Overweening Generalist

Thursday, July 12, 2012

John B. Calhoun, Digital Media and Relative Sanity: Media Hygiene

Ironist-Ethologist John B. Calhoun: Some Background
Have you ever read science fiction writer John Brunner's Stand On Zanzibar? What about Tom Wolfe's non-fiction "New Journalism" book, The Pump House Gang? Ever seen a film called Soylent Green? (Of course you have! Enjoy your next meal...) Did you ever read (or read about) Dr. Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb? He appeared on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson in the 1960s, with his grim neo-Malthusian message about how overpopulation will cause famine, deplete our water resources, and we'd all die, doomed and sick, panicky and screamy and just tremendously bothered, sorta like a horror film. Sorta like Soylent Green. Ehrlich's appearance on the TV, with dire fnord messages made his book an instant best-seller.

(Hint to writers prospecting for writing gold: write a book on how we're all gonna die monstrously horrible deaths because we're not paying attention to something. Use a modicum of statistics, but use imagery like a novelist. You may be livin' on Easy Street before you know it! Then you and I and everyone we love will die in some catastrophe that had nothing to do with the one you warned about in your book. Your Thing was Bird Flu; what really wiped the humans out was an errant asteroid. It's a Win-Win for you [selling a lot of books] and the asteroid [gets to annihilate an advanced civilization, or pull off a "Milky Way Hit Job," as they say at Galactic Central]. You heard it here first!)

So yea: there was this ethologist named John B. Calhoun. Some of you Unistatian history buffs will know about John C. Calhoun. This middle initial B dude was quite different. He built what he called "utopias" for rodent populations, then sat back and watched them reproduce, interact, raise their young, etc, took feverish notes, tabulated his data, did it again and again. His work influenced all the books and the film (and many others, no doubt) I mentioned above. Some sources say Calhoun's term "behavioral sink" - which I think qualifies for what literary critic Harold Bloom called "strong poetry" - has become widely known, although in my experience with highly educated people, 2011-2012, few have heard the term. So I'll put some flesh on it for you, if you don't mind.

                       habit-trail for rodents: sorta between our City and a rabbit's warren?

The people most likely to know "behavioral sink" would be urban sociologists. What Calhoun found was that, when a utopian spatial set-up for rodents - everything they need to be "happy" and which he actually, with a wry smile, labeled as "heaven" - reaches a population density of X, things start to go rapidly downhill toward dystopia. Social norms break down, rodents get aggressive, narcissistic, they die earlier, they fail to pass their genes on, and when they do pass their genes on, they're bad parents. They also have weird sex and abuse drugs and eat too much. Some theorists have said that it's not so much the geometrical space - now cramped to the Xth point - which is bringing on this behavior, but it's the overabundance of social interactions that drives them nuts.

(Remember: we ARE talking about rodents, as studied in a non-Skinnerian way: a set-up that initially, rodents would prefer, in an environment as close to what they'd make themselves, in as natural a setting as possible. And FULL DISCLOSURE: I happen to enjoy some drugs and alcohol and weird sex, and again, I'm not even on Facebook or Twitter and I'm not a rodent to boot. I DO see short attention spans and very deep shallows in more places now, tons of stupidity among people with historically unparalleled access to Information, and lots of indifference to suffering, but am still not totally sold on Calhoun's rodents-to-humans idea. However, he did think that too many/a high frequency of bad social interactions drive things down the Sink, whereas his more famous followers - like Ehrlich - thought population density depleted water and food, and that will do us in. Calhoun thought the social stuff was enough to send us over. I worry that he's more accurate than I'd thought. Moreover, subsequent urban theorists have had some problems with Calhoun's findings, while still thinking he was on to something. Let this all-too-typical parenthetical by the OG constitute an "interlude"? Very well then. Let's move on.) 

Try and tell me you weren't thinking of humans there. No big deal: that's what we do. We try to relate almost everything to how it might bear on our lives. Any questions so far?

Yea, the list of items Calhoun saw among rodents when "utopia" devolved into a "behavioral sink" seems a might close to home, eh? I forgot to mention the rodents, when socially crowded beyond equilibrium, got stressed-out physical illnesses, developed psychosomatic symptoms, and mental illness.

