The Unbearable Lightness of Being, with Gadgets

How does art function as resistance to the manipulation of mass media? How do media images manipulate self image? 


Daniel Canogar. “Enredos 1”. 2008.

In his book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” author Milan Kundera writes that without the ability to compare lives, men cannot find meaning, and as a consequence, we find an unbearable weightlessness of the being. This uncertain existence of meaning, the opposition of lightness and heaviness is a question that as humans, we haven’t been able to answer yet. Is art one of the many possible answers that can help us to resist the temptation of becoming standard trend followers in the century of the self? “Wired” magazine editor Kevin Kelly (as cited in Chapter “Playing the Infinite Game”), describes many mind paths we can transit and use to understand how art functions while resisting the manipulation we are suffering because of the way mass media influences our lives. One of these paths consists in exposing subtle realities such as, how the world functions in the communication era. That is why, decodifying how advertising is leading people to a dead-end (LANIER, Jaron), which starts at an early age of 3 when human develop a sense of personality, should be a path educators must prioritize since the social context and media have a high responsibility about this issue. Media manipulates self image putting layers over the years by offering us many options about things we do not need, and this creates standardized narcissist identities. An example of this problem and how art functions as a resistance can be found in the movie “The Zero Theorem”. In this film, which setting is a futuristic London covered of wallpapers and interactive street advertising, Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) a sort of genius programmer, exposes his sadness after realizing he is in love and his life full of content but empty of human feelings such as love. Ironically he lives in an abandoned church.

On the same way, one can argue that although networks connect people with ideas and opens new spaces for dialogues and cooperation (KELLY, Kevin), it can turn out these practical utopian spaces into a dark maze. In his book “What Technology Wants”, author Kevin Kelly admits that he was ignorant about what technology really was, and I must confess, so do I. Understanding the basic nature of technology, I believe, helps us to fight the erosion that advertising through mass media is doing to our humanity. Going back to the beginning of this response I ask myself again: Why can’t we see that characters created by advertising not only represent our alter ego but also standardize our individuality while biasing oppressive imagery? Why do most people agree that cloning is bad when there’s a similarity to standardization of identities? Self image manipulation brings distraction, and it’s a massive phenomena which I believe will make us unaware of the possibility of a new “Axial Age” (KELLY, K.). But we can empower others through art, to resist and use the technium as a wise tool which provides options to develop our creative ethical ideas. Shaping a new balanced identity where technology is perceived as nature (KELLY, K.) relaxes our interaction with the “technium” (how Kelly defines technology as a set of tools to shift humanity) and by doing so, we can be more conscious and overcome the “shiny hardware” to include cultural forms and intellectual creations of all types” (KELLY, K.). But, will humans achieve autonomy before the technium does? How is the technium used as a tool to confront the media manipulation today? How does the manipulation of the self relates to current social issues such as poverty? To answer these questions, author Kelly suggests that if the technium is understood as a tool where the summative parts of collaborative minds might potentially shift men to become a better being, we will enlarge our creativity (KELLY, K.) and help ourselves to bring back the humanity we are loosing. He also argues that there’s a difference while playing different games with the technium. Finite games such as, war have are quite opposite to infinite games such as, the power of our ethical creativity as made in image and likeness of GOD.

Finally, I would like to think more that we were in fact like that, made in image and likeness of GOD, as many sacred texts state, and stardust (SAGAN, C.) because this brings enthusiasm to grow a collective and a global collaborative mind while being aware we are not GOD (KELLY, K.), but beings whose goodness can be used to empower a more equal civilization. In Dutch historian Johan Huizinga words, human beings have the need to perform games because it helps us to break the routine so we can connect with ourselves, yet, are you playing an infinite or finite game? I have the impression this is the unbearable lightness of being, with gadgets.

Letizia Balzi

KELLY, Kevin. “What Technology Wants”. Viking Press. 2010.

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