Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Musical Ecologies

I've got my head in some pretty technical stuff at the moment which I find exciting and energising, but which, as with all technology, is likely also to be ultimately disappointing (although the energy from it will move me on). I'm used to this pattern: I go through phases of functionalism where I am fascinated and motivated by what might be changed through technology. Whilst I'm in it, though, I also feel the need to temper my enthusiasm in some way.

Music is my corrective. I've been thinking back to this: It's about music and ecology.

When we design technical systems - even technical systems which are meant to be emancipatory for people - really we are designing something with ourselves as designer in the driving seat. The status function for the technology is made by the technical designer/hacker. I've been making a lot of status function declarations about blockchain recently. I think it's important because it's certainly a new kind of thing, and its implications need to be investigated. But in making those status function declarations, I put myself in a privileged position. Do I wish for some social acclaim which says "Ah yes! Johnson was right all along!"? Wanting to be right is a real problem (I think I am right about that)

A piece of music is a kind of declaration. But it's a declaration that comes from the heart as well as from the pen. The heart-bit is important. Feelings are communicated in music because, I think, we share a sense of time with the performers and other listeners. This despite the fact that many composers are long dead. It still communicates in what Alfred Schutz would call a pure 'we-relation': i.e. a form of communication which is usually only available in intimate face-to-face exchange. This is unlike most declarations, including declarations about technology. They are made in the 'world of contemporaries' - a world of remote relationships with people who live at the same time as us, but who we do not share a 'vivid simultaneity'. Indeed, we have very little understanding of what our technological propositions might do to them.

When we try and pursuade someone face-to-face about the value of a technology, we find a way of communicating face-to-face which bypasses the deeper emotional aspects of the pure we-relation. Technologies turn our face-to-face engagements into remote engagements which occur face-to-face. This is the great trick of capitalism: the bypassing of time and intimacy, and its replacement with terminology codified in the world of contemporaries. Too much academic engagement in Universities has become like this too. Psychotherpeutic, curiosity-driven learning rarely happens: instead we drill learning outcomes.

Coming back to music, we can codify its parts in an abstract way (again, the world of contemporaries). But in shared experience in time, we can see that none of these parts are separable, any more than the organs of the body are separable. Moreover, there is no executive function among these parts: each part relates to the others in a fundamental, intertwined way. Just as the brain does not 'control' the body, but ensures that effective relationships are managed between all its components, including itself. 'Management' is inherent in the organisation of music.

That is what I have to ensure in my thinking about technology. The management must be inherent in the organisation of the technological components. In educational technology this is a real challenge. Only if this is achieved will a technical system start to feel like music rather than an authoritarian state.

Measuring the effectiveness of the organisation of music, or technology, may be the key thing. These, by necessity, are measures of ecological viability.

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