From the Center for Peripheral Studies (OAC Branch). After Lance, the sky's the limit!

The papers discussed in our online seminars are often excellent, but this one is apocalyptic, as well as being an exercise in fine writing. Lee Drummond was once a Chicago anthropology PhD specialising in the Caribbean and later in San Diego's tourist attractions. He taught at McGill University for over a decade before retiring to the wilderness (Palm Springs!). July and August there are his winter when he withdraws into his airconditioned study to avoid the heat. The OAC is a principal beneficiary of this aestivation, as witnessed by the paper attached here. All I can say is you gotta read it, whether or not you participate in the seminar.

Lee's point of departure is Lance Armstrong's confession on the Oprah Winfrey show. The man who perhaps deserves to be known as the greatest American athlete ever admitted taking performance enhancing drugs, thereby triggering an intense public outcry. Lee deconstructs what he takes to be a key feature of the American ideology, the opposition of nature to culture, showing that biology and technology have been inextricably woven together throughout human evolution and even before. If it is impossible to identify the unequal influence of technology in sporting performance, what about other areas of cultural achievement, like literature for example? Should Hemingway's Nobel prize be taken away or Coleridge's poetry eliminated from the canon because they wrote under the influence of mind-altering substances?

Not content with this reductio ad absurdum, Lee then launches into a savage critique of American civilization and of the cultural anthropology it has spawned. Drawing on Marx's happy phrasing in the 18th Brumaire, he argues that the American tragedy (New World genocide) now reappears as farce (reality TV shows), one of which actually replayed the former in a grotesque reenactment of the competitive ideal. Anthropology tends to celebrate cultural achievement around the world, whereas in Lee's view, the current state of American society suggests that culture may be a disease killing off its carriers just as their ancestors once killed off the original inhabitants of what passes for the land of the American dream.

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It would be interesting to hear from him what those might be – and how anthropology is marshaled to “fix” them. 

I'll second that. I am especially intrigued by the mention of Paul Farmer and am wondering how he is treated, as a model to be emulated or a model for malpractice.* If the former, the aspiring applied anthropologist needs to take pre-med. 

*I hold no brief for one or the other but dimly recall examples of both.

[Reply #1094]


Nice job of "politely" ignoring me -- bravo (you seem to be improving your self-control) . . . !! <g>


Perhaps more than any other, John has set the tone for this exchange and been reprimanded multiple times for his attacks on other participants.  He has posted some flagrant flame-outs, which went to all who subscribe to the thread and then deleted them.  Indeed, John has "crossed the line" many times in the history of this thread - but, alas, all that *entertainment* is soon to be over.  Boo-hoo!!

He accuses me of refusing to be "logical" and yet you assert "I fear Mark would smash my fantasy with the hard hammer of logic and reality."

Which is it?  Both?  Neither?

I don't recall any interest on my part in "smashing" any fantasy -- yours or anyone else's.  Have I actually done that?  Yes, I said that the people in my neighborhood don't lead as fantasy-absorbed a life as you do.  But that wasn't a suggestion that you become more "like" them.  Might your "fears" involve someone(s) other than me?

What I thought I did was simply to suggest that FANTASY is one of primary *consequences* of television-as-an-environment.  Which would make your immersion in a world of fantasy a good example of "television behavior" and one that is no doubt common among many in the current US population.

But, is that statement "logical"?  John would perhaps say that it isn't.  Indeed, how does one "logically" explore the topic of ENVIRONMENTAL consequences?  Can that even be done?  Logically speaking?

I challenged Lee to consider this conundrum and I challenge you as well.  

How does Anthropology deal with environmental consequences?  What sort of a "mode of thinking" is required to deal with Gestalts like environments and what does it mean to think about their "consequences"?

Earlier in this thread I suggested that we might get some help from the "grammarian" approach.  In his 1943 PhD thesis, "The Classical Trivium," McLuhan sketches the history of the back-and-forth between *dialectic* (e.g. "logic") and "grammar" (e.g. fundamental structure) in Western History from ancient Greece through to Elizabethan England.  But it didn't end there.

