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December 02, 2009


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Surely it's a mistake to try to essentialize what it means to be online. Facebook, Second Life, blogging itself—these were not, for most people, part of what it meant to be online in 1999. By 2019 chances are that what it means to be online—if people even notice being online, any more than they now notice electric light—will have changed just as radically. The—I might say—affordances will be different. Very likely they will not be a superset of, but alternate to, the way we are online now—blogging and social networking as we know them becoming as quaint as homepages, webrings, and newsgroups.

I do think it's correct that people are less conditioned by being online than behave online according to a conjunction of the kind of person they they are and the affordances of the particular group or sub-medium they join. I've been online since 1995, but I felt no urge to involve myself in anything until I observed blogging becoming a form I thought I could do something with.

Hi Paul,

It's great to hear from you! Did you happen to read Dreyfus' paper Kierkegaard and the Internet (linked at right)? Rather than essentialize the Internet I think he is more looking at trends... so while it is very true that Online is an altogether different place than it was 10 years ago, based on the changes we see, we can postulate what direction it will continue moving toward. For example, just looking at trends in human interactions online, perhaps it can be said that while maybe 15 years ago when someone wrote an email, it was very similar in style and motivation/approach to old-fashion correspondance, that nowadays, in general, email is basically about a kind of efficient communication that has Efficiency as the bottom line. Facebook-- which I know you are not doing (yet??)-- I think could be charcatericized by an almost throw-away quality; in that you have this ultra efficient way of communicating with many friends simulataneously, while at the same time can bypass the time-consuming old fashion method of getting to know people by just "friending" your friend's friends! And then if and when things don't work out you just "delete" those friends! (I have never tried 2nd life so will refrain from talking about it).

My point really was not to say that Dreyfus was wrong but rather to ask whether his descriptions are _necessarily_ so? That is, like you said, people bring their underlying values with them online so I think that in fact a Kierkegaardian commitment online is not categorically impossible in the way Dreyfus seems to be suggesting. That the trends are going increasingly toward the non-committed (Kierkegaard) & the throw away (heidegger)-- this is without doubt... but that is just the way the society at large is moving and the technology just makes this all the more "efficient."

I cannot find the quote but Dreyfus has also written that with online writing, things are moving also toward the "ongoing" or "throw away" so that "completed, unchangeable works" are also giving way to ever-continuing works-in-progress (since anything online can be revised at any time). On the other hand, your blog and Conrad's blog are not at all like that. Posts seen on either your's and Conrad's blogs could be published as is-- this is rather unique... but you even say your are aiming for a long lost art (18th century essays) so in that sense you are not necessarily evolving yourself.... which is exactly the point I was trying to make. I really would like to read Dreyfus' book On the Internet....

I think you're right, Peony. That's exactly what I am thinking! :)

>But for me, so tied is this feeling of being moved by place to the workings of my inner world that some of these imaginable landscapes I have never actually traveled to; they are, nonetheless, no less significant to me. That is to say, some of the places that have most moved me are places I have never been to-- some are places I have only dreamt of.

Yes, I don't doubt that imagination can create significance and meaning. Ditto for online communities, which can also create in us a kind of mood, etc., just as reading a novel can.

The question is not that there is a lack of significance or meaning in online relationships, but their resemblance to reality, the kind one forms when socialized amid flesh-n-blood people. A large reliance on my imagination makes it more about ME, rather than the many-layered gives and takes—which we cannot even begin to capture in words—that make the experience of actually being in a place or with a person different and meaningful. My fond imagination can make me assign all kinds of significance to an online romantic relationship—based more on my mental state and what I want the other person to be—rather than let it be grounded also in the real. So when a messy event happens in my online relationship, what I have to deal with is its impact on my imaginative idea of the online friend, rather than the impact on my real-world idea of her (which is surely enriched by imagination but involves so much that can't be quantified, packaged, or communicated in a Cartesian manner for online consumption). Online is therefore simply different, which is not to say that it has no consolations—for one, it can appeal to that part of our reasoning self that can be better packaged for and stimulated by online exchanges (such as we are doing here!).

The point is not that a real life jerk will also be a jerk online, and vice versa, or that online "cut n run" is a reflection of "society at large". Even if you're serious and trusting and not prone to online flippancy, it is fundamentally a different kind of engagement, and arguably a severely lacking one, since so much of us cannot be "put up" online—body language, temperament, intonation, gestures, eyes, physical intimacy, etc. These latter furnish the "anchoring effect" that is hard to get via the imagination alone. A person who comes into our virtual life can never be the same as a person who comes into our real life. But I think this is not just from the lack of Merleau-Pontian embodiment, but also because we can only communicate online the "communicable" part of our experience and familiarity with the world, whereas Heidegger noted that a lot of our familiarity is subconscious and is expressed "in the action". The significance and meaning imparted by the latter is clearly not much of a contributor to online relationships.

