It has been my experience for quite a while now that people, particularly young people, often don’t look at me or others they are interacting with. This happens in stores and at gas stations, for instance. There is something creepy and uncanny about it. It doesn’t feel like they’re being intentionally rude, but rather that they are afraid to look at people. I am worried by them and for them.

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Your post reminded me of the Existentialist concept of 'being-for-others'. An individual alone might experience themselves as free and independent and choosing their own path freely, as the centre of their own world - its central subject. But as soon as another person appears, that other person's gaze has a profound effect on the individual. Rather than being the subject and central figure in their own world, they have the sense of being an object in the other person's world, subject to that person's opinions and judgement. They are decentralised and experience a feeling of helplessness. Their freedom has disappeared as they contend with being an unfree object in the other's world view. This is the experience of being-for-others.

I suppose that one-to-one engagement you refer to could be considered a sort of 'lo-fi' being-for-others. Maybe we are being judged, but the other person probably knows a bit about us, our upbringing, the town we're from, our family, our education, our cultural background, etc. We are not judged in a vacuum. There is space for love and understanding.

Whereas, in the digital age, where we are presenting (or exposing) ourselves to a massive online world of others, whose digital gaze rests on us for a moment, this is being-for-others on steroids. I wonder what that means for us and our sense of self and the way we engage or connect with others.

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Hilde Domin's poem, Es gibt dich (You Are Here), came to mind while reading.

From: https://megtaylor.co.uk/hildedomin/translations-3.html

You are here

Your place is

where eyes look at you.

Where eyes meet

you come into being.

Held by one call

always the same voice,

it is as if there is just one cry

used by everyone.

You could fall,

but you don't fall.

Eyes catch you.

You are here

because eyes want you,

to look at you and say to you

that you are here.

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That's wonderful, thank you.

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Jun 11, 2023Liked by L. M. Sacasas

This is brilliant and dovetails beautifully with my recent research on Conscience as "working together." I used Owen Barfield's work on ST Coleridge.

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I can't recall if I shared this with you when it came up a few years ago, and I got really interested in that 1996 (Radio Pacifica) conversation between Illich, Jerry Brown, and Carl Mitcham, which happened because they both flew in to meet Illich after he had come to California to give a talk on the gaze. There are two different transcripts (and somewhere a recording) of that conversation that are not perfect and do not explain the physical and technical context, which Illich repeatedly refers to. Here is what Carl wrote to me about it from his memory of the event:

"After meeting Jerry, he rented a car, we stopped at some place along the highway for tacos, then either picked up Ivan from his hotel and went to the Pacifica studio or Ivan took a taxi and met us there, don’t remember. But the three of us were in a small sound studio. Since we were seated in a triangle, when any two of us looked directly at each other when talking, the third necessarily lost direct contact with the eyes of the others. I think what Ivan must mean is that in this situation the third person is looking at the other two as it were from outside, as if they were on a screen in front of him. Ivan used the notion of the screen as a metaphor for detachment or distancing. Riding in a car he would describe the windshield as a screen on which the roadway or countryside appears. He did this before the computer screen created an even more potent version of the screened world. In another sense, I seem to remember Ivan occasionally describing the written word and the page as a screen that would distance us from the word as voice. The differences between doors and windows, doors having thresholds across which we could invite people to enter and become friends, rather than being observed through the framed screen of the window, as another often invoked comparison."

So yes it is a very broad idea, any "screen" between the direct face-to-face. Losing that is an abiding feature of modernity that's just getting more widespread and intense in some places now. All types of screens can be used in ways that deeply connect people. Asynchronously, at the remove literate correspondence has always involved — this note to you here, or one posted in the mail. Synchronous screens and VR worlds that open and extend physical space with a simulated virtually physical one will certainly be conducive to vulnerability and intimacy but with the real physical absence of telecommunications. I don't see that there is any new or greater hazard involved in this; the real problem is still what Illich said: the quality of people's friendships, their lack of communities, and our lost capacity for these things.

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Jonathan Haidt described this phenomenon as "phubbing" (phone snubbing) in his most recent newsletter making the case for phone-free schools. https://open.substack.com/pub/jonathanhaidt/p/phone-free-schools?utm_source=share&utm_medium=android&r=7p767

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