I was just reading the PDF of Carl Jung's "Red Book."  In the introduction, Jung's internal conflict between his "personality #1" and "personality #2" is discussed in terms of his dreams and, ultimately, in his break with Freud. This could be understood as the "same" contest between "logic" and "grammar" that spanned the 2000+ years McLuhan wrote about -- with the same conflicts that broadly shaped Western culture being played out in a little Swiss boy's (very) active imagination.

As Jung came to terms with all this, he produced a "logic" to deal with "fantasy" -- publicly displaying his "scientific" personality #1, while privately showing his "occult" personality #2 to his close friends. This desire to appear "logical" is (apparently) why the "Red Book" wasn't published until recently.  And, of course, what wasn't mentioned in the introduction was the impact of Richard Noll's 1997 "The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung" on his heir's decision to finally publish the book to "set the record straight."

I have suggested elsewhere that Jung was probably the most important "religious" figure of the 20th century.  That is because of his efforts to "rationalize" the world of *fantasy* -- which, in turn, is the "religious" content of television-as-environment.  Mythology (and, indeed, the "collective unconscious") is, as you know, a very important part television "programming."

I truly don't care about your fantasies.  I have no interest in "smashing" them.  In fact, I'm fascinated with your insistence that they must be "lived" and how you posit the role of "mediated" fantasy in people's everyday attempts to manage their own lives.  What you seem to be describing is how it looks from "inside" that environment.  My guess is that you live much more "deeply" inside that environment than the others on this thread.

Please stay there!  After all, no one can get you to leave it -- and you've got lots of company . . . !!

What I'm saying is that there's a new *environment* in town.  Your son's reaction to his (typical?) Anthro 101 class tells us that some "shift" is underway.  History of Anthropology (which recapitulates the "book" environment) -- boring.  "Anthro Activism" (which recapitulates the "radio" environment) -- "like slamming your head against the desk."  

My guess is that he would also not be satisfied with a "live your fantasy" version of Anthropology (i.e. a recapitulation of the television environment.)  He has grown up in a *digital* world.  He likely appreciates that this will require something different from him.

Not what books ask of you.  Not what radio asks of you.  Not what television asks of you.  But what?

If you share this response with him (or if he's lurking), I'd be very interested in what he thinks is really going on . . . !!

Mark Stahlman
Jersey City Heights




    A bit more on formal causality and your premier concept, the Environment. 

    I’m by no means a historian of philosophy, and I’m sure you’ll point out my error here, but I question whether your four causes are quite such a tidy, all-embracing system as you suppose.  Granted that they were a staple of Scholastic thought through the centuries, the actual pedigree of the four causes, I suggest, reveals their slapped-together, jerry-rigged nature.  Very broadly, the patchwork took shape because Plato’s idealism was incompatible with the realism of his star pupil, Aristotle.  Formal causality is very hard to get a handle on unless you choose to acknowledge the fundamental truth of Plato’s doctrine of forms.  Failing that, but wishing to remain the dutiful pupil, Aristotle bootlegged “formal cause” into his experience-based theory of knowledge.  And it doesn’t fit very well.  To assert – and identify – the action of an immanent formal cause in a particular event (and without recourse to the doctrine of forms), one must claim to know the intention of a higher order of intelligence – to know the mind of God.  That’s quite a reach, but certainly many – all to many – people have made it down through the ages. 

    Apart from making that claim – which is private, privileged, unverifiable – there is the follow-on problem of what, if anything, invoking formal causality adds to our understanding of individuals, groups, social action, cultural productions.  Here I come back to the unanswered question I posed to you a couple of days ago:  Let’s say that you’ve made me a believer in that principle, how does it operate, what difference does it make, in our effort to interpret / understand what goes on in the world?  For example, take the situation in what for now is known as “Iraq.”  If you step up to the plate and say, “Obviously there is a principle of formal causality at work here,” I think most everyone would ask for details.  How, what, when, where?  Who’s doing what to whom and with what effect?  These are pressing issues, matters of life or death for many people, and with potential global consequences.  Does an assertion that formal causality is at work here add anything at all to our understanding of the world?

