Tweet, Tweet

Heidegger claims that the technological understanding of being ultimately leads us to understand everything as resources.  This is BAD.  Human beings are not resources, according to Heidegger, but sites of openness to, and at the same time manifestations of, ways of being.  To the extent that the practices in our culture reveal us as resources, and we allow ourselves continually to get caught up in those practices, we will ultimately become resources instead of Dasein.  BAD.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that technology itself is bad.  It’s like Nietzsche saying that science is fine but scientism is on a par with religion.  Heidegger thinks that about technology.  There must be ways of using it, he thinks, that bring out and revivify our way of being rather than cover it up.  So:  technological understanding of being BAD; technology itself at least potentially GOOD.

But is all technology potentially good?  What would you have to do to use technology in a way that doesn’t lead to understanding ourselves and everything else as resources?  This is not an idle question.  Our publisher would be delighted if the book had a following on Twitter.  It is virtually impossible for me to imagine updating people about my latest sock purchases, or Bert’s most recent run-in with the Kharman Guia, and even more impossible for me to imagine people caring.  But perhaps this is just my lack of imagination about the medium.

So DISCUSS:  Is there a way of using Twitter so that it doesn’t buy into and reinforce the technological understanding of being?  Or is Twitter in its very nature predicated on the technological understanding of being.  What are examples of ways to use technology that don’t fall prey to the technological understanding of being?

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10 Responses to Tweet, Tweet

  1. Sarah says:

    Twitter is certainly one of the dumbest trends out there, but I’m having a hard time understanding how exactly it “buys into” and “reinforces” the technological understanding of being. It may be because it’s been a couple of years since I’ve read later Heidegger, but it would be nice to see some description of the phenomena.

    I do see that Twitter is an incredibly successful agent of leveling. Limiting interactions to very short public broadcasts effectively maximizes average intelligibility, even without the dullness of the usual Twitter content about eating one’s bagel and so on. Twitter, in general, is stupid and boring. But I don’t think it treats humans or anything else in the world like resources to be used up.

    That said, you can use Twitter for things like:
    – Announcing book-related events
    – Announcing non-book-related events (lectures, talks, so on) that you think may be of interest
    – Linking to blog posts (on your blog or other blogs) that you like

    In other words, you could use Twitter to direct people towards more meaningful interactions. It’s not considered a “successful” type of Twitter, since it becomes closer to an impersonal news feed rather than a running commentary on life, but I simply don’t think that your audience (intended or otherwise) is on Twitter in the sense that they actively engage with it. I’d follow your Twitter to get news or information, but I will never @seankelly @bertdreyfus #technological-way-of-being. (At least, I’ll never do it unironically.)

  2. Patrick says:

    I agree with most of Sarah’s comments, including the idea of linking posts on twitter to your blog. In fact, the tweets might be nothing other than hyperlinked blog titles. That might satisfy your publisher and not be much more work in keeping up with a twitter account.

    I’m more willing than Sarah, though, to think that twitter reinforces our technological understanding of being and thereby treat each other as resources. One problem is that the contents of tweets are so mundane (as alluded to) as to render the posts useless. But everything about the form of twitter increases the velocity with which otherwise useless information (sock purchases) is circulated interminably. It’s like idle talk on speed. We use each other as resources by obtaining “news” for a chuckle or gossip, but not for strengthening bonds or really even keeping in touch. Maybe twitter could be employed without using each other as resources for bite-sized “news,” but given how most folks seem to use it, it’s a harder sell.

  3. j. says:

    i’ve never used twitter, i rarely look at anyone’s twitter. but i thought it was obvious that it can be used for lots of things, since it’s just a medium for publication (as well as communication) that just happens to have different formal and material constraints and affordances than other media. if some people have already exhausted the uses they can find for it, that doesn’t say much for the medium.

    does it really take much familiarity with poetry, especially modernist poetry and its successors, to see nearly limitless potential in compression and condensation?

    for example, it stretches the resources of music criticism in distinctive and potentially revealing ways. (the basic insight is recognized here but then unfortunately illustrated with examples that don’t even try to outdo workaday print-media critical blurbs designed to help people decide what to buy.)

    then there’s poetry itself. here is the seattle times with some reader submissions.

    think of twitter, and then think of sappho, or heraclitus, or any l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e poet, or any aphorist, for that matter, and the uses suggest themselves.

