Archive for December, 2005

Dialing Under the Influence — DUI and I*69

Tuesday, December 20th, 2005

There were several interesting articles in the recent New York Times Magazine annual “Year in Ideas” edition (which was short on ideas, somewhat perturbingly) that focused on technologies and how they have been changing the warp and woof of our social fabric. This one, on DUI calling, just got me wondering why my cel phone provider doesnt have it. Not that I need to check my late-night dialing habits; but so that others can’t dial me up. I want the “UR-DUI” number. I dial it before I go to bed and then you can’t call me. Perhaps you try to call me but you get a special voicemail with a message that goes something like: “Listen up fucker, it’s way past your bedtime and waaay past my bedtime and there’s no chance in hell that whatever has you so inspired and enthusiastic is shared by the individual you’re now hoping to roust from deep slumber for a little Cain- raising and rabble rousing in the night. It ain’t going to happen!”

Until then, the tagline for cel phone companies, which still cannot block phone numbers, might as well be: “Reach out and bug the shit out of some one.” Funny. I want a voodoo phone so that I can stick it with pins and the caller on the other end is the one that hears the pin drop… Just kidding folks. DUI but only if IOU!

From the article:
Fortunately, Virgin Mobile Australia has a solution: a service called Dialing Under the Influence (D.U.I.). Before heading out for a night of debauchery, a Virgin Mobile customer simply dials 333, then the number of someone who shouldn’t be called midbender – a boss, a recent breakup, the cute boy who works two cubicles over. The number is then rendered unreachable on that handset until 6 a.m. the next morning, by which time the tongue-loosening effects of the evening’s alcohol will presumably have worn off.

Kerry Parkin, a Virgin Mobile Australia spokeswoman, admits that the D.U.I. service, which costs about 19 cents per blacklisted number, was initially hatched as a promotional gimmick. What began as a publicity stunt, however, has become a favorite among Virgin Mobile users. The D.U.I. service was used 10,000 times over the past year, including 250 times by one customer in a single month. (“We think that man might have a problem,” Parkin says.)

Transplant: Saving Face, Cheshire grins, and other pained expressions

Thursday, December 15th, 2005

In Silence of the Lambs, an FBI agent played by Jodie Foster hunts two serial killers in a chase that unfolds on a therapist’s couch as much as it does in backlot abductions. Each killer wants to transform himself (according to the explanation provided by Mr. Lechter), has the psychological need to change his identity. One does so by consuming others; and the other by dressing up in them. It’s gruesome but compelling, and the bond Hannibal forges with Jodie demonstrates that a relation of the flesh goes beyond a glass of Chiant and fava beans.

The fact that both of the women involved in recent face transplant case attempted suicide (one, successfully), is face contorting stuff… This is the first face transplant in history, and it’s already the limit case for such a thing. What more could we have to deal with? Face donations? Family faces? A woman–and it’s her choice, is my position (though no, I think medicine has gone too far here)–will be equipped to smile again with the Cheshire smile of a woman, who like herself, chose to die. Is this called saving face? Or is it “steal your face? (name of Grateful Dead’s logo)” How does the song go? “Steal your face right off of your head”

There’s a face transplant in the film Eyes without a Face. And one in Face Off. But this is weird. This goes beyond Extreme Makeover. She survived her own suicide, that is good, that is very good. How will she feel now? Will she be able to face herself?

From the New York Times:
Among the most disturbing aspects of the debate are conflicting reports from doctors about whether the transplant was the result of two suicide attempts, one failed, one successful.
Reports that the patient’s disfigurement resulted from an attempted suicide raise questions about her emotional stability and ability to consent to such a risky operation.
Reports that the donor committed suicide raise questions about the recipient’s psychological future because, if true and the transplant is successful, it will mean that for the rest of her life she will see in the mirror the nose, mouth and chin of a woman who herself met a brutal end.

Mimetic desire and social networks, and what binds us

Friday, December 9th, 2005

You may not have realized it, but navel gazing can be a social activity after all. You need only direct your gaze towards the navel of another. There’s pleasure in autonavelgazing and in othernavelgazing, but scale it up, add fashion brandnames, put it on the air and run a campaign, and wa la, you have fashionnavelgazing and tube tops to boot.