    I think a similar lack of engagement, of rubber hitting the road, afflicts your invoking the Environment.  Again, suppose I’m perfectly  ready to accept that fundamentally different “environments” have held sway over human thought and action, so that people inhabiting a print world, a radio world, a TV world, and now a Web world experience different forms of reality.  Okay, so here we are in a nascent Web world – apart from proclaiming that this is a new Environment, where does one go from there?  To keep with our all-too-real example, how will we apply our new knowledge of the Environment to understanding  events in Iraq?  Does that make a difference?  If so, what? 

    For anyone intent on understanding human society / culture, I think these questions are all-important.  Are there specific answers? 


[Reply #1096]


I quite agree that Aristotle cobbled this together (as arguably he did with much of what he said) and that *formal* causality was likely his rather inept attempt to accommodate his mentor Plato into his schema -- since, after all, trying to build "comprehensive" schema seems to have been his specialty.

But, at least, he understood that what he was doing was building a *comprehensive* schema -- which means that he seems to have grasped that what he was talking about wasn't meant to privilege one kind of cause over any other.  All-at-once, is what I get from reading him on these matters.  On that I agree -- which makes David Hume an "idiot," if you will.

And, as best I can tell, those who have worked with this schema over the millenia since Aristotle -- whether pagan, Christian, Islamic or otherwise -- have very likely also thought of their world and its causes in relationship to the "transcendent," since very commonly for them (or at least those that I've read) what "causes" the world to be-as-it-is is itself not "of this world."  

No they did not have to be "Platonists" or subscribe to his "theory of forms."  Whether, on the other hand, they claimed to "know the mind of God" just doesn't fit the picture and is also not necessary.  Aquinas, for instance, made no such claim and, as best I can tell, would have thought it to be quite impossible.  Cusa etc as well.  

As with all such historical inquiry, you must check your own "biases" at the door and, indeed, it seems with your "all to [sic] many" aside, that is exactly what you *haven't* done.  So, you are starting your further "analysis" on seriously shaky grounds.  But, be that as it may, let me see if I can help you anyway. <g>

"Iraq" is a fiction, as we all know.  It was, along with most of the rest of what passes for "national borders" in that part of the world (along with many other places) a fiction that was invented by the British Empire.  As most historians I've read on such matters seem to agree, what has "enforced" those fictions during our lifetimes has been the post-WW II "international system," which is commonly known as "globalism" and it relied on the USA acting as the "world's policeman."

Today's headlines clearly inform us that this "system" has now broken down.  What has *caused* that breakdown?  What seems to matter here isn't what this-or-that "tribal" group might be up to, so much as the fact that NO ONE is willing to step up to "enforce" the previous fictions.  Not the US.  Not the British.  Not the Europeans.  No one.

Apparently, "everyone" has come to agree that "globalism" is finished -- even though you can tune into CNN (i.e. the television network that was specifically invented to assert *globalism*) and hear the old shibboleths being rehearsed over-and-over.  Everyone seems to "know" that this is just an echo of something someone said a long time ago that no really believes anymore.

So, I would suggest, specifically, that these events are the product of the *end* of globalism as a unifying principle.  As a result, my suggestion is that you need to understand what CAUSED that collapse to happen, if you want to understand what is happening today in "Iraq," "Syria" etc.  Stories about Sunnis and Shia won't help.  Narratives about Iran vs. Saudi Arabia won't either.  And, the "war-weary" US public is just a tiny fig-leaf on very ugly statue.  Widening the lens and recapitulating the Cold War will only get you deeper into implausibility.

What you have to do is to identify the (multiple) causes of GLOBALISM and then identify what has happened to those causes -- indeed you need to figure out how those causes have been "replaced" by the new ones that underlie today's fundamentally changed global situation.

When you get around to the FORMAL causal dimension of this analysis, my suggestion is that you think through the role played by the shift from television to digital media.  

It would seem that the relationship between television and "globalism" is a pretty interesting one.  Whether it was Arthur C. Clarke's initial proposal for geo-stationary satellites (meant to beam down the BBC to make us all into "one world") or the generation of the television-promoted notion of the "free world" (whose responsibility it was to "defend" that "international system") or the use of the "Big Blue Marble" by the Whole Earth Catalog. there would seem to be a "formal/structural" relationship between the spread of television -- as opposed to the raging world conflicts associated with radio -- that was supposed to "unite" us all into one common global market (and, therefore, culture.)

