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17 December 2007

Connect-Disconnect


Today in philosophy class we discussed the telos, or ultimate purpose, of various activities or objects, including technology. We got into an interesting discussion of art and technology's potential to either connect people together into surprising communities (such as the virtual community of strangers created by a blog) or to disconnect them from one another (such as the sad fact that I may never meet some of you commenters face-to-face, or the isolationism invoked by single-user music devices). I think this conversation deserves further exploration--and is perhaps seasonally relevant as you may anticipate giving or receiving technological gifts at Christmas. Before commenting, please take a look at some of Rosie's thoughts: Rosie has a couple of posts here and here and an excellent article here about the relationship of technology to the arts and spirituality and community.

Then I'd like to you write a comment inspired by the following questions.

1. Have you ever experienced artistic or technological community? Little Sarah mentioned in class that she has made some friends based on their interests in similar music, even though she may have nothing else in common with them. Does anyone else have a story about how technology or art brought you into community or created some kind of society?

2. Have you ever experienced artistic or technological isolation? (Are you experiencing it right now, as you answer these questions alone in your room with only the screen for company???) In what specific ways do work of art and new inventions isolate, divide, or even polarize individuals?

3. Do you think that the invention of any particular technologies can be inherently dangerous, or is the value of any given technology only in its uses or abuses? What limitations, if any, do you think should be put on the creation and usage of arts and technologies? Or do you think that responses should be made solely by consumers, and not legislated by any authority?




I'll start by narrating some anecdotes of my own. First of all, I've created some kind of a virtual community by means of technology that I would never have been able to create in the "real world," because I simply would not have met people. I've been able to communicate via email and blogs with many noted C. S. Lewis scholars, and the beauty of these contacts is that I've been able to, or am planning to, meet many of those people in "real life." This is a huge blessing to me, since I mostly do my scholarly work in isolation and am not currently a member of an academic community.

But in contrast, I've had many instances when virtual communication has been a hindrance to human relationships. The most common occurrence is a misunderstanding of tone when a message is communicated via email. Now, as a writer, I ought to be able to communicate as well by email as by any other form of written communication. Yet there's something about the speed and facility of email that encourages brevity and haste, to which even I succumb. So there have been occasions on which someone has misunderstood my attitude, or I hers, over email. I'm sure there are other examples in my own life of the disconnections engendered by careless or thoughtless use of technology.

But here's a more serious disconnect: What about the stark severing that can be caused by, or at least a by-product of, sharp differences in artistic taste? I have had very intense, difficult conversations (almost arguments) over the value or quality of works of music or literature. Yes, I know, "No war about tastes" -- but sometimes we [read: "I"] feel so passionately about a book or poem or movie or song that we simple must defend it, or our love of it. I know I've come close to raising my voice (OK, maybe I did raise by voice) over my disgust about the misrepresentation of Faramir in the LOTR movies, or about the poor choice of the weak-faced, scratchy-voice Viggo Mortensen for the kingly Aragorn, or over the consummate artistry of Wagner, or over the moral and theological value of the essays of C. S. Lewis. Yes, obviously, I need to work on my attitude! But there have been, I am happy to report, more times in which the sudden discovery of a conjunction in taste has created or fused an instant connection, which sometimes has led to a lifelong friendship.

I'd like to here some specific examples of times that art has divided or united you from/with others. Thank you!

9 comments:

AVA said...

“1. Have you ever experienced artistic or technological community? Little Sarah mentioned in class that she has made some friends based on their interests in similar music, even though she may have nothing else in common with them. Does anyone else have a story about how technology or art brought you into community or created some kind of society?”

I frequently post at an online forum about a book i read a couple of years ago. I don't really like the book that much anymore, but i still post on the forum because of the friends i made.

I also would say music is a really easy way to make instant friends. Or to dislike someone for that matter. My best friends and I first became friends because we shared the same musical tastes and liked Lord of the Rings.

"Have you ever experienced artistic or technological isolation? (Are you experiencing it right now, as you answer these questions alone in your room with only the screen for company???) In what specific ways do work of art and new inventions isolate, divide, or even polarize individuals?"

