Notes for Micheal Heim Electric Language
Key concepts: blockbusting, clustering.
Related theorists: .
Reflect upon his choice of electric instead of electronic.
Foreword to the Second Edition
Gelernter foreword notes passing of typewriters and linotype machines to importance of timing for philosophical reflection; Electric Language is clearly a work of first generation philosophy of computing.
(xi) the right time for this book is now. As Heim points out, electronic writing is ubiquitous, but most of us still remember when it wasn't. Before we who remember typewriters and linotype machines get old, lose our memories, and die, we ought to take stock of the big changes we have lived through and helped along.
Preface to the Second Edition
Preface to second edition notes emergence importance of linkage and interaction facilitated by newer hardware; also cultural transformation in acceptance of microcomputers as personal tools.
(xiii) What stands out today with great
clarity is the “linkage” inherent in digital text. Electric
three intrinsic features of digital text: linkage, automated
manipulation, and information-based formulation. Linkage has emerged
in the 1990s in ways that were implicit but still obscure in the
(xiv) The hardware limitations of the 1980s could not support the full linkage of electronic text.
(xv) The cultural transformation marks a change in attitude toward the computer. In the 1980s, the microcomputer was not widely perceived as a personal tool.
Preface to second edition notes interactivity brought about by linking transforming contemplative character of traditional reading to active sampling of multiple media.
The same linkage that extends digital text spatially like a web
across culture also brings a new emphasis on interaction. The
temporal aspect of linkage is interactivity. . . . What Electric
as the contemplative character of traditional reading is mutating
into an active sampling of multiple media.
(xvi) Traditional books offer readers respite from hyperactivity.
Preface to second edition notes philosophy just beginning to consider implications of writing and using hypertext, hypermedia and virtual worlds; sees importance of visual features, active visual literacy superseding television and video, and challenges of three-dimensional environments displaying text, which still has not arrived.
(xvi-xvii) We are still exploring what it means to write hypertext,
to built hypermedia and virtual worlds.
(xvii) One area we are about to see emerge, I think, is the expanded visual responsibilities of writers. . . . Writing and text design skills are gradually merging.
(xviii) For readers, visual literacy no longer falls under the passive spell of television, video, and movies.
(xx) The challenge also arises from the promise of three-dimensional environments that will soon house and display text. Here we come indeed to the edge of the horizon. There is little clarity here, but in my opinion the future belongs to three-dimensional worlds of visual and auditory immersion.
Word processor is calculator of the humanist; now is the time to study the transition we are caught up in.
(1) The word processor is the calculator of the humanist.
(2) Does the conversion of twentieth-century culture to a new writing technology portend anything like the revolutionary changes brought about by the invention of the printing press and the widespread development of literacy?
(5) International Business Machines coined the term word processing in 1964 to describe a certain capability of a brand of typewriter.
(6) To investigate the transformation of writing now might seem premature or hasty.
(6) Yet is is precisely this point in time that causes us to become philosophical. For it is at the moment of such transitions that the past becomes clear as a past, as obsolescent, and the future becomes clear as a destiny, a challenge of the unknown.
(8) To find the phenomenon today means to find ourselves where we spend our lives, at the interface with the machine.
(13) There is irony in writing a book concerning the specific technology of word processing on a computer.
(14) At the same time, this book is deliberately set in traditional terms because the author has been educated in the tradition of scholarship and learning based on the printed book, with the attitudes fostered by that tradition.
APPROACHING THE PHENOMENON
Thought, Word, and Reality
Athens, the Acropolis
(23) concrete conditions are intrinsic to the appearance of verbal symbols. The meaning of symbols is affected by the horizon of significance in which they appear. This horizon, or set of conditions, constitutes what I will call the element of writing, which I will later distinguish from the medium of written symbols.
(24) Literate understanding serves as a model for understanding in general, for getting a hold on reality as such. In other words, the skill of cultivating fixed symbolic forms traditionally guides our notion of intelligence.
(24) Does thought itself change if the mind works with symbols under different conditions, using different signs?
(25) Philosophy begins with the Greeks because the effort to philosophize freshly about phenomena requires returning to a certain simplicity and intensity which can only be fostered by stripping away accretions of the nonessential.
The influence of Heidegger on Heim is obvious here.
(25) Another reason to commemorate ancient Greek thought is that it serves as antidote to the information technology in which our thinking increasingly transpires. . . . By commemorating Greek thought, we can at least make explicit an effort to hear some of the complex linguistic cognates still active in English. . . . Etymological resonance, as a recall of experience, articulates this development.
Is this Heim rejecting study of computer languages, programs imbued with human readable comments and style itself in C++ and Perl (other authors such as Hayle use Java), or ambivalent to maybe in favor of such approaches combining philosophical study with technical competence?
(26) Even when negative answers are given to the question “Can computers think?” there is still the assumption of a fundamental square-off [agon] between the computer and human intelligence - as if the latter were of itself something fixed, unquestionable, and given. The assumption creates a more specialized question and thereby leaves unquestioned the intimate connection between written word and human thought.
Asserting his authority as ready to begin assessing virtual reality ahead of others who have not begun repeating his analysis of word processing informed by his having learned to read ancient Greek texts, another thing he assumes his reader has not done yet as much as he has; thus his weak area is allowing himself to say with us the computer gets the job done when really it is all about the job the mind is doing while using its computers that we want to consider. Is Heim consciously molding his text assuming his reader has not read texts of these two ancient Greek names as carefully as himself?
(27) A second possible misunderstanding is to try to comprehend the phenomenon of word processing by looking directly at the writing activity as it transpires in the individual mind. Here the mind empirically observes its own activity in writing on a computer and evaluates the phenomenon accordingly. The word processor appears to be a mere tool, something subordinate to human purposes; its effects must then be no more than necessary by-products insofar as the computer gets the job done and does so with less effort and greater control. We will try to prevent each misunderstanding in turn by recalling the philosophical impulses of two ancient Greek thinkers, Anaximander and Heraclitus, respectively.
The Transcendental Intimacy of Thought, Word, and Reality: Anaximander and Heraclitus
This is where the von Neumann quote takes off in what I feel is an alternate departure than any of those Heim intended when he implies that reducing the Socratic question to a computational metaphor is the only way to consider our interaction with tools.
A got-to-have slide in 9/22 presentation, for I like the approach he suggests is “tempting” but later in the sequential presentation of his ideas through literate, print techniques amenable to “general automated intelligence” rejects, and I wonder if we can employ any of the words he uses in that discussion. He seems to be rejecting a feedback control system metaphor, upon which I rely heavily, and is implicit in the poller program that instantiates the Platonic ideal of “writing on the soul” rather than something external whose means of computing must be tiresomely internalized like the new version of a much used software package. First versions are always rough and full of embarrassingly poor style, and quite possibly, bugs (as in software and natural language grammar). But sometimes the transition to the latest version is judged not worth the struggle (effort, agon).
Tempting to conflate influence of word processing on thinking with computational metaphors for thinking.
Need to consider ontological relevance of impact of writing technology, not just how computers affect human self-awareness.
It is tempting to regard the question about the influence of word
processing on our thinking as continuous
with the question about the way the computer -
understood vaguely as a general automated intelligence – affects
an approach examines the way humans come to perceive their own
thought processes when exposed to continuous interaction with
automated intelligence. After all, much of our thinking about
internal matters we find generally obscure is aided by metaphors,
pictures, and ideas
drawn from our interaction with tools.
