Birkerts on pseudopower

by | Feb 21, 2017 | Uncategorized | 8 comments


  1. Joe V


  2. SteveK

    Thought-provoking. Not sure I agree though.

  3. Unknown

    As I continue to ponder these thoughts, what appears to me through the mist is the perception of a new dimension of our existence. What if we thought of it that way – "The Digital Dimension?" It exists at the same time as our physical/analog dimension, and it runs in parallel with our other known dimensions – but this is a synthesized dimension that ceases to exist when you don't acknowledge it.

    I think of it as a carousel – maybe even in the sense that Nolan & Johnson used it in Logan's Run (eek!), where we can step on and step off as we please. How much time you spend on the carousel is up to you, and depending on how deep you enter it will dictate how obscured the (real) physical dimension is obscured.

    In another sense, it could also be seen as a sort of "self medication" to escape one's physical reality – only to walk into a szchism of social and psychological terms, that compound one's real life troubles and anxieties by creating a parallel set of equal, co-existing troubles and anxieties… sigh.

    Like any escape, it's a trap of our own design.

  4. Richard P

    I agree; I'd just add that stepping off the carousel is much easier said than done.

    I recommend Birkert's entire essay, and this whole collection along with his collection The Gutenberg Elegies, as meditations on the digital dimension as contrasted with the book dimension. The main point of this particular essay is to explore the experience of immersion in a novel, which has become more difficult in our times. A nice feature of Birkert's writing is that he's never holier than thou, but admits his own entanglement in the digital world, and his ambiguous feelings about it.

  5. Unknown

    I wonder if Birkert has expanded his thoughts on the Digital phenomenon to "technology" as a whole? Not having read him, I am left to speculate.

    For instance, don't the Amish, in their way, struggle with the underpinnings of this very thing? Many forms of post 1860's technology are eschewed for traditional ones. I am not Amish, I am not an Amish expert, I am just an observer, however it appears to me that the basis of what we're observing is one of a fracturing of our perceptions of the digital dimension, the Amish struggle with existing in 2017 (or we perceive them to) and how to handle this technology dimension – insofar as electricity presents a clear and present danger to them – connecting them with the evils of the outside world. This is why (many) Amish can have a phone on the outskirts of their property, but not *wired* into their home. They can use cordless phones (arguably splitting technological hairs), because the wires stop at some safe distance away. In a way, they are just saying, "No, I will not hop on this particular carousel." or in reality, they define the terms in which they will participate, but it is a strictly controlled dimensional participation, a carousel of their own design. Their shops can use electricity, generated on-site, as long as it does not connect them with the [evil] outside world.

    With something like a "digital detox," in my mind, it's erecting a barrier to say, "not here, not now. This space is a physical dimension!" A declaration that at this moment, at this place in time and space, we decline to participate in the placebo of the digital medication.

  6. Unknown

    I am reading his essay.

    One thing that jumped out at me, as I have felt something similar, was, "in a flash I felt myself looking back in time from a distant and disengaged vantage."

    And the thing is, he's right. We can observe the digital dimension all we want without hopping into it. We can see people immersed in it. We can see what "we're missing" and we can also turn it off.

    I would draw the dividing line of the technology dimension, as we're discussing it, as anything electrical. Harkening to a previous post, the 'gateway' to the digital dimension is electricity. If you remove electricity, it is like a black hole closed in on itself and exited perception. As far as we can tell, it's gone.

    If you go on a backpacking trip and leave your cell phone in your car, or turned off in your pack, the black hole of the digital dimension is slammed shut. It is only at the moment that you conjure it back, that it enters your individual existence at that moment, forward, until you turn it off again.

    That's actually the beauty of this conundrum … it's not a conundrum. We can *choose* not to email. We can *choose* not to surf 'social media.' We can *choose* not to watch television, or listen to radio, or crack our curtains to see the flood of imagery awaiting beyond the veil.

    So, as I read Birkerts, what strikes me is that while he's not taking a victimhood position, that's kind of what we all do when we say we have no choice in the matter. We do. Turn off your cell phone for a weekend – tell people to call your land line or stop by the house. Turn off the TV – stop streaming news… for a time. You define that time. You set the boundaries for your detox; the depth, the duration. You *choose* to stand back, and watch, with bemused pity at the people ON the carousel. :)

  7. Richard P

    I'm not sure either. Learning Photoshop, for instance, stimulated my imagination. But sometimes, Birkerts' pronouncement does seem to apply.

  8. Richard P

    Thanks for these great comments, Brian. I don't think Birkerts feels we have no choice, but it is a difficult choice and sometimes professionally impossible. Birkerts' friend Albert Goldbarth doesn't use computers at all, but he can afford to do that as a tenured English professor. (And even so, I'm sure his students, colleagues, and the administration must pester him constantly about it.)


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