Tag Archives: Alan Jacobs

Introducing the Spring Issue: The Human and the Digital

Person using laptop, overhead view. (Digital Composite)

Are we marching to Estonia?

It might seem so. According to Nathan Heller in the New Yorker, the small Baltic republic is well on its way to transforming itself “from a state to a digital society.” Under the aegis of e-Estonia, as the nation’s government-led project is called, virtually every service the state deals with, from education to health care to transportation, is being “digitally linked across one platform, wiring the nation.” Savings and efficiencies amounting to two percent of the country’s GDP have already been realized, and cutting-edge innovations, from driverless cars to an elaborately de-centralized system of personal data, are changing the way 1.3 million Estonians (and some 28,000 registered e-residents) conduct business and lead their lives.

Whether you see it as utopia or dystopia, Estonia’s digitopia is where modern societies appear to be heading. Yet as the contributors to this issue ask, how well prepared are we humans for life under the ever-ramifying digital dispensation? Do we even begin to consider what we might be risking when we opt for, or succumb to, the ease, efficiency, and beguilements of online life?

The thread running through the essays in The Human and the Digital, our latest issue, it is that we yet poorly grasp the many perverse effects of the kind of dominion promised by our embrace of the new digital dispensation. To some degree, we are what we make. But when what we make makes us in ways that we fail to understand, the human at the core of culture grows dangerously fragile.

We will be releasing a select number of essays and reviews from this issue on a rolling basis during the coming weeks, starting with the following two:

The full issue, already on its way to subscribers, includes thematic contributions from Christine Rosen, Alan Jacobs, and Leif Weatherby, along with standalone works by Charlie TysonJonathan D. TeubnerS.D. Chrostowska, and Greg Jackson. Browse the table of contents here, and subscribe—if you haven’t yet—here.

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The Hedgehog’s Array: March 10, 2016

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Fair Usage,” Elisa Gabbert
“Descriptivism can quickly succumb to its own kind of smugness; it forms its own set of shibboleths and rules.”

“A bookseller’s guide to book thieves,” Emily Rhodes
“Stealing books is not, I think, wholly bad.”

“Everybody Freeze!,” Corey Pein 
“Thanks to all this high-profile backing, a true transhuman miracle has occurred: Alcor, a preposterous operation built on the unethical sale of false hope, remains in business.”

“A Century of Fakers,” Sasha Chapin
“It’s hard to know what to do with the fact that you can buy shoes studded with over four hundred diamonds in a world where hundreds of thousands of people are dying of diarrhea.”

“‘The less I can see, of the world, the more I can focus,” Susie Steiner
“Someone once told me, at great length, how losing his sight would be the absolute worst thing he could imagine. He’s dead now. There really are worse things.”

Hedgehogs abroad:

“Between the Hipsters and the Hasids,” Matthew Schmitz
“Starry-eyed longing for a binding community can become yet another way of surrendering to this world. Rather than living and working where we are, we dream of where else we might be.”

“The Counter-Desecration Phrasebook,” Alan Jacobs
“It is language, McFarlane reminds us—as we are constantly reminded by the writers who attend to place—that builds the vital bridge between the mountains out there and the mountains of the mind.”

“What’s Pro-Life About an AR-15?,” James Mumford
“Just because you’re free to do something doesn’t mean you should do it.”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: August 14, 2015

hedgehog array logo_FLAT_72dpi[3]Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Michael Dirda on Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books,” Bill Tipper and Michael Dirda
“In my younger days, when I was just trying to read as much as possible, I believed that the text alone mattered. But as soon as you start to collect seriously, to create a library that reflects who you are or that explores some interesting subject, you begin to see books as physical artifacts, as appealing objets d’art in their own right.”

“Mothers of ISIS,” Julia Ioffe
“These women are just four of thousands who have lost a child to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Since the Syrian civil war began four years ago, some 20,000 foreign nationals have made their way to Syria and Iraq to fight for various radical Islamist factions. Over 3,000 are from Western countries. While some go with their families’ blessing, most leave in secret, taking all sense of normalcy with them. After they’ve gone, their parents are left with a form of grief that is surreal in its specificity.”

