I listened to this over the weekend again after initially reading it, and sometimes that helps me realize how far I am from reading and listening as fully as I can when I realize there is still stuff I missed and somehow did not hear or pick up. The "situational integrity" concept you brought out more in the "structurally induced acedia" piece to follow this one is good and useful. It struck me how much Arendt seems to assume or maybe already to yearn for a "common" world grounded in nature and functioning cities not under the apocalyptic threat of climate change, but perhaps for her nuclear war and the turmoil of the 60s-70s filled a similar role. Her first husband and Jonas were very concerned with "the end" in different ways, and while I have not thought of her in that light, of course she is very concerned with the loss of the human, the end of humanity, even if the species survives, because she has a spiritual idea of what it means to be human, which really is unusual in academe and kind of a marker for a special group of thinkers. I haven't thought of her in relation to Illich, but there really is a lot they must have in common.

Expand full comment

Do you have specific ideas about the shape of these convivial tools, Michael? If so, I'd like to hear more about that. I've had a lot of thoughts over the years about how to design for such things, but in practice I find it works better to "break" and "misuse" off the shelf tools and widely used platforms to bend them toward saner and pro-social use.

Aside from their surveillance and advertising aspects, I don't know if there is anything particularly anti-convivial about our digital tools; it is how people choose to use them or feel compelled to use them, the contexts in which they're used, and the extent of their daily use. Shutting off your executive rational mind and flowing along on emotion is a bad way to drive or use the internet.

Some platforms develop bad cultures and may come to encourage pathological behaviour actively or passively, but this shows us it's a decision people make, not some kind of mind control. Why so many people choose poorly may have to do with the depreciated value of the internet as a public commons. It was reduced to a mass spectacle because people behave as a mob online, and they behaved as a mob all the more as it reduced to a mass spectacle. Now all American politics and public discourse has been sucked in.

Digital networked media aren't disconnected from the public and one's local relations — these are all merging together. So if you want to set the digital and local off against each other, are you going to take your family and neighbours out of your follows and contact list? Or do you mean you are going to set aside time, attention, and energy for people in your physical proximity that is offline, unplugged, and not digitally mediated? The worst social media I've ever seen is a very online rural county of 40k people in enmeshed families of a traditionalistic and reactionary bent — their local digital use is much to the detriment of local conviviality. I have always hoped the opposite would happen and microlocal communications would support conviviality.

In the 90s and 00s people used to go online and act badly the way they have all along as drivers or in the Milgram or Stanford prison experiments. (Call this "classical" internet and public sociopathy; we've probably all experienced both sides of it.) Anonymity or the lack of face-to-face encounters removes constraints on anger and fear while provoking both in stressful ways — status competition, winners and losers. Mainstream journalism and politics succumbed to this, then social media, and it all becomes chronic, in your hand and eye 24/7. But people choose to watch and participate. Still, it is possible to be careful and limit what you see and do on even Twitter and Facebook so they are pretty healthy and positive. The endless scrolling interface pattern and the notifications (if you take them) are the one intrinsically bad part, along with the ads and spying.

There is little to no initiation to a culture or community when you join Twitter (or anything else); the local is mixed with everything else, and while there are subcultures with etiquettes there and in other social media or forums, they tend to become uniform and degrade in the same ways because people allow it. Maybe the worst people are legion and have time on their hands to express their addiction and illness through abuse. Some old listserv and forum cultures focused on a particular craft do manage to sustain communities. Having a common practice, something that happens offline but focuses all participants (a common craft, which may be writing/reading) — this may be what makes it possible to tame the digital networked realm. Building and tending to relationships, not being wide open to anyone without vetting and initiation...

Expand full comment