  4. Iain Thomson says:

    The question of how to use technology against enframing is one I’ve thought about for awhile. As you say, there are technologies concerning which it’s not difficult to see how it can be done (electronic music, word processors, cameras etc.). But other technologies seem to be more inherently technologizing, to have a stronger undertow pulling users toward banality and self-optimization. I think Twitter is mostly like that (used it ways that are often banal, leveling, or just networking). But I have come across examples in which people used Twitter more poetically, to send out occasional little observations that seemed to reflect and so potentially help foster a mood of thankfulness. (One I like, from a former student, often says things such as she “is grateful for barefoot walks in wet grass & licorice tea, houses built of sweat and love & the rushing of air inside ducts between walls.”) Perhaps you could so something like that, sending out Tweets that would continue to help foster the kinds of mood you evoke so well in the parts of the book I’ve read? (Then you could also use it in the networking ways the publisher probably wants, and more effectively.)

  5. Michael Molinaro says:

    Lets start by distinguishing between what twitter is and how it’s used. I’m agreeing with Iain that there may be poetical or other non-ironic uses for this tool which can connect it to our dasein-y selfs. However in general, twitter re-enforces what I’ve been calling “the new Stupidity” .. the tendancy in our age for connections among people and the worlds they create to be based on here-say, twitter, headline news shows, and face book pokes and wall postings. (I recently asked my Ivy-league educated daughter if she had heard from an old friend, when she replied yes I asked what she had said. Her response was I don’t know she just poked me on face book. )
    This all said I do have a twitter account (http://twitter.com/TheNewStupidity) which I use to post pointless aphorisms and observations. I have 2 followers.

  6. j. says:

    i don’t understand in what way you intend your explanation of ‘the new stupidity’ there to say anything about twitter in particular, michael. if the idea is supposed to be that something about it is particularly or more intensely conducive to leveling, then can it be said what about twitter makes this so?

    uses of a medium have to be interpreted in the context of the various possibilities available. being poked on facebook is hardly a communication (though poking and re-poking in turn is kind of like one, for a while—think of the element of time involved) on the level of handwritten letters, but it does permit uses that are not available to letter-writers in the same way. if you want to ‘say’ to someone you know, ‘i’m thinking of you’, the cost of a poke is much lower. so the threshold at which one feels comfortable saying so without having anything to say is lowered—which can be bad, if for some reason it allows you to settle for only ever ‘saying’ the bare minimum. but it can also be good, if it makes accessible a possibility for communication which is sometimes useful or needful (e.g. the first step in renewed communication among people who have fallen out of easy touch).

    non-poke parallels to that kind of use of a medium probably slide over into gift-giving: the postcard, the random email containing some interesting thing.

  7. lilly i says:

    Heidegger’s enframing is highly relevant to computational culture, but I had not thought about it in the way you describe — the enframing of temporally unfolding interactions between people. I do think the lack of mutual observability and responsiveness of technologies like twitter lend themselves to people crafting themselves into feeds — resources who broadcast with no promise of appreciation or response. (Of course, this also allows people to broadcast to ambiguous audiences that support an imagination that people care.)

    Even if we resist twitter’s enframing of interpersonal modes of communication, there’s another level at which enframing seems endemic to twitter (and most computing that comes to mind). Twitter is a system built on APIs (blackboxed bodies of computer code running on computers that can be accessed in standardized ways), running on machines produced as commodities, produced by labor often treated as a commodity (low wage labor done by people treated largely as replaceable bodies working with toxins dismantling ewaste, working in sweatshops, etc). Twitter (and Google, and Gmail, etc) might be considered enframing all the way down — not totally but significantly. This sort of enframing is not so easily modulated through adoption. It seems to be enframing to see such communication technologies as media for the interchange of symbols and language, rather than also livelihoods, laboring bodies, human health, etc.

    It seems quite fatalistic though! Heidegger didn’t leave much room for the enframed to speak or be fully conscious in Question Concerning Technology.

    As a practical matter, I like the idea of twitter feeds that just have links to blog posts, maybe with updates when a particularly vibrant discussion of the book is going. I find myself going to Twitter because it allows small things to remain small (where as plenty of bloggers talk about just as inane things in far more words) but having a discussion of any depth in 140 characters a tweet is impossible (I’ve tried many times).

  8. Eric Mongeon says:

    If the people you’re following are tweeting about their sock purchases, then you’re following the wrong people.

    Twitter can be an excellent way of finding ideas and information that have been culled, vetted, and deemed worthy of sharing by an expert in a given field. A human being with a perspective — rather than an algorithm authored by the engineers at Google.

    No matter what you’re enthusiastic about, chances are there’s someone out there more enthusiastic than you — and they’re finding great stuff for you to read. Three examples from my own Twitter feed: I follow Larry Lessig (@lessig) for views on intellectual property and open culture, John Maeda (@johnmaeda) for views on new approaches to human-centered design, and Richard Florida (@Richard_Florida) because he has provocative views on economics and urban planning. Their announcements are bite-sized, but the things they’re announcing — blog posts, articles, graphics — definitely aren’t.

