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writing for godot


Written by Joseph Natoli   
Friday, 02 December 2016 00:16




Joseph Natoli


"In 2016, Twitter, like money, was speech."

Mark Krotov," #worstelectionever," n=1, Issue 26



So, in a New York Times Op-Ed piece titled "Facebook Shouldn't Fact-Check," this description of Facebook matter-of-factly slips in "[T]he dominant news aggregator of our time." (Nov. 29, 2016).


Post-election, we also know, thanks to the online voice of the IT community, that "the ability of a single tweet to shape political conversation and drive media coverage has never been greater." (CIO, Nov. 3, 2016) President-elect Trump is now in a running battle with The New York Times, i.e., tweets vs. Times' articles, or, a news outlier vs. professional journalists. The temper of the millennial times that brought the presidency of the U.S. to Donald Trump should tell us who would be the victor here.


If that frequently summoned Martian visitor to the U.S. were to tweet a Martian observation of all this, it might be: "Language slippage reveals crumbling of human cognitive faculties." #words. Counter tweets would be unleashed: "hashtag discourse elevates political judgment." "Facebook posts elevate social interaction."


Whether our Martian visitor is right or wrong or only partially both is a future matter but words matter now and they now tell us much. God, the devil or neutrinos may be in the details but words remain our most comprehensive means of expressing those details.

So, I begin with "so."


"So everyone is starting their sentences with the word "so" these days.

Christina Sterbenz, "So Here's Why Everyone Is Starting Sentences with the Word 'So'," Business Insider, May 12, 2014


"So, Facebook is not one thing,"

Mark Zuckerberg



So, let us say that much that was here, not only in the U.S but also globally, is now suddenly no longer here.


My "so" here is not a consequential "so" but something like an attention flapper the Laputians in Book III of Gulliver's Travels use to get the attention of their fellow Laputians who could not "attend to the discourses of others without being roused by some external taction."


Our millennial American "so" is our own bladder with little pebbles soliciting the attention of others who are hailing our attention with their own "so."


"So, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" is a "so" that implies the existence of something before but is a dismissed antecedent. The significant beginning that you must attend follows my "so." In the case of cosmogony and theogony, there's a need to pivot away from what comes before creation but in our personal, millennial use of "so" there's a fracture in the conversation, a fracture between your words and my words, your intent and opinions and mine, and, finally, between you and me, between self and other.


So, I am placing a great deal of import on our "gone viral" use of "so."


I am saying that, firstly, there is an ontological issue here. What seems inconsequential is indeed a revelation of deep foundational ways of being in the world. The 20th century philosopher Wittgenstein tells us "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." So, we can deduce that a world can exceed the dimensions of our language to the point that our language needs to be refreshed in a continuing effort to reach the world. Poets, Dadaists, Deconstructionists, James Joyce, and textese-ites, emoji-ites engage in this sort of enterprise.  If language is our personal link to reality, we are invested in maintaining that link, personally and societally.


At very least, much that comprised our framing of reality seems to be suddenly exposed as fabricated and now outworn and replaceable. Much of what is new does not present itself because of what has been.  The "New" seems to have made a quantum leap from what was. Just as history can suddenly be made, so too can language suddenly deteriorate.


You cannot, for instance, follow analog steps to the digital just as you cannot take knowledge of horse anatomy and hope to comprehend the internal combustion engine. When someone tries to apply the laws of classical physics to understand quantum physics, quantum physics remains opaque. There is no classical physics' discourse that takes you to a "so" that is a bridge to quantum physics.  There is no bridge from a buggy whip to an internal combustion engine or from a goose quill to a laptop or from a drum to a Smartphone.


Call it absolute incommensurability.


We continue to use "so" as a consequential conjunction as if what we will say was a development of what has been said. But if we observe the presence now of the usage of "so" we see that the truth lies elsewhere. "So" expresses a feeling that there is no interest or gain or sense in taking on what has been said, that there really cannot be a "so" bridge from what has been said to what the privileged "I" wants to say.


Let me "unpackage" this because it contradicts a view expressed in The Business Insider asserts that "so" as "an interjection at the beginning of questions contributes to human relationships . . . " communicating " that the speaker is interested in or concerned about the recipient."  I am heading for the view that the use of "so" is a harbinger of machine communicative relationships, visible in neonatal form on social media, as well as indicating the diminishment of our interests in those who do not share our personally constructed life-worlds.


You can therefore expect resistance to any change in that linkage. The French have the French Academy to preserve the linkages between word and world that they cherish. But you can also expect an antipathy, or, at very least, an impatience in those who have lost interest in what they see as antiquated and now meaningless. Their Academy is a floating world whose meaning and sense they bring to ground through personal choice.


When the "language to be" is dependent upon the "language that is" and yet that language does not serve a new, refreshed world's purpose, you can expect a frustration that rises to a mocking disregard of the expectations of the old "screening" of the world.