This was also part of the point of my AI article, that even if we create machine intelligence it will not be the same as human intelligence unless we find a way to give to the machine human experiences, body and all, including the holistic "in the action" knowledge, and socialize it in a society much like ours. Online communities are a kind of thing for sure, just not a substitute for the real thing. At best, thay can be an aid to the real, as books can be. Taken too far, or used incorrectly, I think their disadvantages become quite apparent. What do you think?

Hi Namit,

Sorry for the delay-- I got sidetracked last night by one of my online lovers (just kidding!) Putting aside online romance, though, since really, love and romance of all things is probably a lot more pleasurable when it's embodied right? I do agree with you that a good way to approach this is that-- as you said-- online is simply different. And yet, I think when it comes down to it, what Dreyfus, Harrison and others are actually arguing is that there is a danger that people will allow their real life relationships and obligations to falter when they focus on the more risk-free and "inferior" online ones. Like on facebook you can donate or volunteer for causes "virtually" or give "cyber gifts".... send "cyber birthday cards.... give "cyber" jars of jam to friends... And by doing so, if a person was to let that get in the way of their ultimately more meaningful (but risky) offline commitments that this is a worrying trend.

Intellectually, I want to agree with the above. It falls under the category with what you like to call "right up my ally" and yet when I really examine the phenomenology (of my own case) this is what I find:

1) My online relationships are not necessarily more about "me" in the way you hinted. I can only speak for myself but I feel you have as good a picture of me than many of my real life friends. Indeed, I would trade many of "real them" for "online you" in a blink of an eye. Why? Because I feel you engage me on a more REAL level!

2) When I actually go out and meet people in the real world, it is not as if I am always presenting the same picture either. For example, I am very different in Japanese than English. Adonis' father says it's like I am a different person. So how can we ever say what is real and imaginary-- both in the presentation of ourselves as well as in our "interpretation" and "reading" of others?

3) Those cues ("online-body language, temperament, intonation, gestures, eyes, physical intimacy") to me, with the one exception of physical intimacy which MUST be embodied (it just has to be)-- the other ones, I do in fact feel are communicable online. Even Dreyfus at the end of the article on 2nd Life, conceded as much. If you notice he was really basing his whole argument on this idea that it is collective mood vis-a-vis Heideggerean notion of self (replacing Cartesian subjectivity/inner theater) which would be impossible to duplicate online... but even there, I do not think sensitivity to group mood or collective focal practices (like Babette's feast) are _by necessity_ not possible online. I can easily imagine this kind of atunement to mood in Jpse online groups....

4) Finally, and most importantly, remember that quote from Borges I like?

"People think life is the thing but I prefer reading” --Borges

Me too.

I did read Dreyfus on Kierkegaard and the Internet. I don't question his Kierkegaard, but I'm not sure of his Internet. The problem with trying to extrapolate trends is that runaway trends have a way of suddenly reversing. Email and social networking have been trending toward efficiency, but they may have arrived. How much more efficient things can things get than Twitter? The net may well go in a very different direction from here. After all, we're still doing the same things we did in an era of much more limited bandwidth—email, chat, low-res video, compressed music—we're just doing a lot more of them, faster. But as bandwidth really opens up a whole new ecosystem may appear.

I don't think that commitment and lasting value are impossible online (except for the inherent fragility of storage media), and I do think that trends online reflect trends in society generally. But that's not to say that the Internet is a passive medium: I do think that the Internet would be very different if it had been pioneered on the East Coast instead of the West. There is a certain Californian, Whole-Earth quality to the rhetoric of the Internet that is simply in the DNA now and can't be extricated.

It does seem like writing is moving toward the ongoing and throwaway, but that's hard to judge for contemporaries. We think of literature historically being something inherently serious and enduring, but only on the basis of the very small subset of literature has actually has endured. Early print culture was quantitatively dominated by throwaway material, pamphlets, broadsides, chapbooks, sermons, &c. But over time the throwaway material—gets thrown away and the more enduring material—endures. I'm prideful enough to think that in a hundred years the Ruricolist may not seem so bizarre.

Even my postage stamp rural library system has On the Internet; is it harder to get in LA?

Mr. Arora, I entirely agree with you about AI. May I propose to you what I wrote about AI last July? "A computer with the speed of a human brain would no more feel love and hate, fear death, or make art, than a computer with the speed of a dog's brain would bark and mark its territory."

