Saturday, November 3, 2012

Gelassenheit, Serendipity, and Multitasking.

A student of mine came across a Heideggerian term which I haven't thought about in along time.  He was reading an article that linked Heideggerian existentialism with theology.  I've read these things before, and the arguments of the authors usually hinge upon an attribution of purpose or telos on the Dasein which isn't necessarily justifiable. These interpretations of Heidegger are also contingent upon a general ignoring of anything and everything Heidegger has ever said about death.   But that's another post.  What struck me about this article was the appearence of the term "Gelassenheit," which the author of the article unforgiveably translated as "openness or attunement," which is -- I believe -- more than just a stretch of a translation.  Then again, the article was trying to shoehorn Heideggerian ontology into a theological perspective.  Just because Heidegger borrowed the term from Meister Ekhart, it's not a crack in his atheism.  But that's a rant for another post.

After double-checking from several sources -- including two German-speaking colleagues, I found that my own translation as "stillness" or "calm" was more accurate in that context.  The implications of the slanted translation definitely affected the arguments of the article.  But it did inspire me to think more of this term, and to track it down in Heidegger's writing -- and I've got Country Path Conversations (Davis translation) queued up on my Kindle.

But this use of Gelassenheit serendipidously worked with some things I've been wrestling with in terms of technology, distributed cognition, and a theory of posthuman determinism I've been thinking about.  I am finally getting to read Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, but from my own personal experience, I know that certain ways of using technology can mess with my concentration.  I realized last year as I started to write again that multitasking had really screwed up my ability to write.  I had to painstakingly extricate myself from multitasking and re-evaluate the way I used technology.  It took more will power than I care to mention.  But I did it.  And now I find myself much more aware of how I use my own technology than I was before -- specifically, my behaviors:  How and why do I multitask?  Was there ever a moment when multitasking was useful, or even necessary?

But as I thought more of multitasking, it became clear that we multitask even when we don't think we're multitasking:  music on in the background?  Guilty.  Screensaver on while doing something else?  Guilty.  Texting or surfing on a smartphone while the TV is on?  Guilty.  Once again, serendipity came in to play as I started reviewing McLuhan for my Communication & Theatre class AND found McLuhan cited in a source I was using for the book chapter I'm working on.  McLuhan's theory of hot and cold media, and autoamputation are still useful and valid.  But I think they have a wider application than what we often attribute to him.

But from what I've read so far of The Shallows, I think that there will be a very interesting crossover between his work in how the brain re-wires itself in light of technological media, and my own ideas of the role of topological spaces and distributed cognition.  I also think that there just might be some hope regarding more effective ways to use technological artifacts and applications with Carr believes re-wires our minds in counter-productive ways.  This idea of Gelassenheit may be a part of it, but there's a distinct possibility that Heidegger's "stillness" may itself be a red herring.

Regardless, part of this requires some experiments on my part -- some of which I'm already engaged in.  But I haven't been engaged in them long enough for them to become habit.  But I will say that the few things I'm doing differently have increased my concentration a great deal.

More soon.