Communications theorist Lee Thayer once wrote, “We ‘dilute’ the world by having an idea of it; and the intent of our words is, more often than not, to eliminate the world as resistance (Thayer 190).” As languaging creatures, our comprehension of the world is at once in direct contact with it (with certain spatial areas, horizons, surfaces, humans) and at the same time a part from it via language, creative expression, technology and so so on. That is to say, our ways of grasping the world is usually, most of the time, extending beyond the immediate here-and-now concreteness of reality, projecting ourselves onto things and others. Even when we are engaged in the concrete and ever-flowing “now,” we almost without control cover it over and lose what it could be with our self-talk or with symbolic complexes about how it should be. In the above quotation Thayer is calling us to think about the ways in which we understand our worlds, the ways in which we conceptually apprehend the concrete (via language) and how, perhaps, our talking serves the purpose of watering down the absolute harshness of the physical world.
To use one example, in my current life situation I interact with computers everyday at home and at work. Just this evening, standing outside, I opened up my mobile phone, connected to the Web and checked my email. To some extent, the sense of aloneness, of isolation is swallowed up by the thought of being connected to a larger non-physical network of others. Moreover, for some of us, how much have we come to completely rely on Web communication for a large amount of the “real” communication that we crave, that we fail to engage while at work or even with friends? The temptation of connect may be seen as the temptation to substitute the “real” world for a virtual one, but I don’t think that things are this easy. Sure, it is nice to partake in micro-blogging or facebook updates, in order to keep relevant others “updated,” but what happens when one steps away from all of it? Moreover, how have our conversations changed…do we converse in 140 characters or less, I wonder?
I think that for those of us that engage in various forms of social media, the spreading out and fragmenting of ourselves, while creating small pockets of self-identity and self-representation have the consequences of widening the sense of isolation instead of eliminating it. Spreading oneself across the social media spectrum for research purposes or curiosity may be beneficial if put to good use, but even then, too much talk about nothing, too much reliance on Web communication creates a false sense of togetherness. No matter what, the computer still sits on the table, in the room, in the house, in the city, etc…The objectness of the computer disappears while we are engaged with it.
In the same essay as the above mentioned quotation, Thayer writes, “What has happened is that we have come to mistake our reach for our grasp. With the modernization of consciousness has come belief that information is a reasonable substitute for knowledge, and that knowledge, rationally accumulated, is a reasonable substitute for wisdom (Thayer 183).” Too much self-fragmentation into the voids of social media may serve to satisfy a temporary hunger, a quick fix on news, technological advances and so on, but what is happening in the accumulation of quick fix knowledge? It seems to me that the self that consists of a diet of aggregated feeds, comes to accumulate more information than necessary and, as a result, not really use that accumulated knowledge. Reaching too far and pulling everything in is tempting, but wasteful and shallow. When I say “shallow,” I mean quickly reading something for the purpose of simply taking it in without making it a part of oneself, without spending time with it and allowing it to work its magick on you. Reading an aggregated feed is much different than reading a book just as “tweeting” on Twitter is much different than engaging in a conversation while sharing a bottle of wine. The depth of communication is at stake in both examples.
If ours is a situation in which we language the world, in which the world becomes the way it is talked about and made sense, then what are some ways that we can strive to create and enact the most beautiful possible world? Moreover, if ours is a technological world, how can we deepen our communicative grasp through the social networks which we use? Finally, if ours is a fragmented world, what are some ways that we can stitch some vital fragments back together, ways in which we can come to deepen and enrich our human lives through the technological? Perhaps, these too, are some of my hopes for Web 3.0…
*The two quotations were taken from the essay “Communication: Reach vs. Grasp,” which is in Lee Thayer’s book “Pieces: Toward a Revisioning of Communication/Life.”
Photo by Steve Rhodes (CC)