Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Shore and techno-totemism

This is an extremely interesting and well-written treatise on psychic unity vs psychic diversity. Shore marshals so many diverse sources into a compelling and clear argument. One of the core tensions of the book - the processing of information and the creation of meaning is extremely compelling; however, I want to flag one particular aspect of his argument that does not seem to make sense. The technology chapter focuses primarily on the development of technologies that process information. Shore argues that the worlds generated by what he calls "techno-totemism" results in "the loss of integrating contexts for experience" (159). He also describes word-processing as transforming our experience of language to the degree that "it is the loss of the poiesis of creation, a loss upon which this new technology of the word is founded" (144).

Granted, the chapter is way out of date with regard to technology, but what he is arguing seems to go against the grain of the rest of the book. If meaning is created analogically by processing information in the context of elements such as environment and memory, then surely technology and the representations of the world that it produces function in a similar way? Simply, rather than a purely information-crunching apparatus that creates a false simulacra of the world, doesn't technology blend into our meaning-making processes in a more organic fashion?

Shore's rather contradictory view of technology stands out among the other more convincingly argued ethnographic chapters. Maybe he just did not really have a good handle on the topic at the time of writing. In any case, it brings up an issue that I think is pertinent to the class: How do we figure technology into cultural modeling and schemas? If anyone has ideas about this, I would love to hear them!


Blogger jmj said...

Sean: I thought Shore's chapters on technology were a bit too reactionary as well. He makes some good points about how digital technology has led to modularity in other parts of our lives, but I'm not sure that that is as frightening a thing as he indicates.

6:04 PM  
Blogger asw said...

You had such an interesting observation to the technology chapter - you made me go back to the book and realize how negative and anxious he was of technology in this chapter.

His opinion of technology in this chapter is really dated -- I was surprised of the all the examples he could of selected for techno-totemism he selected the Michael Jackson video.

I do agree with you Sean that technology does have an organic contribution to our cultural meaning and I believe this is constantly changing based on how we use the technology on a daily basis to construct, produce and communicate.

Just as we have discussed in previous classes, our meanings can be seen going through an ecological process and how the technology extends and adjusts these meanings whether its through the click of a mouse or a punch of a key on the cell phone.

11:47 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

Sean, nice observation and question. Recently my Dad made a degrading generalization about how computers handicap our thinking. I didn't laugh because I wanted to argue but didn't because I recognize that his and my schema of technology are soooo different. He has very limited knowledge and exposure to it, so for him it is the end of him. I can see it's usefulness and huge impact in changing everything....including how we learn (i.e. what we are doing right now!) In sum I guess I just wanted to say that tech is "pushing" some schemas, while at the same time making other people hold on to their schemas "pulling"'s the centrifugal/centrepital thing.

As for cultural modelling, I wish Shore would have explored the time/space/culture connection more. I see technology, for example as transceding our traditional views about space (through instant access to the world through WWW), while at the same time preserving "time is money" by promoting that everything should be instant and faster! Just some food for thought.

1:20 PM  
Blogger gfp said...

I also wonder how much of anthropology is a "throw-back" to the past: Shore provides wonderful examples of aboriginal cultures and the "agelessness" of baseball, examples of holding on to the old. Are anthropologists known for looking with excitement to the future? I think technology is a social product with inherent cultural models, but it seems that the connections between generational schemas aren't as clear-cut....

1:28 PM  
Blogger IB said...

In line with what Alison said (great comment!) and with what I have written last week in one of my comments, I also think that technology has changed and will keep on changing our models of time, space and culture. I think that technology impacts our cultural models in two ways. First, they are transformed faster. Think of instant messaging, on-time news reports, the vast amount of information available on the internet, online communities and so on. I experience this very strongly with me being away from “home” for the second time in my life. All these technological gimmicks did either not exist the last time I lived in the United States or they were not widely used. I have so many more chances of directly comparing my experiences here with “back home” and this does change my experiences and interpretations. But I think these technologies do not only influence my models but also shared cultural models (although I am getting too drowsy now to elaborate… I’m sorry!). Second (as I wrote last week), “I assume that cultural meanings become broader and more flexible because we can communicate with our friends and colleagues all over the world and we can get information on what is going on in all parts of the world in a matter of seconds. Thus it seems to me, that today’s individuals are more prompted to compare and adjust their schemas due to this high turnover of information and the very direct world wide communication.”

2:24 PM  

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