By Matt Bernico
In January 2016, Matt Bernico will teach a distance course entitled "In Media Res: Media, Technology, and Culture" in the Master of Worldview Studies (MWS) program at the Institute for Christian Studies (ICS). This blog post illustrates the kinds of questions that will be raised in the course, which will draw from the work of Vilém Flusser, Walter Benjamin, and others in order to think through how media affects and effects human culture. From the course description: "According to Michel Foucault, the 'blueprint' of the 20th century was the prison or hospital. However, we might say that the 'blueprint' for the 21st century is the computer network: namely the Internet. With the technological revolutions of the 21st century, we see the digitalization and informationalization of everything. Learning to live, think and act within this sort of society is increasingly difficult and requires new diagnostics of culture, politics and the self. This class will engage with these questions in light of the importance of materiality and embodiment in the community of faith’s ongoing reflection upon Christian life and mission." For more information on how to enroll in the MWS program at ICS, visit our web site.
The relationship between technology and the body is always fraught with misunderstandings, ideology and assumption. For example, in a post-industrial society, what is work? It appears to be hammering away on a keyboard, but in what way can we disentangle post-industrial work from typing an essay, a blog, and so on? Materially, we might say these acts are identical, but observing and unpacking the gesture of blogging itself might yield some phenomenological difference. So, then, what is the gesture of blogging?
To begin, we might consider what a gesture is at all. In his book Gestures, the media philosopher, Vilém Flusser (1920-1991), calls a gesture “a movement of the body, or tool of the body, for which there is no satisfactory causal explanation. Meaning must be discovered in relationship to movement” (2). A gesture is a thing we do in collaboration with other actors/objects that describes the human intentionality and freedom in an act. For example, if a car speeds toward you and then you leap out of the way, this is not the gesture of leaping: the intentionality is not your own. Whereas, we might call leaping in the context of exercise or a game as the gesture of leaping. The difference is in determining what actor has the ability to express the most intention and freedom.
What can we say about the gesture of blogging? Flusser, a thinker who exclusively used a typewriter, writes about the gesture of writing and even typing, but typing on a digital apparatus, especially in the case of blogging, is quite different. Before we can get at the gesture of blogging, let’s look at the gesture of writing. According to Flusser writing is about scratching a surface in a specific linear pattern with graphite, chalk or ink. The gesture of writing is about inscription.
It is the tendency of some philosophers of technology and the media, namely Heidegger, to bemoan the fall of writing to the typewriter and in turn digital media. Heidegger points out that the way we act on the world is through our hands and writing is certainly one of the ways that humans act. Flusser would be in agreement here; humans pass the world through their hands, whereas a squid, for example, sucks the world in through it’s mouth.