Friday, September 02, 2011

The iPhone-ization of our World(view)

Every technology is attended by a mode of bodily practice. So even if the computer is primarily an information processor, it can never completely reduce us to just "thinking things" because it requires some mode of bodily interface: whether we're hunched over a desk, glued to a screen; or looking downward at a smartphone, our attention directed away from others at the table, etc.

Apple has long understood the bodily nature of this interface. In this respect, we already take for granted how revolutionary the touch screen is: it is a new, differently-tactile mode of bodily interface. Indeed, working on a MacBook feels distant and disconnected compared to the fingertip intimacy of the iPhone or the iPad. (Do you ever thoughtlessly try to touch your MacBook screen? Then you know what I'm talking about.)

But as Pierre Bourdieu would emphasize, such "micropractices" have macro effects: what might appear to be inconsequential micro habits are, in fact, disciplinary formations that begin to reconfigure our relation to the wider world--indeed, they begin to make that world. As Bourdieu puts it in The Logic of Practice, "The cunning of pedagogic reason lies precisely in the fact that it manages to extort what is essential while seeming to demand the insignificant" (p. 69).

One could suggest that our interface with the iPhone is just this sort of micro-training that subtly and unconsciously trains us to treat the world as "available" to me, and at my disposal--to be selected, scaled, scanned, tapped, and enjoyed. (In fact, one might wonder whether the basic orientation to the world that is "carried" and learned in this micropractice isn't analogous to the "training" one would receive from viewing pornography.)

I was struck by this when I recently saw a rather inane Michelob Ultra commercial that nonetheless signaled just this kind of iPhone-ized relation to the world. Consider it an illustration of this case in point: