Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Screens, Print and the Ever-changing lifeworld

I'm writing some music at the moment. I'm using self-publishing book tools provided by Blurb (http://blurb.co.uk) to help me focus on the always laborious process of studying and playing the written notes and gradually improving them. It seems to be working. My initial not-very-good-notes sit on my piano in a beautiful book. I play at them, cross things out, make adjustments, which I then feed into the score and will get to the stage when I produce the next printed version.

This process isn't the same as simply printing-off pages. The blurb book arrives a few days after ordering and it looks beautiful. The pages are bound together which mean that the ordering of the flow of the music is tied into the form of the book. In other words, the form of the book constrains the form of the music as I originally wrote it. The constraint is useful because it means that I have to work with what's there, chipping away bits and pieces.

On a computer screen anything is possible. Any mistake can be made, erased, remade, re-erased, etc. The computer presents unlimited possibilities. And that can be a problem in creative work. Unlimited possibilities = increased uncertainty in making decisions about what to do. The computer presents an ever-changing lifeworld.

As human beings (and indeed, as animals), we desire a manageably stable relationship with our ennvironment. It is this primal force which sits behind Lorenz's 'imprinting' and Bowlby's 'attachment'. It starts with proximity to the parent, and transforms into proximal relationships to objects such as toys and teddy bears, and later I think into attachments to ideas - where some of those ideas are our own creations. This primal force is something which is destabilised by computers - and particularly by the AI-driven social media which is ever-changing.

I noticed that Dave Elder-Vass wrote about our 'attachment' to online services (although he never mentions Bowlby) in his recent "Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy". His instinct is right, but what he calls attachment is I suspect a clinging-on to some kind of stability. Facebook is like Lorenz's wire-frame "mother": as it changes, we are compelled to follow. But as we do so, we are taken back to that primal stage of imprinting when we were babies. In adult life, however, we learn to create our own environment with concepts, artefacts and tools. Higher learning is an important stage of development in enabling us to do this.

The important point is that the adult life of declaring new concepts and ideas entails acts of communication which connect something inside us (a psychodynamic process) to something in our environment (a communicative process). The balance between the inner process and the outer process is a sign of health in the individual's relation to the world. So what if the communicative dimension is replaced with a constant stream of visual disruptions which demand the maintenance of proximity towards them? How do these inner world phenomena get expressed? How is the balance between inside and outside maintained?

I think the answer is, it isn't. There's something stupid about the way that the continually shifting phenomena of the online world mean that the outer world stability which is necessary for personal growth is never allowed to form. The reason is partly to do with the corporate business models of the social media companies: they need an ever increasing range of transactions with their customers in order to justify their existence and maintain their value. This corporate model necessitates damaging the mental health of users by destabilising their lifeworld. The obsession with social media may be a kind of PTSD: might we see lawsuits in the future???

So what of print and my music writing? My book of  notes arrives a few days after I ordered it, and it stays with me. I continually glance through it, thinking about changes and improvements, and scribbling all over it. But the book is stable. It becomes my attachment object, and since it is stable, I can coordinate the flow between my inner processes and my outer processes.

I encouraged a friend who is currently writing-up their PhD thesis to send their draft document to blurb to get it printed: "You need multiple descriptions of the thing you are working on in order to focus and develop your ideas". He did it, and it seems that his experience is very similar to my own.

There's something important about print. As the internet becomes ever-more controlled by government and corporations, I wouldn't be surprised to see what is efffectively the 3d printing of books become a major activity in the near future. People often talk about Stewart Brand's "Whole Earth Catalogue" of the 1960s as being a proto-internet. But maybe the book itself is about to find a new lease of life for the sake of everyone's sanity!

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