17 December 2007
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!