John B. Calhoun was once a big deal, but the vagaries of time and the hyper-mega-turbulent acceleration of ideas, knowledge, and media noise seems to have crowded him out since his heyday: circa 1948-72. Those dystopian books and movies neglected to emphasize an aspect of Calhoun's thought: he was an Ironist among social scientists. He was dismayed that those who were influenced by him were so starkly pessimistic. Because Calhoun wasn't. He believed in the creative ability of humans (let's face it: you study rodents like crazy to learn about humans) to solve their Big Problems. And he thought we needed to seek out what he called "creative deviants" in order to, among other solution-oriented ideas, COLONIZE SPACE!

Gadget Addiction and Social Interaction Quality
We live in a world in which some people have the job description of "Information Management Expert." Increasingly, in meeting harried and frazzled clients, they caution that drinking digital information from a fire hydrant is bound to cause the sanest, best-grounded of us to make our brains feel like expired tapioca, our bodies like losing fighters in a Bruce Lee flick, our affects and outlooks on the world like someone being told their dog just died. Must it be like this? Apparently, yes.

Now: I know YOU have kept things in balance. You are "on the ball," but you know others who fit the description. And most importantly: you care. That's why you're here, reading this. It's just the Big-Hearted Person you are. You can't help it. Born that way. It's simply the way you roll. Ya gotsa do what ya gotsa do. Hey, I hear ya. How does anyone ever get by without Us around? Am I right? <cough>

In earlier blogspewage I'd written about the obesity epidemic. Part of the deeply structured reason we have the Problem is because, historically, sugar and fat are cheap and bountiful, whereas for 99% of our time as hominids, that stuff - which we need to stay sharp - was a total SCORE, and everyone in the wandering extended-family band society rejoiced: a bit of honey! Some meat from a large mammal! Now you drive thru Burger King. Same with information. Access to social Others is a bit complex.

In this article about whether Internet Compulsion Disorder should be included in the upcoming DSM-V, we see the classic instant gratification via dopamine-circuit-buzz dealio described. 

Here's an article that compares the Roman writer Petronius (he of the incredible "Dinner With Trimalchio") and surfeit of food, to our surfeit of information. Note the grad student who talks about life online as feeling less like a thinking, feeling human and more like a rat who must press the button for another pellet, forgetting why...Gluttony Going Viral indeed.

Oh, my. It would be easy to link another 400 articles here, related to digital media and addiction. Hey, I'm not immune. Maybe it's the deeper reason why - other than the surface reasons I tell myself - that I'm not on Facebook or Twitter? A social connection, however mediated, and depending on the individual's eccentric nervous system and his/her - to borrow from William S. Burroughs - algebra of need - gives a dopamine reward nod. And for very many of us, this is enough. But then look at how Calhoun's rodents reacted when their social space was crowded. This brings me to a related idea, Neophilia and Neophobia.

                                    Winifred Gallagher, behavioral science writer

Leary and Calhoun
Before personal computers and cell phones - much less Facebook, Twitter, iPads, Siri, X-Box, et.al - Timothy Leary was a technophilic neophile, who saw the pending Internet as a boon (and...it has been, right?) and would be the new LSD. I think he turned out to be basically right. We would live in a "virtual reality" and it would be so interesting that we wouldn't need psychedelic drugs: the new media would be psychedelic itself. And Jaron Lanier - for my money, one of the most interesting geniuses on the planet - pioneered virtual reality. And a young person very much influenced by Leary, Douglas Rushkoff, declared that the counterculture had "won;" the ideas ushered in by Baby Boomers had become mainstream.

