Jarod Gott on Tinder, writing and the presentation of the self

Recently I was at Dreams, Hallucinations and the Imagination, a conference organised by the University of Glasgow’s Centre for the Study of Perceptual ExperienceDreams and like experiences are an interest of mine generally, clinically and personally (if you follow) at some point I would like to blog about this fascinating meeting more, especially from my perspective as an interested party but not part of a specific sleep/consciousness/philosophy of mind group.

One of the most memorable presentations was the last, from Jarod Gott,   a neuroscientist from Melbourne with the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour . He gave a bracing and no-sacred-cows-untouched talk entitled “Neural correlates of “synthetic” perception: Towards a common statespace model for dreams, hallucination and imagination”

I may not have entirely expected, reading through the various papers by conference speakers I could find online on the way to the airport, that Gott has written a piece for Quilette on dating in the age of Tinder.  It made me quite glad to be too old and too married to have any familiarity with Tinder itself. One of Gott’s asides (which I have highlighted in bold below) made me wonder something about writing in the world today:

Now you are cooking with gas! Expect several days of intimate, evocative and tantalising back-and-forth, conversations running into the early hours of the morning, a reliable hit of dopamine at the peering at of one’s lock screen. You organise a face to face, a real live date—and the anxiety hits infinity, as this person who you have finally clicked with, will suddenly become real. So you meet up, and you can’t even recognise them. To make matters worse, you never actually do. Their digital persona is more familiar than anything physical existence can do justice to, and you fade out of each other’s lives, wondering who that imposter actually was, and how they got that other person—the one who you really felt something for—to type all those sweet and lovely messages. The hollow feeling grows profound, as you slowly realise, that you never will get to find out and that maybe, just maybe, you have actually lost your mind.It took some serious contemplation, to untangle why I was repeating this cycle. In part, I can attribute my recently improved skills as a writer, in building an entertaining and beguiling narrative, and pulling somebody haplessly into it. Maybe I am just too good at this? No. It’s something else entirely. I revisited my best encounters, ones that became lasting and rewarding friendships, relationships or anything in between. What pattern did these follow? I can say for certain—these addictive, high-frequency textual exchanges, giving one’s phone a poker-machine like quality—came at the tail end of months of physical intimacy, if they came at all. We existed, perhaps, in a much more tribal state. Every waking moment together, where it was at all practicable; no zero-sum playing of games, no existential desire to weed out deal-breaking traits and experiences, like landmines in a Cambodian rice field, lest they blow up under your tread, leaving you gamed by some malevolent sentient other. When you fall in love the way that you do when you travel, the world has a way of contracting and such details fade into irrelevancy. When you scour the Internet for mates using Tinder, the world has a way of expanding—and nobody is ever good enough, and nobody, ever, can be trusted: to be all they appear to be; to be who they say.

In the context of his piece, Gott dismisses the impact of his “recently improved skills as a writer”, but these two sentences got me thinking about how writing has become more and more about presentation of a kind of self. It is sometimes claimed we  live in a golden age of writing, that the net result of email/social media/SMS is an explosion in the written word, albeit writ on the water that is the Internet.

Whatever the truth of that, the impulse of much more of the writing we do is to present a certain sense of the selfl and . The internet is a powerful agent of Girardian mimeticism, and one wonders if “improved writing skills” are a powerful agent of imposing conformity.

And one wonders if writing-as-presentation-of-a-self makes Literature (deliberate big L) more inclined to solipsism, more virtue-signally, less interested in the world and others and more focused on Thinly Disguised Autobiography (or Thinly Disguised What I Wish Was Autobiography)

 

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Nithin Coca – “How I Fully Quit Google”

Could you stop using Google products? Completely? Not just Google Search, but Gmail, Calendar, and all the rest of their stable of products and services.

Nithin Coca has done just that, and tells the story on Medium.  What is particularly interesting – and concerning – is how difficult this turns out to be. This is a contrast to even Apple and Facebook :

With Apple, you’re either in the iWorld, or out. Same with Amazon, and even Facebook owns only a few platforms and quitting is more of a psychological challenge than actually difficult.

Google, however, is embedded everywhere. No matter what laptop, smartphone, or tablet you have, chances are you have at least one Google app on there. Google is synonymous for search, maps, email, our browser, the operating system on most of our smartphones. It even provides the “services” and analytics that other apps and websites rely on, such as Uber’s use of Google Maps to operate its ride-hailing service.

Google is now a word in many languages, and its global dominance means there are not many well-known, or well-used alternatives to its behemoth suite of tools — especially if you are privacy minded. We all started using Google because it, in many ways, provided better alternatives to existing products. But now, we can’t quit because either Google has become a default, or because its dominance means that alternatives can’t get enough traction.

