Tag Archives: death

from “Our Daily Bread.”

from the documentary “Our Daily Bread.”


Gchat Might Slowly Kill Us.

Marshall McLuhan makes sure we get it right: Narcissus didn’t see himself in the water. He saw the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, sure. But he mistook his image for something other than his image. He didn’t think it was himself. He just thought it was beautiful. And he dies, lost in this beauty. His epic mistake was not that he was self-absorbed, but rather that he didn’t realize he was self-absorbed in his own image.  And it killed him.

McLuhan’s suggestion seems to be that if Narcissus had realized that it was his own image in the water, that he was lost in his own reflection, he could’ve managed his situation a little better and moved out of the way. If he’d known that he was fascinated with himself he could’ve saved himself from his mythic mistake. This is McLuhan’s general claim in ‘Understanding Media‘: only we are Narcissus and media technology is our reflection in the pond.

McLuhan says that a medium is an extension of us. A medium–alphabetic text, radio, television, speech–is an extended version of ourselves in the world. He implores us to learn from Narcissus: we must read the reflection responsibly, as a message itself, and not get ignorantly lost in the content that it carries. If we don’t see that the medium carries a message–that it’s just us, expressed in the world–then we risk a narcotized, pointless, and ignorantly self-absorbed death, our lives nothing more than a tranquilized and passive breath, self-slaughtered by an obsession with a beauty that was always our own but never under our control. (Not to mention the fact that these media change our sense ratios and change our thought to fit their patterns–as if Narcissus’s eyes got watery the more he looked into the water.)

So my question is: What are the media we’re fascinated with now, and how can we heed McLuhan’s warning? I thought of Gchat, a ubiquitous media for people my age. What do you think of it? What’s the message of Gchat? Here are a few ingredients:

–Alphabetic text
–Real-time conversation, no delay
–Held always through a Google server, and recorded if you don’t specify otherwise (under Google’s political auspices)
–You can only chat with people that you’ve corresponded with on Gmail, no one else
–Gchat is next to your email box, so you’re always looking to see who to chat with
–You can send links to videos or other websites
–Easier to participate in the Internet Dialect of English (LOL, symbols, mispellings, less grammar, slang)
–You can see when someone else is typing and type at the same time
–Different set of conversational norms: you can get up and leave one without causing as much trouble
–Can conduct several Gchats at once, the most I’ve seen is 5
–No sound, blocked from any tonal inflection
–No image, blocked from any paralinguistic suggestion

What does all this mean? If we don’t talk about it, what Gchat’s message is, then we risk sitting for hours gchatting with our friends–the media changing our patterns of thought without us knowing it or choosing it and slowly killing us.

(P.S. What’s the message in WordPress blogging?)

Letter to Veteran’s Association at Columbia University

To Whom It May Concern,

My name is David Backer and I work with the Philosophy Outreach Center
at Teacher’s College. The Outreach seeks to create and maintain philosophical activities in educational and cultural contexts. I write to ask your opinion and
advice about one such program I’ve been thinking about recently.

There has been a clear increase in the prevalence and severity of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in recent veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq. The demand for programs and services to help our veterans cope with PTSD has never been higher, but many veterans lack reliable access to counseling and resources for mental and psychological well-being. This can have awful consequences for their re-integration into the society they fought so bravely to protect.

I think philosophical discussion can serve as a kind of palliative for
psychological distress, a way of dealing with traumatic experiences in a rational
and communal way. Philosophy struggles with life’s deepest questions: the meaning of life, the inevitability of death, the existence of God, the nature of justice and morality. The rigor, respect, and community that a philosophical dialogue provides has helped me gain perspective on the greatest difficulties and has helped me find a way of living with painful realities in a productive and meaningful way.

I wonder if veterans would find any solace in philosophical discussion
of topics relevant to their experiences. Would sitting down and discussing the
philosophical questions inherent in war, violence, justice, and combat help to alleviate the psychological pressure they create in the mind of a soldier recently returned from battle?

Do you think such a program, called Philosophy for Veterans or
something similar, could be helpful? If so, would it be feasible to organize? Any feedback, guidance, or thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Having never fought in a war but having great respect for my country and the opportunities it affords me, I’d like to try and help those that have fought in the name of those opportunities.

David Backer