Undressing Brains

Ok, get ready, this is going to be an extremely weird, not to say ‘whacky’, post (well, what else would you expect from the so-called president of the association of ‘whacky economists’: at least nothing dismal I hope).

The idea started to form in my mind as I was writing a mail earlier this morning to a fellow blogger. As the ‘correspondent’ (this term is, please note, also used to describe one of the parties in adultery-based divorce proceedings ) was young and female I felt the unusual need to hedge what I was saying with all kinds of qualifiers to avoid the wrong kind of interpretation. Since the ‘undressing’ thing is a metaphor which I would like to continue to use I thought it might be better to come out of the closet now and declare my secret ‘peeping tom like’ proclivity for this bizarre practice.

Full disclosure: I enjoy watching other people ‘undress their brains’, I have even what may be described as an ‘un-natural’ interest in the topic.

Now if you are over 18, and willing to risk your luck, please press continue reading.

well if the efficient cause of all this rambling was an earlier mail, the final cause was most certainly a conversation I held earlier this year with Dina Mehta (Conversations With Dina). We were chatting about differences between Chinese and Indian blogging when I asked her whether she new about Muzimei (and here) and Hard Candy. Since she didn’t I gave her the URL’s and sent her over to take a look.

(Interlude: since not enough attention is paid in blogging to the new structure of narrative discourse that is arising in the wake of the new technologies, I will take the liberty of pointing this out here. Shouldn’t we be talking about ‘internet time’. I can’t remember when I last heard the expression multi-tasking, like so many novelties it is one of those things which we now simply take for granted. But using IM, and the difference between IM and the mobile phone, this I rarely see commented on. I well remember my first ‘initiation’ with the messenger: it was of course a woman who ‘initiated me’ – my Bulgarian friend Margy the anthropologist (again IM is arguably the closest form of ‘cold communication’ to the ‘rather hotter’ oral mode in both its structure and its directness). Anyway, as I was saying IM implies a whole different idea of ‘lived time’. I remember my first ‘novice’ experiences, eagerly awaiting my interlocutor’s reply. Now I can have a couple of IM windows open and be writing a blog post, at the same time as going off and reading a link that someone has just sent me over one of the messenger conversations. Of course the ‘going over’ here is in no way physical, this is simply a convenient physical fiction to enable us to structure how we think about the net: yet another hangover from the ‘theatre of memory’.)

Ok so Dina then came back, just like the rest of you now are, and it was what she said next that has stuck in my mind to this day. “You know”, she said, “its as if Chinese women bloggers were obsessed with undressing their bodies, while the Indian ones are busy undressing their brains”.

Now behind this apparently glib comment lies an enormous cultural agenda, on which I could (and will I hope) expound in a later post (as i will with that other pre-post I have floating round my head ‘Bangalore vs Chennai). To begin to grasp the dimensions of the backdrop maybe the stereotypical ‘did you know that China invented the wheelbarrow, and India the zero’ would help. In fact most Indian villages still don’t have wheelbarrows, and they will probably have a computer before they have a wheelbarrow. But streotypes aside, this is not my subject today.

Now, if you are sufficiently ‘horny’ to want to go off now and cast your eyes upon some female Indian bloggers getting their minds ‘undressed’ for you, you could try, apart from Dina of course, Priya-B , Priya-L , Nancy, Divya, or Charu (who, appropriately enough as you will see from the URL, encourages you to ‘peek into her mind’).

It is not however the pseudo-erotica of cerebral voyeurism that interests me here, but the process of mind-body dissociation/distanciation/dismemberment which seems to be taking place here.

Ok now things get even weirder, lets introduce a topic which certainly few would consider erotic: RSS feed technology. You see all this stream of madness took form when the idea of ‘brain undressing’ collided with another: that of a website as a concrete physical entity, with its own spatial location (in cyber space, of course).

My ‘co-respondent’ was asking a question about an idea we are working on called ‘Living in Delhi’, she wanted to know how this would fit in with Living in India. Would it be a separate site she asked. So I started to ask myself: what does this mean? You see, with RSS technology my experience is that our whole conception of what a site is is changing. Really now a site is just a ‘skin’ where you group together material you feel it interesting to bring together. This is what makes the Living ‘sites’ possible and easy to do.

Given how easy it is, this should send shudders down the spines of everyone in big media.

At the present time it seems the attention of most of those who are interested in RSS is directed towards individualised ‘news readers’, or towards how to bang the biggest possible information stream into a mobile phone. Relatively few people are really into thinking about the Aesthetics of the reading experience, and the non-tech internet user population. So relatively little attention is being given to the ‘website as skin’ idea. I don’t know if this obsession with the individual reader is a reflection on the highly individualised US consumption experience, rather like we in Europe rather favour public transport, and in the US people seem to favour the individual car. I don’t know, but this would be worth investigating.

Eventually I imagine there will be RSS aggregators everywhere, in all shapes and sizes, to cater for every taste.

Now this is not a promo, but if you have got this far I imagine you are interested in the topic so why don’t you now go to the Living on the Planet page, where you will see that Michael Darragh (who is the creative genius behind the Living design concept) has been busy playing with RSS from all over the Living net (including posts here at Fistful), so you can get an idea of how powerful all this is. ‘Site’ as such doesn’t mean too much these days. We are all just ‘brains’ under ‘skins’.

So this is why the ‘undressing brains’ bit has really stuck with me: it even seems to me that the biggest thing that most of the people who “don’t understand the internet” don’t understand is this. That at the end of the day it is far more interesting to watch someone ‘undressing their brains’ than it is to watch them ‘undressing their bodies’ (I warned you, this would be whacky).

