Last Thoughts on Composing New Media

As a student of rhetoric, I’m familiar with the inherent persuasiveness in nearly all written and oral language performances; I’ve been reading and writing about rhetoric for the past year and a half. Looking at the topic through the lens of new media opened my eyes to even more rhetorical techniques possible in the digital age. Instead of simply referencing other rhetor’s work by name, phrase, or citation, we can literally pull them right into the conversation via embedding. Instead of creating one, flat, linear piece of work in the form of an essay, print article, or book, we create branches of text and ideas. I may start here on this blog, in this word format, but as soon as I hyperlink to another source or embed a Youtube video my reader has the option of clicking through to another segment of information. The Youtube video may instantly pull up related links or the hyperlinked article could have comments at the bottom and push the reader on in a different direction.

There’s no guarantee that they will stick with my piece ’til the end, not unless it’s visually and rhetorically engaging.

My final project itself forced me to consider my rhetorical footprint online in a wholly new way. While I definitely prefer the practice of linear writing (probably because that feels more natural to my artistic sensibilities) I know from personal experience that click through curiosity is deadly and unyielding. With the right combination of thumbnail and headline, I will click through to anything, no matter how invested I am in whatever I’m currently reading.

With the Internet, and with sites like Storify, WordPress, Weebly, and more, we online writers have the chance to create dynamic, multi-faceted rhetorical pieces. We become web designers more than writers–attention to design, detail, and visual composition is just as important as our words, although that importance fluctuates with our target audience. Certainly new and upcoming generations will expect hypertextual pieces that link many different sources together in one work, as opposed to the pre-digital generations who no doubt would rather have all of their information simply displayed on one plate of information.

As Roland Barthes mentions rather dramatically in his “Death of the Author,” there is nothing wholly original in our art and literature anymore–our work is, more often than not, an amalgamation of that which we have previously digested; ground up and pieced together in a new artifact. The cult hit NBC show Community is proof of that, in the extreme. Each episode refers to previous films and TV shows and as the seasons progress it gets increasingly more self-referential, making fun of public opinions that call out writing, acting, and story quirks (or flaws, depending on how much of a fan you are). By season 3, the show had spiraled so far inward that the linear structure completely decomposed. See, Season 2, Episode 21, “Paradigms of Human Memory.”

Rather than marking the end of literature, as Barthes bemoans, I think the Internet opens up possibilities for further creativity. Our stories are not limited to one author and one text, but are now extended to include the event’s entire evolution across all consumers’ experience over time. It includes not just the singular story event, but also it’s audience reception, later references and adaptions, and consumer reappropriation. The Internet animates a single text into a living creature with infinite growth potential.

New Media Project Proposal

In the three months of studying philosophy of the mind I’ve noticed a trend in philosophers towards seemingly aimless pondering. The point of philosophical studies, apparently, is not to arrive at a practical conclusion or argue your point’s significance in society, but to explore all possible or conceivable (I use the term very broadly) worlds in order to question current concepts of mind and consciousness and posit new ideas. Not new ideas for others to adopt and use in a pragmatic manner to address current issues, just to…talk…and wonder about life. New ideas extrapolated from old ideas, or in opposition to old ideas, for the sole purpose of inspiring new models on the same topic.

With the exception of Jean-Paul Sartre’s treatises on free will and existentialism, I found very little use for the ideas being discussed. Maybe I just don’t have the sensibilities needed to be a philosopher, and that’s okay. And maybe current philosophers don’t find it necessary for their discussions to be expanded into other discourse communities. Philosophers may be completely content to kick around ideas for the sake of mental exercise.

But I’m not.

My time is precious and I want to make every moment count for something—be able to show for something. I am representative of my generation in that the things I read, talk about, and devote my time to need to be part of something bigger than myself. I need to be part of the global conversations attempting to shape public opinion. The questions generated from the philosophy of mind can, and should, have a place in this global discourse community of which the new technologically-minded generations are part.