And yet, in Winifred Gallagher's terrific 2011 book on neophilia and its discontents, New: Understanding Our Need For Novelty and Change, she cites the other side of Leary's neophilic enthusiasm by invoking...John B. Calhoun, citing his idea of the "behavioral sink" and that, yes, we have increased creativity, communication, ideas and access to information, but what has/will also accelerate is the number of social roles we'll be forced to play, and that things are moving too fast for us to learn how to get a handle. We'll have more competition, negative encounters, and a general dissatisfaction with daily life. Gallagher quotes Calhoun, "Everything is coming at us fast and faster, yet we can't even learn from our experiences unless we have refractory periods to digest them in." (p.169)

This "refractory period" is part of the OG's raison d'etre. I baldly state: we need more quiet, non-electronically-mediated face-to-face communication/interaction with others and we need more time alone in our interiorities, reading stimulating and challenging books. So by my own logic, stop reading my blog! (Waitaminnit: that can't be right...) All the gadgets are fine, but many of us are getting carried away. (Hey you! Are you reading this on a tablet computer while texting someone on the subway? Pay attention! You don't want to miss your stop like you did that one time.) I also think Douglas Rushkoff is right: just as in the Axial Age the very few rabbis or monks read the books to the rest of us, and a very few wrote the books while the rest of us read them post-Gutenberg, we need to learn to program like the programmers and not just consume their programmed gadgets, which have inherent biases in them. I have not taken up programming. The weak version of Rushkoff's advocation of being a "programmer" is to actively seek out and expose the biases of our gadgets. This I enjoy doing.

I am NOT against all our wonderful gadgets. I am for much more thinking about what makes us happy, though. I despise the Bewildered Herd. Making the decision to question how we're being programmed may be a crucial one. Things seem to be accelerating logarithmically, and no one is in control; it cannot be stopped. But we can modify our choices. Am I preaching to the choir here? I suspect so...

M.I.T. scholar of social media and technology in general and internet in particular and how it affects us, Sherry Turkle, wrote books on the exciting possibilities for individuality and the play with identity. That was ten years ago. Now, her latest book is Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other. The title gives the gist.

Jaron Lanier's 2009 book You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto, is cited as "essential reading" in Douglas Rushkoff's 2010 book Program Or Be Programmed: Ten Commands For A Digital Age. I consider Rushkoff's to be THE manifesto for those of you worried about our digital algorithms increasingly programming us, and how to wrest something human back for ourselves, for our sanity. Then read Lanier. Then read their influences and the books in their bibliographies. 

I wonder where Uncle Tim would be on this issue if he were here today?

Or: just say fuck it, and go write on your Facebook wall about LAME blogging jeremiahs and how BORING they are.

My adrenal glands are faxing to my liver and heart, my hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis has gone into fight/flight/feed/fuck mode, so I will bid my Dear Readers adieu for today.

Here's Sherry Turkle for 6 minutes and 17 seconds (not that you "have" that much time!), on Facebook and privacy and cell phones at the dinner table and other things:


Eric Wagner said...

Yes, I love Stand on Zanzibar! I got John Brunner to sign my copy at the World Science Fiction Convention in Baltimore in 1983.

Your discussion of Calhoun's thoughts about overcrowding in cities makes me think of Megalopolisomancy in Our Lady of Darkness and the Dionysian Architects in From Hell by Moore and Campbell.

I would like to become more big hearted. Perhaps I should read more Rumi, etc.

Your comment on Petronius makes me think of an article on Zukofsky Guy Davenport wrote which I read on Pete Fairchild's recommendation. Davenport compared Zukofsky's Catullus translations to Fellini's Satyricon as a picture of ancient Rome as a foreign planet. (As Romulus said to Remus, "Athens wasn't built in a day.")

I saw that comic book writer and artist Jim Starlin, creator of Thanos, etc., has a Facebook page. It made me think about signing up.

I see internet as a boon for the most part. Without it I would not have encountered your intelligence and friendship. Without it I would not have learned as much from Bob Wilson, etc.

Great blog. I think Bob would have LOVED your blog.

Eric Wagner said...

Iain Sinclair's Lud Heat inspired From Hell. You might enjoy this piece: http://www.bfi.org.uk/news/sightsound/swandown-location-report .

michael said...

O! Prof Wagner! If only praise and kind words were the coin of the realm.

Idea among writers of Audience: your Common Reader (who might stumble upon my stuff and actually read it and try to make sense of it?), and the Ideal Reader (you and Sue Howard and RAW).