Now if I can dive off at another tangent to clarify a bit more. Those who study the topic suggest that one of the characteristics of oral cultures is that each word tends to have a mental image (a picture) attached to it (this could be one of the reasons that the earliest forms of script have a pictographic quality). As a society becomes more and more literate this property seems to gradually disappear. Think table, and you don’t have to call to mind any particular table image.

Well now lets transfer this idea to the transition from a world dominated by virtual as opposed to physical contact. When we first enter this world, my (anecdotal) experience is that we tend to imagine a person with defined characteristics (listening to the radio would be the first thing that comes to mind). When I first ‘met’ Michael Darragh I somehow imagined him wearing a Chairman Mao type cap. There is a simple reason for this: Michael worked under the pseudonym Chairman Meow, which is in fact the name of his cat.

I was soon thoroughly disillusioned in my naieve fantasising since he set up a thing called Chairma Meow TV, and we were soon chatting away to his live onscreen images. But this is not a typical experience for me.

And in fact the more I think about it, the more I tend to feel that I am not sure I want to keep repeating it. The more virtual people I ‘meet’ the less I feel I either need or want the prop of the ‘physical image’. I simple want to eat your brains (shades and images of Hannibal Lector at this stage please).

This raises of course a hell of a lot of age old mind body questions (also the question of Freud and neurasthenia comes rapidly to mind). OTOH it does get us away from another bag of age old questions about prejudice based on appearance, and physical identity, and this would have to be something positive.

So at the end of the day there you have it, this is what we are, ‘brains’ under ‘skins’. And in the internet we get to ‘take off’ our skins, and long let it be. So off you go, start undressing right now. Naked brains, wow!

BTW this seems to be forming part of a trilogy of posts. The first of these would be the Warehouses of Brains post I did with Marcello Rinesi, and the last one will be the Triremes of Brains one (somehow I can’t get away from the idea of thousands of bloggers out there rowing away) which will appear when I get the time and the inspriation to write it.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Life by Edward Hugh. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

6 thoughts on “Undressing Brains

  1. Well I sure hope you would have done it because they might have learned something.

    I’m not sure I’ve addressed the narcissism question here, although the point might be that in all kinds of social interaction we are simply ‘imposters’, its just that electronic communication frees us up from some of our corporal specifics and lets us present ourselves as we feel we are, and not as we appear to others.

    Just remember all those ‘discrimination’ studies, where various people, all suitably qualified, send in CVs for the same job: the interesting thing is to examine the physical characteristics of just who it is that gets appointed.

    It is often strange to me how a post like this attracts so little comment, I am very convinced that some of the processes I am trying to describe using anecdotal narrative will affect who we are in the future just as much as (if not more than) what is happening right now in Iraq.

    I think the most important point I am trying to make is probably the most abstract and theoretical one: that electronic communication will change the way we handle our physical perception of people in the same way that writing took away the need for a mental image of objects. This is the profound change that is coming.

    Many say: face-to-face is here to stay? I say: don’t be silly. If, just to take one relatively secondary impact, your business model is based on face to face, time to do a rethink now.

    So we ourselves will change. One thing that puzzles me a lot about online discussion is this: Marshall McLuhan was clearly a visionary whose theories had extraordinary implications for a society where there was something like the internet. Yet now we have it, almost no-one seems to mention him or think about the implications of what he was saying.

  2. ‘did you know that China invented the wheelbarrow, and India the zero’

    And did you know that in Chinese zero means ‘bottom’ (to use American gay parlance). In other words to take it up the … ahem! The opposite being number 1, of course;)

    Moving right along.

    I think it’s funny that you imagined me wearing a mao coat. Most of the Chinese (English-speaking) blogging community thought I was a woman, because I’m not a bark-raving-mad-pundit and I love pussy cats! So be very careful whose minds you undress Edward 😉

  3. Edward,

    why not more comments to such a post? I think mostly because this whole area is a little cryptic, like uploading yourself to the Matrix to go to the Fight Club. In the end you wonder what the point was in the beginning.

    As for MacLuhan – I think he did say some interesting things but in the end, although his writing is also often as vague as it would be expected from a prophet, isn’t marked up content – RSS of all things – the opposite of his predictions for the digital age?

    >that electronic communication will change the >way we handle our physical perception of people

    Sure, maybe that’s a blessing, counteracting fashion terrorism, maybe it’s a curse because we’re limiting our sensory experience. Time will tell. For all I know, neither social nor technological engineering have ever had the lasting impact on human behavior that their proponents promised or their opponents threatened.

    >Yet now we have it, almost no-one seems to >mention him or think about the implications of >what he was saying.

    As most discussions, I suppose this is cyclical. 1995, Negroponte, MacLuhan revival. Dot-Com. Boom. Bust. The prophets go hide. Now they’re slowly reclaiming some territory – last weekend, there was a MacLuhan inspired discussion on Crooked Timber, for example – but the environment has – in my opinion for the better – become more aware of the projective character of all the ideas.

  4. Did i really say that Edward ??? LOL ! I feel ‘undressed’!!!

    Still, you make an interesting point – i’d extend it into the broader area of ‘Sense of Presence’ – where texting meets voice and cam – and this can be a most powerful tool for conversations, dialogue and collaboration.

    A couple of useful links as future indicators for this phenomenon –
    http://www.henshall.com/blog/archives/000876.html
    and
    http://radio.weblogs.com/0121664/2004/02/23.html – read the paper by douglas galbraith !
    Best,
    Dina

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