(28) Yet such an approach would effectively bar us from disclosing an ontological relevance to the impact of writing technology. By ontological relevance I mean the mode in which realities come to be conceived as publicly identifiable and intelligible.
(28-29) He [Anaximander] is said to have been the first to write philosophy in prose instead of in the traditional literary style of metrical verse. Considering the implications of cosmic symbols, such as the clock, the globe, and the map, we can only be astounded at the intense vision it took to discover these simple but sublime devices, all symbols based on the possibility of a proportionate reduction of the universe.
(29) Most Greek thinkers regarded Anaximander with a certain amount of horror, with the archaic horror of the infinite. The ancient Greeks had devised many images of their horror infiniti: Tantalus, Sisyphus, and Prometheus.
(29) the basic principle of the philosophy of Anaximander is the infinite as origin of all stable identities.
(30) For Anaximander, the world we think about is one which has been necessarily reduced to identities through the process of naming realities in language. . . language, or logos, is the emergence of identity out of the chaos of an infinite matrix of possibilities.
Do not look to the computer per se, or our personal experience using word processors, the tool analysis does not reach the depth of the interface between human and machine; consider the problems with the best tool for the job ethic.
effects of word processing are not so much traceable to the computer
as to the transcendental intimacy of language and reality.
(31) The second misunderstanding is to confuse the philosophical question about the phenomenon of word processing with the question about how we think here and now when we use word processing. In misunderstanding the question in this way, the phenomenon is approached empirically, with personal awareness serving as the final arbiter.
(32) To the individual self, word processing is little more than an increase in efficiency, hardly anything to which one ought to give much thought.
(32) The first inclination is to apply to word-processing technology the same structure of analysis applicable to a tool. . . . We judge a tool by how well it gets the job done.
(32-33) When we call something a tool, the assumption about it usually is that we can put it down or pick it up at will. . . . The highway system is more than a mere tool for transportation. . . . To define, in the contemporary United States, the automobile as a human tool may pass for a truth; it is, however, a gross understatement and fails to touch what is essential in the existing interface between human and machine.
(33) Language too has a structure and a destiny independent of individual will and intention.
(34-35) “It is necessary to go along with what is shared. Although the logos is shared, most men live as though their thinking were a private possession all their own,” says Heraclitus [fragment 92]. . . . Heraclitus produced the first reflections on language, which are, strictly speaking, not so much reflections on language as aphorisms that play on and with language.
Language contains essential systematic ambiguity, making it differ from source code; fear may be that word processing seeks to make all utterances well formed and unambiguous like program source code: this is an ontological impact.
language contains systematic ambiguity - not accidentally, but
(37) the thought-in-language of Heraclitus exhibits the way in which thinking moves from one thing to another while always preserving continuities through homonyms and polarities. . . . Far from being a tool of thought, language, or logos, is the element of thought. Heraclitus insists: What we think about language is implicated in how we think in language; and, alternatively, the manner in which we think in and through language entails a certain stage or degree in our understanding of language.
(38) When language is made rigid by being removed from contexts of address, then the mind loses contact with reality.
(38-39) The participatory conception of language peculiar to the genius of archaic Greek thought depends on the notion of a unity of the individual mind and the construction of the public world shaped by language. . . . We need to see that the personal experience of working on a word processor involves more than our own private mind with its empirical observations at one particular moment.
Long historical stream connecting logos of Heraclitus to logic systems in computer circuits; task for philosophy of computing.
(39) To really study the logos tradition in all its complexity is to
study the history of Western philosophy.
(40) The historical stream connecting the logos of Heraclitus and logic systems in the circuitry of the computer is a long one.
Eastern silent intuitive action versus Western verbose rationalization; Ong complaint?
(40) By contrast, Eastern philosophy is notable for its reliance on the unspeakable matrix, the wu-ming, or “nameless.” . . . Silent, intuitive action demonstrates Eastern wisdom, while the wise men in the West, on the other hand, cultivate their sayings. . . . We rationalize not only natural physical and biological processes but also our religion, our sports, and now too leisure time management. Western thought needs typically to spell things out.
Western logos tradition emphasizes books, argument, persuasion as much as it does logic.
Judaeo-Christian religion reveals a thoroughly biblical world, where
taken in its strict etymological root from biblia,
or “books”: the world as book of God, that is, articulated by god
and to be read as the articulation of God.
(41) Today, with the emphasis on how paradigms for inquiry develop in scientific communities, the nature of science is understood less emphatically as logic and increasingly as the logos of argument, persuasion, and communication.
(42) There is then a stream common in Western religion and science which has roots in the Greek logos tradition. And the logos tradition can be characterized as a development of the transcendental intimacy of thought, words, and reality.
Language in the Electric Element: The Faustian Illumination of
(42-43) An element is not to be confused with a medium. Medium, or media, appears or exists as essentially transparent to something else, namely, to information.
(43) The element of language is the concretely historical ways in which symbolized thought achieves placelessness, or, alternatively, in which thought achieves, through the transcendental nature of language, different modes of inhabiting place.
Difference between medium and element.
(45) The words on the computer screen are illuminated, charged
phosphorescently, and glow from within. The word obtains a new kind
of power in the electric element. The image of Faust shows the word
transformed from the contemplative word to electrified deed.
(45) We return then abruptly from timeless reflections on the old stones of the Acropolis to the blinking cursor of the computer screen.
The Theory of Transformative Technologies
Comments upon the difference between the Eastern and Western wise persons ideal practice as either the silent one or the one always revising and recasting words, speeches, personal expressions. The symbols, including alphabetic letters we know, that can spell nonsense words like blituri or pmrek, begin to shimmer as their function in PPA(VR(PHI)), presented in HTML [<possible><preposition>] hyperlink phasors and vectors in addition to rudimentary hyperlinks, is dynamically presented in some virtual reality. This is very powerful statement of the sort word-tuners like Heidegger would use.
Shift in meaning of media from mental concepts to symbolic element.
(47) In the last forty years, following the advent of electronic media, scholars have tried to assess the historical shifts connected with the media as such. Previously philosophers used the term media to refer to the mental concepts or ideas by which we conceptualize realities. Medium meant conceptual awareness in conjunction with the five senses through which we come to understand things present before us in the environment. . . . Argument once turned on the special status of a certain set of symbols - the sacred symbols of the holy book or those of the more literal symbols of scientific methodology. Now argument moves from the selection of one or another of a particular store of symbols to the symbolic element itself.
Heim insists that we all take this step and think about ontological import for verbal symbols and word processing, invoking Havelock and Ong.
Once we assume an ontological import for verbal symbols - what
contemporary philosophers call the semanticity
of human thought processes -
we take the first step in approaching the phenomenon of word
(49) Both [Havelock and Ong] are, however, exponents of the transformation theory inasmuch as each uses an analysis of the historical changes in media technology to illuminate changes in the way cultural forms are conceived and carried out.
Heim takes upon himself the responsibility of doing the philosophical work, particularly if you have an aversion to reading ancient Greek or the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. It would be a suitable polling question to ask how familiar you are with Heidegger and whether you would prefer to avoid him. And then you say Shit! What the hell are “epistemological assumptions” and how are they subverting my “critical assessment of word-processing technology”?
(49-50) the transformation theory harbors certain epistemological assumptions that subvert the critical assessment of word-processing technology. . . . the historical transformations will have to be understood as finite expressions of different experiences of the temporality of symbols rather than as the progressive accumulation of layered human skills.
Havelock on Plato and the Dangers of Poetry
(52) Havelock's thesis about early Greek philosophy claims that the thought world of Greek civilization underwent drastic transformation as the practice of writing developed.
