[selections] “Put Your Phones Down,” said Jonathan Crary.
We were alone in my bedroom late one evening. I turned to her and delicately put my hand on the small of her back. I looked at her shiny face and saw no expression.
It was quiet for some time and then I suddenly said to her with resolve and a touch of regret, “I don’t think this is working out.”
I paused and scanned her face for her reaction, but still there was no expression. I continued on. “I’ve been thinking a lot. and I’ve realized that I desperately need my solitude back. I need my boredom back. It’s not you, it’s me. I mean that. You’re quite literally too good for me. You’re too entertaining and you’re too funny. You make all my other relationships less enjoyable.”
She didn’t say anything. She seemed just fine actually. I set her down and walked away.
Jonathan Crary’s 24/7 Capitalism is riveting and timely. I have been occupied by the phenomenon of Perception the last few weeks. After many months of living with an unusually frequent number of grey and dull moments throughout the day, I made some lifestyle changes and observed the everyday routine of Life become more vivid and moving once again. While this ‘restoration’ involves an array of realizations and actions, one of the most fundamental was relinquishing my smartphone and laptop (setting her down and walking away). I submit to you, the reader, that though they may be titillating, Digital Devices are ultimately ‘anti-social’ and in almost all cases misused.
I do not have all my thoughts collected and so this piece does not aim to deliver any sort of final analysis on mobile internet technology and its false promises. I simply offer twelve selections from the text that I suspect may resonate with many.
As a preface to these selections, I share some brief thoughts.
-I very much appreciate Crary’s sensitivity to the magic of our perceptual and emotional worlds. His analysis often focuses on the idea of natural rhythms, the beautiful cycle of activity and non-activity, struggle and revel, becoming and being, endeavor and repose.
-Just today I pounded out a ten page paper from eleven in the morning until five in the afternoon, buzzing from a double shot espresso and cigarettes. I finally got home at seven in the evening and I thought about immediately heading out again to go to the gym and play some basketball. After a moment of deliberation, I realized that I was in no condition to be in such a stimulating arena. The noises and the sights and sounds would be just too much in my mentally exhausted state. I instead closed my eyes and slipped into a heavy sleep. I completely knocked out and did nothing but breathe heavily and slowly. Reality was pushed away and I was peacefully lost in a deeply pleasurable oblivion. I could feel my brain rebuilding its many fragments, and my synapses quietly savoring the quiet dark blue calm of rest after the day’s non-stop crackling electrical storm. Two hours later, I woke feeling rejuvenated and and eagerly went to the gym. I savored the lovely sensation of each stride, the joy of meditating on the body’s movement and nothing else.
1. On Real Life losing to Virtual Life
At the same time, whatever remain pockets of everyday life are not directed toward quantitative or acquisitive ends… tend to deteriorate in esteem and desirability…Because of the infinity of content accessible 24/7, there will always be something online more informative, surprising, funny, diverting, impressive than anything in one’s immediate actual circumstances. It is now a given that a limitless availability of information or images can trump or override any human-scale communication or exploration of ideas.
2. On the atrophy of shared experiences like meals and class
In its despoliation of the rich textures and indeterminations of human time, 24/7 simultaneously incites an unsustainable and self liquidating identification with its fantastic requirements… It does not eliminate experiences external to our unreliant on it, but it does impoverish and diminish them. The examples of how in-use devices and apparatuses have an impact on small-scale forms of sociality ( a meal, a conversation, or a classroom) may have become commonplaces, but the cumulate harm sustained is nonetheless significant. One inhabits a world in which long-standing notions of shared experience atrophy, and yet one never actually attains the gratifications or rewards promised by the most recent technological options. 31
3. On shifts in how we perceive
At present, the particular operation and effects of specific new machines or networks are less important than how the rhythms, speeds, and formats of accelerated and intensified consumption are reshaping experience and perception. 39
4. On the disappearence of creative individuals, and the emergence of homogenous humans
Philosopher Bernard Stiegler has written widely on the consequences of what he sees as the homogenization of perceptual experience within contemporary culture. He is especially concerned with the global circulation of mass-produced ‘temporal objects,’ which for him, include movies, television programs, popular music, and video clips. Stiegler cites the advent of widespread internet use as a turning point (his key date is 1992) in the impact of these industrial audiovisual products. Over the last two decades, he believes, they have been responsible for a “mass synchronization” of consciousness and memory. The standardization of experience on such a large scale, he argues, entails a loss of subjective identity and singularity; it also leads to the disastrous disappearance of individual participation and creativity in the making of the symbols we all exchange and share… Stiegler concludes there is an ongoing destruction of ‘primordial narcissism’ essential for a human being to care for themselves or for others, and he points to the many episodes of mas murder/suicide as ominous results of widespread psychic and existential damage. He calls urgently for the creation of counter-products that might reintroduce singularity into cultural experience and somehow disconnect desire from the imperatives of consumption. 51