I ended up thinking about Calhoun after reading Our Lady of Darkness. I love Big Ideas about Cities, and have a ton of ideas inchoate. I put them in pre-heated at 425 degrees and hope to see them fully baked soon. I hope you'll like 'em. They're home-made.

The historical City as foreign planet: version of the Alienation Technique so subtle most of it takes place in the Reader's mind?

You and a few other commenters here remind me how behind I am in reading graphic novels.

I think internet (I'm going to try not-capitalizing it, and sans "the" and see if I like it) mostly a boon, too. But my problems with It and its popular accomplices: unquestioned, taken-for-granted media that have biases working on us. Let us up our McLuhan antes and expose the biases so we can see the...cell phone, for example, in a new light?

Thanks for your info-rich comments and kindness, Ideal Reader.

michael said...

Just to see Guy Davenport, Fellini, Zukofsky (what do you think of his brother's violin pieces, btw?), and Catullus: these NAMES in the comments for my blog?

"Classes up" the joint!

mcubik@aol.com said...


your stuff is always interesting

it provokes the mind

thank you for sharing it


michael said...


i truly appreciate the kind woids

never sure i'm any good as a writer

but keep up hope i'm somehow adequate

encouragement means a lot to me

"provoking" feels particularly gratifying

lux and peace to you

Eric Wagner said...

Have you read From Hell? It has great stuff on the occult history of London and its architecture. It led me to take Jack the Ripper walking tours the last two times I visited London in 1994 and 2000.

I haven't heard the music of Zukofsky's brother or that of his wife.

Graphic novels/comics make me think of entrainment. I've spent a lot of time reading them, but in recent years I can't get into them too much. At times when I've read a lot of them they have played a major role in my life It makes me think of silent movies. I think one has to learn how to enjoy them, to go back to a time before the new technology of sound. I used to give silent movie detentions for kids who came into class late. I would show a 15 minute or less D. W. Griffith film and have them each write a short paper on it. The kids who got a lot of detentions started to really get into them as they learned how to enjoy them.

When I watched a lot of basketball in the late 80's I really enjoyed the game. In recent years when I know so few of the players I can't really get into watching.

Bobby Campbell said...

That was a deeply satisfying reading experience! Tuned in via tablet interface, sitting in the book reading posture in my Archie Bunker chair. (big difference from desktop computer/office worker posture) I look forward to doing this more often.

Hyperconnectivity surprises me everyday, I do my best to respond in kind!

Sue Howard said...

(I read this on my Kindle, as I don't like reading long blocks of text on a standard computer screen. Kindle uses 'liquid ink' - real tiny ink particles, like that soot stuff that causes nightfall - de Selby's 'teratological molecules' - if I remember the ref correctly).

Great read. I recall Tim Leary writing about the *portable* aspect of gadgets, and the "power" that portability gives to individuals (in having options for detaching from the central hive).

So, in theory, rather than being herded in giant sheds with people we dislike (eg call centres) we can do such work remotely, and have more control over our personal environments. In theory, anyway... I'm not sure how this fits in with the rat-behaviorism models (and, anyway, the computer/phone button-clicking compared to rats pressing dopamine-reward buttons rings very true for me, analogy-wise).

Then there's the extrovert-introvert 'angle' on this. Apparently a third to a half of people fall into the introvert category. There seems to be a fair bit of neuroscience-type research indicating that introverts' brains process this stuff very differently - eg online interaction for them is not as exhausting & problematic as face-to-face interaction - possibly because of the element of control.

Sue Howard said...

Actually, you said non-Skinnerian, so I probably should've said rat-utopia models (instead of rat-behaviorism).

Sue Howard said...

I also wrote "liquid ink". Duh! I meant "electronic ink". Two mistakes in one short comment of mine - that's bad. Perhaps it's because my computer was getting a bit crowded. I've closed a few windows and it's better now.

