A short Catskills dispatch. Currently, I am seated in the lofted living room. Light soaks in from three separate points of entry. I have a few books and a Kinfolk zine (Rituals) on the table in front me. A black kettle holds dried flowers, my coffee mug steams below it. Although I’m reading, I’m aware of my phone charging next to me… it was charging in the bedroom but that felt too far.
If a technology is introduced either from within or from without a culture, and if it gives new stress or ascendancy to one or another of our senses, the ratio among all of our senses is altered. We no longer feel the same, nor do our eyes and ears and other senses remain the same. The interplay among our senses is perpetual save in conditions of anesthesia. But any sense when stepped up to high intensity can act as an anesthetic for other senses. The dentist can now use “audiac” — induced noice — to remove tactility. Hypnosis depends on the same principle of isolating one sense in order to anesthetize the others. The result is a break in the ratio among the senses, a kind of loss of identity.
Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy
We constantly, willingly, enter daily states of technological hypnosis.
In design, many optimize for it. Whether they would admit it or not.
Twitter stresses two ratios only. The visual text field, and the tactile to draw new visual text field to touch again. It is, 99% of the time, a completely silent app. And so, when operating it, machine like as it forces us to become machine in part… We lose all sense of hearing. Conversation in the room becomes muffled. Snapping out of it. Out of the hole. The Boomers are very right in this sense… complaining at family gatherings. “You’re not here with us”. The same way they lost their own children to the visual heightening of television.
TikTok stresses two ratios only. The visual and the audio. It loops, to create an even deeper hypnosis. Comments abound “why have I watched this ten times already.”
Instagram started with the stress of two ratios. The visual and the tactile. The ability to touch objects of desire freely and permissionlessly. However, as they compete they add more sensory points… and coincidentally we see the confusion build from a disgruntled and less hypnotized user-base. The swinging clock stuttered, and the once invisible hand far too close for comfort.
This continues and will continue. And in this state we are free to do the master’s bidding. We lose our identity in participation… and spend most of this time as a binary legible consumer. Until, like perhaps we are seeing with Instagram, it breaks.
Quickly changing focus to wrap this up…
Far from being a normal mode of human vision, three-dimensional perspective is a conventionally acquired mode of seeing, as much acquired as is the means of recognizing the letters of the alphabet, or of following chronological narrative.
Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy
Many spatial apps are breaking my previous examples of two ratio stress hypnosis.
Here McLuhan mentions 3D perspective as an “acquired mode of seeing”. I wrote this tweet back in 2019
When we think of spatial we are typically combining 3 senses: the visual (what is rendering on screen), the tactile (manipulation and feel of my representation on screen), the audio (real time call audio / in world audio and cues).
The question becomes who-pulls-who? In my opinion, we move towards more sensory rich applications.
Even those that grew to know the internet through two heightened senses at a time… will acquire the ability of 3D perspective and the sensory structure that brings.
Before I go, I want to pause and dispel the notion that hypnosis is categorically negative. There are many healing properties to hypnosis, used in therapy and other sources. Allowing for a release from that which is within. By isolating the senses, we can pull from deeper sources of self. Like closing our eyes during prayer allowing us a focus on the Spirit, pushing us towards speech.
This is why so often online we see the airing of grievances as a primary rallying for community. The isolation of senses releases the inhibition of other forms of expression.
I think most of the critique of these platforms comes from what many perceive to be an unhealthy balance between participation and brain dead consumption… and what that flywheel further produces for consistent producers (creator burnout, etc.)
We are left with a very simple question.
Can we produce better ratios around the universal need of connection?
I don’t do edits really, so excuse typos and things that don’t make sense.
Thanks so much for giving me your attention. I hope it was worth it, if not… unsubscribing will not hurt my feelings, and will give you back time you literally cannot have back.
Live in the light