Apr.22 | Living in a land of shifting light; technology and virtual insanity; can a urinal be art?
A review of Kārearea by Māmari Stephens | Neil Postman on what we need to know about technological change | Jon Haidt on social media and social stupidity | What has value, and who creates it?
A land of shifting light
Review of Kārearea by Māmari Stephens
I had plenty of time to wonder what I’d got myself into, as I lay on my back and contemplated the ceiling of the wharenui. It was my first noho marae, an overnight stay that formed part of the te reo course I’d started earlier that year. I’d signed up for the course as part of my quest to understand what it means to belong in this land and, to be honest, I was well out of my comfort zone. Over the next 36 hours my apprehension dissolved in the hospitality of the tangata whenua and the liberal application of kaputī, but the question that drove me there still motivates me today. Behind it is another question—what, indeed, is this land? In Māmari Stephens’ telling, it’s a land of light and shadow, one she illuminates beautifully in her book Kārearea. Click to keep reading
Do we use technology, or does technology use us?
Neil Postman’s “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change”
I’m late to the party, but I’ve become increasingly convinced that we need to pay much more attention to the ways digital technology is reshaping human experience. So when I came across a reference to a Neil Postman address on this subject, my ears pricked up. Postman is best known as the author of Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public discourse in the age of show business, a prescient account of technological changes up to and including television and their influence on culture and conversation, published in the mid-1980s. In the late 1990s, he followed it up with a lecture titled “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change”. They are:
“Culture always pays a price for technology”
“There are always winners and losers in technological change”
“Every technology has a philosophy”
“Technological change is not additive; it is ecological”
“Media tend to become mythic”
To read my summary of his argument, and contemporary examples of each of these, click here.
Virtual insanity in America—and New Zealand?
Jonathan Haidt is a professor of social psychology, and he’s written an important article in The Atlantic titled “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” It’s a compelling diagnosis of the forces that have fractured US society—and lest we get complacent, they sound eerily familiar. He points the finger at the rise of social media in the 2010s:
Social scientists have identified at least three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories. Social media has weakened all three.
It’s fashionable, and easy, to blame social media for almost anything, but Haidt has the evidence to make his case stick. He demonstrates, for example, that “social media give more power to trolls and provocateurs while silencing good citizens” and that they “give more power and voice to the political extremes while reducing the power and voice of the moderate majority.” As a result, “many of America’s key institutions in the mid-to-late 2010s … got stupider en masse because social media instilled in their members a chronic fear” of online attack and its offline consequences. Depressingly, Haidt thinks things will get worse before they get better, but he offers solutions including the need to “prepare the next generation” by teaching and equipping them for genuine debate and empathy. It’s a fascinating and timely argument; you can read it here.
Can a urinal be art?
Part XI of our travels through Roger Scruton’s “How to be a Conservative”
In 1917, Marcel Duchamp signed a urinal and exhibited it at The Grand Central Palace in New York as “La Fontaine,” or “the Fountain”. Was this art, or was it a joke—or maybe both? These are some of the issues Roger Scruton addresses in “Realms of value,” chapter 11 of his book How to be a Conservative. Regular readers will remember we’re touring through Scruton’s book to see what conservatism means and why we might want to retrieve the term and the practice in modern New Zealand. In Scruton’s account, conservatism is about protecting (conserving) things that have value—but this begs some questions. What, exactly, has value? Where is value created, and who creates it? Is value objective, meaning it’s something that we observe, or is it subjective, meaning it’s something that we bring into being so that value is all in the eye of the beholder? Click to keep reading