My best friends and I can’t stand to watch Lord of the Rings anymore, but we’ve stayed friends because we worked at getting to know the rest of each other. I know now I am much better friends with them and have a lot more in common with them than movies and music. But that’s how it started, I would never have realized how cool they were otherwise. I think technology is useful like that, it gives people more things to potentially have in common with someone, but it can only take you so far. It gets you a foot in the door, but you still have to make the decision to walk through it. After that comes the choice to either go deeper, or to just remain where you are. If you choose to stay at just having movie or music likes together, then that seems like the technology didn’t help at all, because it froze a potentially beautiful friendship where it was. And I would say that is even worse than leaving them alone in the first place, because I see no reason to make half hearted attempts at a friendship and then let it go. At least if I never talked to that person in the first place, they wouldn’t feel as rejected as if I started up a friendship and then just let it slip through my fingers.

On the downside of technology, there are also a lot more opportunities for us to judge each other based on our likes and dislikes. In the end, does someone considering Pink Floyd a good or bad band make a person worth knowing any less? No, but we still judge each other like that. Unless someone likes the same things we do, we write them off into the “weird” group and won’t talk to them, or at the very least won’t feel the same connection we would if we would just stop pretending that they have to have our likes and dislikes to be our friends.

I also think that technology can isolate us, but only if we let it. It’s the usage I believe that further isolates us or brings us closer. The same music that brought you together in the first place if used at the wrong time can break the friendship. Or the computer. That is a great tool to stay connected to the friends you have that don’t live within visiting distance. I should know because my best friends only lived up here a year before moving back to New Jersey, but between the phone and computer, we still stay connected. But we can get lost in that same computer, chatting with all of our “friends” on myspace, facebook, or whatever and never get off our butts and meet them in person. I think it’s really stupid to create “friendships” online when you know that when you meet them in person you’ll never talk to them, face to face, and they won’t come up to you. Somehow you’d rather have a list of names and brag about how many friends you have when you couldn’t trust any of them to listen to anything you have to say.

A lot of times things can be misinterpreted or misread online and have serious consequences in real life. Friends who think you’re alluding to them when you’re not, friends who think you’re hitting on them when you’re not, friends who think you’re mad when you were just trying to joke around or being sarcastic. Especially sarcasm doesn’t come across as well online as in person, it tends to be taken as anger when it’s really just a shunned form of humor.

“Do you think that the invention of any particular technologies can be inherently dangerous, or is the value of any given technology only in its uses or abuses? What limitations, if any, do you think should be put on the creation and usage of arts and technologies? Or do you think that responses should be made solely by consumers, and not legislated by any authority?”

I think how and why we use something determines whether it is wrong or not. I think we could list a correct and an incorrect usage for any piece of technology. It’s all in the motive for what we do that right or wrong is determined. With that said I don’t think we should ban any piece of technology from being created or marketed. I may not agree with how some people use the technology, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should have to suffer just because a part of the whole abused it.

With art, which I would define as ‘something someone appreciates’, I don’t think we have any right to put limits on it. I have a right to view or not view what I want. So does everyone else. There shouldn’t be any rules that say I can’t look at what I want, and there shouldn’t be any rules that say I have to look at something I don’t want to. This is not to say it is advisable or right to look at certain art forms, only that the government has no right to say I can’t. That’s up to me to decide whether I should be looking at the art I am.

“But here's a more serious disconnect: What about the stark severing that can be caused by, or at least a by-product of, sharp differences in artistic taste? I have had very intense, difficult conversations (almost arguments) over the value or quality of works of music or literature”

Yeah, same here…especially about music. I think part of the reason people disagree over music, movies, lit, etc. is because of why it attracts them, or what about it that appeals to them. Some people listen to the music they do because they relate to the lyrics, others because they are into the guitar riffs, others so they can learn new drum beats, some for the singers, background vocals, etc. If we can realize and accept that people listen to music for different reasons, and agree to not shun people because they’re different, then we should be fine. Like, I listen to a lot of music with cursing and other crap in it, and some people have problems with that, but I don’t think it is wrong because I’m not listening to music like that because of the explicit lyrics. I listen to it for the artists voices, and they happen to sing explicitly.

“Yes, I know, "No war about tastes" -- but sometimes we [read: "I"] feel so passionately about a book or poem or movie or song that we simple must defend it, or our love of it”

I think the reason I react so strongly to people not liking the music I like is because I see it as a part of my identity, of me, and feel like people are disrespecting me because they don’t like it. I then feel attacked and go on to defend myself instead of realizing it for what it really is, just a difference in preferences. Somehow my mind connects people not liking what I like as people not liking me. And a lot of times that isn’t true. If I can learn to separate people not having the same tastes as me from people’s approval of me, I’m normally a lot better off.

Rosie Perera said...

