Computing and its consequences

HPSS*S689 -- Blumberg

Notes: January 22 and 24


"Still, before authenticity had come along to suggest the deficiencies of sincerity and to usurp its place in our esteem, sincerity stood high in the cultural firmament and had dominion over men's imagination of how they ought to be." from Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity (1973)

"Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory -- precession of simulacra -- that engenders the territory, and if one must return to the fable, today it is the territory whose shreds slowly rot across the extent of the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges persist here and there in the deserts that are no longer those of the Empire, but ours. The desert of the real itself." from Jean Baudrillard,

"The Precession of Simulacra" (1981)

1. Sincerity, Authenticity and Simulation

    At the end of the last class we were discussing so-called "virtual" relationships in the context of the four criteria of the "posthuman", described by Hayles in How We Became Posthuman (1999). It became clear that different people regarded such relationships as having different degrees of legitimacy, and this seemed to have something to do with the degree to which they seemed to possess/lack "authenticity". Although the term "authenticity" has been criticized by many authors besides Trilling and Baudrillard (see e.g. Adorno's important The Jargon of Authenticity [1965]), we'll begin Tuesday's class with questions about where a postmodern critique of the "authentic" leaves us in trying to figure out how/whether to value experiences and/or relationships mediated by technology. We'll also discuss how Hayle's Posthumanism might interpret Trilling's ideas of sincerity and authenticity.

2. Modern Times vs. The Matrix

    a. I'll return the reaction papers and give a preach about why writing beautifully may require talent that few possess, but writing competently requires no more talent than taking care of your teeth. Once that's over (!) we'll talk about some of the themes that came up in the papers.

    b. What do you think is the relationship between "choice" (e.g. personal choice) and "control" (e.g. control over your life), and do you think you have more or less of each compared with Chaplin's characters in 1936?

3. Chorost's Rebuilt and Ullman's Close to the Machine, and developing a relationship to and/or philosophy of technology.

    We'll talk about these books, and the themes/issues you plan to write about in your essay (due Friday).


"The hydroelectric plant is not built into the Rhine River as was the old wooden bridge that joined bank with bank for hundreds of  years. Rather, the river is dammed up into the power plant. What the river is now, namely, a water power supplier, derives from out of the essence of the power station. In order that we may even remotely consider the monstrousness that reigns here, let us ponder for a moment the contrast  that speaks out of the two titles, 'The Rhine' as dammed up into the power works, and 'The Rhine' as uttered out of the art work, in Holderlin's hymn by that name. But, it will be replied, the Rhine is still a river in the landscape, is it not? Perhaps. But how? In no other way than as an object on call for inspection by a tour group ordered there by the vacation industry." from Martin Heidegger, "The Question Concerning Technology" (1953)


"Because the word processor makes writing easy for desiring subjects and this ease in writing solicits us to enter discourses rather than produce finished works, the word processor attached to the Net solicits us to substitute it for pens and typewriters, thereby eliminating the equipment and the skills that were appropriate for modern subject/object practices. It takes a real commitment to focal practices based on stable subjects and objects to go on writing personal letters with a fountain pen and to insist that papers written on the word processor must reach an elegant finish. If the tendency to rely completely on the flexibility of technological devices is not resisted, we will be left with only one kind of writing implement promoting one style of practice, namely those of endless transformation and enhancement. Likewise, if we live our lives in front of our home entertainment center, our sense of being mortals who can open various worlds and have various identities will be lost as we, indeed, become pure resources." Hubert L. Dreyfus and Charles Spinosa, "Highway Bridges and Feasts: Heidegger and Borgmann on How to Affirm Technology" (2004)

4. Martin Heidegger's "The Question Concerning Technology"

    Heidegger's essay is one of the most important philosophical works about technology ever written, and we'll try to understand his arguments about the "essence" of technology and the transformative nature of modern technology

5. Hubert L. Dreyfus on Heidegger and "Gaining a Free Relation to Technology"

    We'll discuss Dreyfus' analysis of Heidegger's position as well as his paper with Charles Spinosa that offers an optimistic reading of Heidegger, and an important view concerning the possibility of affirming technology without sacrificing our humanity.

6. The Robopet Exercise

    We'll discuss the Robopet Exercise and whether the achievements of robotics, artificial intelligence and neuronal prosthetics merit a new set of ethical questions/considerations?

7 For Next Week: Read all of Part One of Webster's The Information Society 'Reader, and choose at least one of the other Parts to be responsible for

summarizing in class, and writing about on the final exam.