Iron Maiden

Our long runs have now reached the 15-mile mark, which means running through cycles of pain. One of the few advantages of this kind of self-torture comes in the form of justification (self?) for public complaining during the run. This Saturday, this gripe-fest during the last 4 (or so) miles became rather creative. The winner of our "Whine Slam" came in the form of a metaphor. From here on out, our long runs will be described as "puttin' on the pain-skirt."


Leaving the Electric Forest

Our subjectivities are always imminent. We exist as subjects before we are aware of it. Louis Althusser and Judith Butler describe the process of ideology creating us and us responding to our own mirror image as “hailing,” or “interpellation.” Like a person that responds to a “hey you” on the street by looking (and by admitting that they could be a “you” that is yelled to on the street), any conscious choice admits to a subject’s constructedness. Technology, or the more ossified practices and materiality of ideology, hails relentlessly. Phones ring, inboxes fill, facebook pages are commented upon with breathless pace and with an almost deafening roar. We are the “To” line in every message, and we had better acknowledge that we are on the hook to do something about it, or there may be consequences.

Although this hailing can seem unyielding and unrelenting, Althusser recognized that ideologies only manifest in action: ideology matters most with “material practices governed by a material ritual.” We are already constituted by our ideologies, but only insofar as they determine what we do on a regular basis. We are who we perform.

This performance of electronic subservience is the core of why I am slowly abandoning social media. A second, related reason for abandoning social media is the way that connection gets metaphorized as a capital transaction. As a technology, social media is really a combination of attention structures that keep me thinking about the world in an acquiring and acquisitive manner. I am looking at my monitor and position myself as someone who responds to images, words, and other signification by generating my own signifiers. An endless tennis match, the beginning of which occurs when one opens an account, can keep a person on the treadmill of response, ever chained to cellphones, laptops, and tablet computers. Ringing phones, unanswered prompts, hovering IM boxes, and full inboxes all scream “Answer me…OR ELSE!!!”

What starts as a sporadic, sparse, even Spartan set of interactions can soon grow into a dense and involving back-and-forth as one’s network of “friends” and contacts becomes denser. The layers of a social media user’s life re-constitute themselves online, combining past, present, good, distant, and even pseudo friends. What was formerly more intimate, immediate, and private information becomes public; boundaries for sharing and withholding become folded into the process of interpellation. When experiment gives way to ritual, the process of interpellation seems complete and almost unchangeable, except that it is not.

I teach about New Media, and have noted that every technology, especially communication technologies, are accompanied by a period of uncertainty, celebration, and ultimately, panic. What I have not witnessed firsthand, however, is how quickly the rituals that accompany new communication technologies can tear at the fabric of hard-won bonds of trust and friendship. Turning one’s attention away from the cues and carefully-created rituals of material practice when a new technology hails leads you away from the well-worn pathways of communication and ritual that people array themselves around. Responding to new hailing moves all of the welcome mats.

Fortunately, habitus can be changed. While it initially seems painful to give up a television, a phone, email, or a facebook account, it is important to note that most of the world does not integrate many of these technologies into daily living. These commodifying media aren’t necessary for daily existence. They don’t really matter to the great majority of people who haveever lived on the planet. Stories were told, information shared, bonds formed, love expressed, and transactions…well, transacted. New communication technologies matter mostly to the wealthy and well-positioned. These instantaneous and visible connections help us frame social interactions as ones of economy. Images, words, and sounds that re-present memory are invested, traded, and exchanged for the time and attention that would be proffered living these moments with those physically proximate. Emotion is re-aligned with those who have the greatest access to the privileged signifiers of intimacy rather than those who we share the space with. Electronic networks replace other physical networks; Re-mediation doesn’t just supplement, it realigns and re-places. McLuhan is right when he declares the medium is the message and the masssage. How we say things is both what we say and who we are.

One of the things that can be re-figured by un-wiring is reconnecting with the cues that one uses to create a sense of relationship to the world. The emotional cues, physical cues, and even social cues that exceed these particular definitions emerge from the sensed landscape. Away from mediation, these cues mean particular things. With mediation, we add yet another layer of meaning and inflection that complicates how we view the world. Although this alternative gets us no closer to Plato’s notion of forms (and out of his cave), it does create a different and somewhat more direct relationship to the ancient environments and cycles that we have evolved from. While it may be tempting to see the built environment as one continuous and undifferentiated soup of adaptation, the cues and affordances of the physical, oral, and aural environments all grant us access through their own reciprocities. To acknowledge the duration of the sunlight as a defining aspect of our day (rather than, say, taking cues from the machine-gun regularity of a news feed in Facebook) aligns us with the sweep of the seasons and the adaptations that our ancestors worked into our dwellings and technologies. To pay attention to the people we share a house, street, or office with rather than the most frequent and/or clever status updater is to align ourselves with a long history of interacting with our environment.

To better honor the sacred spaces of my body, my home, and my relationships, I have begun to un-wire (and un-wireless). I don’t go to facebook or Twitter but once a week. I don’t check my email or look at the Internet on the weekends unless it is for a scheduled work session. I(we) even take Internet Sabbaths at least one day a week. This realignment grew out of the shock of recognition that I had become enslaved to the always-on hailings of my wireless-enabled laptop. While many minimalist-living gurus cite this electronic decoupling as an epideictic imperative, it is mainly an assertion of subjective choice. Just like I choose to not eat meat mostly to make room for better choices, I choose to curtail my electronic networking to make room for the people and relationships that I have worked so hard to live in.