But how does this imply the idea that an online relationship is unreal because it omits "body language, temperament, intonation, gestures, eyes, physical intimacy"? On this reasoning the relationships of the blind and the deaf would be less real than those of the sighted and the hearing—which I find absurd. That the Internet frees us from certain sensory limitations is not tantamount to freeing us from general human limitations—forgetfulness, fallibility, mortality.

Hi Paul,

I am going to write more later, but I was interested in this West Coast rhetoric quality of the Internet.... Of course, you mean English language Internet? Being a West Coast native, I guess I wouldn't have noticed that, but I am supposing you mean a marked casualness... what else though? It's not Seattle, is it? Everytime I walk into an Apple shop, I always am struck by "how Seattle" the people sound. Namit, any ideas? Is this reflected in Desi English Internet use?? :)


So you agree that virtual relationships are different from real-world ones. The question now is: are the former also more risk-free and "inferior", as Harrison and Dreyfus suggest? Let me respond to each of the points you have raised.

1) First, I am flattered that you would trade some of your real-world "friends" for the online me (I too know many frogs :-). However, the point of comparison is not that—rather it is between knowing me virtually vs. knowing me in the real-world. Likewise, to Paul's point (Paul - pls call me Namit), the comparison is not between the relationships of the sighted vs. the blind, but between relationships with sight vs. without for the same person.

2) I think my use of real vs. imaginary if a bit distracting. A better way to characterize the difference between virtual vs. real-world (for a given relationship) may be via a spectrum from impoverished to rich (with the caveat that some virtual exchanges may be richer at times—for example, one might develop some virtual bonds by sharing certain ideas and emotional details online, which one is loathe to do in real life; or some relationships that can "thrive" online may not survive a real-world encounter at all).

3) Yes, it is possible to transmit more and more of those embodied cues online (as Dreyfus admits), which will certainly make the virtual interactions richer. I can imagine a holographic Peony in my living room, 3d eye rolls, head bobs, and all. But even then there will always be a gap (until at least the day when Scottie, Inc., is able to "beam you up").

I think we also need to consider that we, who have spent most of our formative years socialized in the real world, can now bring those skills to the online world. That may not be true for those born today or later (arguably, despite virtual communities, the atomization of the individual in the west is already taking a toll). A lot of our caring and moral sense, idea of self, the acquisition of a social identity, has for ages come to us via real-world socialization and reality checks. The intuition and sensibility we gain through an earthy exposure to the blood, toil, sweat and tears of others in central to our humanity. Virtual worlds offer a fraction of this subsoil today and perhaps will for a long while in the future.

To illustrate how virtual worlds are more impoverished, let me cite the case of "virtual war" that we're now getting into. I'm sure you know of drone planes that now fly over Pakistan while being "piloted" by young men in office cubicles outside Las Vegas (who have never flown a real plane), who after a 9-5 bombing shift go home to their kids in the suburb and take them to a piano recital. Without the cost of being in the battlefield, without the fear of pain and death, how will this person relate to war? Would his idea be theoretical and more cavalier (despite all the "sensitivity training")? I think there are various shades of this effect in the virtual world—sure, we may avoid it partially using the social skills we have previously acquired, but does the virtual world encourage their cultivation? I think this is what Dreyfus asks.

Finally, isn't it a tad ironic that I am arguing this with an ardent fan of Confucianism? :-)

Challenging as always, Senor Arora! But, no, I don't think the point is knowing you offline vs knowing you online. (That would be a very un-interesting thing to ponder since the answer is obviously "BOTH please;" but if I had to choose, then real life for sure!!) No, I think the real question is do our online activities diminish or take away from real life ones? That is, if I start playing around on facebook does that take away from my real life relationships, like with my neighbors, with the Kid or friends? Or perhaps more to the point, if I spend too much time composing an answer to you right now, will my friendships here in LA be in any way undermined?

I am answering-- no-- to both questions.

And, I hear you about Confucius. I mean, I want to agree with you, dreyfus and harrison. But, my personal experience just does not seem to corroborate. That is, I do not believe (based only on my personal experience) that my online activities undermine the cultivation of skillful human relations or my capacity for enchantment. Indeed, in my personal case, I think my online activities are actually aiding my real life activities. Hmmm....

Therefore, I am seeking to make the move that

--those individuals who seek diversion and amusement will find an even more efficient way to do so on online (by virtue of the technology)
--and those individuals who seek risk-free deep commitment and engagement can do so online as well (though it is not necessarily more efficient or even as rich.)


For example, a friend and I were just talking about how in times of stress and need that our online friends took risks and stepped up to help in very surprising ways

But for me, these "confucian concerns" remain the lesser issue since as you know it is imagination's place in this concept of atunement (between environment and spirit) which is utmost in my mind.