Coca’s motives for quitting Google relate to Edward Snowden’s revelations re PRISM. No matter what one’s specific motivations might be, it is concerning that one company has embedded itself in our devices, and by extension our lives, to such a degree. Coca’s piece is refreshingly free of hyperbole, even giving Google their due, and outlining just how it got to be so dominant via his own experience:

Here’s the thing. I don’t hate Google. In fact, not too long ago, I was a huge fan of Google. I remember the moment when I first discovered one amazing search engine back in the late 1990’s, when I was still in high school. Google was light years ahead of alternatives such as Yahoo, Altavista, or Ask Jeeves. It really did help users find what they were seeking on a web that was, at that time, a mess of broken websites and terrible indexes.

Google soon moved from just search to providing other services, many of which I embraced. I was an early adopter of Gmail back in 2005, when you could only join via invites. It introduced threaded conversations, archiving, labels, and was without question the best email service I had ever used. When Google introduced its Calendar tool in 2006, it was revolutionary in how easy it was to color code different calendars, search for events, and send shareable invites. And Google Docs, launched in 2007, was similarly amazing. During my first full time job, I pushed my team to do everything as a Google spreadsheet, document, or presentation that could be edited by many of us simultaneously.

Like many, I was a victim of Google creep. Search led to email, to documents, to analytics, photos, and dozens of other services all built on top of and connected to each other. Google turned from a company releasing useful products to one that has ensnared us, and the internet as a whole, into its money-making, data gathering apparatus

The full article outlines Coca’s alternatives to Google Products. Some things – like, paradoxically, quitting Google for search, are quite easy. Others are much more challenging….

“Mental health apps offer a head start on recovery” – Irish Times, 18/01/18

Over at my more medically focused blog A Medical Education, I have a link to a recent Irish Times story on apps in mental health in which my various pontifications feature….

A Medical Education

Here is a piece by Sylvia Thompson on a recent First Fortnight panel discussion I took part in on apps in mental health.

Dr Séamus Mac Suibhne, psychiatrist and member of the Health Service Executive research technology team says that while the task of vetting all apps for their clinical usefulness is virtually impossible, it would be helpful if the Cochrane Collaboration [a global independent network of researchers] had a specific e-health element so it could partner with internet companies to give a meaningful rubber stamp to specific mental health apps.

“There is potential for the use of mental health apps to engage people with diagnosed conditions – particularly younger patients who might stop going to their outpatients appointments,” says Dr Mac Suibhne. However, he cautions their use as a replacement to therapy. “A lot of apps claim to use a psychotherapeutic approach but psychotherapy is about a human encounter…

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“a media to look at rather than to read”

This article from Politico on Robert D’Agostino, the man behind the website Dagospia, is an interesting read on both Italian media/politics and the general mental landscape of the internet. I was struck by a phrase from the journalist Filippo Cecarelli, quoted in the article:

Ceccarelli, the La Repubblica journalist, credits Dagospia’s success to two factors. D’Agostino’s was one of the first media outlets in Italy to grasp the potential of the web. And it was the first to understand that the web was a post-ideological visual space.

“Dagospia is a media to look [at] rather than to read,” said Ceccarelli, who wrote the foreword to one of D’Agostino’s books.

It is something of a commonplace to describe the Internet as a medium that privileges the visual over the written (although I recall in the early days of the mass availability of the internet pieces claiming we were entering a new epistolary golden age) – but something about this passage (and possibly the context, with the description of D’Agostino’s eclectically decorated apartment and the febrile world of Italian politics) resonated. It certainly would have appealed to Neil Postman with his concern with how we were amusing ourselves to death via media ideal for entertainment rather than reflection

I was also struck by a quote from D’Agostino himself:

In D’Agostino’s view, Italy is run by “powerful bureaucrats” who direct elected politicians and ministers from behind the scenes. His bottom line is that Italy has always been and remains a feudal country.

“In a serious country Dagospia would not exist,” said D’Agostino in an interview in his Roman mansion. “But in Italy news gets buried.”

I recall hearing Italians self-deprecatingly observe that other nations were “serious”, not them. I suspect this may be a universal perception – that other nations Do Things Better.

“someone who is abnormally normal” – Christopher Bollas, Adam deVille, social media, and the “normotic” self

Adam de Ville, who who I have linked to before, has a fascinating post on Christopher Bollas, and how he (deVille) came to an appreciation of the enduring insights of the psychoanalytic tradition.

An excerpt:

I begin at the beginning with Bollas, whose 1987 book The Shadow of the Object: Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known has just been republished in a 30th-anniversary edition. It reads, as many of his books do, like collections of essays only loosely stitched together usually around one theme. He begins with a chapter on the “transformational object,” and those who know psychoanalytic history will at once recognize that Bollas, born and educated in the US but practicing as an analyst in England for many years, is here indebted to the British independent school, especially D.W. Winnicott and his equally famous idea of the “transitional object.”