Seriously, though, the problem of *physical* crowding perhaps brings "abundance of social interactions" of a certain problematic type - a type which it's difficult to control and/or escape from; a type which (over)stimulates the brain in certain ways, which doesn't happen so much with online social transactions? Maybe? Or at least this is sort of my reading of the studies on introverts (or "high-reactive" types as they're sometimes called when Jerome Kagan's work is invoked).

In any case, does physical overcrowding not come with its own very specific types of social interaction? Or at least this is the (probably ignorant) line I'd take with the theorists you mentioned.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...


I want to read Michael's blog on my Kindle, too. How do you do that? The browser is awful. Do you copy the text, and email it to yourself?

Sue Howard said...

Hello, Tom - I just save the blog as a html file and email it (Kindle cleverly converts the html file into simple text - without me doing anything).

michael said...

@Prof. Wagner: Still haven't read Alan Moore's From Hell; I liked the film, but the graphic novel probably covers a whole swath of stuff the film can't.

I remember one day, after practicing guitar for 6 hours, I heard a solo violin piece on the LA classical music station KUSC, and it was chromatic, atonal, flashy and utilizing all the ways one can exploit the violin, wide intervallic leaps, odd time signature, periods of erupting velocity, etc. It was psychedelic! I listened to hear who the composer was: "Paul Zukofsky." I went to the library and looked him up in Groves. The Zukovskys all had more of what we need.

Graphic novels strike me as a happy medium between film and the traditional codex-book. And I'm amazed how much this medium has expanded. Oh wow: there's a non-fiction graphic novel about Bertrand Russell and A.N. Whitehead and Godel, et.al: Logicomix:An Epic Search For Truth, by Doxiodis and Papadimitriou. Wonderful!

I liked R. Crumb's version of the Old Testament. I read Harvey Pekar's The Beats; A Graphic History.

There's no end to the stuff that's book-ish but with images copious that work on a subconscious level strongly.

I'm in the middle of a book on Smedley Butler that's not quite a non-fiction graphic thing, but sorta close. I find it compelling as seems possible.

And yes, silent films seem the precursor to the graphic novel; both demand reading strategies to "get used to." And they impact the nervous system different than talkies or minimally-graphic books.

I am too much into basketball. Ask me anything.

michael said...

@Bobby Campbell: you're one I don't worry about 'cuz you've tapped the metaprogramming circuit and know how to use your brain for fun and profit.

Hyperconnectivity can probably be nothing but a boon to you and your tribe. This gladdens the heart.

Thanks for the kindnesses. I owe you one. (literally)

michael said...

@Sue Howard: Any minor typo or non-apt word is glossed over by your astuteness. So please: no worries!

I liked the teratological molecules and the Kindle.

Note: I declare: my stance as the OG who's anti-E-Reader is part of what the OG does. He's playing a part; a lot of what he writes he actually doesn't take all that seriously in "RL." But some of it seems smirksome.

Any rat/mice/rabbit studies, even from an ethologist, seem to grasp when the rhetoric applies to urban sociology. But then we may look at Calhoun as a Strong Poet/rhetorician, maybe even a guerrilla ontologist: he wants us to think.

I think you're right: urban crowding and social conditions in the City probably gave rise to etiquette/manners. Mice don't have that. But then they don't have genocide and biological warfare and drone strikes and Dick Cheney, either.

The ability to work remotely that this omniephemeralized gadgetry affords us cannot be sneezed at. Certainly I marvel every day that I can walk around the house with my laptop and write...this. I truly do marvel.

A vexing thing about all I've written and plan to write about the "problems" of digital media: I think I am preaching to the converted. Maybe someone will wander in, read about the inherent biases in their...technology, and give a good think. I do note, in public, a seeming mindlessness about the use of this stuff, though. I recently read that most people under 30 use about six ways to get in touch with their friends, but email was 9%. Texting was #1. This makes me feel really olde...

I have long been fascinated by the introvert/extrovert/different personality "types" and this new fantastic media, and I've been taking notes.

Calhoun's gambit of saying, "pay attention to the sheer number of social interactions you're forced into and how it makes you feel" can be taken for a simple "note something you previously didn't." Always appreciated by me. However, I think the quantity angle misses a big part of the far-more-complex picture.