The virtual war example is very apt. And, you know this is an issue I feel very very strongly about. Wasn't it Coady in Australia who has written so much on the morality of war?

Morality and Political Violence

Robotic weapons are not very ethical are they--really no matter what philosophy concerning the use of political violence and warfare you hold, these robotic weapons just really push the envelope. Sadly, in fact, I seem to recall that OK-ing a robotic bombing in Pakistan was one of the 1st things Obama did in office.

The Downside of Letting Robots do the Killing

But again, is this due to the technology? because you know the Nazis also turned violence into "daily business"... the banality of evil; the cog in the wheel. If those workers in Las Vegas are performing ultra efficient killing; the Nazis were probably going about something not too different-- only it was less efficient and more bureacratic.

We see something very similar going on offline-- the subcontracting of soldiering and intelligence.

I see what you are saying, but turning off the computer might not be the answer. The question is addressing the underlying values. In this case Efficiency. Technology too but not the machines per se nor even their use, but this underlying value. (lack of bravery, commitment, or real risk in the drive for further efficiency, something which seems like almost an end in itself).


Finally, Paul had some really interesting things to say above. His ponts are nothing I could ever really say anything intelligent about however. I mean, I don't think we have arrived at the most efficeint possible means of being online... in fact, I would like try and imagine the Internet or being online evolving into something very new, which will perhaps move away from the purely efficient and amusement/diversion driven. Can hardly beging to imagine, though, what that would look like though. Basically our online selves will evolve only in the way our offline selves do.... so that in one sense while my online activities involve these things, I would not say they revolve around diversion, efficiency or amusement... though like to try to be amusing!! :)


Yes, of course, casualness, but also aspiration: everyone aiming to change or save the world. I would be contented just to add something worthwhile to it.


I like the idea of a spectrum from impoverishment to richness, but I find it problematic to align the spectrum with digital technology in particular, and to index it to the single quality of embodiedness.

For example: substitute "letters" for "email". A relationship of pen pals could be just as impoverished as one between online friends; but the stereotype of a person with many pen pals was of one who was intensely interested and involved with the world. Or in many biographies of Western intellectuals of the past few centuries you will find praise for their maintenance of titanic networks of correspondents precisely as a proof of the strength of their sense of self and social identity, of their capacity and commitment.

Why should the kind of communication based in embodiedness be a more important condition for human relationships than the kind abstracted by language and portable by technology? I have a embodied relationship with my dog, who is more attentive and quicker to respond to the inflections of my voice and the subtleties of my body language than any human being could possibly be, but that relationship is not rich. It is best to have both, but if these instinctual sensitivities and reactions are severable from human relationships in one direction, why not the other?

If the difference is "between relationships with sight vs. without for the same person", then is the problem simply in having two tiers of relationships? (Otherwise my relationships would become less real were I to be blinded, which I don't think you mean.) But having tiers is a normal feature of relationships (plumbers lower than friends, friends lower than family, &c.) Perhaps the problem then is that the Internet has a leveling effect on these tiers? That when one uses the same means to interact with all tiers of relationship—the same Facebook account, say, for family and close friends as for business contacts and half-remembered classmates and admired celebrities—this reduces all those relationships to an equal level of impoverishment?

But can there be an experimentum crucis? Suppose that as a way of spending a certain amount of time you must choose between two potential relationships, one embodied, one online. (Assume both are non-romantic.) The online relationship is slightly more intellectually congenial, and the embodied relationship is slightly more physically compatible. (It has good chemistry, so to speak). All things being equal, I think the proper choice is the online relationship.

Peony again:

Certainly individuals seeking diversion and individuals seeking commitment can and do each use the net to facilitate their search, but pure or constant examples of one or the other must be rare. There must be many borderline cases—people who are susceptible to the temptation of seeking diversion online because it's so very easy. The individual can control the medium, but the medium itself isn't neutral: there's a house advantage in favor of distraction. Sometimes you just have to leave the table while you're ahead.

You raise many good points. What you say about people once maintaining networks via letters that informed their sense of self and social identity is true enough. I had written in my opening comment that online exchanges (like this one, or "letters" in a previous era) are important stimulants of certain aspects of our being, generally those that are closer to our conscious, analytical, and rational faculties. However, human relationships have a much wider range: they also include other subconscious ways of learning, acting, and bonding with others.*

Clearly, we sometimes value stimulating only certain aspects of us through certain relationships (hence this pleasurable exchange with a stranger). I might join a real life club or online forum to hang out with kayakers or Quakers. It is also the case that we can use such stimulation to then inform and enrich our other embodied relationships. Obviously, not every embodied relationship is better than every virtual relationship—that would be absurd. Yet this is what you hear me saying (esp. with the dog example). I too run into people in real life that I care for less than many others online.