For Bollas, the “object” is not singular. Our life is a collection, largely unconscious, of memories of interactions with myriads and myriads of “objects,” most of them human, including, most powerfully, our parents and families. “There is no one unified mental phenomenon that we can term self,” Bollas argues, because “the person’s self is the history of many internal relations,” and those relations to various objects cast a shadow over the rest of our life. Many of those object relations will remain unconscious to us, but nonetheless powerful and directive of other relations. One way, Bollas says, we may discover some of these earlier object relations is by listening to “our own idiom of thinking about and talking to ourselves.”

But how many of us do that today? How can we do that today when we drown out the capacity for such thoughts, filling our days with electronic stimuli so much that we cannot part with our phones even at night when sleeping, as a huge majority of us now do? If the cell phone today is not a “transformational object” in every sense then nothing is. So too are social media in their various forms, which at least sometimes seem to collude, as it were, to keep us from deeper, more wide-ranging reflection and insight. Surely one of the main goals of these media is not to encourage genuine criticism of some depth in which the very systems of our time (political and economic) are put to the question, for, as MacIntyre has said (see ch. 9, here), we are all condemned to think and act in the terms of the modern nation-state and its capitalist handmaid. Thus social media largely seek homogenization in the service of advanced capitalism, which requires the production of standardized consumers deemed to be normal, a process of definition, Bollas says, that “is typified by the numbing and eventual erasure of subjectivity in favor of a self that is conceived as a material object among other man-made products in the object world.”

Such a self what Bollas calls “normotic,” that is,
someone who is abnormally normal. He is too stable, secure, comfortable, and socially extrovert. He is fundamentally disinterested in subjective life and he is inclined to reflect on the thingness of objects, on their material reality, or on ‘data’ that relates to material phenomena…..Such an individual is alive in a world of meaningless plenty.
(Erich Fromm argued something loosely similar many years ago in his The Pathology of Normalcy.)

The normotic individual “is interested in facts” but not to link them together, still less to see any kind of overarching pattern or to subject them to critical analysis: “facts are collected and stored because this activity is reassuring.” (That, alas, describes too many students today, and usually only around exam time.) This person loves being part of a team, thrives in institutions and corporations, enjoys committee work, and is frequently a workaholic who sees no utility at all in having a subjective interior life. This person, who sounds frightfully like Donald Trump–who is, as Jung might say, an archetype of many people today, not least political and business leaders–has managed to convince himself that the “mind itself, in particular the unconscious, is an archaism, a thing to be abandoned in the interests of human progress.”

All The Time In The World: Disconnecting to Reconnect

Trailer – All the Time in the World from Suzanne Crocker on Vimeo.

All The Time In The World is a charming documentary which follows a Canadian family of five over 9 months in the Yukon wilderness.

Directed by the family’s mother, Suzanne Crocker, and featuring three children aged 10, 8 and 4 (at the time), the film is an engaging story of the challenges and joys and a life without media, or much in the way of contemporary technology. The life is not sentimentalised, nor is there any fake drama for the sake of “narrative” as seen in so many documentaries.

att_epk_one_lr-2

Apart from its unusual setting, the film is also an unaffected portrait of ordinary family life – again without sentimentality or fake drama. There is much to reflect on about time, busy-ness and our connection with nature – but more importantly, this story engaged my own troupe of similarly aged children.

Often I find documentaries off-putting when they have all too transparent slants towards a specific narrative or message. Obviously All the Time In the World has a narrative, and the film has a message – but both emerge from a simple story told affectingly and well.

Preferring soiled banknotes to new 

A little snippet from the Institute for Money Technology and Financial Inclusion  blog , taken from an article promisingly titled “Micro Insurance Claim Payments through Pre-paid Cards: Technology and Regulation Driven Financial Inclusion in India” I found this finding on the valued placed on tangibility and how trust is indicated by the evidence of prior use fascinating – and surely reflects a phenomenon seen in other contexts; the reassurance of not being the first.

An interesting finding was that people often preferred soiled banknotes to new banknotes for fear of counterfeit currency. This emphasis on tangibility and trust based on physical signs of repeated use explains in part why mobile money has not taken off as a mode of payment and why some did not take as well to the pre-paid cards. A female respondent from a village near Varanasi said, “I don’t believe in new notes. The MFI agent once refused to accept them because the metallic part [the machine readable security thread and electrotype water mark] were damaged in the new currency note I had as part of my fortnightly deposit. The new notes have not been used before and I don’t know if they are genuine. I think many of my friends share this feeling too.”