Loading...

Context Blindness

Digital Technology and the Next Stage of Human Evolution

by Eva Berger (Author)
©2022 Monographs XIV, 148 Pages
Series: Understanding Media Ecology, Volume 10

Summary

Are people with autism giving us a glimpse into our future human condition? Could we be driving our own evolution with our technology and, in fact, be witnessing the beginning of the next stage of human evolution? The thesis at the center of this book is that since we have delegated the ability to read context to contextual technologies such as social media, location, and sensors, we have become context blind. Since context blindness—or caetextia in Latin—is one of the most dominant symptoms of autistic behavior at the highest levels of the spectrum, people with autism may indeed be giving us a peek into our human condition soon. We could be witnessing the beginning of the next stage of human evolution—Homo caetextus. With increasingly frequent floods and fires and unbearably hot summers, the human footprint on our planet should be evident to all, but it is not because we are context blind. We can now see and feel global warming. We are witnessing evolution in real-time and birthing our successor species. Our great-grandchildren may be a species very distinct from us. This book is a must for all communication and media studies courses dealing with digital technology, media, culture, and society. And a general reading public concerned with the polarized public sphere, difficulties in sustaining democratic governance, rampant conspiracies, and phenomena such as cancel culture and the need for trigger warnings and safe spaces, will find it enlightening.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Advance Praise
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Context Blindness in Context: Slow Atrophy
  • Chapter One: That Was Then; This Is Now: Media and Decontextualized Information
  • Chapter Two: New Paradigms as Premature Symptoms: Emotional Intelligence and Soft Skills
  • Chapter Three: Diagnosis: Caetextia—The Age of Autism
  • Part II: Contextual Technology, Context-Blind Users
  • Chapter Four: The Power of Context and The Importance of Situations
  • Chapter Five: No Sense of Place: From Television to Social Media
  • Chapter Six: No Sense of Context: Mobile, Data, Sensors, and Location
  • Part III: The Symptoms of Context Blindness
  • Chapter Seven: Delusions: Flat Earthers, Anti-vaxxers, and Global Warming Deniers
  • Chapter Eight: High Conflict Personality (HCP): Tribalism, Identity Politics, and Cancel Culture
  • Chapter Nine: Fragility and Hypersensitivity: Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces, Trauma and Anxiety
  • Part IV: Treatment
  • Chapter Ten: Therapy for Context-Blind Individuals: CBT, ACT, and Social Stories
  • Chapter Eleven: Therapy for a Context-Blind Humanity: Media Ecology as Context Analysis
  • Conclusion—Prognosis: Homo Caetextus—The Next Stage of Human Evolution
  • Index
  • Series index

←viii | ix→

 

Preface

They say we should let go of our grudges. That they are no good for us. That harboring anger and other negative feelings can end up hurting us. On the other hand, I was taught that there is nothing like a grudge to spark interesting research; that the research process, as well as the result, are the most meaningful if you care about your topic, especially if it makes you mad.

This book came about as a result of a huge grudge. Not the kind of bitterness one holds onto way too long after a precipitating incident, but a deep, persistent, ongoing feeling of anger, disbelief, and astonishment at the number of precipitating incidents and the frequency of their occurrence over the past few years.

I became obsessed with finding an encompassing explanation to seemingly unrelated events, some in my professional life and my direct experience, and others in the world, mediated by television and social media.

In my professional life as a college professor, I was startled by a new kind of student who obviously had a new definition and understanding of college and its purpose, different from that of generations that came before them. Their behavior felt rude, their language and demeanor seemed not to fit the situation.

In the realm of politics, Trump’s presidency was one of the primary triggers. His daily nonsensical utterances, rage, and vengeance were mindboggling and kept everyone thinking about politics all the time and constantly on edge. And, as Sullivan (2017) put it, “one of the great achievements of a free society in a stable ←ix | x→democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all.”

I envisioned people’s reactions to Trump’s posts and tweets on social media as if we were all a colossal amoeba, moving left and right to the slightest stimulus of touch or light. As if we had been reduced to bytes ourselves. Conglomerations of cells reacting to stimuli as they come, without a memory of the past or thoughts about the future. Without a context. Like emojis, smiling, crying, liking, or disliking, as signal reactions to whatever is trending.

My sense of helplessness increased with the mounting polarization worldwide, immigration crises, phenomena such as cancel culture, and cries of cultural appropriation. There was also the less than insidious and very palpably past-the-tipping-point global warming. And COVID-19, of course. Dystopian television series such as Black Mirror, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Years and Years felt like documentaries.