A key point I made (via the virtual war example) was to ask whether virtual worlds encourage a similar cultivation of social skills as in the real world. I'd say that they certainly cultivate some things over others (efficiency? argumentation? writing skills?), but not so much the full spectrum of social skills—because that would require tapping into the wider range that human relationships have (see * above) and which virtual worlds do not adequately provide.

Peony didn't directly respond to this point and instead recast it by asking whether "our online activities diminish or take away from real life ones?" She said "no". My own experience inclines me to say, "quite possibly". But then Peony is an extra special and caring person, with great imagination and social skills (I'm not kidding!) and can perhaps transcend many more limitations of the virtual world. I'm not like her and which is why I have diligently avoided even getting on Facebook, let alone Second Life.

Paul> you must choose between two potential relationships, one embodied, one online. (Assume both are non-romantic.) The online relationship is slightly more intellectually congenial, and the embodied relationship is slightly more physically compatible. (It has good chemistry, so to speak). All things being equal, I think the proper choice is the online relationship.

Really? I'm not so sure. :-) Peony?

Peony: You resort to saying that it all comes down to values, separating it from technology. This is the kind of subject-object dualism that Heidegger would have opposed. Is technology external to our values (you cite efficiency), or does it inextricably intertwine and shape it? Where do you think today's scientism (and AI) and its understanding of the human come from—if not shaped by a particular kind of use, embrace, and view of science and technology?

Hi Namit,

Yes, I agree that the issue is not really what happens on a person-to-person level. I am quite sure that the "Confucian" worry as well as the "Heideggerean" worry is what happens on a cultural level. It is clear that it is this that concerns Dreyfus and Harrison.

And, while our approach or use of technology is not neutral, technology is itself not the cause. So that if everyone was to get off facebook, mafia wars and 2nd life, I don't think much--if anything--would improve.

I say this in great part because I don't think the fundamental issue is embodiment as much as it is an issue of imagination/atunement.

You know me Namit, I am not a luddite. And I agree that--- in general-- one is better to turn off the computer, turn off the TV, and not use cell phone, microwave or car. I agree that "less is more" of all of these technologies. At the same time, though, of them all, online to my mind is the least of the evils. And, even with the other "evils".. it just doesn't seem a mere matter of turning them off since there will always be another diversion. Not to mention that they are as mere machines in a sense neutral. The approach we take to their use is what affects us-- not the machines in isolation.

Probably the most interesting way to approach this is all (for me) is contained in this article by Dreyfus on nihilsim and technology

First, look on page 27. This is my view as well. That is, these technologies can also be used to solve our problems. But what is required is that we--as a collective cultural endeavor-- gain a more enlightened relationship to what Heidegger called the technological understanding of being, which includes

mass media

Anyway, I love this poem by Machado.

The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with a perfume of jasmine.

"In return for the aroma of my jasmine,
I'd like all the aroma of your roses."

"I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead."

"Well then, I'll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain."

The wind left. And I wept. And I said
"What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you ?"

There is a note to the poem (maybe by the translator?)

{Machado] asks the hard questions about what is going on inside. What if we, out of fear or recklessness or carelessness have stopped the soul's growth? What if we, having invited the world to be with us, have left the life of the feeling die?


I think I understand your position better now: not that virtual worlds prohibit worthwhile relationships, or that worthwhile relationships are predicated on embodiment, but that spending large amounts of time in virtual worlds stunts the development of social skills, or erodes developed ones. Of course, as our gracious host proves, it doesn't have to be so. But, like you, I am afraid of it, am not on Facebook, and wouldn't approach Second Life with a ten foot pole from behind a radiation shield.

Perhaps it would be better to approach the problem as a symptomatology instead of a thesis. Which social skills in particular undergo atrophy or hypertrophy online? Sympathy, appreciation have to be exaggerated to levels that would be parodic in speech to carry through online; conversely it's almost impossible to convincingly put someone down online. (Not all social skills are relationship-reinforcing ones, after all; some serve to avoid or sever relationships.) What social skills does are omitted online? Eye contact, posture, enunciation, "listening skills", the ability to hold a smile, are out. But are there new social skills online? To conduct a one's social life online one has to be a good typist; some photographic ability has become nearly as important. These aren't neutral preconditions: any profession that gives people strong, stiff hands is likely to restrict their social lives online; one has to live somewhere that a camera can be carried safely and can be used without risk. And of course an analysis would have to contrast the effects of different models. Second Life, being an extreme, strikes me as an unwise choice of case study; one might do better with a pair like LiveJournal and Facebook, both well-developed models of social networking with broad general appeal and large, devoted userbases, each with its own peculiar demands on social skills. But forgive me the riff.


