The Interior Exterior of Writing
In brief, stating that humans, human thinking, and human culture are wed to the types of machines humans use introduces Stiegler’s theory of epiphylogenesis: humans and their machines have no origins but appear simultaneously (Vaccari and Barnet). The “techno-genetic ‘memory’” exists within humans and outside humans because human agency cannot be easily separated from technological life (Vaccari and Barnet). In the “origin of order” technics must be thought of and created by humans first (Vaccari and Barnet, emphasis added). This synthetic human invention creates technical essence that remains stable throughout the evolution of a technical lineage despite changes in form and function (Vaccari and Barnet). The essence (what I call a form of interiority) of these tools (technics) is the externalization of technical systems, as one mantra states, to free humans.
Freedom from what is evolutionary, but one oft repeated idea is freedom from having to remember large amounts of information. The cell phone, electronic and synchronized calendars, and multiple and synchronized email accounts across systems (work and personal; Windows, Android, and IOS) free us from remembering dates, phone numbers, and important ideas while allowing repeated access to data through Internet connection. How many times must I read Wikipedia’s article about the Sophists before that information sticks in my brain? Why do I even need the information to remain in my memory if I can repeatedly access that information?
But humans have always had some form of technology; it’s just that, as Stiegler states, we have become more aware of it as the time between major shifts in technology has decreased exponentially since the invention of the steam engine. Nietzsche states that “Our writing tools are also working on our thoughts” (Kittler 200) when describing the new writing life he gained from the typewriter that allowed him to write despite being blind (202-3). In 1985 Walter Ong echoed Nietzsche when he lectured on handwriting as a tool that has shaped our human mind. Beginning in 2010 Ally Condie’s fictional Matched series partially explored how not knowing how to handwrite (a technology) but knowing only how to type (another technology) lead to all communication being monitored and controlled by the government through a type of Internet, thus preventing rebellion.
Plato in Phaedrus has the character Socrates say that writing is establishing outside the mind what is only in the mind (Ong 27). With writing, we move from interiority to exteriority, allowing the technology we choose determine how we think. Studies of students who handwrite notes versus students who type their notes demonstrate that students who handwrite are better able to think critically because they must quickly decide what is important, how to write it, and how to analyze it (Meyer). Heidegger would agree. Students who type their notes do not need to think about what they are typing but only need to transcribe what they hear and so lose an opportunity for higher level thinking practice. Language is an interiority until broadcast (McCarthy) verbally, becomes an exteriority when handwritten or typed but becomes an interiority again if the notetaker must make decisions about what to write.
Thus, in a brief look at the complex relationships between humans and their technics, we see that humans, human thinking, and human culture influence the types of tools we use (handwriting versus typing) and are simultaneously influenced by those same machines. We both exert our interiority onto our tools while our tools, through their exteriority to us, change our interiority.
Gibson, William. “Johnny Mnemonic.” The Cyberpunk Project. 2 Oct. 2002. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. <http://project.cyberpunk.ru/lib/johnny_mnemonic/>.
Kittler, Fredrick. Selection from Gramaphone, Film, Typewriter. n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. 198-205. Provided by professor.
McCarthy, Tom. Transmission and the Individual Remix: How Literature Works. Vintage Books: New York, 2012. Kindle.
Meyer, Robinson. “To Remember a Lecture Better, Take Notes by Hand.” The Atlantic. 1 May 2014. Web. 30 Mar. 2016. <http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/05/to-remember-a-lecture-better-take-notes-by-hand/361478/>.
Ong, Walter. “Writing Is a Technology That Restructures Thought.” The Written Word: Literacy in Transition (Wolfson College Lectures 1985). Ed. Gerd Baumann. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1986. Web. 30 Mar. 2016. <https://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/centers/boisi/pdf/f08/ong_article.pdf>.
Steigler, Bernard. “Man and Technics: Bernard Stiegler (1).” YouTube.com. 16 Feb. 2011. Web. 28 Mar. 2016 <https://youtu.be/ymtnUDAOEWc>.
Vaccari, Andrés, and Belinda Barnet. “Prolegomena to a Future Robot History: Stiegler, Epiphylogenesis and Technical Evolution.” Transformations 17 (2009): n.p. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. <http://transformationsjournal.org/issues/17/article_09.shtml>.