Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Old Books and Illustrations

I have focused a great deal in my articles on making and preserving imprints, but not that much on receiving imprints.  In truth, making and preserving imprints is inextricably tied up with receiving imprints.  All the imprints that we make are based on the reconfiguration of imprints that we receive, both from our external world of experience and our internal world of experience.  Even the genetic material that we pass on to our child is, in turn, based on a reconfiguration of genetic material that we have received from our parents, who, in turn, received a reconfiguration of genetic material from their parents, etc.

And there is no question but that the best most vibrant experiential imprints that we make are based on the reconfiguring and mixing up of material from rich vibrant imprints that we receive.  These rich vibrant imprints come from different kinds of experiences.  But all these experiences usually have one thing in common.  They are primary experiences with at lease some significant immediate sensory content.  I mention this because the daily flow of experiences people in modern technological societies have today, has an increasingly diminished content of primary experience.

I happen to collect old books from between 1890 and 1940.  Many of the books I collect have beautiful illustrations interspersed throughout the pages as well as on the hard cover.  Some of the books have beautiful borders surrounding the text.  These books have a wonderful smell and feel to them.  They are a pleasure to hold.  Contrast these books with the electronic books that are becoming increasingly popular today.  They all appear on a few relatively  uniform electronic devices.  Such a device has a cold non-organic feel to it and no smell.  There are certainly no illustrations in the text.

Now books are a transitional experience, having some elements of a mediated experience - the text that we translate into thoughts - and some elements of a primary experience - the illustrations, bordering and typeface, the smell and feel of the book.  Yet within a little bit more than a century, books have been transformed into pure mediated experiences - the placement of text behind a screen.  It is a text that has no real corporeal presence in our lives.  Just like the text we receive on computers and smart phones and the images we receive on computers, smart phones, television and movies.

This lack of corporeal presence in modern technological environments was the subject of a conversation I had with my good friend, Dr. Jorge Cappon, the psychoanalyst from Mexico City.  The problems with electronic devices are multiple.  As Dr. Cappon stated, the majority of our contacts with other human beings today are through electronic devices: movies, television, radio, smart phones and computers.  This has to affect the way we learn how to relate to other people.  Dr.  Cappon observed that even when people are with each other, they no longer look directly at each other anymore when they are talking.

I would say that because most of the contacts we have with other people are through electronic devices, we are receiving vacuumized images of the other people, figure images surrounded by and penetrated with an experiential vacuum, figure images that we pick up through the screen or the earpiece.  They are not images you can touch or smell.  They are attenuated images that leave attenuated imprints in our mind.  Because they are attenuated, they are deficient, and we are never totally able to bond with them.  And, in truth, because we are never totally able to bond with these electronic images, most young people today never really learn how to bond with other people.  Think of all the young people who get together and sit there juxtaposed with one another, texting still other people.  Their minds become so configured for the mediated experience provided by all these electrical devices, that they become incapable of the intense multisensory stimulation of immediate primary experience.

And because young people receive mostly these attenuated experiences, these attenuated imprints from other people, they never develop the capacity to effectively make their own imprints on other people.  At a time when modern technology has overcome much of the perishability in nature to allow people multiple methods of preserving imprints, most people today don’t have the ability to make good strong imprints on other people or on other experiential surfaces in their living environments.

On one level, this is why there are so many crumbling relationships today: divorces, child abandonment, parent abandonment, the firing of employees (even long-term ones), moving from job to job and town to town, shifting friendships.  The receptivity to strong organic imprints diminishes as the world increasingly becomes technological surfaces.

The inability to be fully receptive to strong organic imprints, particularly becomes exacerbated as a result of the interactions of stimuli that people receive from different technological phenomena.  I have intimated previously that sometimes the problem is not simply the experience of one technological device, but rather the cumulative effect of all the technological devices we experience - sometimes serially, sometimes simultaneously.  What does it mean to have head phones on while using a computer to read or write something?   What  does it mean to be watching television in the back seat while riding in a car?  What does it mean to go through a whole day in an isolated cubicle in an office and experience everyone as a mediated telephone voice or an e-mail?  And what does it mean to keep accumulating new technological devices through which we receive an increasing amount of our contact not only with other people, but with the world.

Technology interactions can also produce unpredictable negative consequences just like drug interactions.  The more devices that we introduce into our daily lives, the more probable it is that the interactions from all the experiences of the devices will produce negative effects.  We live in a world that requires us to use some modern technological devices for purposes of work and communication.  But this doesn’t mean that we have to purchase every new device that presents us with an improved method for drawing us into an increasingly mediated vacuumized world.  The ideal is to use these devices with caution and moderation.  The person who is forced to sit in front of a computer all day at work, should try to find rich vibrant primary experiences, interacting with other people, or enjoying nature or art, during his off hours.  Just as people need to exercise their bodies, they need to exercise their capacity to engage on an immediate level with the world and to receive the imprints it has to offer.

Children, particularly, who spend their recreational time playing video games, watching cartoons on television, using the computer and texting on their cell phones are going to grow up incapable of tolerating the intensity of the stimuli that come from strong bonded relationships with other people.  Their capacity to receive imprints directly from other people withers.  The technology interaction has the effect of teaching them to respond primarily to discrete mechanical and electrical stimuli.  Children learn to respond to technological markings rather than organic imprints, just like the complex machines and machine components that they are using.

If from a very early age, a child is constantly bombarded with these discrete technological stimuli, how is the child going to learn to really listen when his parent tells him to do something?  As the child grows up and becomes an adult, how will the adult listen when a lover wants a committed relationship?  The person's mind becomes trained to listen to machines rather than the people around him.  And in the same way he receives all these stimuli, all these markings, from machines, he reconfigures them and adds his own markings to respond in a mechanical way.  He has become robotized.

c 2012 Laurence Mesirow

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