5. On how our attention is monetized
On the attention economy…One of the goals of Google, Facebook, and other enterprises…is to normalize and make indispensable, as Deleuze outlined, the idea of a continuous interface- not literally seamless, but a relatively unbroken engagement with illuminated screens of diverse kinds that unremittingly demand interest or response. Of course, there are breaks, but they are not intervals in which any kind of counter-projects or streams of thought can be nurtured and sustained. As the opportunity for electronic transactions of all kinds become omnipresent, there is no vestige of what used to be everyday life beyond the reach of corporate intrusion. 75
6. On actual physiological damage
In 2006, researchers at Cornell University released results of a long-term study containing some hypotheses about the reorganization of television in the 1980s. The research project assembled data to suggest a correlation between television viewing by very young children and autism…The broader implications of this study were unacceptable to many, and it was the object of attacks and official ridicule. It made the heretical suggestion that television might have a catastrophic physical impact on the developing human being- that it could produce extreme, permanent impairments in the acquisition of language and in the capacity for social interaction…Given the fragility and vulnerability of very young children who were the object of the study, it means reconsidering exposure in terms of lasting physical damage to the nervous system. 86
7. On the financialization of technology-induced nervous system ‘disorders’
As with digital devices and services, there is a fabrication of pseudo-necessities, or deficiencies for which new commodities are essential solutions. In addition, the pharmaceutical industry, in partnership with the neurosciences, is a vivid example of the financialization and externalization of what used to be thought of as ‘inner life.’ Over the last two decades, a growing range of emotional states have been incrementally pathologized in order to create vast new markets for previously unneeded products. The fluctuating textures of human affect and emotion that are only imprecisely suggested by the notions of shyness, anxiety, variable sexual desire, distraction, or sadness have been falsely converted into medical disorders to be targeted by hugely profitable drugs.
8. On the strange emptiness post consumption
Television, as Raymond Williams and others showed, never simply involved choosing to watch discrete programs, but was a more promiscuous interface with a stream of luminous stimulation, albeit with diverse kinds of narrative content. The precise nature of the physiological attraction of television has yet to be specified, and may never be, but a huge amount of statistical and anecdotal evidence obviously has confirmed the truism that it has potent addictive properties. However, television posed the unusual phenomenon of and addictiveness to something that failed to deliver the most basic reward of a habit-forming substance: that is, it provides not even a temporary heightened sense of well-being or pleasure, or a gratifying if brief fall into insensate numbness. Moments after turning on a television, there is no detectable rush or charge of sensation of any kind. Rather, there is a slow shift into a vacancy from which one finds it difficult to disengage. This is a decisive trait of the era of technological addictiveness: that one can return again and again to a neutral void that has little affective intensity of any kind. In the widely noted study by Kubey and Csikzentmihalyi, the majority of subjects reported that extended TV viewing made them feel worse than when they did not watch, yet they felt compelled to continue their behavior. The longer they watched, the worse they felt. The hundreds of studies on depression and internet use show similar kinds of results. 87
9. On the experience of shifting between the Virtual and the Real
There are of course numerous interruptions to the 24/7 seizure of attentiveness. Beginning with television, but especially in the last two decades, one became familiar with the transitional moments when one shuts off an apparatus after having been immersed in any televisual or digital ambience for an extended period. There is inevitably a brief interval before the world fully recomposes itself into its unthought and unseen familiarity. It is an instant of disorientation when one’s immediate surroundings- for example, a room and its contents- seem both vague and oppressive in their time-worn materiality, their heaviness, their vulnerability to dilapidation, but also their inflexible resistance to being clicked away in an instant. One has a fleeting intuition of the disparity between one’s sense of limitless electronic connectedness and the enduring constraints of embodiment and physical finitude. But such dislocating moments were generally restricted to the physical sites in which non-portable apparatuses were available. With increasingly prosthetic devices, these kinds of transitions occur anywhere, in every conceivable public or private milieu. Experience now consists of sudden and frequent shifts from absorption in a cocoon of control and personalization into the contingency of a shared world intrinsically resistant to control. The experience of these shifts inevitably enhances one’s attraction to the former, and magnifies the mirage of one’s own privileged exemption from the apparent shoddiness and insufficiency of a world in common. Within 24/7 capitalism, a sociality outside of individual self interest becomes inexorably depleted, and the interhuman basis of public space is made irrelevant to one’s fantasmatic digital insularity. 89
