Precariously balanced atop Öolong
March 13, 2005 8:19 PM   Subscribe

People of the pancake: "I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self—evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the 'instantly available'. A new self that needs to contain less and less of an inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance—as we all become 'pancake people'—spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button." Writing on the Edge, Richard Foreman and George Dyson speculate on a 'thin-client' view of the self where most cultural processing occurs not only somewhere else, but by something else! [reality checks provided by Kevin Kelly, Jaron Lanier, Steven Johnson, Marvin Minsky and Douglas Rushkoff, among others :]
posted by kliuless (10 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

not quite luddite (altho maybe ludic? :), it's a frank discussion on new limits (and freedoms!) that technology imposes on culture.

where attention is co-modified, perhaps conferring a tyranny of choice that enables infantile narcissism, which may leave us balkanized and numb...
"The opposite of real now is optional. The slight feeling of unreality that attends all the commitments you actually make attends them because they're made against this horizon of choices. So this plays into the idea that reality is accident and necessity. To the degree that your life is literally furnished with people, things, activities, places that you've chosen, there's a slight feeling of surface-ness about it all. Because on the horizon there is always 'Oh, I could have done this other thing, or been this other way, and maybe I still will'. That haunts the way you are. And that's why real things in your life have this slight feeling of simulacra-ness." can just as easily create sites—like metafilter!—that fulfill the role of cultural watering hole to help replenish and reconnect egocasting individuals to some shared identity—a community :D
"In his of 1936 essay, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', Benjamin argued that technological change (particularly mechanical reproduction) fosters a new perspective he called the 'progressive reaction'. This reaction is 'characterized by the direct, intimate fusion of visual and emotional enjoyment with the orientation of the expert'. Benjamin compared the live stage actor to the film actor to demonstrate this point: 'The film actor lacks the opportunity of the stage actor to adjust to the audience during his performance, since he does not present his performance to the audience in person. This permits the audience to take the position of a critic, without experiencing any personal contact with the actor. The audience's identification with the actor is really an identification with the camera. Consequently the audience takes the position of the camera; its approach is that of testing'.

"Today, an increasing number of us consume culture through mediating technologies—the camera, the recording device, the computer—and these technologies are increasingly capable of filtering culture so that it suits our personal preferences. As a result, we are more willing to test and to criticize. As we come to expect and rely on technologies that know our individual preferences, we are eager as well to don the mantle of critics. And so we vent our frustrations on and are in turn ranked by others who opine on the helpfulness and trustworthiness of our views."
fellow pancake people! lend me your ears, give me your eyes :D
posted by kliuless at 8:30 PM on March 13, 2005

pony people [nsfw]
posted by quonsar at 8:45 PM on March 13, 2005

interesting stuff..bookmarked for tom'w : >
posted by amberglow at 8:51 PM on March 13, 2005

The author's ideal "complex inner density" has never been achievable by very many people. It demands an orderly life, access to high-quality education, and lots of free time for reading and long walks. Only the elites tend to have this, which is maybe why we value it so much.
posted by lbergstr at 9:55 PM on March 13, 2005

One limitation on this is that this network, having become aware of itself, morphs into a "vast network of disinformation", a netwok in which data is cooked by spammers, astro-turf campaigners and propagandists. So the enlightened self recedes again behind a wall of criticism and skepticism.

Of course, the truly enlightened person reviews his own thoughts with skepticism, and so builds firewalls within himself.
posted by SPrintF at 10:00 PM on March 13, 2005

That was interesting, to see all those (mostly, sort of) Big Names debating with each other like that. And to see, for instance, Roger Schank wondering out loud if George Dyson understood what an OS is, was amusing -- and reminds me that it doesn't really matter what you write, you're still imperfect and prone to error.

Anyway. I think a lot of the more technically-minded writers there missed the point completely. Having to deal with such a massive, constant flow of information sometimes turns us into nothing more than nodes in a great, ultra-high-level network. We pass ideas to each other via symbols, we digest the ideas, we contribute where we can, and we pass the ideas around to whoever we think might be interested. This is, probably, a good analogy for how the generation of ideas in human society has worked for millenia, but we do it so quickly now that occasionally it seems as though all we do is process information.

And perhaps we don't have enough context all the time. It's true. But when has anyone ever had enough context? Aristotle may have been familiar with all the arts and sciences of Athens, but he had no idea what was going on in Persia or the Middle Kingdom. Da Vinci may have been an amazing man, but I am sure even he acknowledged that there were dark patches in his sea of knowledge.

We do the best we can. This is the era of postmodern irony, or whatever you want to call it, after all; we are constantly acknowledging our deficiencies and the restrictions of media. Even something as benign as the word 'like' acts to highlight the fact that the words we're using are, like, not always completely suitable. We mock ourselves, we play with ideas, we post things on the front page of metafilter like "Africa. Lol." All of these things on some level underline and/or taunt the idea that we are not completely aware of everything. It's always been like that.

Personally, I know a number of people that have deep, multi-faceted understandings of a great swath of human achievement and culture. Obviously I know a lot more people that don't, but that's just how it is. It is good that Mr. Foreman is concerned; it's good to point out that we should pay attention to history. But I think he's worrying too much.

Or perhaps all he meant was "damn kids."
posted by blacklite at 11:34 PM on March 13, 2005

I was told there would be pancakes.
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:19 AM on March 14, 2005

The last person who was alleged to have "read everything" was Coleridge. (Who did the alleging I forget).

A few years earlier the Encyclopedists (Diderot, D'Alambert, etc) also believed it was possible to include the entire sum of human knowledge in their work.

Whilst these claims may have been fanciful even in their own day, they do help highlight the vast changes in our relationship with information in the subsequent 200 years or so.
posted by johnny novak at 4:44 AM on March 14, 2005

I greatly enjoyed this post--Matthew Derby's book is now in my queue of things to read.
posted by Prospero at 6:15 AM on March 14, 2005

One of the qualities people (and most animate creatures from the amoeba on up) possess that is absolutely a precursor to intelligent action, but which is wholly underappreciated, and thus generally engineered out of mechanical systems, including computers, is fatigue. Fatigue is not even appreciated by those of us who owe it big time, and is in fact, frequently looked upon as a failing, something to be overcome, or corrected.

Too bad, because it is this very capacity to become disenthralled by repetition, that spurs much of our science, and drives some of our most novel thinking. A tired man did not invent the wheel. It took a man tired of becoming tired to do that. Fatigue is a strong biological spur to greater efficiency, and to learning, since the animal that attempts mastery by brute strength and dogged repetition loses in evolutionary terms to the weaker, more easily fatigued, but more adaptable successor.

Give me a computer that get tired, and wants to do something about it, and I'll give you artificial intelligence in our lifetimes...
posted by paulsc at 7:00 PM on March 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

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