I’ve already looked into ways in which consciousness and the mind are being discussed on new media platforms in my Storify project, but now I’ll focus on how and where they can be interjected into popular forums of discussion and to what benefit. Hopefully, with the help of Sartre and Stephen Hawking and other contemporary questioners, I can sniff out sites that seems successful, and posit new avenues for future success. With all the social, political, cultural, and economic campaigning that happens in the realm of new media, it’s important to give voices of different temperament equal weight, and the voices of rational philosophers are missing.

**Edit: After consideration, I decided to create this final project on Weebly, for more cohesive design. Take a look!

Contemporary Consciousness: Science vs Religion

Over the past two months, as I’ve been looking into and learning more about philosophy of the mind and its theories on consciousness, I couldn’t help but wonder how, or if, spiritual discussions of consciousness fit in.

I feel that a look into how this particular philosophy is being discussed is incomplete without at least addressing religion, since these big questions feature in ideologies outside science and many religions answer the hows and whys of existence without the headache that scientists and philosophers have been facing in their studies.

To figure what current discourse looks like in both fields, I’ve compiled a Spotify story that gives an idea of the relationship between science/philosophy and religion, and how that effects our journey to satisfying answers.

Our New Hyperreality

When we get to the concept of consciousness I’m always reminded of this global consciousness term people bandy about when they talk about the inter-connectivity of the Internet. We now longer have solitary, individual worldviews that are shared only by letter, voice, or tangible forms of writing. Our spheres of communications have expanded. Now we can upload and post everything and anything to sites accessible to anyone with Internet access, anywhere in the world.

It’s really an amazing technological advance, but because not everyone understands how the Internet works—to be honest, I don’t either—our imaginations take the technological possibilities to a dark place.

Current films like Her and Transcendence and even Lucy expand on the fear that comes along with new technology. Their stories play with the idea of forming a consciousness independent of physical form; a kind of elevated, immaterial, fourth dimensional conscious “being” that exists outside spatiotemporal limits. Somehow, now that we can upload everything to this immaterial “online” that has no place or boundaries, we fear the extreme: that we’ll be able to upload our literal selves onto servers and in doing so, create a type of god with powers of control over creation and destruction.

Technological advances in communications and computations have brought about machines that seem to be smarter than humans. Indeed, some people have argued that there’s no difference between computing machines and humans; that we are all following programming (software) embedded in our physical systems (hardware).

Believers in the theory of machine functionalism—supported by Hilary Putnam in the late 20th century—claim that the consciousness that arises in our brains is the same that arises in computers, and by that theory it’s not impossible to imagine a universe where computers become sentient beings akin to humans.

Luckily for the fearful and over-imaginative, functionalism has a major flaw: human brains think semantically and mechanical brains think syntactically. Both thinking entities are a combination of infinite complex systems and programs, but computers and the like are simply rule-following devices, while the human mind adds meaning to its programs and can even write their own code, so to speak

Until we create computers that can rewire themselves, write their own complex systems of programs, and build new hardware to support these systems, I highly doubt we’ll be facing world domination by the Internet. But it sure is fun to imagine, and it seems pretty likely. We live half our world on the web—that’s where we upload our thoughts, feelings, and ideas in picture, video, and textual format, both fragmented and traditionally structured. The Internet is the place we go to absorb the same from other human beings around the world.

When we don’t have our electronic devices on us we feel naked. How are we going to get around or stay in touch with people?! What will we do in case of emergency or in case of unexpected sighting of a celebrity or adorable, fluffy animal or child protégé?! How will be we able to share our experiences with others online so that they can confirm we experienced them?? On the bright screens of our electronic devices we’ve created another world full of copies and representations of what’s around us, a hyperreality, that seems just as important, if not occasionally more so, than the physical world.

We shop online, we “pin” pictures of places we want to visit and fashion items and artwork that we like on “boards,” just like kids used to hang posters on their wall or actually travel outside their houses away from their computers. We communicate in Emojis online, little faces and icons that are meant to depict emotions and now, people even imitate Emojis in real life as a common form of communication. (And by ‘people’ I mean myself. handsup okay)

What we experience in life is immediately copied and posted online for others to view and incorporate in their understanding of their reality which then influences what they choose to share online later. With this unceasing forging of a hyperreal universe, it’s not too crazy to assume the future will hinge on further technological advances. It might not be so crazy of an idea that we’ll end up living completely online—Wall-E and The Matrix might not be too far off track.