10. On Depoliticization and Immobilization aka turning into cabbage-heads
But if and when such devices are introduced (and no doubt labeled as revolutionary), they will simply be facilitating the perpetuation of the same banal exercise of non-stop consumption, social isolation, and political powerlessness, rather than representing some historically significant turning point. (40)
The cathode ray tube was a decisive and vivid instance of how the glare and gossip of a public transactional world penetrated the most private of spaces, and contaminated the quiet and solitude that Arendt believed essential for the sustenance of a political individual. Television quickly redefined what constituted membership in society,. Even the pretense of valuing education and civic participation dwindled, as citizenship was supplanted by viewership. 78
Within the span of barely fifteen years, there was a mass relocation of populations into extended states of relative immobilization. Hundreds of millions of individuals precipitously began spending many hours of every day and night sitting, more or less stationary, in close proximity to flickering, light-emitting objects. All of the myriad ways in which time had been spent, used, squandered, endured, or parcellized prior to television were replaced by more uniform modes of duration and a narrowing of sensory responsiveness. Television brought equally significant changes to an external social world and to an interior psychic landscape, scrambling the relations between these two poles. It invovled an immense displacement of human praxis to a farm more circumscribed and unvarying range of relative inactivity.80
11. On the troubling absence of community Consciousness, and how it is achieved
Jean-Paul Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason, one of the great works of social thought from the 1960s, provided a provided a powerful account of how a monadic life-world is perpetuated and rendered invisible…Central to the Critique is its meditation on the systemic strategies of separation that prevent the objective reality of daily life from being perceived by the individuals who inhabit it- a problem no less acute today than when it was written, in the late 1950′s. Among its many interrelated themes, it addressed our relative incapacity to see the nature of our own situatedness in the world. 116
It was only a perceptual act- a nonhabitual mode of looking- that could trigger the overcoming of the practico-inert, by the illuminating recognition of one’s immediate and lived membership in a group of individuals with the same material and subjective experiences. To summarize broadly, it was to discern, in a moment of charged with embitteredness or anger, a condition of commonality and interdependence. One made a leap of consciousness to apprehend one’s own estrangement in others, and this discovery would be the basis for “the liquidation of seriality (aka powerlessness)” and its “replacement by community.” It was a revisualization of reality to include the understanding that there are shared goals and projects, that what one wants most can never be achieved individually, but only by the common praxis of a group, even if the group or community thus formed is historically impermanent.
12. Sleep as Recovery of perceptual capacities
Sleep is a remission, a release from the “constant continuity” of all threads in which one is enmeshed while waking. It is a form of time that leads us elsewhere than to the things we own or are told we need.…
In my account, modern sleep includes the interval before sleep- the lying awake in quasi-darkness, waiting indefinitely for the desired loss of consciousness. During this suspended time, there is a recovery of perceptual capacities that are nullified or disregarded during the day. Involuntarily, one reclaims a sensitivity or responsiveness to both internal and external sensations within a non-metric duration. One hears sounds of traffic, a dog barking, the hum of a white-noise machine, police sirens, heat pipes clanking, or feels the quick twitching of one’s limbs, the pounding of blood in one’s temples, and sees the granular fluctuations of retinal luminosity with one’s eyes shut. One follows an uneven succession of groundless points of temporary focus and shifting alertness, as well as the wavering onset of hypnagogic events. Sleep coincides with the metabolizing of what is ingested by day: drugs, alcohol, all the detritus from interacting with illuminated screens; but also the flood of anxieties, fears, doubts, longings, imaginings of failure or the big score. This is the monotony of sleep and sleeplessness, night after night. In its repetition and unconcealment, it is one of the unvanquishable remnants of the everyday. 127