    Twitter can be more than idle talk or an example of “the new stupidity.” If you’re smart about it, your Twitter feed can be like a daily syllabus that was gathered by people whose work you admire and whose opinions you respect.

  9. Ron Jelaco says:

    Hi All,
    Heidegger tells us that we have no mastery of technology, but we can be awake for it to loose sway. It’s funny that twitter would come up here. I’ve lately come to believe that twitter is actually a sign of technology loosing sway. I haven’t tried to write about it yet, but let me see how this might go…

    Near the end of QCT, Heidegger does something out of character. He speculates about the possible ways that technology might loose sway. One way he suggests is, “that the frenziedness of technology may entrench itself everywhere to such an extent that someday, throughout everything technological, the essence of technology may come to presence in the coming-to-pass of truth.” And, he continues, “Because the essence of technology is nothing technological, essential reflection upon technology and decisive confrontation with it must happen in a realm that is, on the one hand, akin to the essence of technology and, on the other, fundamentally different from it.”

    I’ve wondered about that passage for years. What I read is this: We have no mastery of technology. Technology is our ‘operating system’. We can never get behind if from within it. So, if technology is to loose sway as our way of revealing (and it will), then it has to happen from within technology itself. Technology needs to overrun itself within itself. In its “frenzied” ordering and reordering in more and more efficient patterns, it must loose something fundamental to itself.

    So, what do we look for in our awakened state? We must look for examples of technology undermining itself within itself. That’s where my thinking about twitter comes in.

    You will recall the wet landing of the US Airways jet in the Hudson River. When I first heard that news flash, I sensed that technology had definitely put itself in danger there, and if I’m awake, I should be able to see it. Was it the fact that a goose can bring down and 300M$ Airbus 320? No. Heidegger tells us that man, with technology, will always dominate over nature. How? Well, we’ll modify the environment around the airport that will make the birds go somewhere else. Or, we will devise a supersonic hawk sound effects machine. Or, we will introduce microbes in the food chain that genetically thin their eggshells, or alter the birds’ instinct to fly in formations. Or, we’ll reorder our legal priorities and just destroy the damned geese. We could kill every goose on earth if we decided that we needed to. There is no limit to what is possible in the pattern of technology.

    No, the bird strike only shined a light (if I may) on this event for me. But where could I see technology loosing sway here? Where, in its very frenziedness, was technology over-running itself? I decided that it was with twitter. The plane laid in the river within a mile of the largest news gathering and reporting organization ever created. That news structure got word of the event and rapidly assembled. Reporters and camera crews were rushed to the scene in news vans. They raced to the docks to commandeer boats. They rushed to the roofs and got into news helicopters. And when they got to the scene, they found boatloads — hundreds — of eyewitnesses, most of whom were on their mobile phones — tweeting their individual reports and first-hand photos to the entire world. And the recipients of these reports and images were themselves tweeting and tweeting, and posting this news to websites all over the globe. Within the fifteen to twenty minutes it took the official news structure to get to the scene, the news was history. The objective viewpoint of the event, represented here by the news industrial complex, was lost, overrun by the millions of subjective tweets that were already in every corner of the world. Is this the “decisive confrontation” that Heidegger foretold? Is it as fundamental as objective vs. subjective truth? I think, maybe it is. Objective truth is lost. Truth is subjectivity, promoted by technology and its frenzied urge to further fragment and connect everyone to everyone else without limit. There are of course examples of this happening elsewhere, including the petrochemical factory in the center of a city in China (perhaps the most organized, technologically mobilized structure in the world today) that was halted in a matter of days by the citizens, themselves mobilizing via a nexus of text messages. That could have never happened in the world of focal practices that Albert Borgmann describes.

    I suppose that these examples remind me in some ways of Bert’s interpretation of Woodstock. For those of you who have heard that, you might know what I mean. I won’t go into that here, other than to say that it is the first example I ever heard where technology gave way, in a technological way, to something else.

    So, there’s either more to make of this, or perhaps just the opposite. Perhaps I’ve only made a meal from a mouthful. I at least got to talk about twitter and Heidegger in the same piece.

  10. Britt Z. says:

    I get the feeling that Twitter is a technology falling under Foucault’s concept of bio-power, a Panoptic machine under a new guise, without architectural constraints. Willingly, an individual’s activities and thoughts are captured and documented. In Heideggerian terminology, this type of social networking transforms people into optimized resources of information. This information, obtained by a double surveillance, can be utilized and manipulated by various institutions, for example, making the gathering of information on trends within the social body (what people, eat, drink, watch, etc–everyday life) more convenient and efficient.

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