Inventing the Self

The Silence of the Hop-Scotchers

November 15th, 2013 by John Giunta · 6 Comments

I’m only about halfway into Turkel (I haven’t read chapter 12 yet) but I find myself having a hard time reconciling my experience with what she’s saying. For me, this distance is not an issue of accuracy, but of opinion; I can’t agree with the conclusions Turkel is drawing, even if her examples might resonate. A few of her points (especially about multi-tasking, or seeking solace in virtual worlds) are good ones, but then I’m disappointed when she uses these moments of analysis to further her techno-pessimism. I was careful not to write Turkel’s and my differences off as indicative of  the generation gap, however I’m starting to think that there is credence to this issue I’m trying to skirt, that maybe Turkel’s reliance on doing things the “old-fashioned” way and the persistence of slight errors of misreading the methods in which people utilize social networks is evidence of irreconcilable interpretive communities. I could play a rapidly dangerous drinking game that revolved around counting the moments in the essay where Turkel reminisces about a technology-free time, juxtaposed against a negative example of people and their machinery “nowadays”. I wonder if a techno-ubi sunt genre of poetry is not too far off, with aging “lords” and “ladies” bemoaning the lost Tumblr-less summers of yesteryear?

Facetiousness aside, I do wonder about how different generations understand technology and its impact on socializing. Unlike Turkel, I would argue that texting and IM-ing are, in-fact, that “old wine in new bottles”, if the old wine stands in for corresponding and keeping in contact and the new bottle is this social networking technology. I might not have the historical perspective Turkel has, but its hard for me to see how advances in computers and computer availability and access are not the latest step in an evolutionary chain that includes the printing press, the development of official mail carrying institutions, telegraphs, etc. Is that crazy, or uninformed? Advances in technology make connectivity faster and more frequent – this seems to me the most basic core of what’s happening here, of what’s always happening.

I preferred the Ito chapter, as Pascoe was able to distance himself from judging and relied on these interviews to extrapolate different modes of interaction possible through Myspace and IM, and what these interactions looked like. These examples also lined up with my experience, but Pascoe’s research was less prone than Turkel’s to misquote or mistake phrases or color observed practices with obvious bias (“The Twitter” comes to mind. My mom says things like that.) People do seem horrified by the idea of a lived experience taking place online, or mystified by the seemingly  arbitrary, complex social codes of networking outlets like Facebook, but I’d once again point to past lives lived in correspondence, to the complicated combination of private and public cues and modes that have always ruled courtship and dating.

But I suppose my problem with Turkel’s bias could be applied to me as well. By the time I really began to socialize in a public sphere bigger than my classmates and close family, I had internet and texting access. So, right at the onset of adolescence, I was already plugged into the grid. What’s more, I had a Gameboy Color (the dark purple one) well before I was a teenager, or had even really been outside my home – so I wonder how much of how I navigate and interact with the “real” world is shaped by formative experiences with exploring the “fake” worlds of Pokemon Blue and Legends of Zelda: A Link to the Past. If you look long enough into the Matrix, does the Matrix look back? Can we see outside of our biased perspectives ever, even with acclimation and learning and contact with new ideas?

In her Introduction, Turkel states “If the problem is that too much technology has made us busy and anxious, the solution will be another technology that will organize, amuse, and relax us.” as the confused viewpoint towards robot companions. Fear of a Skynet Planet notwithstanding, I would once again (and for the last time) say that this has always been the role of technology, to mediate and replace. Some of the discomfort with these new “plugged-in” people seems to be the uncanny closeness I discussed earlier in class this week, of a realization that maybe humans are machines too. Not that we have become mechanized or assimilated, but that we always were connected, at a very basic level, to our tools. Inextricably so.

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6 responses so far ↓

  • John Giunta // Nov 16th 2013 at 4:27 pm
    I want one.
    Strains of Turkel’s “perfect storm” – I wonder what the ultimate message behind Phoenix’s character’s relationship with ScarJo-bot will be?
    Last one – this is already out and I think it can be streamed on youtube in full.