One thing I've noticed: I have a friend or two who are "social butterflies." They know EVERYONE. And they seem a bit oblivious about managing their social interactions now that omnipresent communications are here. OTOH, introverted types seem to know how to manage this, and it's made their lives less lonely than before this stuff hit the scene. But that's the tip of the iceberg, it seems.

One of the obvious social transaction problems with much of digital media is the vile cruel meanness that's so easy to get away with. The other problem is the surveillance/privacy issue. Maybe a third is the psychic divergence from REAL issues that affect our lives. When there are trillions of choices of what to pay attention to, and there are now thousands of adepts working at creating "discourse" that works to make you stupider than you need be ("Yea, but where is his birth certificate?"),chances are you're not going to find out what's closer to the vital center for your life?

I DO think Turkle, Rushkoff, Lanier, Morozov, and a few others (I have them filed under "Gurus" in my media stuff) have some important things to say, but I fear their messages will be like the intellectual - was it Newton Minnow? - who said, early on in TV's life, that it was a "vast wasteland" of bullshit. No one cared. No one listened. We made of it what we did.

Still, it's interesting stuff to study. I suspect maybe you're more advanced in thinking about these issues than I am.

michael said...

@Prof. Wagner: I went looking for the violin solo by Zukofsky tonight, and realized that Paul Z is Louis Z's son, not brother. And that the piece I heard was performed by Paul Zukofsky, but written by Roger Sessions.

Boy does my face seem red!

Sue Howard said...

Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Michael. I haven't read Calhoun, so I may be missing important aspects of all this, but I'll take another shot at it:

I read Leary (for example) as predicting how technology/gadgets would tend to reduce some of the more limiting aspects of the 'lower' 4 'circuits' in the social interactions of us domesticated primates. Not just the muscular/physical (body language, smells, etc) but outward trappings of social position/status & "identity". We can present ourselves as anything online. It's the "levelling of playing fields", also, in media terms. As well as less dependence on the 'centralised hives' for work & other stuff. All of which seems pretty major to me, and I think Leary had fantastic prescience here.

The extrovert-introvert research also seems massively significant to me, wrt the above. You wrote: "introverted types seem to know how to manage this, and it's made their lives less lonely than before this stuff hit the scene."

I see it somewhat differently. Without generalising the findings on 'introverts' (or 'high-reactives') to the rest of the population, I think some of the work in this field tends to give empirical support to what Leary was arguing - or at least it seems to if one looks at the results of psychological studies (showing the ease/success of collaborative online work among introverts vs the more 'problematic' in-the-same-room collaboration) in terms of fMRI scans of amygdala activation, etc (indicating why introverts feel an "overstimulated" discomfort in many 'real' social interactions.)

Well, that's the "good" side, which Leary promoted (for some profound reasons, I think). As for the downsides, I am indeed one of the "converted". I don't 'text' or use Facebook; I've dabbled with Twitter, and found it remarkable, but it makes feel ill. If I spend more than 20 minutes using the web (particularly the more "social" aspects of it), I feel a slight "downer"; I like Kindle because it has no "social media" aspects to it - although I was shocked to discover that my personal highlighting of text in Kindle documents isn't kept to the device itself - it's recorded by Amazon. In many ways, the privacy issues concern more than the other things. I also think downloaded music/movies played on computers or iPhones *sucks*. CDs/DVDs on proper HiFi or big TV for me.

Eric Wagner said...

The original comic book version of From Hell seems several quantum jumps beyond the film. Moore specializes in doing in comics what one cannot do in any other medium, hence his dissatisfaction with film adaptations of his work. Many superhero comics had footnotes refering to previous comic books, but I remember feeling amazed at the copious academic notes to From Hell. Moore and Campbell did something unique with the storytelling in that book, I think.

Eric Wagner said...

Mike, I bet you would enjoy Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, a comic about the aesthetics of comics.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I was pleased to see Michael's correction on which composer impressed him, because I think Roger Sessions is a really good (and still largely unknown) composer, and I saw this as someone who isn't wild about every 12-tone composer who ever lived. I would suggest that everyone check out Sessions' seventh symphony.

michael said...