But now all that's gone.  Despite what CNN (and all the other "networks" told us), what happened in Tahrir Square wasn't a movement for greater "freedom" at all.  There was never an "Arab Spring."  From day one, in fact, it was a very Egyptian reaction *against* Mubarak et al -- who was exactly the guy who represented that crumbling "international system" -- in favor the local military, who despite being trained and financed by the "globalists" were quite happy to tell them to go screw themselves.  Did they worry for a moment that the USA would pull the funds when they exercized a COUP (as "required" by US law)?  No, not for a minute -- since they knew that "globalism" was dead and that the US was powerless as a result.

And, if you're following this, now you might ponder the sentences handed down to the Al Jezerra journalists last week.  The Egyptian military has literally put TELEVISION in jail.  The entire conceit of television-driven "globalism" was that you can't do that.  But it has been done and no one can stop them.

In (very) condensed *form* -- television CAUSED "globalism" and its demise (in favor of digital media) has CAUSED a fundamental realignment in global affairs (into which a bunch of "war-lords" have inserted themselves.)  Understanding this shift in *formal* causality, adds quite a bit to "our understanding of the world" -- or so I'm told by those who have asked me to "brief" them on the further implications of this sweeping change in the "ground of our experience."

As you know, what I've been doing on this list is to invite YOU to try to think along these lines.  Whether or not I have "convinced" you is *not* my "mission."  Whether I am able to turn any of this into an interesting story is completely beside the point.  I came here to learn how some Anthropologists think, not to provide you with geo-political guidance.  But, since you asked nicely . . . <g>

The "consequences" of the DIGITAL environment in which we now live -- as distinct from the *television* environment in which we all grew up -- are many fold.  Here are just a few: No one has to work anymore.  No one has to remember anything anymore.  We are now sharing the planet with what Stephen Hawking called a "vastly superior alien race" (for real, not just a sci-fi "fantasy.")  Right now.  Not 20 years from now.

NONE of those *consequences* can be derived from television or from the "globalism" that it spawned 60+ years ago (which is now clearly in rapid and, for some, catastrophic decline.)  ALL of them are, as best I can tell, extremely difficult for "television-minded" people to grasp -- or should I say GROK? <g>

Welcome to the *new* environment, and as the magazine TIMEOUT said when they started publishing in NYC, "Now get out . . . " !!

Mark Stahlman
Jersey City Heights


You ask good questions. 

Suppose that we take seriously the proposition that our lives are shaped by the media environments in which we live. The McCluhan approach focuses on the nature of the media themselves and ascribes different effects to print, radio, TV and now, presumably, the Web.

Print requires literacy and makes it possible to read the same passage multiple times in an effort to understand it. Conceived as an act in which one reader engages one text, reading is a fundamentally private activity; the archetype is a believer immersed in reading scripture in an effort to understand God.  Reading requires literacy, which is, historically speaking, unevenly distributed and, except in societies where education is a public good provided via schools open to everyone, a monopoly of a relative small, literate class. Even in societies with public schools, publishing industries, and print mass media,  "serious" readers remain a minority. Yes, print shapes the majority's lives; but it does so via bureaucracies and the printed rules by which bureaucrats, lawyers, politicians and other masters of words control them. 

Radio was a marvel in its time. In contrast with reading, bandwidth was limited, communication one-way, and in the absence of recording technology, programs could only be heard once unless stations or networks decided to repeat them. Now people could listen to news, drama, comedy music broadcast from hundreds or thousands of miles away. They could do so privately (think of kids playing with crystal sets and becoming ham radio enthusiasts; or shut-ins with cataract-blurred eyes spending their days by the radio) but also in families or other small groups, (the guys at a bar, for example, listening to a baseball game). In some cases, they were forced to listen in large groups, a practice characteristic but not limited to totalitarian states. In Japan, there are still a dwindling handful alive who can remember being summoned to the schoolyard to hear Emperor Hirohito announce Japan's surrender to the Americans.