“Pulp Inequality,” Benjamin J. Dueholm
“Kimmy Schmidt, on the other hand, is part of what has come to be known as the precariat. These Americans work in part-time, short-term, or piecemeal jobs that offer little prospect for security or stability, much less advancement.”

“What Does ‘Self-Care’ Really Mean?,” Jennifer Pan
“In its ideal forms, self-care enacts a labor slowdown and asserts the right to be lazy, the right to stop working. Yet, as demonstrated by my former co-worker, who ran herself in circles in her quest to de-stress, self-care can go awry when it ends up seeming like work in and of itself, something that we’re obligated to do to improve ourselves.”

“Family Bones,” Ryan Schnurr
“I don’t carry on any traditions. I know little of my heritage. But my family bones fill these holes in the ground in Oxford, Indiana.”

“My Summer with Proust,” Marion Coutts
“I don’t keep diaries, so I don’t know the year, but some time in the late 1980s I was spending the summer in a borrowed flat in Edinburgh. I had finished an art degree, my friends had left the city and all the usual distractions had gone. I didn’t have much money and my social life was minimal. I ate samosas from the corner shop and walked everywhere. It was a self-willed isolation.”

Hedgehogs abroad:

“Bloodbath & Beyond,” Alan Jacobs
“But the outlaw gangs are, implicitly, making another claim as well: that the state’s sovereignty doesn’t extend to all of its citizens in all circumstances. When, in the months before the Waco shoot-out, tensions were building between the Bandidos and the Cossacks, some of the gang leaders sent a clear and simple message to police: Stay out of this; let us sort it out.”

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The Body In Question: The Summer Issue Appears

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The Dancer (1913), Egon Schiele; Leopold Museum, Vienna; HIP/Art Resource, NY.

Our bodies, ourselves? In one sense, of course. But the things we now do to our bodies, whether through tattooing, piercing, or sculpting, and the ways we attempt to perfect or transcend them, whether through extreme fitness regimes, self-tracking, or artificial enhancements, suggest new, if not fully articulated, conceptions of the human person and the ends and purposes of human existence.

These conceptions have a history, of course. They derive in part from a centuries-old confidence in the power of science to fix, extend, and possibly even “immortalize” our physical selves. They resonate with the American dream of self-remaking and the New Adam. And they recast the Protestant concern with the born-again experience in secular and material terms. But these ideas have been transformed and popularized through association with assorted projects reflecting our highly individualistic and commodified culture, from identity politics and transhumanism to the Quantified Self movement to assorted cults of body modification.

Despite the various attentions we now lavish on the body, the body itself may be losing its true magisterium. No longer a source of wisdom about human limits and potential, it is now seen as a means of self-transformation, an instrument in the pursuit of perfection—or an equally elusive immortality.

These questions are all explored in the newest issue of The Hedgehog Review, “The Body in Question.” As always, we’ve put some essays and book reviews up in full for you to sample:

For subscribers, we have Christine Rosen on tattoos and transgression, Gordon Marino on boxing, Chad Wellmon on the multiversity, Ronald Osborn on the Christian origins of human rights, Johann Neem on the Common Core, and more! If you aren’t a subscriber, it’s an easy problem to fix: click here and subscribe today.

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The Hedgehog’s Array: June 19, 2015

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“A Living Landmark,” Jamelle Bouie
“The attack on Emanuel AME sits in a long history of violence against black churches.”

“The Internet Accused Alice Goffman of Faking Details In Her Study of a Black Neighborhood. I Went to Philadelphia to Check,” Jesse Singal
“Alice Goffman conducted some amazing ethnographic research, and her book is almost entirely true, not to mention quite important. Alice Goffman is going to have a really hard time defending herself from her fiercest critics.”

“First Thoughts on Laudato Si’,” Alan Jacobs
“For Maritain, any true humanism must incorporate the ‘vertical dimension’ of our relationship with God; Francis is clearly saying, with a similar logic, that any valid (any whole and healthy) ecology or model of ‘creation care’ must incorporate our relationships with one another and with God. Thus one cannot think of what’s good for the environment without also thinking of what’s good for human culture.”

