Martin Heidegger wrote about both technology and art. He said that whilst technology and art are very different things, they are both ways of revealing.
Technology, or at least ‘modern’ technology, presents a big threat to humanity. And this threat is that when we see the world through the eyes of technology, then we are restricting our understanding of the world to whatever goals that technology is designed to satisfy. But we don’t take consciousness of it. We don’t realise it… and this is dangerous.
It is a threat that is now taking on huge dimensions because many of us engage in that most basic of human activities: socialisation, in a form which is heavily restricted, or determined, by technology. Of course, I am talking about facebook and whatever other forms of social interaction are heavily modelled by technologies (twitter, etc.).
Heidegger said that one escape from this threat is art. Just like technology, art is also about revealing, it is also a way to understand the world. By applying art to technology, the ways in which technology restricts our thinking are exposed, and then we see it for what it is. When we see how technology restricts our thinking, then its threat dissipates… and we can enter into a ‘free’ relationship with it.
And so I propose that someone adapt Shakespeare’s King Lear for Facebook. Each character in the book would have a Facebook profile. There would be Facebook ‘groups’ designed to reflect the gatherings in the text. And the entire play would be played out on Facebook.
It would not be a gimmick. It would be a way of revealing how social interaction on Facebook is restricted or ‘cast’ into the goals that Facebook aims to satisfy. But perhaps it would only work for those who are very familiar with Shakespeare’s King Lear. One would have to have sufficient knowledge of the intended meaning of the dialogue to be able to compare the restricted Facebook version to the original.
So its maybe not such a good idea. I was telling one of my classes that before Facebook, we used to invite friends to parties by sending text messages, or sending emails. Before emails and mobile phones, we used to invite people by making little flyers, photocopying them many times and giving them to friends whenever we ran into them. Either that or we would just ring them up, or drop by their house. I realise that people still do all of these things, so perhaps it would be more accurate to say that technology has introduced a tiered system of communication. What are the implications of that … I wonder. How can a work of art reveal the implications of that?
The recent reforms and revolutions in the middle east have, by some, been attributed to Facebook… or to social networking. Ofcourse, whilst the executives of social networking sites might claim responsibility for this human good, their true aim will be nothing more than ‘success’ as defined by the endeavour of business. And the tendency of these technologies to cast all communication into networks will have also very negative social impacts. Bullying is one. There must be others. Ah! … in writing this paragraph I have perhaps fallen on one way that Facebook restricts our thinking … it will restrict our thinking by forcing us to casting our communication into networks. When you post something on Facebook, are you wary that there are perhaps lots of people reading it? … and so you might slightly alter what you say? Does that change the nature, even if very discreetly, of the relationship you have with the person you are posting that message to?
[Addendum ... here's someone doing Shakespeare on Facebook to shed light on cyber bullying ... http://mashable.com/2011/04/25/shakespeare-facebook-cyber-bullying/. That's exactly what I'm talking about ... but I'm not convinced that it is a 'poetic' work of art. By that I mean that I am not convinced that it reveals some truth with such resonance that it is beautiful to behold]