Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I Text Therefore I Am

Before Wittgenstein closes the door on philosophy, let us think of two concepts texting and being. Though texting is not yet considered therapeutic, Ludwig might have considered it therapeutical.

Since the beginning of time people marked items as a means of passing information to others, this included stone carving, indents in clay, knotted lengths of cord and scratching of plates of lead, copper and wood.

Texting derives from astronomical observations, the introduction of characters from nature, fire, water, animals of the earth and birds of flight, and the beginning of the Syllabic method of writing i.e., the use of characters to represent sound.

Just as today's software programs increase our texting bandwidth so to speak, so too did the leaves of plants and the bark of trees advance the use of writing. Egyptian papyrus bought the ancient libraries of Alexandria and Pergamum to life.

Papyrus became so popular a writing material with the ancient Egyptian hipsters that laws were introduced preventing it leaving its country of origin in the East. This caused a shortage of papyrus in the West which led to the birth of new writing materials: Vellum and Parchment (produced from animal skins). Saxons of the dark ages used the bark of the beech tree, called boc, from whence comes the word book.

Texting has brought back law to the act of physical communication in that we cannot text while driving. While some may consider this a violation of free speech, there is a real danger associated with "not looking up in time" while driving.

Not looking up is what I see of people everywhere I look. While walking down the streets of Paris (in front of the Galleries Lafayette - I can't say "Lafayette" without thinking of the word Laugh, which then makes me feel right at home in this shopping center given we share the same namesake), I see people everywhere walking while not looking up. I weave in and out and dodge them like Frogger crossing motor vehicles, logs, crocodiles, and turtles to arrive home.

What defines texting is not the menial task one must perform to transmit a message, but the moves - the lingo - that is executed on the screen. The sending and receiving of a message transforms an otherwise trivial task into something that sheds light on who we really are, or at least who we think ourselves to be. Unlike tangible communication of the past, the text is used not so much to capture the mood as it is to alter it. The person walking down the street would rather be elsewhere, and we know it has something to do with who was on the other end of that TEXT. 

These images provide us with a mirror of ourselves in a world increasingly shaped in our own image. We alter our immediate environment, but no longer feel compelled to rely on our own imagination to do it. Who, after all, needs an imagination when we can simply text a message to a friend on our mobile digital devices and interject meaning into an otherwise insignificant act such as walking down the street or driving? 

Need some motivation to get through a day at work or a family dinner party? Perhaps while shopping for groceries you find yourself stuck in a long checkout line. What could be better than immersing yourself in a a text about being in the club last night...

Acknowledging the mobile device's many virtues - not the least of which is providing us with an emergency communication device - I feel compelled to give humorous voice to some of its potential vices. Having lived in big cities, I can certainly sympathize with the Metro rider who wants to escape her surroundings as quickly and thoroughly as possible. In such instances, texting presents itself as our savoir. 

Are there implicit dangers involved with escaping our environment and, in many cases, disabling our imagination? The greatest of inventions can cause problems that go unnoticed. Heidegger and his Hippo were preoccupied with modern technology, perhaps he has something to say on the matter. 

For Heidegger (and for me), the most important of all philosophical questions is the question of being. What does it mean to be? How do we come to terms with our own existence? Why is there something rather than nothing at all? (What would nothing look like?) Everyone has a different answer. 

Like Socrates, Heidegger believes that philosophy is more about asking questions than providing ready-made answers. To think that we can conclusively answer the question of being not only reveals a kind of ignorance about the nature of philosophical questioning but also an arrogance that finitude can conceive of infinitude. The most important questions in life do not get answered unless you forward this blog post to 10 people. 

Thinking is becoming something of an endangered species in an age dominated by modern technology. The concept of being, thought timeless in and of itself, must be rethought at every point in human history, since the world unfolds differently as we move through time. 

"Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it." Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology. 

The question of being thus amounts to how texting shapes our entire worldview, which presently includes everything from the way we think to the way we relate to each other to the way we treat the natural world while walking down the street texting. 

If we want to see texting for what it is, we must devote ourselves to such reflection regardless of whether or not our phone is buzzing with a message we're dying to check, just in case. 

If we were to characterize the difference between calculative and meditative thinking, we could say that, whereas the former was and continues to be used in the creation and manufacturing of Smart phones, the latter tends to be stunted in those who buy and perpetually use them. 

Calculative thinking is interested in producing results and manipulating things to our own advantage, meditative thinking considers the true nature of reality, the forces behind the forces that propel us forward through time, the way the world reveals itself and the place we OCCUPY in such revealing. 

To bring this beyond long post to a close, meditative thinking wrestles with the questions of being. As such, it requires concentration, and it requires a certain amount of silence, a certain amount of non-texting. 

To the extent that texting interferes with these requirements, invading our inner space and directing our attention (as well as the attention of future generations) elsewhere, is entirely up to us. 

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