@ Eric Wagner, Prof: I read the BFI link you gave above. I had never read anything by Sinclair. I didn't know about Swandown. I glanced at the article and thought, "I don't have time for this...maybe later," then I saw the anecdote about Peter Ackroyd living next to Kathy Acker. Then Pound's name appeared in my eyes. What? Burroughs? I read the entire thing, and you were right: it WAS something I was interested in. Especially the "psychogeography" bit. Joe Orton, weird connections within a City. Very cool.

I couldn't find Lud Heat in any of the libraries I have access to, but I did find another thing by Sinclair that's about "hidden London" and it's on its way. So is From Hell, the graphic novel.

Your links are gold, so thanks.

michael said...

@ Eric: I forgot to mention: I read McCloud's book maybe a year after it came out; it was one of the best books on media of any sort I'd ever read. Back then I would've said it was scandalous that Understanding Comics was not more well-known, but since then it seems to have become a sort-of classic?

michael said...

@Sue Howard: I've read your two comments here and they've really made me re-evaluate my ideas about certain personality types and all this digital media. It seems very compelling that the decentralized, non-face-to-face nature of it has made things easier for introverts. I would also say: people who have difficulty with a 9-5 schedule.

I want to read more on studies that use the fMRI for this sort of stuff.

I appreciate your reading of Leary wrt these matters. He's not given enough credit for his emphasis of the liberating nature of radically decentered digital communications.

I dont' text and I'm not on FB either. I LOVE email. I'm not crazy about carrying around a cell phone, but I've found it an incredible boon for meeting people at the airport, or calling to say "I'm running about 7 minutes late."

Nothing but CDs/DVDs, and big screen TVs for me, too.

Many other freelance writers have told me I'm fucking up bigtime by not having a Twitter account, and they present compelling reasons. [BTW: someone else has a Twitter account as the Overweening Generalist, I recently noticed by accident. Is this common? Is this why some celebrities seem to go by "#therealAngelinaJolie"?]

Thanks for giving me so much to think about, you wonderful lady!

michael said...

@Tom Jackson: Now I really want to check out Sessions's 7th.

Do you have anything to say, I wonder, about Bartok's Sonata for Solo Violin, 1944? By chance?

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Michael, Sorry to report that I'm not familiar with the Bartok piece you mention. I'm currently busy exploring Shostakovich.

Eric Wagner said...

I love Shostakovich. Rafi played some string quartets on his show a few weeks ago - http://taintradio.org/author/rafizabor/ .

Michael, I hope you enjoy From Hell. After reading that I really wanted to read Lud Heat by Sinclair. In 1994 I scoured London for it. I found a copy for, like, 80 pounds. I had that much money with me, barely, but I couldn't quite pull the trigger; it seemed soooo expensive, so I didn't buy it. In the age of Amazon I bought an inexpensive copy a few years ago. I enjoyed it mildly - I liked it better as a nearly unobtainable book. I did like Sinclair's book on the film of Ballard's "Crash." In R. U. Sirius' 2007 MLA Tim Leary class he had us read this cool interview with Sinclair - http://www.ballardian.com/iain-sinclair-when-in-doubt-quote-ballard .

Sue Howard said...

Here's an excerpt from a recent New York Times piece, titled 'The Rise of the New Groupthink', which jibes well with what I intended to convey, above:

"The reasons brainstorming fails are instructive for other forms of group work, too. People in groups tend to sit back and let others do the work; they instinctively mimic others’ opinions and lose sight of their own; and, often succumb to peer pressure. The Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that when we take a stance different from the group’s, we activate the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection. Professor Berns calls this “the pain of independence.”

The one important exception to this dismal record is electronic brainstorming, where large groups outperform individuals; and the larger the group the better. The protection of the screen mitigates many problems of group work. This is why the Internet has yielded such wondrous collective creations. Marcel Proust called reading a “miracle of communication in the midst of solitude,” and that’s what the Internet is, too. It’s a place where we can be alone together — and this is precisely what gives it power.