Great post! Excellent questions -- lots of food for thought. I like the symmetry of it, too: looking at the propensities towards community and isolation for both technology and the arts. (The Greek word technē, from which we get our word technology, means both the arts of the mind as well as the fine arts and crafts, so it's not accidental that you should draw these parallels.) I'll have to mull this one over for a while and get back to you. Looking forward to hearing what others have to say.

Darlin said...

Well, one great blessing for me,that has come from internet connections was when I moved away a couple years ago to a very bad place. Through the net I was able to keep touch with friends and make friends, which encouraged me immensely.

But internet is a dangerous place to. You have to find a safe line to express yourself and not give away too much info. There have been SO many cases for internet stalkers.

And as for one-person musical devices...that isolation is what sometimes makes them more appealing.
1. Because you get to control what you are listening to without haveing to give thought to what other people may want to hear if you were sharing.
2. Often times today, esp. in teens, music is an escape. A way to almost vent... and the isolation it gives one makes it ideal.
3. Also many times i know i at least use it when doing school...so that others will not distract me...and indeed leave me isolated.

or when I go running....

Often times not everyone wants to hear music the same time you do...or by the same people...
so this isolation is conveniant.

However, I can see the dangers of the isolation.
Sometimes it promotes 'loner' images when it would really be better to make friends or to participate in whatever is going on.

Ive seen them used disrespectfully too...such as in teh classroom when there should be participation.

And of course blasting music will never drown out ones problems...unfortunatly....one-person musical devices make us think we can.


Once again the good and evils are dependant upin the way the device is used.

ava said...

"And as for one-person musical devices...that isolation is what sometimes makes them more appealing.
1. Because you get to control what you are listening to without haveing to give thought to what other people may want to hear if you were sharing.
2. Often times today, esp. in teens, music is an escape. A way to almost vent... and the isolation it gives one makes it ideal.
3. Also many times i know i at least use it when doing school...so that others will not distract me...and indeed leave me isolated."

i agree with all of those points. Ecspecially number 2. If you can't physically get away from stuff, music is another way of taking your mind away from problems, annoyances, frustrating situations, etc. I know at least for me if i throw on some headphones after getting upset and just escape and get my mind off of whatever it was that upset me i usually don't do anything super rash. It's saved me from doing some really stupid things i've wanted to do...

With number 3, i've noticed that just listening to music in general makes me a lot more concentrated on whatever i want to, wether that's interactions between people, reading books, doing school, work, etc...

"Sometimes it promotes 'loner' images when it would really be better to make friends or to participate in whatever is going on."

i like how you pointed this out. A lot of times people assume the person is trying to be antisocial or just prefers to listen to music in public when in most cases i've discovered the person with headphones usually feels socially inadequate or handicapped and listens to music to regain that sense of comfort he or she has by the familiarity of listening to music. If you actually go up to someone who is listening to music in public, they are normally more than willing to talk to you, or they just mumble or don't say much which most people interpret as a 'go away, i'd rather listen to music' when in most cases it's really just that the person isn't the most socially versed person on the planet and doesn't know what to say, and probably feels like they're making an idiot out of themselves no matter what they say. In other words, it's nothing more than a person who is or feels socially awkward trying to regain confidence in who they are.

"And of course blasting music will never drown out ones problems"

depending on the problem, i would agree, but listening to music can help you figure out a solution to a problem that you can act on later. But i know what you mean. People these days seem to give up on relationships with friends easily just because they have a disagreement or something. Instead of resolving that conflict right away, both parties tend to seperate and go watch tv instead. The TV gives them a sense of acceptance, so they figure maybe they were better of without the friend anyway. The tv doesn't demand something from you in return for something. You just turn it on and BOOM! instance acceptance and stimulation, without any work. But in the end it tends to leave a person empty anyway.

Rosie Perera said...

OK, I finally am back after Christmas travels and have time to post a reply.

1. Have you ever experienced artistic or technological community?

Yes! Playing in a brass quintet was one of the best experiences of artistic community I've ever had. Other musical groups I've played or sung in ("big band" style jazz band, university band, Regent choir, etc.) have also been fun but not like a small ensemble where the harmonies are so tight and you can hear every single other player. Singing in the Microtones (Microsoft's a capella singing group) was also similar, and four-part harmony hymn singing with my small church fellowship in Vancouver is pretty cool, too. The camaraderie that surrounds making music together is very special, whether it's consciously being made to the glory of God (as in church choirs) or not.

Another form of artistic community I've experienced is going out on a photo shoot together with photographer friends, or looking over each other's work and giving each other feedback. I've only done these activities rarely and ad hoc, but lately I have been thinking of starting a photographer's group specifically for this purpose, to encourage each other in developing our artistic gifts and vision.