(52) In an oral culture, permanent and preserved communication has its model in the epic saga.
(53) If language is to be preserved as a fund of cultural ideals or of socially essential instruction, it must find a repeatable embodiment that makes it more or less permanent in the memories of speakers and listeners.
This is the same kind of reasoning characterized by evolutionary theory, historical necessity wanting to be like a path of least resistance; it is different from the insistence on the concessions of finitude.
(54) The “communication technology” of poetry fosters an idiom of
speaking and thinking in the culture as a whole. The “mode of
consciousness,” the vocabulary and syntax of oral culture, is not
the same as that cultivated by a society which regards books as the
paradigm of significant communication worth preserving.
(55) The mental vision, or idea, is an independent act of mind antithetic to the more tribal identifications of preliterate culture.
(56) At the point where the literate form of words becomes itself dominant as an academy of letters, the new paradigm comes to exert power over what is to count as significant communication in the spoken medium.
Ong's Grand Historical Vision
(57-58) Ong's version of the transformation theory is more comprehensive in scope than Havelock's, and his may well be the most wide-ranging application of the transformation theory in general. . . . The visionary sweep of Ong's theory has frequently caused him to be compared with Marshall McLuhan, though this has usually been qualified by dubbing Ong the thinking man's McLuhan.
Another reason to have to consider the Greek texts, regardless of your position on Heidegger, is use by Ong of terms like psyche and sensorium.
(59) Psyche is used deliberately because the Greek word avoids
the likely misconceptions accompanying more modern terms like mind,
intellect, and thought. The word psyche
does not enforce divisions between the mind and the senses and the
emotions. . . . The human “sensorium,” another crucial
term in Ong's vocabulary, is the configuration of the psyche's
sensory awareness. . . . The habitual organization of sensory
awareness results in a hierarchy of the senses. One of the senses
tends to dominate or guide the others; the predominant sense
serves as a paradigm for grasping reality. . . . each historical
shift in the symbolization of reality brings with it a restructuring
of the psyche. . . . The entire human personality is configured anew
with every shift in the dominant medium for preserving thought.
(61) Kantian and post-Kantian philosophy rejects the naive realism incapable of critically examining the media by which reality is perceived.
Chirographic culture dissociates knowledge from speaker while retaining vocal presence; Ong demonstrated ascendancy of typography with development of modern logic.
(62-63) Chirographic culture is pretypographic. But chirographic
culture spearheads the dissociation of knowledge from the utterances
of speakers even though knowledge continues to appear to a large
extent in the vocal-oral element as disputation, rhetoric, and
polemic. Despite the cultivation of hand-copied books, a general
emphasis on vocal presence continues in medieval thought.
(63) One of Ong's most striking studies concerns the connection between the ascendancy of typography and the inauguration of modern logic.
(63-64) Ramus, as Ong shows in Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue, advocated logical thinking as it could be advanced through unambiguously clear visual aids.
However, authority implicit in the material production of written texts plays a part; this is more noticeable in the age of late print when the bulk of printed material is junk.
(64-65) From memory to manuscript, what is knowable is finally divorced from the speaker or performer of knowledge. Knowledge becomes identified with the content perceived with typographic fixity. Knowledge becomes something you can look up. . . . The new ideal of knowledge becomes objectivity, or cognition uncontaminated in principle by personal qualities or personal inclinations; the question Who says so? becomes irrelevant to the truth of a statement.
Limitations of the Transformation Theory
(66) Since the central concern of the theory is with communications in general and not with the element of written symbols, the notion of electronic media includes television and radio broadcasting.
(66-67) As transmitters of information (communications), each new medium builds upon and extends the previous media: literacy builds upon oral communication; typography absorbs both the voice and the skills of literacy; electronic media assimilate or depend upon the oral delivery of (usually) literacy-based texts or typographic scripts as well as upon a general public familiar with printed material available in the press, magazines, and books. The residue of earlier forms of communication persists as integral moments in the whole configuration of a culture's communication network.
(67) Audio-visual electronics reawakens impulses of the oral culture. . . . Ong's version of the transformation theory envisions something like the recapitulation of the communicative history of humankind.
(68) if we take up the Hegelian or Teilhardian leads scattered frequently throughout Ong's work, we find an optimistic judgment or even absolute affirmation of the transformations of communication technology.
Go beyond Ong eschatological interpretation to Heidegger and existentism, take the focus away from communications, which invites the optimistic sense of Hegelian progress, and look at the changing psychic frameworks, expecting there to be gains and losses due to the finitude of historical worlds.
(69) Rather than focus on communications alone, I will have to look at how symbols exist independently of immediate human goals and purposes, and independent of communications. The element symbols enjoy in a particular historical world cultivates a certain psychic framework with the gains and losses peculiar to that symbolic element. The gains and losses are part of the inherently finite nature of historical worlds. Instead of another layer in the cumulative development of history, electronic writing may bring with it an abrupt shift into an altogether different psychic framework for human thought. To obtain a philosophical stance from which to make such an assessment, I will first have to leave the widespread and influential transformation theory of writing technologies in order to modify it with a more existentially appropriate theory of finite historical worlds.
The Finite Framework of Language
(70) Only an account of the notion of world can provide a philosophical basis for a full development of the transformation theory of language technologies.
(71) Martin Heidegger's contribution to the study of the new writing technology may be interpreted through a brief examination of several aspects of his philosophy: the notion of existential worlds, the critique of typification or the technological “Enframing” (Gestell) in the postmodern world, and the existentialist conception of historical development, a conception which sees development with some continuity but also frequent losses in the process of history.
Trade-Offs in Historical Drift
Heidegger epochal transformation theory sensitive to historical drift and cultural trade-offs: the perfect trade off example is the recognition by Plato that memory would suffer from learning writing.
(75) Heidegger's theory of epochal transformation takes account of
the displacement of skills and the reorganization of life energies
that create upheavals in human cultures.
(76) Heidegger adds the concepts of what I call historical drift and of cultural trade-offs, or gains and losses in reality apprehension. Rather than a developmental series of systematic improvements, epochal transformations can be understood to be sets of finite pathways which develop, lead onward, then trail off when new pathways are opened by considerably different techniques and skills.
(77) As the truth of primordial articulation, the existential world is the primal language.
(78) In exercising structural power over its users, language places limitations on the way things come to presence and come to light.
(79) Metaphor is the word usually employed to describe the power of language to create new meanings out of previous strands of meaning.
(79) What is true of the ambiguity requisite for direct perception seems equally true of the “genius” of natural languages in their ability to evolve an elaborate and intricate vocabulary from a number of etymons, or root words. The human ability to use words in new ways, as metaphors, to imply meanings that differ from former usages, relies on an instinctive sense of ambiguity. For a programmed set of meanings, such metaphors are mistakes, for they “mis-take” one thing for another.
(80) The concealing-revealing nature of existential truth, the essential need for metaphorical ambiguity, becomes apparent only once the nature of the world itself is threatened by extinction through rational transparency.
(80) Heidegger coins a name for this all encompassing presentation of everything as manageable: “the Enframing.”
(81) The nature of authentic worldhood becomes conspicuous by the absence of the interplay of concealing-and-revealing, by the relegation of metaphor to a separate and privately guarded domain of the aesthetic or religious.
Description of language machine operation.
Expression of thought in writing dominated by language machine by applying data-handling techniques to natural language communication now remediated by applying humanities methods to programming.
