Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Catching the Butterfly

In a comment on a post about Christchurch, Puddleglum from The Political Scientist reflected on the use of technology and its impacts on society:

I suspect, in fact, that one of the main effects of widespread communication technologies will be a deepening of local (‘non-virtual’) experience and connectivity. (I should add that ‘deeper’ does not necessarily mean ‘better’, here.)Here’s an example of what I mean: when we, even now, have a videoconference my sense is that the main ‘action’ actually happens prior to, and after, the ‘interconnected’, globalised ‘hook-up’. That is, each isolated group gets together and frames (beforehand) and interprets (after the event) the process that they are (or have just been) involved with. The videolink is – as Erving Goffman put it – the ‘front stage’. The real action will remain at the ‘back stage’. I think that’s something that many futurists fail to realise. People ‘use’ technologies in more ways than what the technologists anticipated. (For example, far from using cellphones for ‘communication’, I text, now, often to avoid more elaborate forms of social interaction – and I don’t think I’m the only one!)People aren’t silly. Facebook is a performance venue, principally, it is not a means of ‘keeping in touch’ (well, it is – but it’s ‘keeping in touch’ through an attenuated ‘performance’. I’m amazed how ‘low cost’ it is, for example, to ‘show concern’ via texting. Concern used to be so much more costly!).The ‘real action’ is when – in real time – we talk to each other about, or reflect upon in private, what we said/posted/read/chatted about on facebook. The main consequence won’t stem from what happens withinthe virtual. It’s how these new technologies will affect those zones of ‘real action’ that will generate the most important consequences for the future … I think.Anyway, just idle thoughts – based on my assumption that humans will remain humans, no matter what the (external) technologies.

The points about the use of technology as a substitute for more meaningful and costly (in terms of effort and emotional input) interaction, and how the main decisions and interactions occur separately to or in spite of technology struck a chord with me.

In the bigger picture, the implications for left wing politics in New Zealand are stark.  There is an active left wing component to the blogosphere.  In comparison to the right wing, though, the left is fractured and comparatively anonymous, with honourable exceptions such as (and not limited to) Chris Trotter, Robert Guyton, Robert Winter, Lynn Prentice and Scott Yorke.

The left has a range of strengths that the right lack, including a strong claim to the moral high ground and representation of a broader spectrum of the community, and some mighty thinkers blog from a left-wing perspective.  But a lot of it is done anonymously.

Of course I have no issue with anonymity, I'm extremely secretive about my identity.  In the real world I openly support left wing ideals and causes, but I have not linked that advocacy with my blog or comments I've made elsewhere.

Two things occurred to me, based on Puddleglum's comment.  First, the left needs to organise.  It's meant to be a strength of the left; working together and being organised.  We appear not to be.  And second, the proof that the left has cast off the stigma associated with openly supporting left-wing causes will include people like me being comfortable blogging without a pseudonym.  I suspect that time is many years away.

The Verve - Urban Hymns, 1997


  1. Thanks for picking up on that comment - a bit 'top of the head' but I have thought quite a bit about the whole issue of 'technology' and the extent to which it determines what we do or, conversely, is used - often unexpectedly - to serve users' ends. A bit of both, probably.

    On the use of pseudonyms, I've been thinking about a possible post called 'What's in a name?' My own use of a pseudonym was initially accidental - I wanted to make a comment on The Standard and it seemed that everyone had a pseudonym so I just thought it was de rigeur. I'd just been reading 'The Silver Chair' to my daughter, quite liked the character (though I didn't think much about the selection at the time) and there you have it.

    I keep the pseudonym probably for two reasons: First, a bit like a fiction writer, I quite like Puddleglum's character as it's 'evolved' or shaped itself over the last couple of years. I'm quite fond of him, if that doesn't sound too odd! (I remember a book written by Mark Slouka - 'War of the Worlds' - where he looked at how people use virtual identities to discover or invent other personae - not too post-modern a take on it as he was pretty much defending the real world against the virtual).

    Second, I'm now aware that there's an active debate (often split left-right, as you say) about pseudonymity on blogs. (Fran O'Sullivan was the most recent person to comment on it on The Standard and her column.). And, I guess I feel the need to keep solidarity with others who want to remain pseudonymous.

    Personally, it wouldn't bother me one way or the other since I see 'real' names as basically sociocultural pseudonyms that, in effect, disguise the rather messy set of sub-personal psychological, biological and physical processes hiding behind them. (Names are markers that a society/culture attaches to us to differentiate between individual human beings so as to apportion various things - blame, responsibility, rewards, etc.).

    Names, in general, are the sociocultural means to carry out particular uses required within a society - they don't 'stand in' for any kind of 'object' (material, psychological or theological).

    Anyway, I'll stop before I end up writing my blog here!

  2. Thanks Puddleglum. When I first read your comment on your blog I wanted to write something about technology and how it really fits into our lives, as opposed to how it is perceived to fit in. A couple of things happened - (1) you said it so well, and (2) I was distracted and ended up writing about something else.