How about this instead? Imagine a slim, sultry and scantily clad young woman in front of a computer screen. She’s logged on to check the status of her account. The computer’s feminine voice reports there has been no activity. The woman is a writer of sorts. She selects and weaves actual, detailed memories of her days into stories using a company whose software captures her memories—audio and visual and the rest of her sensorium. Blue wires run from bioelectric nodes implanted in her body to the computer.
When our writer checks her account, she’s informed that no one has purchased her story. Which hurts, given her story is woven from her lived experience. Ideally, interested customers pay to experience her story; if they’re jacked in, they can experience her entire sensorium. If they like the story, they can tell her so and pay to request further details, or to request further plot developments in her life. She may then go out and enact these developments; these become the memories she then uploads and folds into her ongoing life story. (The computer stops recording and tells her to stick to the truth whenever she strays from her actual memory and embellishes her experience.) This is just one small rich and wonderful conceit in one of the best and smartest films I’ve seen in a very long time, the science-fiction masterpiece Sleep Dealer, made by Mexican director Alex Rivera. Very highly recommended.
Just imagine how such an instant feedback loop might shape the material of our writer, especially if she’s trying to eke out a living. There’s money and recognition reinforcing some directions she might take her story, while there’s poverty and silence awaiting alternative plots. Just imagine how easily you might become an artist whose life and work—whose entire sensibility—slowly becomes the product of your audience and culture’s desires. Your soul comes to mirror what others want.
What does this have to do with your apparent lack of interest in philosophy’s apology, or at least in my posted apology? The technology behind the instant feedback loop already exists and is already exerting a huge influence in our culture. Anyone who’s started a blog will be familiar with it, as will those working in any technologically savvy firm, part of whose business is, inevitably, to measure and to anticipate, as far as possible, their customers’ desires. Amazon and Netflix offer us personalized suggestions. Google does the same with its tailored searches, which are shaped by our previous searches and clicks. The more we use these services, the more what we see there looks like us.
Those who don’t know much about blogging or computer technology generally may be surprised to learn just how much feedback a blogger gets about how things are going. Every time someone “Likes” a post, I get an email. So too whenever someone starts following my blog. And not just an email, but if they’re signed in to the system, I also get links to their blogs, websites, bio, etc. Wordpress provides an entire page devoted to my blog’s “stats.” They measure views per day, broken down into location (country and distribution appear on a color-coded map); which posts were viewed; what search terms used, if any; what search engines in what countries brought viewers to my blog; what links were clicked on within my site, what external links brought them to my site; which categories are most viewed and most liked; they even provide suggestions about what I can do to increase my audience. I won’t bore you with details about how I’m doing. Let’s just say that on the analogy with vital statistics, I’m nearly dead. Which is fine, since I happen to be practicing dying anyway.
As our habits around email and smart phones show, there’s a part of our monkey minds that gets a stimulation-hit whenever we check our email or Facebook or Twitter or stats; our desire for these little hits keeps us obsessively checking in all the time. At the top of my blog page when I’m logged in is a graphic that displays the number of visitors on a bar that spans 48 hours, so even if you aren’t trying to build your audience, even if you don’t care how many people are reading your blog, WordPress wants you to know because WordPress of course has a vested interest in their bloggers gaining as large an audience as possible. Needless to say, there’s a WordPress app for smartphones, so that wherever you are you can check in on your vital statistics. Just imagine how all this information might affect the content of a blog or any other audience-mediated creative endeavor.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I couldn’t help but notice that my numbers are down since philosophy’s apology became a theme. You, my handful of loyal readers, aren’t buying my story. Now it may just be the Holiday Season upon us. Yet I fear the truth is that the only thing more useless and tiresome than an idle philosopher is a philosopher defending his uselessness. Yawn and move on.
Well, maybe part two, the private defense of philosophy, will be of more interest, since all of us—believe it or not—have some private interest in philosophy. See, your disapproval hasn’t deterred me. After all, as Socrates said, philosophy is about learning to die.