(81) [from Hebel: the House-Friend] The language machine regulates
and adjusts in advance the mode of our possible usage of language
through mechanical energies and functions. The language machine
is - and above all, is still becoming - one manner in which modern
technology controls the mode and the world of language as such.
Meanwhile, the impression is still maintained that man is the master
of the language machine. But the truth of the matter might well be
that the language machine takes language into its management, and
thus masters the essence of the human being.
(81) Of course, in 1957 Heidegger knew nothing of the word processor. But he was seeking to determine the way in which the technological drive to master and facilitate every process would eventually move into the most intimate areas of thought, namely, into the expression of thought in writing.
(82) The original text editors used by programmers in their data-handling work were programmer-oriented editors on mainframe computers. . . . encoding natural language on computers makes possible a new approach to language as directly manipulable in new ways. Data-handling techniques for number-crunching or for the high-speed manipulation of quantified routine information were applied to natural language communication.
Qualitatively different level of typification in Leibnizian logic of binary digits.
(84) The Leibnizean logic of binary digits has become the basis of
the encoding of language, thus creating a qualitatively different
level of typification.
(84) When a phenomenon has been digitized, it has been interpreted and processed. It has been transmorgified into a new form, a form that can be controlled by human beings with a precision far beyond that of other forms of reproduction. . . . Once a phenomenon has been digitized, it can be treated, as can all mathematical entities, as a series of relationships and proportions.
(85) The digital phenomenon is one facet of a totally controlled environment, an environment where what we experience is what we have created.
(85) The temporal mood of total control and simultaneity is characteristic of the Enframing.
(86) The instantaneously managed world is not a world where humans evidently “dwell poetically,” for the ambiguity and freedom of human “ingenium” (ingenuity or genius) must be mastered to fit the tempo of the Enframing.
(87) For Heidegger, being-in-the-world in its postmodern form is essentially an attempt to organize, systematize, and control the ensemble of things that constitute the human environment. Thinking, according to Heidegger's projection, is coming to be identified with speed, accuracy, and limitless calculation.
(87) the computer closes the gap between writing and managing.
Looking into the Enframing: Framework the Program
Framework computer program used to write part of book fitting match to Heideggerian studies; Microsoft slogan Your potential, our passion as example of enframing.
The computer program on which much of the first half of this book is
being written is called Framework.
It is advanced as part of “the new technology of information
(90) Here, in the language of manuals, is the notion that computer software can attain a relationship more intimate to the thought process than any physical tool in the external world. Framework not only enframes the outer symbols of written language; it also enframes the thinking-composing mentality.
(91) If we look for the dimming of metaphor in general - as opposed to specific individual acts of creative speech - the computer industry seems to be a rich source of creative energy and originary naming.
(92) The system offers powerful possibilities. But those possibilities are purchased by placing creativity into the system as input or as a software peripheral to the system.
(93) Heidegger's philosophy of historical drift maintains that only in modern rationality does the systematization become itself systematic.
(93) The Enframing is a blend of enframing network and of artistic creativity. But only at the interface of human and computer does this ambiguous quality of the Enframing become evident as a phenomenon for description and evaluation.
(94) Heidegger's philosophy of the finitude of existential worlds does serve to correct the optimism of the transformation theory by suggesting that writing skills may possibly become peripheral to the computer network; the existential analysis of the Enframing, at the very least, suggests the adaptation of human skills to the new writing technology.
DESCRIBING THE PHENOMENON
The Psychic Framework of Word Processing
Only the human computer interface is a privileged space for studying the Enframing.
(97) The ostensibly fluid, liquid, and dynamic movement of digital writing establishes for the first time the central import of the element - as opposed to the medium - in which we formulate thought in symbols. . . . Rather than analyze symbolization through the notions of form and content, message and medium, tool and communication, we must look now at the kind of element in which symbolic life is nurtured.
Care is another pivotal word for Heidegger adopted by Heim; emphasis on storage and retrieval considered replacing care for uniqueness of work of art with marshaling everything to be ready to use.
The heart of this book, in fact, has to do with the
way we show our care for the symbols through which we formulate the
realities we apprehend.
(101) The transformation theory does not pursue the tangled set of meanings sufficiently to uncover the complex problems hidden behind the term [consicousness].
(102) Medium emphasizes the instrumental method for communicative interchange. Element emphasizes the conditions of symbolic experience and the implications of the mode in which things are represented.
(102) Further, in the transformation theory the emphasis is on storage and retrieval.
Desired impact on thought of fantasy amplifier (Rheingold recalling Kay), bootstrapping self-enhancement.
His [Ong's] occasional remarks about the impact of computerized
writing are based on an analogy with the kind of impact literacy once
had on thought. The analogy dominates the transformation theory and
shows a fundamental alliance with the classical rhetorical
(103-104) The importance of the symbolic element itself, apart from social interactions, becomes especially clear when we consider the aims of the software and hardware designers who originally planned the new element. . . . Howard Rheingold recalls . . . Alan [Kay] wanted to create a medium that was a fantasy amplifier as well as an intellectual augmentor.
(104) computerized writing was the lever by which thought would change itself - using the computer for “bootstrapping” or self-enhancement.
(106) The notion of mind removes thought from the lively, changing, passionate realm of the body.
Engelbart as founder of word processing technology.
(107) If any individual can be said to have laid the foundations of
word-processing technology from both a conceptual and an experimental
standpoint, then Douglas Engelbart is the most likely
(107) Still, Engelbart's usage of “mind,” “mental mechanisms,” and “intelligence” seems frequently to suggest a substrate of static, unchanging human intelligence, an intelligence which, nonetheless, goes through natural and cultural evolutions but whose intrinsic, processlike character remains invariant.
(108) Intellect, then, is an achievement of civilization and may enable us to connect modes of writing skills with thought processes and their way of opening to realities.
(109) The term noetic field is often used in the transformation theory to refer to the locus of the changes effected by new writing technologies. . . . As a composite notion, noetic field encompasses the structuring process by which human intentionality is wed to the things that become objects of cognition.
(109) The term has been incorporated by computer designers in the form of synnoetics to indicate human-computer symbiosis.
(110) Terms such as noetic and noematic remain with the realm of consciousness, of knowledge and cognitive objects. The term does not suggest subcognitive modeling which, as we shall see, underlies the symbolization process augmented by computers.
(110) One term that does succeed in avoiding the suggestion of static presence is psychodynamics, a term occurring with considerable frequency in Ong's vocabulary.
(111-112) one might say that only after the psychodynamics of literacy have taken hold can there be anything like a text in the original etymological sense of something whose value lies in being woven together by way of a complex texture of cross-references and systematic consistency. The resources of inscribed thought make possible new extensions of mental activity.
(112-113) I do not wish to take up the terms of the transformation theory and simply apply them to word processing. . . . I want, instead, to explore the ontological dimension of word processing where the mind apprehends reality in the life of symbols. . . . In order to take stock of the shift from written to electronic symbols, we must instead consider the symbolic element in abstraction from physical sounds and actual vocalizations.
(114) Traditionally, the psyche was the locus of inspiration, of manic drive, of the impulses of thought and emotion. . . . The metaphysics of form and content is based on the abstractive power by which symbolization first arises. The ubiquitous success of such a metaphysic should not mislead us into reflecting exclusively within its boundaries. Outside the form-content distinction is an all-encompassing notion of psyche. The notion of psyche has been associated, since the ancient Greeks, with the unconscious dynamics of life, with nonmanipulable erotic drive, and with the hidden sources of symbol creation.
(116) When I conceive mind as psyche, I mean the thought-feeling, the life-force that meets and melds with mechanism. We must consider the psyche in motion at the interface.
