Jacob Weisberg’s wonderful piece in the latest issue of The New York Review of Books (Feb.25-March 9, 2016) gives us an opportunity to elaborate on the idea that we are Steve Jobs Avatars (see review of Steve Jobs posted 10 days ago).
By the way, all of you out there please read Weinsberg’s review, online or offline, as you wish. Treat yourself to an in-depth review of the extent of the revolution in personal and interpersonal relationships in the wake of realizing Steve Jobs’s dream of a “closed circuit”: the fantasy he had at the very beginning—to his partner Steve Wozniak’s dismay—has come full circle (no pun) with the launching of the ‘apps’ and their enclosure system (sorry for borrowing this old image but I think it tells the story by referring to some historical precedent in the physical world. You can google the term… and let your imagination wander/wonder, your experience figure it out and your honesty connect all the pieces together).
The review describes the lack of empathy (interpersonal and personal) generated by the use (anytime, anywhere) of technological devices. Jacob Weisberg, by presenting the cause of this pervasive, omnipresent, omnipotent and ubiquitous connection (even in the most intimate moments of our lives, with our partners and families), exposes a scheme that even Jobs, perhaps, could not have dreamed of: the latest research in software architecture, applied psychology, and behavioral economics, paired with the best engineering and technological skills, is aimed at devising “habit-forming technology”—“using what we know about human vulnerabilities in order to engineer compulsion” as Weisberg puts it (p. 9). Our daily routine is not just the effect of randomness or personal choice, but also the result of a carefully orchestrated phenomenon (check out the term CAPTOLOGY created for the occasion). We are hooked because it is the very purpose of the devices, their raison d’être.
The review ends on the concept of “time well spent”. A human value, of course, that posthumanists are helping to bury since they are working towards making us immortal…
So “closed circuits” have indeed become a reality, not jut in the baby form that Jobs had envisaged but as a way of life that goes beyond the use of a machine. Not just as a technological feat but also as an anthropological change (breakthrough for some, regression for others). The personal computer, following Frankenstein’s lead, has outdone the creator’s original intention. The lack of empathy displayed by the man Steve Jobs, still perceived as an anomaly, is becoming the norm (see the findings presented in the books reviewed by Weisberg). The very use and meaning of the term “screen” has been turned on its head (see Leo’s text posted this week).
The review showcases a photograph from Eric Pickersgill’s series “Removed”, and Weisberg’s following statement could be used as a caption: “What does it mean to shift overnight from a society in which people walk down the street looking around to one in which people walk down the street looking at machines?”.
Danny Boyle’s movie presents a version of Steve Jobs before the world of Apps; we walk away uplifted by the visionary, the entrepreneur and the repentant father (remember the crucial line “I am poorly made” which reveals empathy for both himself—his failings—and the other). But that view might indeed increasingly look like a “movie”—a fiction.
Utopia has slipped into dystopia. Until the posthumanists have it their way with our mortality (collapsed into technological immortality), how do we find the way back into the (physical/biological) world? For Steve Jobs, that very question took a very drastic tonality: physiological reality, in the end, caught up with him. A tragic reminder, of course, that no Apps can sever us from our bodies—from time and space, in particular. Time is the most precious element of our lives. Giving it away to habit-forming devices is absurd (here, google Camus for more), to say the least. The translation of the most famous theatrical line might sound like: “To App/App, or not to App/no App, that is the question”.
“Derrida reminds Haraway that death is a part of becoming and that we need its figure in order to remain sympathetic to the opacity of the other’s finitude. Haraway reminds Derrida that entering the dance of relating is also a way to be attuned to the unnamable being and ‘becoming with’ of interspecies relationships” Elisabeth Arnould-Bloomfield “Posthuman Compassions”. In PMLA (5) 130, October 2015, p. 1467-1475 (p. 1474, emphasis mine).