Fear of Twitter: technophobia part 2

When I was a lifeguard in high school, two of my fellow lifeguards — Steve and Pete — sought to converse as much as possible quoting directly lines from the Chevy Chase movie, Fletch. This is what qualified as comedy. Steve was apparently the ‘more clever’ of the two as he probably achieved Fletch Quotation Ratios as high as 20%; Pete, though quite well tanned, likely only managed 10% FQR at best. I hadn’t seen the movie, and I was never much for quoting film scripts (not even Monty Python), so I assumed that Steve’s high FQR was either a symptom of premature senility or a sign of the impending collapse of Western civilization.

Recent fears about the negative cognitive consequences of the social networking site Twitter, which I mentioned in an earlier post, Is Facebook rotting our children’s brains?, led me to recall Steve and Pete’s battle for high FQR. In both cases, concerned observers might wonder whether patterns of mental activity can lead to long-term neural degeneration; I haven’t checked in on Steve or Pete in more than 20 years, but I suspect they’re both locked in institutions living out a cruel Chevy Chase imitation from which they can no longer escape.

Twitter, even more than other Internet-based social networking applications, seems to provoke apocalyptic fears of mass mental degradation. Over at Alternet, for example, Alexander Zaitchik asked Twitter Nation Has Arrived: How Scared Should We Be? In the piece, Zaitchik wonders whether what was ‘once an easily avoided subculture of needy and annoying online souls’ was bringing about the apotheosis of all that is loathsome in American pop culture: ‘look-at-me adolescent neediness, constant-contact media addiction, birdlike attention-span compression and vapidity to the point of depravity.’ Rob Horning of Pop Matters warns about ‘Twitterification’ in a piece titled, Foucault’s Facebook. Keith Olbermann named Twitter ‘worst person in the world,’ …for the one episode at least (see video at You Tube); Olbermann found someone already Twittering in his name, even using his email address. And if you’re not already convinced that Twitter is the unmentioned fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, John Mayer’s Twitter obsession is blamed for Jennifer Aniston pulling the pin on their relationship.

Fortunately, even if we are on the non-stop plane to cognitive Armageddon, Web 2.0 assures us that we will have clever guerilla videos about our own immanent destruction as our in-flight entertainment. From SuperNews, we have a helpful cartoon, ‘The Twouble with Twitters’, to explain to us ‘the latest socially networking micro-bloggy thingy,’ especially if you’re a slow-on-the-uptake parent not sufficiently worried about adolescent technology use (are there any?).

More after the jump…
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Culture and Cognition Workshop in Bristol, UK

Francisco Varela (1946-2001)

Francesco Varela (1946-2001)

Fred Cummins of University College Dublin contacted me to give me a head’s up on a workshop that looks pretty good, covering some of the same topics that we look at here at Neuroanthropology.

The workshop is ‘Cognition and Culture: an enactive view,’ and will especially explore the legacy of Humberto Maturana and Francesco Varela. The meeting organizers explain that they seek to ‘develop a robust vocabulary and set of concepts that are capable of sustaining dialogue between researchers in cognitive systems, cognitive science, arts, media, and culture by using the insights and approaches of the enactive approach to cognition.’

Chilean biologists Maturana and Varela wrote a couple of books together, but they are probably best known for the concept of autopoeisis and the book, Tree of Knowledge. Varela also did work on the embodied mind and directly contributed to some of the current neurosciences research on Buddhist monks (such as the Mind and Life Institute, which Varela helped to found); he passed away in 2001, leaving a very rich legacy (see his ‘focus file’ here). Varela, and his mentor Maturana, were both biologists with philosophical inclinations, doing quite a bit to encourage the study of phenomenology in biology and the embodied nature of the brain. Varela did some early brain imaging research, linking observed changes to perceptions. Although there are some parts of his thinking that we at Neuroanthropology might seek to expand and transform, Varela was a giant in the move to create a synthetic brain science that bridged the gap between biological and sociocultural or psychological research.

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