(117) Conceptual frameworks establish relationships of deduction and of necessary connection. Psychic frameworks, on the other hand, inject a peculiar tempo to the three components of symbolic elements: manipulation, formulation, and linkage.
(117) The psychic frameworks of symbolic life are akin to those areas that have traditionally been neglected or even deliberately excluded by Western philosophy.
(118) But more to the point is the shift in the psychic frameworks of cultural symbolics where, for instance, the power of visual impressions is altered by a new technology. . . . Though it may have the identical content, the film viewed through personal videocassette technology is not really the same film as that projected on the magic of the silver screen.
He gives the example of going from analog to digital formats.
(118-119) Similarly with the psychic frameworks employed in our
apprehension of everyday time. There are subliminal but faintly
perceptible psychic changes as the technology for apprehending time
undergoes a shift.
(123) In the East, calligraphy is inextricably bound up with writing, so that psychic motion is intrinsic to the subject matter of the written symbols.
(123) In the Western hemisphere, a parallel exploration of psychic motion exists in what is known as graphology.
(124) however marred the path of graphology, its very existence, in both scientific and intuitive forms, indicates a recognition that psychic frameworks are to be found in the element of writing. Graphology finds in the element of handwriting something of the psychic motion inherent in thinking with linguistic symbols.
(124) Graphology, calligraphy, the psychic framework of timepieces are guideposts to the psychic framework of word processing. . . . Pysche, then is our first term for word processing. It attempts to state the movement, the Heraclitean flow of the phenomenon. Framework is conjoined with psyche to indicate the technological enframing of langauge.
The Three Parts of the Phenomenon: Manipulation, Formulation, and
(125) Structuring is the axis of what Engelbart conceives to be the interface of human thought and symbol-enhancing machine, and he sees three divisions in the structuring that goes on in the human-artifact interface: mental, conceptual, and symbolic structuring.
(126) Manipulation is the arranging of symbolic domains. . . . Formulation is the way thought attains focus and integrity in a symbolic environment. . . . Linkage is the psychic environment created by the networking of all symbolic life in a homogeneous information system.
The Phenomenon of Word Processing
(128) The built-in dissemblance makes the phenomenon more elusive than other symbolic elements for writing.
(128) the very nature of our mode of apprehending the radically new masks its break with previous expectations. We necessarily grasp the new through metaphor.
(131) John Seely-Brown has called the inherent self-concealment of computational systems the “system opacity.”
System opacity inherent self-concealment; Zizek says fantasy comes first.
Users build metaphors for operational guesses at underlying structure, learning to interact by recovering from errors: this becomes the primary comportment of humans to machines.
(131) System opacity is
the fundamental disparity between the user and the engineered setup
of the interface.
(132) But no level offers experiential penetration into the underlying opacity of the system: natural language and thinking in natural language are simply incompatible with the binary digits used on the level of machine-language - as any Assembly-Language programmer can testify.
(133) The human user, then, confronts the opacity of the system by building a set of metaphors for making operational guesses at the underlying structure.
(134-135) Recovering from errors is the primary resource for learning how to interact with the computer. This gap of necessary misunderstanding highlights the second sense in which the phenomenon of word processing is self-masking.
Manipulation of Symbols: Automation
Writing removed from element of inscription to process framework: does thinking in symbols likewise shift to feeling of freedom and flow?
(136) in order to achieve such
automation, writing has to be removed from the element of inscription
and placed in an electronic element.
(138) To a great extent, the page-oriented word processor masks the new phenomenon. For word processing, taken in its essential import, endows thinking in symbols with a processlike, automated psychic framework.
(138) The inscription procedure is bypassed through electronic storage, and the actual inscription can then be expedited at any time, in any format, automatically, that is, without the inscription procedure dominating the composition process. Hence automation leads to the feeling of freedom and of flow.
Digital outliner as example of automating inventio, conceptualization and connection of thoughts during composition.
(140) Outliners apply automation
directly to the process traditionally called inventio,
the conceptualization and connection of thoughts as they occur in
(140) The power of the digital outliner indicates one of the ways in which word processing brings about a different relationship to symbols rather than merely automating in a more efficient way the older relationship to symbols.
Unique new ways of viewing documents Manovich attributes to cultural software: zooming, focusing, ordering flow.
(141) Viewing dominates over the
verbal event, over the emergence of thoughts; the language of
filmmaking and cinema is used in the software: “zooming,”
“focusing,” and “ordering a flow of ideas,” “seeing a
thought in context,” “idea assembly.”
(143) Existing means of composing and working with symbol structures penalize disorderly processes heavily.
(145) Outliners exemplify an essential quality of composing on computers; they show how the process of composing thoughts is inherently modular.
(145) Because of its programmability, the computer is not, strictly speaking, a machine, or single-purpose device (the Greek mechane means as much).
(146) Because of its basis in the computational environment, the psychic framework of word processing fosters affinities with the same algorithmic thinking that stands hidden behind the manipulation of verbal symbols.
(147) the psychic framework of word processing is an environment that fosters the analysis of spontaneous motion in sequential terms. Human motions are scrutinized for repetitive, potentially programmable sequences.
(147-148) What was a spontaneous motion becomes interpreted as a sequence of programmable steps to be performed by the computer [in the macro].
Automation fosters calculative thinking because it must fit into the designed processes; lure of getting into the system and streamlining becomes virtues of thought.
(148-149) But in order to automate, there must be a prior analytical
thought process through which the step-by-step procedure or algorithm
is brought to full awareness. . . . Each activity is regarded as
potentially replaceable by an algorithm or programmable command. This
fosters calculative thinking.
(150) the horizon of understanding in the play locates things within the algorithmic environment.
(150) With the promise of the increased speed of automation, there is the constant lure of getting into the system.
(151) To streamline any process comes to be regarded as a primary virtue. This is more than merely passive automation, and it leads to the accelerated speeds which make possible a distinctive way of formulating thoughts in public format.
Formulation: Thinking in Electric Language
(152) Because this playful way of putting things is immediate, enjoyable, and less constrained by materials, it encourages on-screen thinking, that is, thinking in a typified, public element. . . . The psychic framework of word processing develops formulation as ideational flow.
(153) You feel free to put things down as they occur to you since everything can be reworked or else used in another position or context.
(153) The marked change in formulation of thought is evident in the changes in rhetorical theory, at least in recent studies of the teaching of English composition.
Word processor eliminates anxiety of final appearance but also invites shift to editing when frustrated with overall aim.
(154) In removing the sense of words being carved in stone, the word
processor eliminates the blockage caused by anxiety about how one
will finally appear.
(154) The immediacy of composing on computers can make even a small degree of frustration an excuse for writers to turn from composing to picayune editing. . . . The immediacy of formulation in digital writing is akin to the immediacy of speaking.
Writing closer to speed of thought makes composition writer-based as opposed to reader-based, more hypomnemata and thus more likely to be misunderstood on later review.
(155) hardware and software can
more closely approximate the speed of human thought.
. . . writing tends to become more writer-based, as opposed to
(155) In terms of formulation, too, there is a notable increase in acronyms and in abbreviated formulae for things.
(155) 1. The involvement with vast material requires foreshortening for the sake of indexing the information.
(156-157) 2. Word processing encourages the use of shortened formulations which can later be expanded by automated search-and-replace operations. . . . as automated artificial intelligence becomes available for grammatical discernment, the decision procedure of the program itself may sort out the relevant grammar and apply my key words.