If you think I’m nuts you may still be right, but I’m not talking out of my a posteriori here. Listen to Rene Girard, philsopher and grand theorist (and proud to say, of my alma mater, Stanford) and soon-to-be inductee into the
Academie Francaise
, on the air with his theory of mimetic desire.

Our desire is not for an object, but for the desire that another has for that object. Two boys pursue the same girl as much out of their mimetic (imitating) desire as for their desire for the girl. That is not to be confused with their desire for each other — that’s not what it is. Mimetic desire involves a fundamentally social motivation, and seeing others do something is what inspires our mimetic acts.

Social networks seem to function in much the same way. We copy others, and that viral mechanism propagates and proliferates a choice, a preference, interest, or a desire. Media make for great carriers, and one might argue that our Friendsters, MySpaces, Tribes and so on are but internet-based versions of mass media in which people are content, and their communication is the medium’s information.

If that is the case then, there’s nothing that interesting about social networks but that they are very good at repeating the same choice, albeit a choice (for the same) made anew by a different person each time. I download U2 because you did too.

Listen to Rene. He’s fantastic, and I have to say I’m convinced when I hear him that mimesis can indeed explain social phenomena. But as a fan of sociology and of communication theories in particular, the troubling implication of mimetic desire is that it suggests that we are bound to one another by repetition. Where would that put difference? The theory implies that social phenomena actually tighten relations around a sameness, that difference has no communication power of its own. We can “communicate” only what others can already here, or worse, communication succeeds only when others desire the same.

Communication theories suggest that information is selected, that either agreement is reached between individuals based on understanding of linguistic statements, or that information is accepted or rejected (this doesnt involve agreement). But a communication theory in which the basis for interaction is information and reason, validity claims, truth conditions, and so on, tastes a bit too dry, doesn’t it? Where is desire in that? Where is the experience of being together, of longing or reaching out, that we know is real?

There would be consequences for theories of social networking were one to suggest it’s only mimetic desire at work, an endless chain of repetition and sameness but highly motivating. And consequences if it involves a communication of information grounded in speech, conversation, and interaction. Which matters more: showing members of a community what everyone’s up to? Or providing clear lines of communication (better discussions, chats, talk technologies)…

I love it that we can even bring Girard into this. The thinking cap’s going to have to come out now.

What do they say on KFOG? If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own? Or is it go out and do what he did?


See Rene Girard here.

Render unto me my sovereignty

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

From New York Times, Dec 5, 2005
Ms. Rice insisted she could not confirm the existence of secret prisons because that would involve discussion of classified activities. “One of the difficult issues in this new kind of conflict is what to do with captured individuals who we know or believe to be terrorists,” she said. Many are “essentially stateless, owing their allegiance to the extremist cause of transnational terrorism.”

Rendition of terrorists to interrogation centers, holding cells, Gitmo beach resorts, or wherever, confirms the current state of sovereignty as a nexus of political power and authority in which sovereignty is tied to territoriality, territory and nationhood being the containers and arbiters of rights through citizenship, but the nation state being in its right still permitted to suspend claims to citizenship if it sees fit. What’s interesting is that we even bother to move these people to other countries. Apparently the rights accruing to a citizen in this territory (the US) are non-transferrable. Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben wrote in his book Homo Sacer that “the camp is the space that is open when the state of exception begins to become the rule.” (p.168) Foucault, in his book Discipline and Punishment, described variations in this exercise of power and authority, from imprisonment to expulsion, containment and banishment… The nation state will always seek means by which to create an exclusion. Is it any surprise then that there are stateless terrorists out there determined to meet us where it makes sense — in an anyplace whatsoever (Gilles Deleuze)? The battle for freedom, its definition, articulation, and most importantly, the relationship between territory and freedom is playing out in the most undefined zones whatsoever (Pynchon)…

Personal note: I took classes from Condi and this has nothing to do with Condi… And by the way, she was a fantastic professor.