As we kept going down our ever-deepening rabbit holes, all our feeds became dominated by fringe ideas and conspiracy theories. If we watched one video on YouTube, we started to get recommendations that were all on the same topic as the original one, as if the algorithm thought that the subject of that original video was our life’s obsession.

I embarked on a journey to find an explanation for the madness around me, and I found it. This book is about the idea that since we have delegated the ability to read context to the algorithms of contextual technologies such as social media, location, and sensors, we have become context-blind. And that our context blindness could be the harbinger of the next stage of human evolution.

I have stopped obsessing. But deep concern has replaced the grudge.

References

  • Sullivan, A. (February 10, 2017). The madness of King Donald. New York Magazine.

←x | xi→

 

Acknowledgments

I can only begin by acknowledging Lance Strate for his help and support throughout the years. He is this book’s series editor, colleague, friend, and role model of scholarship generally and in media ecology specifically.

I thank Andrew Postman for his encouragement and advice, belief in the book, and help to fine-tune its thesis at the very early stages.

My gratitude to Aliza Savir, my friend and fellow media ecologist, whose reaction to the idea for the book finally sent me to sit down and start writing. Her feedback along the way has been invaluable.

I want to thank Michael Gibson, my editor at Peter Lang, and express my appreciation for my colleagues Dan Arav and Yuval Dror for their support. I also want to acknowledge my friends Ariel Ben-Porath and Dorit Naaman, for their helpful comments along the way.

I am indebted to my son Etai for his original thought, creative ideas, and elucidations; to my son Jonathan for his intelligent, quiet, and unassuming insights; and my nephew Shay for his prolific research, bright illuminations, and assistance. Somewhere at the border between Millennials and Gen Zers, the three are heartwarmingly, perhaps miraculously, the opposite of context-blind.

Finally, I am grateful to and for Yuval, my sounding board, loving critic, partner, and best friend since 1980.

←xi | xii→

←xii | 1→

 

Introduction

Every era in human history has a defining disease, and the language used around every disease defines the response of both patients and society to that disease. The illness itself then becomes a metaphor to describe unrelated social processes and cultural phenomena that resemble the symptoms—or the stigma—of the disease: cancer must be “fought” or “defeated,” and hatred is “like a cancer.”

Due to the physical disfigurement that accompanies leprosy, the sick suffered humiliation and segregation, and the word “leper” became synonymous with an outcast or a pariah. As Susan Sontag (2001) explains, tuberculosis was initially viewed as a disease of the artist afflicting a person of sensitive and sad temperament, and later as a product of urban decay and sexual excess. Similarly, AIDS became a symbol for social disorder and moral decadence. Neil Postman (1992) compares information glut—the overload of information that leads to the breakdown of a coherent cultural narrative—to AIDS. The dangers of information on the loose, he explains, are like those of an impaired immune system that cannot manage cellular growth and destroy unwanted cells.

Disease is the metaphorical source for psychological states as well. We can be “lovesick,” we buy things we don’t need because “nobody is immune to advertising,” and unexceptional events are “like the common cold.” We talk about behaviors as contagious, like laughter or riots. We draw parallels between the spreading of germs and the spreading of ideas.

←1 | 2→

The term “contagion” is used to explain phenomena in economics (financial contagion), psychology (social contagion), and anthropology (cultural contagion); we use it to describe the spread of ideas within social networks in the real world and online as well (Mitchell, 2012). We also speak about “viral” memes, Facebook posts, and advertising campaigns. The source of this metaphor has become more physically tangible, of course, since the COVID-19 pandemic. One may wonder whether its application to computers and social media has stripped it of its malign associations, making it difficult for us to see viruses as the potentially lethal, biological phenomena that they are. As Susan Sontag (2001) suggests, metaphors of illness obstruct the rational awareness necessary to contain disease. Our impaired ability to think of the coronavirus as literal may partly explain the arguments over masks and social distancing that facilitated its spread, although we never politicized anti-virus software or claimed it infringed on our liberties.

Details

Pages
XIV, 148
Year
2022
ISBN (PDF)
9781433186141
ISBN (ePUB)
9781433186158
ISBN (MOBI)
9781433186165
ISBN (Softcover)
9781433197284
ISBN (Hardcover)
9781433186134
DOI
10.3726/b18145
Language
English
Publication date
2022 (January)
Keywords
Context context blindness contextual technologies evolution autism media ecology situation environment media technology
Published
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. XIV, 148 pp.

Biographical notes

Eva Berger (Author)

Eva Berger is Professor of Media Studies at COMAS in Israel and also serves as Secretary of the Institute of General Semantics. She is co-author of The Communication Panacea: Pediatrics and General Semantics. She holds a Ph.D. in media ecology from New York University.

Previous

Title: Context Blindness
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
164 pages