When you say "so" in response to the discourse of another and your discourse does not bother to take on anything said to you, "so" is at very least a dismissive "whatever" but it is not confrontation as is "whatever." Confrontation is a form of interaction, of dialogue, while a "so" that leads us to believe that something has been understood escapes dealing with an interlocutor in any manner. The interactional agenda here is neither dialogue nor dialogic because the goal is to sweep your interlocutor's words into the trash file.


What "so" dismisses is what the other person has said, the conversational direction the other has taken. It is a way to manage a conversation, to bring it back to you. "So" here does not advance a conversation but preserves a self-design of the world that has little or no interest in what the design of another might be.


This two letter word then becomes a sign of our increased lack of empathy for those who do not share our views. It is perniciously perched at the heart of our communicating with each other, its abrupt announcement of discontinuity fracturing a public discourse already heavily privatized in "social" media.


"So" is now also a denial of consequence itself because such depends upon a connectivity that our disjointed "world of click" no longer pursues.


Interestingly, we are not mystified by the inability to add up and summarize or extend a developing position further. This may be due to a disinclination to hear others when one is already in possession of Truth, or it may signify a failure of attentiveness to discourse longer than a tweet.


The repeated use of the word "so" at the beginning of responses -- TV, texts, tweets, and movies -- is like Shakespeare's use of "honest" in Othello. It implies an absence of the reality we attach to the word, as if there can be no "so" in a consequential sense. Our realities are each surfing different Smartphone apps and different screens in cyberspace. Our "so" is the ironic presence of a world where there is no connectedness, where there is no bridging "so." This faux consequential "so" both announces and mocks the absence of consequence, of anyone following anyone but themselves closely.


Our use of the word "so" now seems to indicate that we've given up trying to tie everything together but we still use the consequential "so" out of habit or mockery. Mockingly because only those living in a linear/analogue one screen world would be concerned with or care about connecting the dots -- or surfed screens -- so as to reach a "so" conclusion.


In the world of multiple personally designed realities your "so" conclusion has no bearing or influence on mine, unless I choose to allow it. There is no longer a common, public space with commonly respected gatekeepers within which we are all working with shared interests and recognition of shared facts by which we could reach a "so" conclusion in common. We see now a notable fragmentation of socially collective responses into personally designed blogs, social networks and cell phone communities.


There are many signs around us now indicating that we may never be "so" in a consequential sense again.  You can argue that other historical paradigm shifts have managed to regain the "so." For instance, Middle Age magic had an empirical side to it so it is not surprising to find Enlightenment science arising from it. Or, the worldly well being of capitalism agreed with the Calvinist notion of such well being as a sign of salvation so it is not surprising that Protestantism and Capitalism became bedfellows.


However, no historical paradigm switch has situated the determination of what is meaningful and what is consequential in a parallel cyber-universe subject to personal choice. This has led very quickly to a chaotic proliferation of privatized reality domains in which continuity is not valued and consequence in the sense of a summarizing "so" is irrelevant. Just as a retreat to virtualized "social" interaction seems like a degradation of what "social" means, tweeting and texting seem to be a degradation of writing itself, the sure signs of our writing "eclipse." The consequential "so" is now endlessly deferred to the next screen or app.


So, if our pleasure is no longer in following Sherlock's clues or Plato's dialogues or Proust's memories or Hardy's plot twists but rather in going on to something new without need of connection to what went before or having it all tied up at the end, how can boredom be defined? I mean with no interest in the consequential meaning of anything and an infinity of fragments both written and spoken, how does boredom or, for that matter, discontent set in?

So, why have we reached the point where anger, hate and clearly irresolvable "truths" spread throughout a multiply divided country? So, it seems we are each divided against each in our understanding of what quite definitely follows what. We all know what axiomatically follows our own "so." And a world in which this is so, is at once bored, indifferent, antagonized, wired and triggered, detonated by each other "so's."


Freud placed much hidden meaning in "slips of the tongue" and Derrida traced our unreliable grasp of the world to the unreliability of words themselves and Joyce twisted and punned toward a breakthrough epiphany and the young Rimbaud seized upon a total disorientation and misapplication of the senses to do the same. And Lewis Carroll invited us to the Mad Hatter's tea party. A notable legacy. Words may be unreliable, fraudulent, unfaithful and promiscuous but they are interesting signs. Ironically, our attention to such signs is diminishing as part of our new mocking "so" world is a paring of our words to a 140 characters and a preference for photos and videos as a means of communicating.


Before this 2016 presidential election, it was argued that reading cell phone texts and tweets, scanning Facebook and surfing the Web all generated a kind of sociability and political literacy that would serve and support an inclusive and egalitarian democracy. However, fake news on social media has overwhelmed traditional, journalistic reportage during this campaign while a cyber-moshpit of hate speech tells us that language and literacy are rapidly disintegrating. History can happen quickly but so can the demolition of language.


Undermining literacy, both reading and writing, in essence troubles the greatest achievement of human intellect, that is, the thoughtful linking of word and world in order to create a shared understanding out of which all human progress has ensued.


"So" is not the first casualty but its deep connections to the changes we are witnessing makes it a potent word indeed, a linguistic canary in a coal mine. your social media marketing partner
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