Technology has facilitated community for me as well as been the basis of shared values and friendship. I participate actively in the online community at the Anagrammy Forum, and consider many of the regulars there friends of mine, even though I've never met most of them. I did make a point of getting together with three of them who live near London when I was passing through a few months ago. Meeting them in person was no big surprise, since they were very much like what I'd expected from all our banter online.

When I was working as a software engineer, many of my friends were from work, and we shared a fun geeky sense of humor. I've stayed friends with several of them, and our lives still are inextricably involved with technology, so we understand each other's joys and challenges at a deeper level than people who have never worked in the industry.

2. Have you ever experienced artistic or technological isolation?

When I was going through my moody teenage years, I used to hole up in my room by myself with my headphones on and listen to music on my stereo. One of my favorite albums was Simon & Garfunkel's Greatest Hits, and one my favorites of their songs, which kind of sums up my whole experience of that decade, was "I Am a Rock." It describes artistic isolation perfectly: "I have my books / And my poetry to protect me; / I am shielded in my armor, / Hiding in my room, safe within my womb. / I touch no one and no one touches me. / I am a rock, / I am an island." In my case it wasn't books and poetry that I built my fortress out of, but I can see now how even those could be used to shut out others. However, they can also be ways to share community (book clubs, poetry groups, etc.)

Technological isolation is harder to define. Is it "technological isolation" when I'm sitting alone at my computer reading and writing emails, playing Scrabulous, or responding to fascinating posts on this blog? Or only if I'm doing something online that doesn't involve other people? But how do you define whether something online involves other people? Everything I read online was written by someone. Maybe the criterion has to be that I know the person whose writing I'm reading? But often I get to know them through their writing. Just like I find I'm developing friendships with some of the spiritual authors of centuries past whose books I read.

I would say that we cross the line into isolation when we begin to interact with the technology itself instead of the people behind it. For example, if I spend hours twiddling with settings on my computer to try to get something to work, that's pretty isolating. The worst part is that I'm probably not aware when it's happening. And hours could go by in that sort of state without me even being aware of my own body and its needs.

2b. In what specific ways do works of art and new inventions isolate, divide, or even polarize individuals?

Others have approached this question in terms of tastes, but access is another way in which art and technology can divide or polarize. In both arenas, there are the "haves" and the "have-nots." Some have the artistic education or the money to enjoy concerts, art museums (when they aren't free to the public), etc. Then there are individuals who have not had these privileges. Similarly, there are people who do not have many of the requisites of life in this technological society because they either don't know how to use computers or can't afford one or have no public access in their village. An Internet connection is not yet absolutely essential, but the time might come when people without one will be unable to transact business, vote, read the news, etc. And people who are computer illiterate will have a hard time getting a job, apart from the most menial work which doesn't pay well enough to raise them up out of poverty. So yes, there are ways that access (or lack thereof) to art and technology divides people into classes, or magnifies divisions that already exist.

3. Do you think that the invention of any particular technologies can be inherently dangerous, or is the value of any given technology only in its uses or abuses? What limitations, if any, do you think should be put on the creation and usage of arts and technologies? Or do you think that responses should be made solely by consumers, and not legislated by any authority?

Huge question! This opens up the whole topic of bioethics. To take one element of that: just because we can develop the technology to monkey around with plant, animal, and human genes, should we do so? Yes, probably, most of the time. I think genetic engineering can be helpful and can be used to battle incurable diseases. But there is probably a line we should draw somewhere. The big question is where.

Some would argue that we should keep going as long as there is more to discover and/or more problems to solve that might be solvable with more technology. But there are times when I think our technology creates more new problems than it solves. It takes a great deal of patience, wisdom, time, and a kind of foresight that we haven't figured out yet (who knows whether we'll ever be able to) to be able to determine when this will be the case. It might be that our ability to find technological solutions to even the problems we create with our technology make it worth continuing to develop our inventions with no limits, but I tend to doubt it.

Christians (particularly conservative ones) have tended to fall on the side of strong limitations to technology whenever it involves the beginning and end of human life, but give little thought whatsoever when it involves the bits in the middle (or when it appears not to concern human life at all, such as technologies that harm the environment -- but ultimately that does come back to affect us humans). As these are all very complex questions, we ought to use interdisciplinary approaches when developing our criteria, and we should apply them consistently.