Might I interest you in a more technophilic perspective on the possibility of technological "minimitism"?


I must tell you that I am feeling all the more technophilic since this conversation began. I just posted the article that you kindly sent over at facebook and an associate there remarked that he oftens feels techno-saturated so "that's when I shut the laptop, pour some whiskey, and play the guitar. Then, it's back to facebooking and blogging about the joys of being off the grid..." I think because in my case I am not mobile or ubiquitous, I never get too saturated with technology-- as I always walk so am out enchanted in the world. No mobile posting or check email while away so that even one step away from my PC, I really am always off the grid.

This was rather nice, I thought, from the same introduction in the Machado poetry anthology:

The rythmn of the walker....When a person, he experiences objects one by one at a pace agreeable to the body. And every walk ends; sooner or later the walk is over and we are back home

Anyway, Paul, your words about technology have really reverberated with me. And I think, in all honesty, you and Namit are wise to stay away from facebook. But, I am not sure that it *has* to level all relationships in the way you suggested. It probably does in most cases cheapen correspondance and human interaction. I agree. But it doesn't have to. And, I think that-- especially in my Japanese email correspondance and online interactions-- that nothing is leveled and that more those social skills that Namit and Dreyfus are converned with that lead to collective atunement are in fact as present online as they are offline-- that is, the same skills are in play.

And yet, your words, Paul, have stuck with me:

Sometimes you just have to leave the table while you're ahead

For that is extremely good advice, I think. As is the techno-minimalist ethic of the article you sent (thank you!)-- "Less is More" (words to live in so mnay ways).

Nice message from the northern capital

I wonder if there is some common ground between you and your interlocutors. Perhaps you can agree that the internet may not cause fleeing from responsibility and commitment in social relationships, but it does make it easier. Yes, it's possible to put internet communication to productive uses for those with highly literature and imaginative minds (like yourself), but most people aren't like that, so on balance we can say that internet communication may well have bad effects overall considered from the viewpoint of those who value intimate and affective social relations as key to the good life. No need to spell out where Caesar might fit in here

I responded again to say that even if being online fascilitates fleeing from respoinsibility and true commitments (committed relationships and projects)that switching off the PC really won't accomplish a lot. I maintain that a preferably response is the cultivation of the nonefficient.

MW if you see this, do you remember your friend who wrote a blog post about how all the best things in life are inefficient...? It's kind of like Paul's article about the guy who went to stay with the Amish and said he felt that it was like being on a holiday! In any event, I guess we all are on the same page as my always diplomatic friend in the north seems to be suggesting.

Thanks Paul for that summary and article.


>"You know me Namit, I am not a luddite. And I agree that--- in general-- one is better to turn off the computer, turn off the TV, and not use cell phone, microwave or car..."

I think we need to be careful to not conflate all modern technology with virtual socialization enabled by technology. Only the latter is the subject of Dreyfus's article on Second Life, is it not? That's all I am responding to here myself.

When your friend feels "techno-saturated" and shifts from the computer to the guitar, he is merely shifting from one tool to another. For instance, one could be composing a poem or novel or graphic art on a computer (instead of a typewriter, or a reed stylus on papyrus, etc.). Or reading news on a screen instead of on paper. The use of technology is almost as old an humankind and even defines humankind, but virtual socialization is a very modern, emerging practice.

Hi Namit,

You know, actually, while that one article, Faking It, is otsensibly about social networking, Dreyfus' work, the entitled Opinions radio program as well as my blog post were actually all about technological ontology and moods (related to imagination, embodied experience and our current condition). Not on social networking.

By the way, I came accoss this 2nd life video: a 3D reconstruction of the Bezeklik Caves on one of my client's websites (I was not involved in the video)!!

Fair enough, Peony. But I hope that in part 3, you will further develop your idea of "cultivating the non-efficient". It strikes me as profound and promising on one hand (not seeing everything in terms of resources), but also a bit pat and feel-good on the other. I mean I am also sympathetic to the idea of more efficient laundry machines, banking, autos, irrigation, power plants, telecom, mining, travel reservations, medical diagnosis, recycling, etc. You get the drift. :-)

On the flip side, if you haven't seen it already, I recommend checking out the excellent new documentary, Food, Inc., which may well seem to you a plea as good as any for cultivating the non-efficient, as it did to me.

