EssaysMedia/Publics

Jonathan Schell Remembered

Letters from The New School for Social Research

Here are two remembrances of a distinguished colleague, Jonathan Schell, who died last Tuesday. Miller wrote his as a letter to the members of the Committee on Liberal Studies, where Schell once taught. Matynia’s is a remembrance of Schell’s public engagements as a writer and public actor, often contributing to the work of the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies.

Dear colleagues,

I learned today of the death of Jonathan Schell, a friend and former colleague.

It is not widely known, but Jonathan was instrumental in the transformation of liberal studies at the NSSR in the 1990s.

Over lunch one day in 1994, Jonathan expressed his interest in teaching — and also expressed his frustration that most veteran journalists are able only to teach in journalism schools. …

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EssaysMedia/Publics

Technology R’ Us

Sherry Turkle and our relationship to the digital

“Where are the sensitive machines … ?” So goes part of a tweet reproduced on the flyleaf to Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together. The lament is not new. Over 30 years ago the designer and design theorist John Chris Jones pointed to the low sensitivity of technical systems to humans and contrasted this with extreme adaptations that technical systems demanded of their human subjects. Adorno, in 1942, had already thought something of the same. Rejecting the common idea that technology is somehow “outside” of us, he insisted on the contrary that “the new human type” as he put it, “cannot be understood without awareness of what he is continually exposed to from the world of things about him, even in his most secret innervations.” And he added for good measure: “Technology is making gestures precise and brutal and with them men.” …

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EssaysMedia/PublicsTheory & Practice

On Media Monstration and the Politics of Small Things

An ongoing discussion with Jeffrey Goldfarb

This post is the first of two making a series of points: Here I answer Jeff Goldfarb’s points in the post he devoted to our common classes. In the second, I will stress a couple of issues that have to do with my central concern: the role of media as “showing.”

On media power and resistance:

Goldfarb writes, “Dayan thinks the media set the agenda more thoroughly than I think actually happens. I see not only the possibility, but also the reality of resistance, even when it doesn’t prevail… The power of big media is great, but it is something else completely if it faces persistent resistance.”

In answer to these two points, let me answer that I am less interested in quantifying power than qualifying power.

In my view, the power of the media lies not only in the consequences of what they show, but in the very fact of showing it. …

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EssaysMedia/Publics

When the Pope “Drops the F-Bomb”

Meditations on media, society, and the philosophy of language

On March 3, 2014, a stream of troubling, breaking news about Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine was interrupted by another event, this time originating in the Vatican, which similarly reached prominence in journalistic organs. This event, however, was not a child abuse scandal, papal resignation, or other such event that typically brings the ancient Church into the headlines. It was, instead, no more than the fact that the Pope — the most visible scion of holiness in the West — swore.

Immediately, this must be qualified. As Bill Chappell of NPR clarifies, Pope Francis, whose native language is not Italian, made a pronunciation error in his address that led him to verbalize “caso” (“case,” “example”) as “cazzo,” a colloquial equivalent to the English “F-word.” And yet the gaffe was reported in such a manner that made it seem as if the Pope intentionally introduced vulgarity into his speech. …

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EssaysMedia/Publics

The Interruptive Society

A seismic shift in social behavior has occurred over the last decade that to the best of my knowledge was not forecasted by futurists.

While in the early 80s we wrote and read about telecommuting, the evolution of Arpanet, the workings and impact of smaller, less expensive, more mobile computers, the progeny of CB radio, the future of what was then known as videotex and teletext, and the commercial beginnings of satellite communication, no one forecast a radical change in Western social behavior.  The change has been dramatic.

We have become the Interruptive Society – interrupting and interrupted.

Elevators have become phone booths.  The preface to almost any public event, sacred or profane, is an announcement to shut down the beepers, pagers, and cell phones. …

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EssaysMedia/PublicsReligion

The Once and Future Pope

How an imaginary 3rd Vatican Council report sparked public debate

Tears were welling up in my eyes as I finished reading the story. One of my old friends said he almost fell out of his breakfast nook from shock. Posts about the story have 10k+ shares on Facebook. People everywhere are either “liking” it or condemning it as an affront to their faith. So what generated this public outpouring? I’m referring to an article about the 3rd Vatican Council, which has Pope Francis really stirring things up with an earth-shattering pronouncement. Here’s an excerpt:

“The Third Vatican Council concluded today with Pope Francis announcing that Catholicism is now a ‘modern and reasonable religion, which has undergone evolutionary changes. The time has come to abandon all intolerance. We must recognize that religious truth evolves and changes. Truth is not absolute or set in stone.’… In a speech that shocked many, the Pope claimed ‘All religions are true, because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them. What other kind of truth is there? In the past, the church has been harsh on those it deemed morally wrong or sinful.” …

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CapitalismEssaysMedia/Publics

Jonathan Crary’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep

When I was a kid in the 1960s one of the big questions I remember being tossed about was what to do with all of the free time that modern society would afford us. That there would be a virtually unlimited horizon of material abundance and thus leisure, and how best to use it, was a topic of talk in the media and at dinner. Year after year, union contracts (back when there were such things) negotiated increasingly generous benefits, including substantial time off from work. John Kenneth Galbraith’s 1958 classic The Affluent Society set the terms of the conversation early on by challenging Americans to muster the country’s broadly experienced largesse, made possible by the productive capacity of modern mass manufacturing, to serve the larger social good. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was subsequently founded on the notion that widespread wealth, and along with it leisure, were faits accompli…

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