Inventing the Self


November 19th, 2013 by matthew finston · No Comments

SOO, I know it is not my turn to go….but I couldn’t resist.
I think we can start off by saying that Turkle’s alarmist “Alone Together” is problematic. I think it would be useful to consider: Sherry, why have you been criticized for pathologizing people who seek intimacy through nonnormative partners? Hmm? Why would people take offense to an authoritative figure, professor from MIT, policing sexual and social norms? I wonder why she has been criticized for committing the same sin of the anti-gay marriage interest groups by defining criteria of normative relationships? Could it be that her critics find it problematic that she imposes the psychiatric gaze on bodies seeking alternative forms of intimacy? Could it be that she is moralizing proper sexuality? Could it be gay rights activism historically has not been limited to marriage rights but reflects a complex and dynamic protest against the juridical and disciplinary deployment of heteronormativity? Could it be that “Alone Together” is in fact a treatise for the reconstitution of the abnormal/normal binary in order to encode the conditions of proper sociality?


I think it is possible to have a serious discussion about the role of technology in the modern age without resorting to moralizing discourses about proper sociality. This is not it.


Her questions are all wrong and her framework is worse. The introduction is characteristically oblivious. Which site does she choose to situate this alarmist rhetoric? None other than the Museum of Natural History. Is it worthwhile to remind ourselves that the natural history museum was founded on the “spectacle” of imperialism and colonialization? Rather than investigating how interpretations of “spectacle” inform a preference for a robotic tortoise over one alive, she exhibits the children’s failure to see the true value in the spectacle as indicative of the dystopic reality technology has created.
To a “child” who has no conception of Darwin, the theory of evolution, or the complex historical debates that have emerged due to the evolutionary discourse, an inert tortoise is not interesting. The tortoise is not the spectacle. The spectacle is the deployment of evolutionary theory. It is that yummy feeling of reminding the antievolutionists how wrong they are. Without a concept of this, the spectacle can be nothing more than the object itself. And there is nothing spectacular about an inert animal. On the other hand, animatronics are preferable because they are a recomposition of life not as it is but as it should be. They are not lifeless. They represent an excess of life. The very function and composition is to make objects overflow with interminable life.
Thus, it is not less life that is desirable. Technological innovation is primarily concerned with the rejection of the finite. Further, technological advancements in communication are not used to run away from life. It is to inject life exponentially into every crevice once devoid of life. No moment should ever pass without having at our fingertips access to the excess of life.
I am going to try to sum up an alternative analysis of “spectacle.” A spectacle is an object of consumption (see Debord’s Society of a Spectacle). Debord argues, “The spectacle’s function in society is the concrete manufacture of alienation.” Debord uses a marxist analysis to create a theory of spectacle. I am not necessarily endorsing this. I am merely using the theme of alienation to turn the gaze back on Turkle. In what ways does she reinforce a culture of alienation by endorsing the spectacle of pathologized intimacy? How alienated do you feel now that you have found out that your predilection for technological gadgets is abnormal?
The understanding of what is worthy of a “spectacle” is not ahistorical, but has discursively reflected contemporaneous notions of the magnification of alterity. Think of Ota Benga in the early 20th century who was displayed in the Museum of Natural History and the Bronx Zoo. Or Saartje Beetman, also known as the Hottentot Venus, also an object of the spectacle. And today, we still have exhibits of prehistoric hunter/gatherers who for some reason also anachronistically practiced heteronormative sociality exhibited as the nuclear family.
I think my biggest problem with this book is not that Turkle claims modern forms of communication produce alienation. Rather, that the text is embedded in the realm of moralism. But as a psychoanalyst, that is her job. She has the responsibility to help our fragile society. Parents need to know that giving their kids cellphones will lead to Robot marriages. Society is too weak-minded to realize that avatars are a perversion of proper sociality. Parents must protect their children! Poor Turkle has the sole responsibility to project judgments on inferior forms of sociality in order to help us discern the normal from abnormal. Thank you Sherry Turkle.

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