 

But will we be able to ditch our earthly bodies? I’m still not convinced.

The Hard Problem of Blogging about Philosophy

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I have to admit, sitting down to write a blog post about philosophy of mind is daunting. It’s such a specified interest that hits on terms and ideas so deeply entrenched in the philosophy world that trying to make them accessible to the average, curious Internet-user overwhelmed me. We use the words “minds” and “consciousness” all the time, but not in the way philosophers do. We talk about relations and cause and effect, but not in the way philosophers do. Translating philosopher-speak into something more widely understandably oversimplifies and confuses the concepts at the same time.

Nevertheless, I sat down to write an overview of the philosophy of mind to an unknown audience of unknown prior understanding of philosophy. I knew I didn’t want to explain it like philosophers do, but I wasn’t sure how to explain it any other way. Even if I do find different words to explain the concepts, that doesn’t make the ideas themselves any more easily understood. Especially since each era of philosopher comes up with new words for the same meaning and new meanings for the same word.

For example, substance, entity, body, “thing,” object are all meant to refer to the same…thing. But see, already this is getting weird because I’m using the term I aim to define in the definition. Circular reasoning at it’s worst. In conjunction with terms that are almost so basic they don’t describe anything with clarity, philosophers use phrases like x and y are causally related instead of x causes y or  x instantiates a property of instead of simply, x has.

As if matters could get even more frustrating, this oversimplification and over-complexification sitting side by side barely covers up the fact that in four hundred years of study and debate, nothing has been decided upon. Advances in biology, technology, and physics might add a new bone to the pile, but nothing really new in terms of minds has been discovered. So in addition to making these ideas easy to understand, I also have to write my blog in such a way that the readers—if I even have any—stay interested in tossing these nebulous theories around.

I know I’m not the first person to attempt to simplify these ideas, so, lucky me, I can hyperlink to Psychology Today or TEDtalks or smart Youtubers. But will the readers all click on the links? They have to seem like the most interesting or essential links in the world in order to get the average reader to click through, and then the information on those pages has to be fun or easily digestible. In this instance, they aren’t.

The TEDtalk I posted was 25 minutes long. That’s a long time to listen to an ex-hippie Australian slowly, and with many pauses, walk us through philosophy. So I do a quick Google search for something to explain consciousness; I type in “What is consciousness?” a simple answer (or so it would seem). The first hit was a long article from Psychology Today with no pictures and no hyperlinks. It’s essentially an essay slapped on a website. The author of the article, or more likely the designer of the page, didn’t bother to make us of any of the many tools available to bloggers and online journalists that work to grab readers’ attention. They benefit from a very simple and self-explanatory title (What is consciousness?) but make no effort to ensure the reader stays. To be honest, I can’t tell you if the article was well-written, entertaining, or easily understandable because I only had so much time to write this blog and, after realizing how long it was, I clicked away for something “better.”

That’s when I realized just how important attention to visual details are for people writing on the Internet, or for anyone trying to communicate on the web. Search Engines and online news sources, even our social media platforms, put an unending amount of information at the click of a button. Even though we spend an inordinate amount of time scrolling through the web, it would be impossible to keep up with the stream of new content posted and published daily, hourly, by the second.

upworthy headersAnyone hoping to find an audience for their work has stiff competition for readers’ attention. Some sites opt for dramatic headers to get you to click the link—my least favorite method, because the titles generally hyperbolize the content and mislead the reader. Others have enticing thumbnail pictures like the one to the left, for people to share on Facebook. For all purposes, videos, pictures, and personable voices make the average reader more likely to spend time on the site or article. On personal sites, the competition is more fierce, more personal. People go through their days with half an eye on gems that would make popular Facebook posts, Instagram photos, tweets, tumblr posts, Pinterest pins, and more. The moreHook 'Em shebang your voice or photo has online the more attention and adoration you will get. Who doesn’t want that?

