How do blog’s start? I mean, what is a blog’s initial topical content? Are self-referential quips and comments assembled together in the most monstrous, dissheveled, shambling mounds of internet entities the norm? Well, this will be how this blog starts, and how it will be composed. Regardless of norms. I’m willfully ignoring everything WordPress suggests I do to create a single-topic blog, and returning to the essence of what a blog is, etymologically speaking. A web log. A log on the web. I hear Patrick Stewart’s voice chime in as the camera follows the Enterprise soaring through space: “Captain’s log, stardate 546 25…” . Whatever happened to my mindstate, I log. On the web. Exploring the space of my mind, as simple as that.
Well, not really. I’m also exploring the web. One could of course argue that the web is an extension of the mind: this point is being made by countless authors treating the internet as the technological revolution behind an upcoming change in modes of thought (1). I’m more inclined to think of it in terms of Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell franchise of manga and anime. In this world, cybernetic brain implants enabling people’s brains to be directly connected to the internet or any network, creating a social rift between those who have or don’t have this capacity. However, it engages humanity to face a new type of threat: ghost hacking, or the computer hacking of the biological brain. In the first Ghost in the Shell film, there is a scene where Motoko Kusanagi, or “The Major” as she’s often called, while taking some off-time with her partner “Bato”, muses that humanity strives for technology as soon as it is within reach, speaking of course of their own technological bodies (2). The themes of this discussion, along with the idea the film’s plot leads into, the possibility of a disembodied life-form living exclusively within the information highway, and the back-drop skyline of a massive modern sky-scraper filled city, have always provoked me further. I was always inclined to associate the speech (replacing the biological body with a technological one) with the image (the skyline): what if all of human technology, all of human civilization, could be understood as a public, social memory bank? I therefore see the Internet as a particular case of this paradigm.
Later in the film, Project 2501 makes the more restrained point that genes and computers are memory banks for humanity. But I don’t mean to speak only of information technologies but of all technologies. Buildings. Roads. Sewers. Aqueducts. Monuments. Irrigation. Vehicles. Tools. Actually, historians and archeologists are used to “reading” or “deciphering” these as signs with a meaning, revealing a society’s culture and knowledge. They sometimes use this metaphor, speaking as if the artifacts and ruins were a coded message to be deciphered, a writing whose author is an entire society. A collective testament. This is sort of what I mean. But I’m also thinking from a psychological design perspective, for those living within those spaces, then and now. A narrow corridor makes you move differently than a wide one, you want to use it less, you avoid taking it, you brush up against the wall, you slow down. Different people will take on similar ways of acting, of living, of thinking, within the same cities and societies. New York makes you cynical. Paris makes you romantic. San Francisco makes you liberal. There is something there that transcends the individual, that resembles sharable knowledge, or at least shared behavior.
I’ve recently (within the last year) heard for the first time an opposite thesis to this one that makes a very good point. Explaining the motivation for his Etymology from Memory posts on his blog, posts where he writes with absolutely no references, Justin Erik Halkor Smith explains that he intends to insure that his brain remains functional as his main memory organ, without the use of books or the internet to supplement it. He draws an example from Google’s unique search engine, which gets additional information from its users querries and behavior to fine-tune its process. For Smith, this makes us tools of information-gathering for the engine.
I don’t agree with Smith, that we are becoming the tools of Google. I’m inclined to associate this with Plato’s critique of writing (3). Plato argued that oral speech was somewhat alive, closer to conscience, which was itself closer to ideas, which alone can be the eternal truths philosophers sought. There was therefore a threefold separation between writing and truth. Worse, writing had a pretension at eternity, just like eternal truths, by its durable medium. In Plato’s reaction, I see mostly a form of conservative panic by a man used to one organisation of thought based on oral tradition seeing the changes necessarily brought about by writing. Today, it seems it is academics and educated people, those that might, like me, defend writing against Plato’s critique, who would now strike a note of worry when speaking of the dangers of the internet (4), perhaps not fully conscious that they are exercising similar prejudice against the internet that writing had previously received from oral tradition societies and thinkers (5). Historical anthropology and philosophy of knowledge (6) can look to revolutions in thought, ancient and modern, and see such a pattern of conservative reactions and predict that a backlash against the internet and the forms of thought it will bring about is inevitable. What seems harder would be to predict what this new organisation of thought might be. We should, as always, be cautions with all futurology. But one thing is clear, it is that technology interfaces with subjectivity and changes our capacities to think effectively in significant ways, such that significant technological changes bring about significant changes in thought. The organisation of a society bears on the organisation of its people’s thoughts. And this I intend to document. To log. On the web.
So here we have it, a first post, coming full circle and self-referential. But I’ve yet to explain the blog’s name: Annotated Gabbs. The word Annotated refers to an idea quite shared in meaning: my first post has hyperlinks to other web sites for further reading as well as footnotes to further explain my ideas. I see no reason to avoid clarity and precision in explaining one’s thoughts, even when done for fun. And I don’t often think matters in isolated hermetic categories. I’m interested in everything, and take much pleasure in analogies, general patterns and trends, as well as comparisons and contrasts. The Annotated aspect of these personal blogs allow me to get the feeling I’m sharing this interconnectedness I experience daily. It’s the word Gabb that requires explanation. Quite normal, since it is a neologism, inspired by the expression “the gift of the gab“, refering to the gift of rhetoric, flattery, and speech in general. This expression is little used in my social circle: I learned of its existence when I received The Gift of Gab‘s rap album (as a gift, ironically). For me, the gift of gab is therefore not only a question of content (flattery, rhetoric) but of form (rythm, flow, musicality). I coined the term gabb to refer to a rhetorical blurb coming out in a constant flow, and spelled it with two “b” ‘s (as in “ebb”) because, somehow, it felt right, and for no other reason. This makes what I blog Annotated Gabbs.