Hi Namit,

I wonder if I addressed your point in part 3? The thing with efficiency is that, like beauty, of course we want things to be efficient. No one wants inefficient laundry machines and power plants, just like no one wants ugly dishes or furniture, right? But, I think Dreyfus or Heidegger (or Dredegger) are talking about the ordering of our lives on this-- that is efficiency as an ultimate value. For there are clearly big issues with this-- as the documentary you mention makes clear. My life in Japan, for example, is not nearly as efficient as my life would be in California. In Japan, people do not utlize the same amount of appliances, do not rely on cars to the same extent, they retain customs and traditions which are not efficient-- but you know what, I think it is very arguable that life is richer, more connected and indeed there are more possibilities for enchantment in worlds or cultures that are open to less efficieny.

That could just be my experience... but my instinct (based really on nothing but an intuition and personal experience) is just that-- the most meaningful parts of life are found in the inefficient details. Dreyfus always compared tea painstakingly prepared in Japanese tea ceremony with that of tea prepared using a teabag and served in a throwaway styrofoam cup.

I loved Pollen's book by the way. I think the documentary was based on his book-- have you seen the film? Corn-- along with centralization and efficiency-- is the main antagonist in the book.

A real life/online friend of mine recommended this Ted Talk video with Philip Rosedale, founder of 2nd Life... I gotta tell you, actually, I hate to say it, but I found it pretty disturbing. I don't know except that it seemed as if "creativity" was being conflated with a kind of economic free market model in the strangest way... hmmm...

Also was interested at how popular 2nd life is in Europe.

Months late (I got here tracing Robert Harrison), but can't resist adding a word. The Internet is just tooling, but as I see it so are bodies. As a tool for communicating with disembodied communities at the same frequency ("elective affinities") the Internet beats any other medium. Why assume that carbon-hydrogen-oxygen-etc. are more real than spirit?

Hi Arsen,

I think perhaps less then assuming body is more real than spirit (or vice versa) I think the argument (at least from a Confucian or existentialist point of view) is that the duality itself is flawed. So, if you do not accept the duality between mind-body, then you might hesitate over this notion of interacting too much in the disembodied realm of the Internet. Hence, my Confucian scholar friend's words from Beijing:

I wonder if there is some common ground between you and your interlocutors. Perhaps you can agree that the internet may not cause fleeing from responsibility and commitment in social relationships, but it does make it easier. Yes, it's possible to put internet communication to productive uses for those with highly literature and imaginative minds (like yourself), but most people aren't like that, so on balance we can say that internet communication may well have bad effects overall considered from the viewpoint of those who value intimate and affective social relations as key to the good life. No need to spell out where Caesar might fit in here

However-- and on the other hand-- my very positive personal experience with "being in the mood online" tells me that online work, online reading, online relationships (friendships and even love) are not only possible but offer possibilities that don't exist for me in the same way offline (read: "elective affinities"). So that while it may have in fact negatively impacted my interactions with my immediate embodied community to some extent, the inner enrichment I have derived makes up for that.. The conversation above, however did make me more intent on meeting in real life my online friends and when that happens too the embodied relationship with those persons has started off on such firm ground that well, in LA I met one online friend this summer and someone who saw us interacting mentioned that it was like we were sisters.

Yes, yes, absolutely. I'm entirely tuned in to the last comment, not merely your own concluding thoughts but also the thoughts of your Confucian scholar friend's take on the matter. I was being too brief--and possibly still influenced by reading that great quote from Borges you managed to find regarding life and reading. I see things in layers and hierarchically arranged, but every manifestation having its legitimacy, joys, and range of experience difficult to reach from others. Hierarchically what's usually classed as "raw" experience I view as lower than the reflective, intuitional, or imaginal. Just don't ask when I'm ravenous or sleepy.

I've always felt, throughout my life, that in the modern arrangement of life, finding "schools," as it were, in the literary or spiritual sense, is extraordinarly difficult, especially if you need to be active in the world (children, houses, cars, insurance policies, etc.). In college days I found it easier, not so in adult life, and by way of the Internet, particularly this form of it, I've found communities I've always thought must be there. And, of course! As above, so below. Therefore the people, once you meet them face to face--yes, of course. It will be there in that dimension too. I too have found this to be so...

Hi Arsen,

First, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your post In Praise of Maps I-- too-- am a huge fan of maps, and I bet if I was a collecting type of person I would collect antique maps. And, I agree that while we as a society perhaps tend to hold up madmen and destroyers, that how much more fruitful to take time to sometimes think about those quiet heroes who worked to help orient us-- not necessarily as individuals but orient us in the collective.