Note that Ong dismisses the study of computer languages for being unlike mother tongues, but Heim points out that we have adopted many of their qualities as we work with computers, such as using acronyms and abbreviations.
(157) Abbreviated symbols, like acronymic file names, are neologisms
which exhibit no direct natural-language base. That is, such word
formations, since they do not have in them the history of cultural
experiences, possess an arbitrary clarity and univocity. . . .
Acronyms and abbreviations affect the formulation of symbols by
removing language momentarily from the shared world of common
(157) Word processing reveals knowledge to be a flowing process, a process parallel to ideational flow.
Flow of ideation prevails over dialectics of personal conversation.
(157) With the knowledge characteristic of the psychic framework of
word processing, the flow of ideation prevails over the
dialectical back-and-forth of personal conversation, though, as
we shall see, the electronic element provides an extraordinary
linkage for cooperative and communicative texts.
(158) In written and printed formulation, knowledge is shaped by the form of argumentation.
(158) The mode of language on the word processor is information. . . . By fostering formulation as continual process, word processing makes thinking open-ended, quite literally. . . . As a result, the mode of formulation in word processing minimizes the struggle for formulation as it increases the flow of ideation.
(160) It is not clear yet what, if any, relationship there is between program limitations of software and the psychic framework engaged at the computer interface by the writer.
Linkage: The Network of Text
Derivation of text from weaving appropriate to electric writing, immediately linking into psychic framework and entire world of information; continuous textuality replaces sequence of distinct, physically separate texts; digital writing enters network of all symbols, including vocal, graphic, musical, and now, electronic and machinic.
derives originally from the Latin
word for weaving and for interwoven material, and it comes to have an
extraordinary accuracy of meaning in the case of word processing.
Linkage in the electronic element is interactive, that is, texts can
be brought instantly into the same psychic framework.
(161) The text in progress becomes interconnected and linked with the entire world of information.
(162) The sense of a sequential literature of distinct, physically separate texts is supplanted by a continuous textuality.
(163) With linkage, digital writing enters a network of symbols, even vocal, graphic, and musical symbols.
McCorduck optimism for new ethos of cooperation echoed by Hayles Big Humanities as interactive digital writing spreads beyond specialist groups; likewise ontological impact more significant now that it reaches the masses.
Compare this transition from specialist to mainstream noted in digital writing to earlier spread of programming itself: ontological impact, and what has become of it today.
(163) Pamela McCorduck
Universal Machine: Confessions of a Technological Optimist
concurs: “One salient fact of
computing, and one of the most important world-wide effects of
computing might be its introduction of a new ethos of
(164) As digital interactive writing spreads and is no longer restricted to sociotechnical groups, it may behoove us to inquire further about the ontological dimension of computerized writing: what does it reveal of our apprehensions of reality, of the world which we are coming to inhabit and in which we make our choices?
EVALUATING THE PHENOMENON
The Book and the Classic Model of Mind
(168) A classic model of the mind subsists in the symbolic element of books, both in premechanized form and in the print form which makes wider distribution possible.
Postmodern approach arguing books provide psychic model enabling development of symbol manipulation and ultimately subjectivity which is then altered by word processing: scribal hand, contemplative transcendence, private mind connect to manipulation, formulation, linkage.
(170-171) the psychic model of the
book, in the classic sense, ultimately depends on a deeper level of
stasis, of contemplative awareness upon which argument itself and
logical sequence must be based.
(171) Books provide a psychic framework for symbols by which the psyche learns to transcend mundane familiarity with things, to go beyond routine realities.
(172) my approach is postmodern inasmuch as classical metaphysics serves to provide an alternate model or counterpoint through which I can begin a contrasting assessment of word processing. The psychic transcendence fostered by the book cultivates three facets of psychic life corresponding to the manipulation, formulation, and linkage found in the psychic framework of word processing. The tradition of the book is, accordingly, constituted by three facets: the scribal hand, contemplative transcendence through the formulation of ideas, and the integrity of the private mind.
The Scribal Hand: Manipulation as Contemplative Care
(174) The scribe was not regarded even as an artisan or laborer but partook of the fine arts of the Muses. . . . His scribal hand was the intermediary between psyche and the symbolic element.
(175) The book was a psychic framework for personal transcendence.
(175) Reading was a practice in the strict sense of the term, a discipline and a way of life. Active reading was connected with prayer and the transformation of the spirit.
(178) Writing by hand imprints thought content - not on paper but on the soul.
Formulation: The Book and Transcendence through Mental
(180-181) My treatment of formulation in the psychic framework of the book begins with this resistance and permanence of book materials as they relate to the philosophy of ideas as the source of mental wholeness and intellectual integrity; I then consider formulation in terms of the authenticity involved in the act of writing.
(182) In the book, both for the author and for the reader, the psyche can find a locus for symbols that offer occasions for the contemplation of clear, stable ideas and that nurture the love of ideas.
(182) From this point of view, Plato's critical remarks about the book, as found in the Phaedrus, are ironically diversionary. They relate to the book sheerly as material object rather than as the psychic framework of thought.
(185) Integrity in the ontological sense is a wholeness of mind expressing a definite kind of apprehension of the things in the world, and at the same time it expresses a standard or model of intelligence for understanding the world.
Literacy produces literate minds with psychic qualities of wholeness of attention, contemplative presence, distance from mundane pressures.
(185-186) Literacy in its bibliocentric element is, then, not constituted primarily by the skills of information handling. The activity of forming, of ideational focus, belongs to the kind of insight fostered by the book. . . . The value of literacy, in the Platonic tradition, resides in the fact that literacy produces literate minds. For from tautological, the notion of a literate mind includes psychic qualities such as wholeness of attention, contemplative presence of mind, and a distance form the mundane pressures which scatter and fragment human experience.
The Solitude of the Book and Mental Privacy
(186) The stamp of characteristic ownership marks written thought as my own, acquired through the struggle with experience and with recalcitrant materials. Handwritten formulation thereby enhances a sense of personal experience or an integrity pertaining to the private, personal self.
(187) In such a polluted environment, the privacy of book reading and writing adds a pure sense of self to the origination or participation in the psychic framework of symbolized thoughts.
(188) Plato insists on a distinction between the silence of the idea gazed upon by the mind and the verbalization through which the idea is formulated.
(188-189) As the felt locus of the origination of an idea, the temporality and solitude of the book foster the self-identical presence of mind known as authorship, or, in its passive aspect, readership. Originality occurs in the intimate privacy of the creative act, including the re-creation of an author's ideas in the reader's integral act of thought.
(189) The powerful sense of illumination and realization is what is behind the so-called authorial voice. The authorial voice is what Vladimir Nabokov calls “an anthropomorphic deity impersonated by me.”
Postmodern approach to extent that digital writing supplants book framework.
(191) digital writing supplants the framework of the book: it replaces the craftsman's care for resistant materials with automated manipulation; deflects attention from personal expression toward a more general logic of algorithmic procedures; shifts the steadiness of the contemplative formulation of ideas into an overabundance of dynamic possibilities; and turns the private solitude of reflective reading and writing into a public original authorship that is threatened by linkage with the total textuality of human expressions.
Critique of the Word in Process
Digital Manipulation and Handwritten Care
Typing can be tedious, too; imagine if voice recognition technology had been perfected before word processing.
(192) Word processing promises the removal of drudgery, and drudgery
is usually associated with menial tasks connected with physical
procedures. Word processing appears as a liberating force, allowing
unprecedented speed and convenience for the writer, precisely in that
word processing is the computerization of the physical
(193) Anachronistic defenders of handwriting are not alone in attributing a special kind of care to handwritten script. . . . The graphic stamp is the subjective side of a process which includes the physical resistance of the materials and a respect for materials arising from this resistance.