“Our Failed Food Movement,” James McWilliams
“In so far as the Food Movement’s goal has been to reduce the impact of factory farming, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the reform effort—at least in the way it articulates and pursues its mission—isn’t working.”

“Kid Chocolate,” Brin-Jonathan Butler
“Trejo is one of the oldest boxing gyms in Cuba; it’s outdoor, and every great champion the country has produced has passed through and was forged in the open air. Different sets of the same mildly sinister women who look like the Macbeth witches guard the entrance from tourists and procure a toll for entry, snapshots, or stories.”

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An Interview With Alan Jacobs

Poster for The Karate Kid (1984). Image from Snack to the Future.

Poster for The Karate Kid (1984). Image from Snack to the Future.

Over at The Infernal Machine, Chad Wellmon has been hosting a discussion of Dr. Alan Jacobs’s “79 Theses on Technology.” Jacobs also held a seminar here at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture to discuss his theses. We sent him some questions about his project, and he graciously took the time to answer them.

The Hedgehog Review: You’ve written seventy-nine aphorisms, or “theses for disputation,” on the Internet and technology more generally. Why this form? What does it open up about this particular topic?

Alan Jacobs: The form of the presentation—theses for disputation, as opposed to, say, an academic article—arises from a combination of humility and laziness. Humility because the disciplines relevant to the human experience of digital technology—psychology, sociology, theological anthropology, computer science, interaction design, neuroscience, behavioral economics, etc.—are so wildly varied that no one can possibly master (or even have an adequate familiarity with) them all, so that it makes sense to present one’s ideas as open to dispute or refutation. Laziness because I don’t have the time or energy to support all these ridiculous claims, and therefore will escape accountability by saying “I’m just interested in what you people think.”

THR: Thesis 1: “Everything begins with attention.” Every time I read this I go “hmmm…everything?” so I will ask: Everything?

AJ: Well…yes. If we’re thinking technology and personhood, and especially technologies of knowledge, in a context in which few if any technologies are definitively mandated—most of us could get jobs that did not involve the use of a computer if we really, really wanted to—then the best place to begin, I think, is by asking where my attention is going and why it’s going there.

THR: Thesis 26: “Digital textuality offers us the chance to restore commentary to its pre-modern place as the central scholarly genre.” A platform like Medium seems to be attempting to do just this, though on a popular level rather than a scholarly one. Is this representative of the direction you are hoping online publishing will go?

AJ: No. On Medium, commentary is definitely secondary. You don’t see the comments unless you specifically choose to click on them, and even then only the comments that are explicitly approved by the author. Medium is an extremely author-centered technology. (I understand why the designers took that direction, especially given that toxic wasteland that almost all comment threads have become. But still.) Continue reading

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The Hedgehog’s Array: March 6, 2015

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Surveillance and Care,” Alan Jacobs
“By enforcing surveillance as the normative form of care, the state effectively erases the significance of all other forms of care.”

“The Bomb in the Bag,” Jack El-Hai
“What nobody yet understood—except for the unfortunate occupants of the financier’s wrecked office—was that a crazed man had just targeted Sage for attack. Even though Sage survived it, the assault had an effect that the assailant never intended: a remarkable redistribution of the vast riches of one of the most notorious robber barons of the Gilded Age. It was also America’s first suicide bombing.”

“The Word-Hoard,” Robert Macfarlane
“I have long been fascinated by the relations of language and landscape – by the power of strong style and single words to shape our senses of place.”

“It’s Not Just the Drug War,” Marie Gottschalk
“The overwhelming majority of people in prison are not there because of a drug offense. And even many of the people who are serving time primarily for a drug charge have other kinds of offenses on their records. We have created the mistaken idea that prisons are chock-full of people serving time for petty drug possession.”

“How Music Hijacks Our Perception of Time,” Jonathan Berger
“One evening, some 40 years ago, I got lost in time. I was at a performance of Schubert’s String Quintet in C major. During the second movement I had the unnerving feeling that time was literally grinding to a halt.”

And if you still want more to read, our spring issue is available in print and online.

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