TV added visual impact missing from radio. By placing the seen as well as the heard under the control of producers and directors, it left less room for individual imagination. But in many respects the TV world was like the radio world. Once again, in contrast with reading, bandwidth was limited, communication one-way, and in the absence of recording technology, programs could only be seen once unless stations or networks decided to repeat them.

What, however, is missing from this story? The answer is simple: Radio did not replace reading, and TV did not replace radio. Radio was part of a world in which people continued to read newspapers and magazines; some even continued to read books. Radio rose to prominence at roughly the same time as film, and the movies were also a huge influence on the public imagination. Listening to radio by yourself or in a family or small group was a very different experience from going to a theatre and sitting in the dark as part of a crowd immersed in what was being shown on the silver screen. Like TV, movies provide a visual as well as aural experience and producers and directors control what you see; but unlike TV you could see the same movie multiple times. And except as a very small child, you were more likely to see movies with friends or lovers than with parents. 

What, then, of the Web? For comparative purposes and because I live here, let's consider Japan.

Wikipedia provides some basic facts.

Television broadcasting in Japan started in 1950,[1] making the country one of the first in the world with an experimental television service, although the first television tests were conducted as early as 1926 using a combined mechanical Nipkow disk and electronic Braun tube system, later switching to an all-electronic system in the 1930s using a domestically developed iconoscope system.[2] In spite of that, because of the beginning of World War II in the Pacific region, this first full-fledged TV broadcast experimentation lasted only a few months. Regular television broadcasts only started several years after the war, in 1953, when the public NHK General TV and the commercial Nippon Television were launched in the span of a few months.

Industry folklore and stories heard from friends now in their sixties and seventies tell us about the early days of TV, when TV was rare and remarkable. Stores placed sets in their show windows and crowds gathered outside them to watch news, pop singers and professional wrestling. Then, as Japan's economy took off in the 1960s and 1970s, buying a TV set and watching TV became a top priority for Japanese households. In the early days, many of the shows shown on TV were American, in inspiration if not syndication. Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best were familiar hits. 

In 1992, Yale anthropologist William Kelly wrote an article: "Tractors, Television, and Telephones: Reach Out and Touch Someone in Rural Japan" (In Joseph J. Tobin (ed.), Re-made in Japan: Everyday Life and Consumer Taste in a

Changing Society, pp. 77-88. New Haven: Yale University Press). In it Kelly described the impact of the purchase of a TV set on rural households in Japan. In the living room of a traditional Japanese house, there is typically an alcove at the back of the room called the tokonoma, where a scroll and a flower arrangement would be placed. When the family sat down to dinner, the head of the household sat in the place of honor, with his back to the tokonoma, with the lowest ranking member of the household sitting directly across from him and the others seated in order of rank between them. Then the family bought a TV. The question was where to put it. The answer was the tokonoma, a place where the TV set could both be conveniently out of the way and displayed as a status symbol. But then, and this is Kelly's key observation, the head of the household had to move. With his back to the tokonoma, he couldn't watch TV, and that wouldn't do. The best viewing angle was, in fact, what had been the lowest status position around the table, the one facing the tokonoma. The traditional order of the seating at the family meal was instantly and totally disrupted. 

A few years after Kelly's article appeared, I was doing research for my book on Japanese consumer behavior and reading a research report compiled by two women who worked for the Nomura Research Institute. Their report opened with these words (at least as I recall them): 

"Do you remember when there was one telephone and one TV set and everyone ate dinner together. Now that phone and TV set are gathering dust; everyone has his own phone and his own TV, and nobody eats together. Everyone is so busy they grab a bite whenever they can, fast food, or heating up something in a retort packet. Our schedules are so different, we are hardly ever together."