(194) The typified automation of word processing removes the graphic stamp of character and does so with no apparent loss of personal immediacy.
Heidegger connected handwriting to primordial embodiment of human awareness; criticism of typewriting needs rethought because word processing involves hand in nonmechanical, nonimprinting processes.
(194-195) For Martin Heidegger, too, the basis for handwriting has to
do with the primordial embodiment of human awareness: [from
Parmenides lecture from 1942-43] The typewriter snatches script from
the essential realm of the hand - and this means the hand is removed
from the essential realm of the word. . . . Mechanized writing
deprives the hand of dignity in the realm of the written word and
degrades the word to a mere means for the traffic of communication. .
. . In mechanized writing all human beings look the same.
(196) These criticisms of the typewriter, though far from irrelevant, are somewhat off the mark now that personal computers have made mechanized typewriters obsolete. The hand is drawn once again into a nonmechanical, nonimprinting process. . . . Direct hand movements are no longer simply replaced by an industrial-mechanical mode of action; the gestures of word processing operate in a typified environment but do so in ways that have left behind the industrial machine with its cumbersome but efficient mediation of human actions.
Does lack of cultivation of the personal letter jive with the preponderance of email and other forms of networked communication?
(197) While there was once a serious culture based on the exchange of
personal correspondence, little is left of the cultivation of the
personal letter. . . . Today, however, even the most avid writers of
personal letters invariably join the phonocentric culture that
(198) Automation through computer writing is very likely the terminal point of the personal letter, at least the personal letter as a printed, individual, cultural form.
(199) Designers like Kildall argue that on sheerly economic grounds the electronic “book” accessing the equivalent of two hundred printed books will displace paper books by the end of the century.
Shift in economies to paperless society tied to different apprehension of truth valuing management, organization, and scheduling of beings; corresponding transformation in felt sense of time.
(199-200) That we are approaching a paperless society and that
computers minimize the involvement of the unique movements of the
personal hand are not trivial suggestions or sentimental criticisms.
They touch the ontological foundations of our world, the way we turn
to apprehend realities. The shift in economics is inseparable from a
different apprehension of truth. Today, what is true presents
itself within the drive toward greater productivity, better
management and control, and increased organization through
technology. Things present themselves first and foremost as things to
be managed, organized, and scheduled.
(200) As a resource in the system of Total Management, the human being in the computer interface undergoes a transformation in the felt sense of time, as is commonly noted by novice computer users.
(201) The other and darker side of entering the “unfamiliar culture” of a “world quite different” is the pathology known as technostress, a sense of stress due to a felt acceleration of time.
Brod technostress linked to different apprehension of truth and transformation of felt sense of time.
(202) Brod defines technostress as a modern disease of
adaptation - either an anxiety and unwillingness to accept computer
technology or an overidentification with computers.
(202) Stress, then, becomes the prevalent pathology of our time, just as hysteria or neurosis was once the dominant pathology in the period of Sigmund Freud's first explorations.
(203-204) the pathological impatience and yen for speed are expressions of the integral world of Total Management we increasingly inhabit. . . . The constant stressful provocation of human powers also affects the formulation of ideas.
Contemplative Formulation under Technostress
(205) The appeal is to thoroughgoing productivity, a productivity that manages even the spontaneous meanderings of the mind. . . . The idea-processing software discussed in previous chapters supports brainstorming, fact compilation, organizing, and reorganizing in ways that go far beyond the notebooks, index cards, blackboards, and appointment books of the precomputer world.
Pleasure in electronic symbol manipulation, joy of zapping.
(205-206) The speedy, interactive kind of thought formulation discussed in previous chapters has about it something of the electricity of thought, the instantaneous drive of intuitive ideation. This electric element for symbols is fun, in the sense of stimulating the human's innate physiological fascination with light and fire, with the joy of zapping, with the sense of holding absolute control over the symbolizations of thought. The book, on the other hand, produces a different kind of trancelike state where concentration and inner suggestibility are heightened.
Ideational flow emphasized over gestation.
(206-207) Verbal life becomes
faster paced, ideational flow is emphasized over gestation,
and what William James calls “the active expectation of the not yet
verbalized” grows shorter in span. . . . But the difference between
a fresh egg laid by a barnyard hen and an industrially forced egg is
unmistakable, though subtle, to the palate.
(207) By bypassing the anxiety of gestation, the user can overcome certain counterproductive attitudes. Yet immediacy leads also to a greater abundance of material of a less refined sort.
Radiant symbols in electric element: immediate, streaming out, tiring optical nerves, flaming; missing that they are imbued with potential automatic, autonomous action.
(208) The physical
symbols of language in the electric element are immediate in the
sense of radiant, both to write
and to read. Radiant means streaming out, holding direct attention,
even tiring optical nerves with the sustained fixity of attention.
Because they stream out, such symbols do not call forth the tranquil
gaze of a reader to ponder words lying quietly on a page.
(209) Allied to this immediacy is the writing pattern known to users of computerized telecommunications as flaming. Flaming is the tendency to write messages on the computer so directly that the usual norms of civility and politeness fall away.
(210) If, as Ezra Pound suggested, prose differs from poetry in that the former is “less charged,” then we might say that digital writing differs from traditional prose in that the former displays a charge with less central focus and less mental integrity.
Creative abundance balanced with fragmentation of formulation of ideas, Nietzschean nihilism, against which tapoc iteratively builds new connections: programming relates formulation of ideas providing copia, superabundance, new places to pursue thought.
(210) If creative abundance - what
Erasmus called copia,
or copious profusion - is the virtue of digital writing, then
fragmentation in the formulation of ideas is the
(211) This superabundance of possibilities is comparable to Nietzsche's description of nihilism as a state of indetermination wherein everything is permitted - and as a result nothing is chosen deeply, authentically, and existentially.
(211) This is one of the senses in which word processing manifests truth destabilized. That is, if the mind is made truthful by the fixity of the stable idea, as Platonism maintains, then the volatility of the electric element insures that the felt sense of truth is undermined.
(212) Possibility dominates over consistency of vision - at least as consistency was envisioned by the book tradition and by the philosophical mentality. But this is not possibility in any grounded sense of taking up a certain kind of existence based on a distinct context or felt necessity; it is not the possibility seized by the purity of one's own inner voice. On the contrary, such a proliferation of possibilities remains free-floating because they remain under the supervisory control of technical power.
(212-213) The glut of possibilities opened by word processing is akin to the curiositas in the Middle Ages and to the existential Neugier inveighed against by Heidegger's Being and Time. . . . Henry Veatch raised the question about our culture's two logics: first a traditional (Aristotelean) logic with rules for the predicate inferences “natural” to the spoken and written word according to which the human being usually makes rational inferences in direct, everyday address; and second, a “spider-like” calculus which weaves logical relations of great technical power and abstraction without, however, being necessarily grounded in any particular individual human enunciation or intentionality, but rather solely in a mathematical logic of relations between terms. . . . The manipulative, relational “spider logic” described by Veatch has become the vehicle for underlying code which is used to interpret the alphabetized assertions of natural-language logic.
(213-214) In the psychic framework of word processing, text is increasingly experienced as data. . . usually through the use of Boolean logical operators. . . . As the writer or reader now controls the search process through a logically determined program, certain random and intuitive kinds of reading and consulting will no longer be possible in referencing procedures. . . . The system of texts will be more accurately preserved but will afford less leisure of contemplative formulation.