Of course, if you’re not necessarily a person who shares themselves easily, takes lots of photos, cares about their appearance, or hones their wit on the daily, then you aren’t going to bask in as much social media glory as some others. So we make ourselves that fun, fabulous, sassy person—we create an online persona to get more likes, shares, and comments. We write stylishly, wittily, poetically on our professional blog sites. News sources, social issue groups, advertisers, everyone develops an online voice that combines diction, syntax, media, and visual design to demand that people pay attention.

We focus so much on grabbing people’s attention that it becomes second nature, this online voice that people like so much. So now I know how to blog about philosophy of the mind. I need to stop thinking like a weed-smoking, navel-gazing intellectual of the 1600s and start thinking like an attention-hungry, cynical intellectual of the 2000s. I need to write like I speak—no, ten times funnier, smarter, and cooler than I speak, because that’s the kind of image I can create for myself on the web. That’s the kind of person that the average online reader would listen to. Kind of like this guy does–bridging the gap between science and entertainment with brightly designed and easily digested media:

If you’re looking for mind-blowing earfuls of innovation and philosophy, the first place to go would be the TED website, where you can look through archived speeches from past TED conferences on the left brain-right brain relationship,  how to grow tiny forests, and the hard problem of consciousness. Below, David Chalmers takes interested listeners into the arena of minded philosophers by laying out the boundaries of what he means by ‘consciousness,’ the history behind our current beliefs surrounding how consciousness exists, and ends with a few crazy ideas that hope to start explaining the whats, hows, and whys of consciousness. Take a look, because he can explain minded philosophy way better than I can:

I can imagine being in that audience, listening to a stranger describe to me “reductionist brain-based theories of consciousness” and hear empty dial tones in my head. Some of his crazy ideas are hard to swallow if you’re new to the topic of study. If Chalmers wasn’t standing on a stage with professional lighting and sound equipment, in an amphitheater full of people, in a video hosted on a site I know to be legitimate, I would write him off as a crazy. If he still had his long hair…

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…then I’d definitely write him off as a philosophical radical. I But I can’t stick my head in the sand if it’s a TED talk—people take these seriously. They have a reputation, and so I take the time to focus and stay with his slow pace. At least he doesn’t speak the way most philosophers write—he drops a little jargon in between easily understood analogies and generously holds our hands through the metaphysical journey. I would imagine that people in the audience, as well as those watching the video, aren’t always as well-versed in mindedness as his peer discourse community and so they too appreciate his calm way of speaking, collected body language, and inclusive gestures.

Unlike audiences sitting in the conference, those who watch TED videos have even more opportunities to really understand the speakers. We can watch with captions, read the transcription, and even pause to look up the more unfamiliar terms. Just like Youtube, ted.com allows you to rate, favorite, share, embed, e-mail, and download the video; I found it interesting that ted.com has all the interactive elements of Youtube and more (I was surprised they allowed for downloads and embed codes!) without the clutter of user generated content. People visiting the TED site know what they’re looking for: something interesting, something smart, something new, something mind-blowing. When they visit the website, the content they desire is that much more accessible if only because there’s less user-generated trash cluttering the archives. Furthermore, when users download and share the talks, that only generates more advertising for TED conferences, since each video has the TED logo and speakers are standing on TED stages (duh!).

Those interested in learning about minded philosophy might very well start their journey with this speech before going deeper. Chalmers gives a launching point for further discussion—users can comment below the video or join TED discussion forums to learn more. Or they can read the speech recap of Chalmers’ performance on the TED Blog, which gives links to related videos. Since TED talks are much like performance speeches, heavy topics are more easily digested than informational books. And although Chalmers would have benefited from more dynamic pacing and slightly more performative charisma, the speech itself was nicely laid out.

The world of philosophy might be full of ‘crazy ideas,’ but as long as TED speakers are tackling them, we’ll accept crazy as having potential.