  • Shona Mari Sapphire // Nov 18th 2013 at 10:55 am

    I understand your concept of humans being always already tied to their tools- throughout history- as a mechanism of life management and persistence. But one differential point made by Turkel which I think seems incontrovertible is the idea that these tools, in the form of present day technology create an existential black hole of sorts. Through our use of technological tools we are both sucked into absentia and enforce disappearance onto others, “It is those on the phone who mark themselves absent. Sometimes people signal departure by putting a phone to their ear, but often it appears in more subtle ways – there may be a glance down at a mobile device during dinner or a meeting. A ‘place’used to comprise a physical space and the people within it. What is a place if those who are physically present have their attention on the absent?” (Ch 12, p155) Maybe what constitutes a “place” is no longer a ubiquitous notion. Those reared since the late 1990’s (?), have grown up within a “place” inhabited by half present humans.
    I was also laughing each time I read – “nowadays…” I really have to wonder if she and her editor didn’t convene to decide on using this repeating phrase as a way of sticking it to a younger generation and/or placing an unquestionable anachronistic stamp on the entire premise?

  • Shona Mari Sapphire // Nov 19th 2013 at 7:41 pm

    After reading Ito’s work, the one thing not emphasized as clearly as Turkle’s perspective is the concept of how self-development in young people is affected by technology. Turkel’s “I share therefore I am” speaks directly to the transformation and diminution of self-development, resulting from technology’s infiltration into everyday thinking, being and interacting. I wondered if you felt any differently after watching her online lecture. It seems hard to deny the notion that there is an ever-diminishing “capacity for solitude” (no longer needed when social formats are always immediately accessible), tied directly to an inability to self-reflect and therefore truly connect with others. The ability to self-regulate, self-reflect and be emotionally self-sufficient must suffer an interruption when one is never alone- and can rely on the delusion of people who will listen- in the form of social media content and false “feedback”. This reminds me of the Quantified Self movement which I think was a way of perhaps re-connecting one’s attention back to one’s self- the capacity to self-reflect, even if through data tracking -still perhaps could be a manner of introspection, sort of in the same realm as the capacity to be alone. Share with one’s self rather than others, in order to know one’s identity.

  • matthew finston // Nov 19th 2013 at 10:18 pm

    No! no! Do not hesitate John! Strike down the Turkles where they stand! Sorry, I know that was a bit dramatic. But I agree with your criticisms of Turkle. For me, this reading was problematic on so many levels. I feel that Turkle is just representing herself as an old-fogey. I think as a psychoanalysis she could have handled this subject in a more nuanced way. Instead, she demonizes people without trying to fully understand them.

    I like your idea that technological advancements in communication expose a variant of sociality as inextricable connectedness. Although I am wary of claiming “were were always connected,” it sounds as though you are articulating essentialized characteristic of “human nature.”

    I am wondering instead how you feel about looking at technological advancements in communication, not as a form of disclosure, but as a form of productive power.

  • Gabriel R. Seijo // Nov 19th 2013 at 10:48 pm

    I think that the main problem with Turkel’s bias is her lack of mention of the environments that are causing the alone togetherness. She only considers how people turn toward technology for attention, and makes it seem as if technology out of nowhere became a better attention giver than other people. It is everyday relationships and their difficulties what has made technology a better companion. Before smartphones people felt alone too, smartphones were not smart enough to out perform the companionship of others, smartphones were smart enough to be companionship where others were not being so.

  • Kristina Bodetti // Nov 20th 2013 at 3:59 pm

    A comment on the generation gap:

    You brought it up both in saying that you didn’t want to chalk differences up to it but that it also seemed evident.
    It is evident and there is no denying the effect it has on the older generations perspective. My father, as far as I know, never used the internet in his life. He took a training course at work on computer use, he had a cell phone and loved his dvd player but never used the internet. There will always be a hurtle in new tech that the last generation won’t be able to get over.
    But, that said, its not the only problem with social media and new tech in general. There is a real human problem with the techification, to coin a word, of communication. There are kids today who really don’t know how to write properly, who don’t know how to talk to other human beings properly. Humans are social animals and that term encompasses more than social media can provide. Its not just sharing with people, looking at pictures of them and exchanging words; it watching a persons reactions on their face (the ability to follow a persons line of sight is something only humans and domesticated dogs share as far as we know and there is a good reason for it). Physical contact is important to human socialization, its why we shake hands or fist bump or high five, its why we hug, its why we hold hands and its why we kiss.

    So, the generation gap is an important reason why people like Turkle are negative about new tech but, as someone who isn’t “that old” (only 25), there are more insidious dangers that need to be address as tech advances.

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