Finitude of personal time and copyright limitations will bound direct access.
(214) Textual database searches conceal as well as reveal what it is we learn. . . . But in so doing, the computer in fact hones down our intentions and impulses in the sense of making them narrower or at least different from the spacious meandering that belong to the traditional looking up and leisure browsing. . . . even though we will have more storage space, the problems of the finitude of personal time and the eventual copyright limitations inevitably placed on direct access will increase.
Linked to the Network of Texts
(215) Word processing manifests a world in which the public itself and its publicity have become omnivorous; to make public has therefore a different meaning than ever before.
(216-217) word processing gives a wholly new meaning to tradition. The body of individually creative and deeply felt writings is a tradition worth venerating and relearning; the electronically automated body of symbolized meanings possesses nothing venerable in itself. All text is input, including the creative voice of the individual, which is itself homogenized by the total textuality of the network.
(219) the general atmosphere of computer-mediated communication creates a psychic framework in which more text will become easily available but the text will be probably less intelligent, less carefully formulated, less thoughtful text.
(219-220) The authorial voice will deteriorate as a model of mental integrity. Fragments, reused material, the trails and intricate pathways of “hypertext,” as Ted Nelson terms it, all these advance the disintegration of the centering voice of contemplative thought.
Stupidity increases as the bazaar model replaces the cathedral, on-demand publication requiring everyone to select what is worth reading.
(220) On-demand publication may
come to mean that everything is available - which in turn places the
burden of selection on everyone.
(221) The older print publishing is comparable to a medieval European city, where the center of the activity, the cathedral or church tower, serves to guide and gather all directions and pathways.
(221) In the electric element, the question of discrimination and of new metaphors for selecting information becomes urgent.
(221-222) Besides the problems raised by the marketable nature of all modern communications media, the digitally linked text shrinks the psychic solitude of author and reader.
(223) Code experts doubt whether any code can be perfectly secure. If this is true, it means that the linkage of digital text is essential as well as inherently public.
(226) Reversion activities do not provide a discipline within the interface itself; they offer no pattern of action serving to offset the transformation of the psyche.
(226-227) A discipline is a conscious pattern of regular action that promotes the sense of wholeness or completeness.
(227) If it is the integrity of mind that word processing threatens, then we must look for disciplines which promote intellectual wholeness within the electronic element itself.
(228) A sense of loss and of the fragility of cultural continuity is not especially fostered by American Pragmatism.
Pragmatic philosophy orients psychic energy toward solving pregiven problems; contrast meditation to limits of Borgmann focal practices.
(228-229) In Pragmatic philosophy,
making oneself in the face of problematic experience means less the
fashioning of an existential-artistic identity than the habit of
orienting psychic energy toward solving pregiven
(232) Borgmann defines “focal practices” that counter the usual instrumental, exploitative attitude accompanying technological cultural development.
(233) But the earthiness of Borgmann's focal practices does not allow us to conceive practice as maintaining psychic integrity within the interface itself.
(235) Our concrete proposals for influencing self-transformation at the interface are guided by the broad paradigm of contemplative concentration as found in the discipline called meditation. . . . Meditation, or releasing, is an exercise used therapeutically to suspend, for a specified period, the compulsive overpush characteristic of our times.
(237) Such releasing helps one let go of the unconscious automatisms accumulated in the constant drive to control and be productive.
(237) Things can appear to stand out and appear in full presence of mind only when there is first a vertical background world of silence or open formlessness.
Symbol pollution and tagging nullifies uniqueness.
(238) The overabundance of the electronic network of symbols is equivalent to an annihilating emptiness where restless curiosity swallows up the sharpness of truth in a sea of information overload. In this symbol pollution, everything without exception gets symbolized - which nullifies the act of symbolization as a unique event.
Need to turn off the automatic habit of symbolizing everything.
(239) Theories of form that do not
take into account the elusive nature of formulation have no place for
the silence that refreshes formulations of reality at the interface.
For them, formulation
is based on information,
on pregiven, stable entities. The neo-Kantian philosophy of symbolic
forms fails to recognize the background of ontological silence which
bestows on symbols the gravity of reality apprehension.
(241) The more subjective passions of Western music become greatly reduced in the framework of electronic reproduction and then deteriorate to the point of totally destructive trivialization in the gooey acoustic backgrounds of airport terminals and department stores.
Holding Acceleration: Blockbusting and Clustering
Compensatory disciplines of blockbusting and clustering to hold acceleration into what Hayles will call shallow reading.
(241) Idea processors, outliners,
and other aspects of automation reveal a new basic unit for thinking
in symbols. . . . An impression is created that the initial drafting
of a composition and the revising of it are one and the same, that
the processes of invention and of reflective criticism are
identical. From the standpoint
of traditional contemplative formulation, this impression is
(242) The sophisticated macros developed by the [David and Virginia] Nobles operate on a digital text in two ways: first they disassemble the text into separate sentences and then reassemble, at a different command, the broken text. . . . blockbusting macros create an automated environment for making text revision more contemplative.
(243) Blockbusting is an automated instance of the paradigm of meditative reasoning - or at least it can be within the psychic framework of word processing. Blockbusting introduces a silent pause through which can emerge the fertile openness of a more firm formulation, through which the forms of things can come to fuller presence.
(243) The technique [of clustering] derives from the teaching of creative writing and has been presented clearly in the book Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Lusser Rico.
This statement about voice and writing is made obsolete by introduction of formant speech synthesis like symposia, an example of retiring an outworn philosophical notion captured by the event horizon of its constituent technologies.
(244) Voice in writing is to be found more through exploring hidden, subconscious associations than through the linear logic that proceeds from heading to subheading to development of the main premise. Voice can be brought forth only through subtle coaxing and through looking peripherally at what we think.
Compare as clustering stickies on whiteboard practice described in Dreaming in Code.
Clustering as the affordance of a large workspace as writing area subsumed into computer systems represents an exemplary example of optimal computing, albeit ocularcentric (a word as alien to machine technology as auditory, which is not to dismiss that each domain of alien experience nevertheless possesses contours possibly describable by machine technology otherness consciousness being).
(244-245) Using a large sheet of paper and a pen or pencil, the writer gathers related ideas around a central notion. . . . Unlike outlining, clustering does not aim to establish an order or subordination of ideas. . . .The graphically haphazard quality of clustering is essential, for it preserves the sense of personal expression apart from any need to communicate the thoughts or present them publicly.
But future technologies that are already in the hands of the well-resourced may allow contacting psychic depths of doodling, such as the huge walls of screens that are simulated in movies.
(245) the common result is a delicate web of personal expressions held tenuously together by a subjective thread of barely conscious insight. The process brings out unexpected ideas that can then be formulated with increasing degrees of rational connection. . . clustering cannot properly be done in the computer interface. Clustering requires the unprogrammable motions of the human hand contacting psychic depths through doodling. . . . An open-ended wholeness is possible that is screened out by the physical limits of the computer. Clustering is like an expandable graphic or map of thought discoveries. The last five chapters of this book, for instance, were of necessity mapped out with pen and paper - on a 57-1/2 inch piece of continuous paper. No computer screen could have contained it.
Try this scholarly game: where does Heim shift from electric to electronic writing?
(247) Only through sustained questioning can the psychic dimension be held open so as to create a free interplay between mind and machine.
Heim, Michael. (1999). Electric Language, second edition. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Heim, Michael. Electric Language: A Philosophical Study of Word Processing. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987. Print.