The trends to which these researchers pointed have intensified with the rise of the Web. Most people, young people in particular, are glued to their smartphones or tablets. You can still see people in sports bars or restaurants with large-screen TVs, watching TV as they eat and drink. Sometimes they are clearly members of a group, co-workers perhaps. But many are just individuals or couples who have grabbed seats at the bar. Even at home, TV watching has changed with the appearance of satellite and cable TV and dozens-of-channels choices of what to watch. Who listens to radio? Cab and truck drivers, who can't drive and look at screens at the same time. Some commuters with earphones connected to their smartphones may be listening to radio. They are, however, likely to be listening to music or watching videos from a playlist of their own choosing.  Print media sales are down; they have been declining monotonically since the 1970s; but there are still enough readers for newspaper and other publishers to remain big businesses. Audiences are fragmented and increasingly so now that consumers are free to choose both medium and programming to suit the whims of the moment. People who project monolithic effects from this media environment have a hard row to hoe.

Erratum: Except for special situations, e.g., call and response readings of scripture in churches, poetry readings, parents reading books to their children, and other events in which reading becomes a performance directed at an audience — also, letters to the editor—print communication was, like radio and TV in their broadcast network forms, also largely one-way. Now, of course, we have talk radio and its televised equivalent on some TV channels. 

P.S. The fundamental problem with the McCluhan analysis is a level of abstraction in which a one-to-one relationship between consumer and medium is assumed. In this context, one reader, listener, or viewer responding to one media source, the characteristics of the source may seem supremely important. Step back a bit and include social and historical context, and other factors also clamor for attention. 

The real erratum, and my main objection to all this "media environment" stuff is exactly the idea that you mention: that media is"one-way." Media has never ever been one way. What happens when a person or group of people encounter something that comes to them in a media form is not the absorption of that content and container. This has always been my problem with the so-called discipline of Communications: they assume this one-way flow. Instead, Anthropology can easily show that once a person comes in contact with some form of media and the stories it carries, that is only the beginning of a long and convoluted, ambiguous, and often contradictory relationship. 

Millions of examples exist but instead of listing them here, I am off to slit my throat over the Hobby Lobby/Handmaid's Tale Supreme Court ruling: Don't Let The Bastards Grind You Down.

Anthropology can easily show that once a person comes in contact with some form of media and the stories it carries, that is only the beginning of a long and convoluted, ambiguous, and often contradictory relationship. 

Yes, oh yes, indeed.

{Reply #1101]


Who ever said that ENVIRONMENTS are "one-way" (or "monolithic" or "non-contradictory") -- why is that the reaction this term elicits from this group . . . ??

The environments I'm talking about are made up of people -- who have *adapted* to the constraints of the communications technologies that are available so that they can form a "society" with other people.

"We shape our tools [i.e. invent new ways to be social, which largely means "communicating" with each other] and, thereafter, our tools shape us [i.e. the society that we make, then makes us into participants in that society, precisely because we *are* communicating with each other.]

People *participate* in media technologies, they aren't simply assaulted by them -- although, like all social structures, we are certainly "subjected" to what we find ourselves "belonging to."  Yes, we can always walk away.  But, then we have to accept being "banished," with all that entails.

While it is trivial to say that books, movies, radio etc persist, it is somewhat more sophisticated to try to understand how they endure and how they "relate" to each other in an ever-more complicated environment.  This is why Marshall McLuhan *coined* the term MEDIA ECOLOGY (which was then taken up by Neil Postman and his epigoni, who then turned it into the Media Ecology Association.)

In a sense, the MEDIA themselves form a "society" -- in which their interactions also need to be examined *formally* . . . !!

Take Facebook as an example.  What is it?  Part top-down (radio-like), part bottom-up (television-like), part interactive (albeit without a "dislike" button, by design), part "surveillance" (like all digital media), part town-hall/bridge-club (like "real" face-to-face meetings) and part shopping-mall (like earlier "hybrid" media experiences) -- clearly this isn't in any way "monolithic" or "one-way."  Like "natural" environments (e.g. ecologies), it is filled with many sorts of "creatures."

And, Facebook is only one among thousands of designs that share common underlying digital technologies, each of which presents a slightly (or significantly) different experience.  Is there anything we can say about them all-at-once?  Do we need to isolate them each into their own peculiarities?  Or, can we discuss them all as something "environmental"?

Apparently not.  By hoicking-up "the problems with" whichever STRAW-MAN caricature of "McLuhan analysis" you wish, what has been demonstrated is a poverty of the anthropological imagination.