I read a very nice book about the history of mountainclimbing recently called Mountains of the Mind, in which the author talks about our possession by mountains as occuring at that specific place between physical form (topography) and imagination. Well, I wonder if map-making doesn't also happen at that place between physical form and human imagination....

Like Schliemann's project spending all that time digging around Turkey to try and match topography with text-- I don't know why but I find the impulse nothing short of heroic. I was listening to Stanford archaelogist Patrick Hunt talking about his life's work to try and finally _map out_ the exact route that Hannibal took to cross the alps. How could 25,000 plus men and 37 elephants cross the alps and leave no trace, he asks... and so he goes back every summer: climbing, poking around, mapping....


Regarding your comment above, I have found myself thinking about it a lot. You are so right that it is hard to find a "school." (and I like this idea of a literally or spiritual school as it evokes the collective or group aspect of the activity). Maybe it has been especially this past ten years, but each time I return to my hometown of Los Angeles, I am struck with how almost totally taken up by practical concerns people have become. There is a growing philistinism there that is much less present here in Japan. But not just that. Friendships, hobbies (of the type that occupy a person's heart) and associations are much less valued (or so it seems) at home then I remember during my parent's day. Not to say that everyone is like that but just that it is a kind of trend that I have noticed. And, with people less connected to others in their community and taken over with practical concerns, it also informs the kinds of things people talk about.

Interestingly, I find this is less an issue in Japan. So that here there are literary groups, women's associations, community groups, -- all the famous hobbies that are more like "paths" (tea, flowers, pottery, mountainclimbing, martial arts etc)-- not that these things are more important than the nuclear family but they are really valued highly (see the article at right: Is Friendship on the Decline, for example). So, in my particular case, for English language intellectual stimulation and connecting, the Internet has been, like you said, something almost miraculous as it is brought me into contact with people I might have otherwise never have met and that I am so happy to have been able to meet (present company included!).

Talk to you soon.

Here is a quote for this comment thread from Kapuscinski's Travels with Herodotus, a book I know you like:

Technology, which reduces human exchange to an electronic signal, impoverishes and mutes this multifarious nonverbal language with which, when we are together, in close proximity, we continually and unconsciously communicate. This unspoken language, moreover, the language of facial expression and minute gesture, is infinitely more sincere and genuine than the spoken or written one; it is far more difficult to tell lies without words, to conceal falsehoods and hypocrisy. So that a man could truly camouflage his thoughts, the disclosure of which could prove dangerous, Chinese culture perfected the art of the frozen face, of the inscrutable mask and the vacant gaze: only behind such a screen could someone truly hide.

Namit....what a lovely surprise hearing from you on holiday :)
Your pictures of Goa made me soooooo jealous. I was trying to recall the last time I swam in warm tropical waters...It has been way too long. Is the food good? Enjoy!!

Anyway this Kapuscinski quote.... honestly, while I loved Travels with Herodotus, I didn't much like his opinions of India or China.... what did you think of his descriptions of India? I particularly disliked the China section (this above being typical).

By the way, people have been known to complain that I have developed what they call a "poker face" after all my years in Japan. And, I always feel that when I am in America, I have a boring poker face and when I am in Japan, I show every expression on my face like a spoilt child who cannot control herself.... hence: I never win!!!! 20 years is a long time and to be honest, I find that rather than this paranoid (really in the end misguided attitude) you see above regarding "Chinese masks" that in fact in Japan there is a serenity or self-composure to the way people people do not wear all their emotions on their sleaves. Because afterall it does affect others.

I also categorically disagree with Kapuscinski's privledging of verbal over written language... have been reading Borges again, by the way. With failing eyesight and other disabilities, Borges was till the end absolutely devoted to the written word-- remember that quote I like so much?

"People think life is the thing but I prefer reading” --Borges

Finally, did you ever read this post Wearing Masks (and Reading Zizek While Crossing a Glacier) Well, Zizek had a great quote about masks and Japan (the links to the entire interview can be found on the post) I will copy below since I think it very well done indeed!

What I despise in America is the studio actors’ logic, as if there is something good about self-expression: do not be oppressed, open yourself up, even if you shout and kick the others, everything in order to express and liberate yourself. This is a stupid idea — that behind the mask there is some truth. In Japan, even if something is merely an appearance, politeness is not simply insincere. […] Surfaces do matter. If you disturb the surfaces you may lose a lot more than you accounted for. You shouldn’t play with rituals. Masks are never simply mere masks. Perhaps that’s why Brecht became close to Japan. He also liked this notion that there is nothing really liberating in this typical Western gesture of removing the masks and showing the true face. What you discover is something absolutely disgusting. Let’s maintain the appearances.

Travel safe and hope to hear from you when you get to Jaipur....

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