The real danger is one that is summarised beautifully by a theologian friend of mine at Duke. The old problem of Theology, which has always been closely connected to Philosophy, as you may know. The old problem was the unbeliever; the non-believer. The new problem is the non-person. This Kierkegaard had already foresaw… you know, had a foretaste of. It isn’t the problem of people not believing, it’s the problem of finding people. Are there people? Do we want to call these beings that are walking around “people”? And that isn’t… can’t… and I don’t want to make this sound elitist. That can’t be said from a standpoint separate from you being one of them. You know, raised in the same televised culture, where the simulated images of the “real” are just as “real” as real, and sometimes more “real” than real.
I mean, it is not a problem about which one can be an elitist in any sense, because it is quite generally a social malady, in much the [same] way as the massive support for the war now could be understood as some social malady of a certain kind, like shellshock; the reaction of people struggling to be sane in insane conditions. Despair is a reaction of people struggling to be human in inhuman conditions.
Well there is a point here, and a very deep one. We have been tracing throughout here a series of human projects, and yet we have not yet faced the greatest danger: that if the story of the development of society in the late 19th Century in its broadest sense was the replacement of manual labour by machine labour in the advancing countries of the world, the story of the 20th Century will surely be in part, and in broad strokes, the replacement of intellectual labour – thinking, and even feeling and emoting – by machine labour.
]On April 8, Charles R. Douglass, the inventor of "canned laughter" - the artificial laughter which accompanies comical moments in TV-series - died at 93 in Templeton, California. In the early 1950s, he developed the idea to enhance or substitute for live audience reaction on television; he then realized this idea in the guise of a keyboard machine - by pressing on different keys, it was possible to produce different kinds of laughter. First used for episodes of The Jack Benny Show and I Love Lucy, today, its modernized version is resent everywhere.
This overwhelming presence makes us blind for the unheard-of paradox of the "canned laughter": if we reflect a little bit upon this phenomenon, we can see that it undermines the natural presuppositions about the status of our innermost emotions. "Canned laughter" marks a true "return of the repressed," of an attitude we usually attribute to "primitives." Recall, in the traditional societies, the weird phenomenon of "weepers" (women hired to cry at funerals): a rich man can hire them to cry and mourn on his behalf while he can attend to a more lucrative business, like negotiating for the fortune of the deceased. This role can be played not only by another human being, but even by a machine, as in the case of the famous Tibetan "prayer wheels": I put a written prayer into a wheel and mechanically turn it (or, even better, link the wheel to window-mill which turns it), so that it prays for me - or, more precisely, I "objectively"pray through it, while my mind can be occupied with the dirtiest sexual thoughts...
To our surprise, Douglass' invention proved that the same "primitive" mechanism works also in our highly developed societies: when, in the evening, I come home, too exhausted to engage in a meaningful activity, I just press the TV button and watch Cheers, Friends, or another series; even if I do not laugh, but simply stare at the screen, tired after a hard days work, I nonetheless feel relieved after the show - it is as if the TV-screen was literally laughing at my place, instead of meÉ Before one gets used to "canned laughter," there is nonetheless usually a brief period of uneasiness: the first reaction to it is one of a shock, since it is difficult to accept that the machine out there can "laugh for me," there is something inherently obscene in this phenomenon. However, with time, one grows accustomed to it and the phenomenon is experienced as "natural.") This is what is so unsettling about the "canned laughter": my most intimate feelings can be radically externalized, I can literally "laugh and cry through another."
In order to account for these paradoxes, Robert Pfaller recently coined the term "interpassivity." Today, it is a commonplace to emphasize how, with new electronic media, the passive consumption of a text or a work of art is over: I no longer merely stare at the screen, I increasingly interact with it, entering into a dialogic relationship with it (from choosing the programs, through participating in debates in a Virtual Community, to directly determining the outcome of the plot in so-called "interactive narratives"). Is, however, the other side of my interacting with the object instead of just passively following the show, not the situation in which the object itself takes from me, deprives me of, my own passive reaction of satisfaction (or mourning or laughter), so that is is the object itself which "enjoys the show" instead of me, relieving me of the superego duty to enjoy myself? Almost every VCR aficionado who compulsively records hundreds of movies (myself among them), is well aware that the immediate effect of owning a VCR, is that one effectively watches less films than in the good old days of a simple TV set without a VCR; one never has time for TV, so, instead of losing a precious evening, one simply tapes the film and stores it for a future viewing (for which, of course, there is almost never time). One should therefore turn around one of the commonplaces of the conservative cultural criticism: in contrast to the notion that the new media turn us into passive consumers who just stare blindly at the screen, one should claim that the so-called threat of the new media resides in the fact that they deprive us of our passivity, of our authentic passive experience, and thus prepare us for the mindless frenetic activity.
An example of interpassivity, given by Žižek, in his book How To Read Lacan, uses the VCR to illustrate the concept. The VCR records a movie (presumably to be watched later). However, Žižek argues that since the VCR can record, people who own them watch fewer movies because they can record them and have them on hand. The VCR does the watching of the movie so the owner of the VCR can be free not to watch the movie. Žižek uses the VCR to demonstrate the big other's role in interpassivity. The VCR, like canned laughter in a show, functions as a tool interacting with itself so the viewer can not watch the show.
Here I am mostly focusing on feeling but the same idea applies to thinking with the example of the person who has the sense that they don’t need to think about somethings because they can just “Google”/”Wikipedia” it or “Hey Siri/Alexa…” .
The emphasis of how it does the thinking is not that using these technologies necessarily makes one passive and dumb, but the quality of how it is used.