Ted Carpenter was an anthropologist who worked with McLuhan for 15-or-so years.  He bailed-out when McLuhan was "captured" by the *television* medium and, in particular, by the ad-men (i.e. Howard Gossage, Jerome Agel et al) who turned him into a caricature of himself -- as humorously captured by David Cronenburg in his 1983 "Videodrome," where a version of McLuhan appears "only on television" as Brian Oblivion.

Did Carpenter have any students who continued his work?  Or, did this whole approach in anthropology die-off in the 1960s/70s -- only to be buried deeply by SCOT in the 1980s?

My task here (which is drawing to a close), isn't to "argue my case."  And, it isn't to solicit reasons why what I say is "wrong" (or "right.")  This isn't a faculty meeting. This has been an experiment to carry out some anthropology on the anthropologists.  To see how they behave in their "native habitats" under certain "stresses."

Can they THINK in terms of environments?  Or, do these elusive yet fundamental social structures -- man-made and constituted of communications technologies -- remain "invisible" to the anthropologists themselves?

Once again, thanks for all your help by participating in my "experiment" . . . <g>

Mark Stahlman
Jersey City Heights


Take Facebook as an example.  What is it?  Part top-down (radio-like), part bottom-up (television-like), part interactive (albeit without a "dislike" button, by design), part "surveillance" (like all digital media), part town-hall/bridge-club (like "real" face-to-face meetings) and part shopping-mall (like earlier "hybrid" media experiences) -- clearly this isn't in any way "monolithic" or "one-way."  Like "natural" environments (e.g. ecologies), it is filled with many sorts of "creatures."

And, Facebook is only one among thousands of designs that share common underlying digital technologies, each of which presents a slightly (or significantly) different experience.  Is there anything we can say about them all-at-once?  Do we need to isolate them each into their own peculiarities?  Or, can we discuss them all as something "environmental"?

These seem like reasonable questions. Care to elucidate why radio is top-down and TV is bottom-up, what either consideration has to do with Formal Causes, and how to discuss digital technologies as something "environmental" in a manner that gets beyond the obvious, that, yes, the media environment has changed? If serious* proposals are on the table, I will be glad to discuss them. 

*Serious=amenable to give and take and discussion of relevance to specific cases and/or empirical data. 

[Reply #1103]


Amazing.  I just got done explaining that this isn't a "faculty meeting" and that I'm not here to engage in "argument" and then you insist on trying to drag me into one -- again.  The answer is the same as it has been over-and-over, no thanks . . . !! 

This is *not* a classroom and you are not handing out the assignments.  Instead, YOU tell me how you and other anthropologists *think* about (technological) environments and, if you/they don't (which seems to be the case), why you think that is -- please.  Yes, this is an essay and not a multiple-choice question.

As for how McLuhan separated top-down (i.e. HOT media, such as radio) from bottom-up (i.e. COOL media, such as television), I refer you to his writings on the subject.  Consider it extra-curricular homework.

Or, if you prefer to work only with *certified* anthropologists, I'd be curious about your views on the work of Ted Carpenter.  His 1972 "Oh What a Blow The Phantom Gave Me!" would be a good place to start or, even better yet, his work on EXPLORATIONS (with McLuhan) in the 1950s.

From the dust-jacket, "I think media are so powerful that they swallow cultures.  I think of them as invisible environments which surround and destroy old environments . . . New media allow us escape from old environments, but soon imprison us in new environments, namely themselves."

How did the "discipline" of anthropology deal with Carpenter?  Treat him as-if he was making a "serious proposal"?  Or, just ignore him?  Yes, I know that a lot was going in in anthropology in the 1970s.  Perhaps you could "locate" Carpenter in the context of all that upheaval?

Now is your chance to pick up that cudgel and deliver as many "blows" right back at the PHANTOM which has been "haunting" anthropology since the 1950s . . . !! <g>

Mark Stahlman
Jersey City Heights

I am closing down this thread now. The announcement of the OAC's impending closure brought out some moving tributes from Lee and Peter. The discussion then reverted to a slanging match. Enough, I say. The world ends not with a bang but a whimper.



OAC Press



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