Jo said...

sorry, I don’t have any particular story right now, but I agree art and music definitely bring people together, regardless of their backgrounds - you don’t need to speak a certain language or anything like that to appreciate art and music.
It's obvious that things like ipods and computers can isolate people, but I wouldn’t say that it’s always a bad thing to be isolated – it’s nice to be able to just turn on your music and get away from life. The danger is, of course, forgetting to return to life and just letting yourself remain in isolation. I don’t think that technology should be censored or restricted, I think it’s up to the consumer.
Likes and dislikes in music or art can divide people, but I don’t think they should. They shouldn’t be so important that you will totally cut a person off simply because of what kind of music they like. Personally, I don’t really care about what kind of music a person likes, that’s not what makes them a good person. You shouldn’t judge someone because they have this cd or listen to that kind of music. Losing friends and making enemies over music is pretty stupid, at least in my humble opinion. :]

Rosie Perera said...

Jo's mention of iPods reminded me of a story I meant to tell: I took on teaching the youth Sunday School class at my church one Sunday and decided to focus on the topic of technology and how it affects us. Four kids in the class: two boys & two girls. Both of the boys showed up with iPod ear buds in their ears. One of them insisted on keeping them in the entire time and I didn't make him take them out. He claimed he was capable of multi-tasking and paying attention to us as well as listening to his music at the same time. I thought it was an interesting element for the discussion so I allowed it to continue. I personally felt disconnected from him more than he might have felt from me, because of his iPod. So it's not necessarily just a self-isolation thing. You have to take into account the feelings of others around you.

Also, I have been following "Telling it All" the video blog of Geriatric1927 (Peter Oakley) on YouTube, with some interest for a few months, ever since I discovered him through the Zimmers' (geriatric band) rendition of The Who's "My Generation." Here's one particular post, where Peter talks about the friends he has made through YouTube, a great example of technology fostering community.

hmmm said...

Yeah, I definitely have experienced "artistic/technological community".
Music is a huge part of my life. I met a few of my friends through
music....we sort of realized we loved certain bands and then it was a lot easier to have a conversation.
I'm not sure about the whole isolation thing. I mean, when it comes to mp3 players/ipods and computers and stuff, I know it can be isolating. Like jo said, that's not necesarily a bad thing. But I guess when it either controls your life, like, "I can't survive a day without my ipod" or else you become completely incapable of interacting with people, it's ovbiously gone too far. I guess it's about making it a balance. Sure, you can be by yourself listening to your music or typing on your computer. But it can't control your life, and you can't be totally anti-social and not talk to people.

little sarah said...

Well, this is a late comment, sorry, but hopefully better late than never. I already answered question one in class so for question two-

2. "Have you ever experienced artistic or technological isolation? (Are you experiencing it right now, as you answer these questions alone in your room with only the screen for company???) In what specific ways do work of art and new inventions isolate, divide, or even polarize individuals?"

Right now, I'm not experiencing technological isolation at all :], I'm at our family's long time friends’ house trying to catch up on homework with a faster computer. My younger brother is talking with his elder by 20-ish years about the LOTR books and movies (which is another example of how unlikely friendships come out of technology). There are kids coming in and out and I just received my first paper-made graduation cap from a little friend :].
I do agree with Darlin's points on one-person musical devices...they do tend to isolate most people. But it might be a little different for someone like me who absolutely hates being alone. When I have my headphones on in the car I am constantly looking around to see if any of my siblings mouths are moving because I don't want to ignore them or miss anything they say :] When there isn't anyone around who wants to listen to me or tell me something I use music to avoid feeling isolated. I usually would rather being listening/talking to a person I can help or who can help me. When I am doing school I can't concentrate without a study partner or music. I usually get the most done with a study partner and the second most done with music. I listen to music with words when I'm doing math and chemistry equations because I am working primarily with numbers (not words). Any reading, writing, etc. I use instrumental music. When no one is up late at night to talk with, I listen to music to avoid feeling lonely until I fall asleep. I love music and it’s on my top ten list but people are above it.

3. Do you think that the invention of any particular technologies can be inherently dangerous, or is the value of any given technology only in its uses or abuses? What limitations, if any, do you think should be put on the creation and usage of arts and technologies? Or do you think that responses should be made solely by consumers, and not legislated by any authority?

I agree with Jo- "I don’t think that technology should be censored or restricted, I think it’s up to the consumer."

Some "art" should be illegal or kept illegal (i.e. child porn, propaganda….) But the vast majority of art and probably all music should not be censored (unless personally requested). We should, however, be truthfully warned by ratings (movies: G, PG, R, X, etc.) (video games: G, T, M, etc.), and reviews which give examples of things that would possibly offend someone.