the Amish) are only possible in community; by participating in communal focal practices.

Borgmann: Yes, TCCL lacks emphasis on community. I attempt to address this in later books. Communities in a traditional sense lived together; we are scattered. How can communities of celebration function to give a gathered body strength to carry on as a scattered body?

P1: culture of technology allows me to live alone; supports my isolation while allowing me to bridge the isolation by keeping in touch with those at a distance.

DK: This is the paradox; tech allows connection with diaspora community, but usually only two people at a time; dyads, not communities.

P2: The state has vested interest in virtual communities over against physical communities; virtual communities are powerless.

DK: But virtual community has given power to citizen groups, right?

P3: movements of bodies are not just from material to virtual but also from virtual to material; moveon.org works virtually to get people to meet materially. We are our virtual selves; they are not disassociated (I am myself in an e-mail not in a way different from how I am myself in a letter).

P4: Yes, but that is a bluff; we have the illusion of power, but it is power the state allows.

AB: I don't think it is all that complicated. Virtually the problem is low cost of entry and low cost of exit

P5 (responding to P4, above): Isn't part of the complexity that the culture turns even resistance into commodity? Protest is great media; you design the protest for 30s soundbites. And what about the evidence that digital brains are wired differently? Cab drivers in London, for instance, literally rewire their brains as they learn the street system; why would we expect the brains of digital natives to be the same as ours?

AB: Not much research on multitasking, but what there is indicates we can only multitask on unimportant things. On important things, multitasking does not happen.

AB (responding to P3, above): The significant thing of the internet is ambiguity. Resistance of the medium makes people more thoughtful. The ambiguity consists of the impoverishment of what gets to you.

P3: I merely want to challenge the neat separation between the virtual and the physical.

P6: What do we mean by community? By quality of community? F2F does not necessarily equal good community. Furthermore, we tend to tell horror stories -- let's also think about tech in service of community; in service to our bodied selves.

AB: Where connections are strong, technology is helpful. What it cannot do is generate community -- there must be at least a cause in common.

P7 (responding to AB's opening remarks that it would be morally irresponsible not to have a cell phone): That is too quick of a summary. Say more -- we cannot leave technologists to determine what is acceptable risk. Do we not have moral obligation to say no?

P8: To whom are we responsible? Christians looks somewhere not in technology; clarification wrt the Amish: if we are all implicated we all have responsibility to reform the system. Is that the Christian calling? I think we're called to neither to embrace nor reform but to model difference.

AB: The Old Order claim, legitimately, to be a city on a hill. But that is insufficient. Three ways of dealing with the world: 1) service to others; help unto death; 2) don't worry about the world, our reward is spiritual; 3) attempt redemption of the material culture knowing it will at best only approximate the reign of God.

AB (responding to P7, above): Yes, there is a continuity between acceptable and unacceptable risk. In some ways the line drawn must be arbitrary. "The world is getting so soft and squishy that we're going to need some hardness ... we should not find that resistance in risk." Resistance with legitimate claims are in relationships, sports, gardening, etc.

P9: What if we made Christian community even more demanding than it is? What if we stopped catering, for example, to those persons who miss worship, and require that they work to find out what happened?

P5: Do we live in a society that is inherently wicked, or in a society where good things are desired badly?

AB: The latter. But we also live in a society where good things are desired rightly.

*** P10 introduces a new set of questions, not directly tied to preceding ***

P10: 1) how is culture of technology tied to other cultures of which we find ourselves a part? A culture that rejects tradition (American, e.g.) gives guidance to people by using fear and anxiety - technology does the same. So how does culture of technology fit in with larger culture? 2) Can technology itigate against a culture of anxiety and fear as well as play into it?

AB: say more about culture of fear

P10: Political appeals are not to vote for the person who mosts reminds you of your father (tradition) but the one who is most comforting.

P11: What is at the root of culture of fear? Is it fear of mistake? Injury?

P6: We cannot distinguish between real fear and unimportant fear (quoting some young Christian ethicist whose name was never mentioned).

P12: But, AB, the Amish are quite fearless (referring to ABs remarks in opening that the Amish seem to have conquered envy but perhaps not fear). AB, you've made different choices on the types of risks you take on.

AB: Using Aristotle, recklessness is the inability to see what you are up against; it looks like courage, but it is not. Defiance is not enough. The Amish seem more defiant than courageous.

AB (picking up on P10's opening questions): There was a sea change in the culture when misfortune changed from being a providential burden to being an intolerable scandal. Technology moves from removing intolerables to removing inconveniences to eventually removing even frivolous "problems." Fear of misfortune (picking up on P11, above) is evolutionarily ingrained in us. But society was structured in such a way that it made sense to overcome and compensate for that fear -- we had to face our fears to get berries and to hunt because food was scarce and difficult to get. Now the scarcity is no longer there, and technology has removed the threats, so we overindulge. Technology has transformed the environment in such a way that our reactions that were once beneficial are now detrimental.

P10: Would you distinguish between overindulgence and distractability? Are they interchangeable, or are they two different ways of not being engaged properly?

AB: The latter.


This was the most free flowing session of the day. The others seemed much more disjointed, so I'll probably just drop in highlights if I do anything at all.

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