The Popular Culture and Philosophy series is gearing up to publish Louis C.K. and Philosophy. Rather than pretend like I have the time or talent to get an entry into the book, I’ll take their suggestions for possible essay topics and spend the next several weeks intermittently responding to them (unless I stop caring…totally a possibility). I still have until January 23 to submit an abstract, so if I miraculously have a non poop-related epiphany about it, maybe I’ll throw something together. In the meantime…
The thing is, you need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away. It’s the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person, right?
–Interview Conan O’Brien: Louis C.K. Hates Cell Phones – Sept. 20 2013
This quote fell under a hoped-for technology section in the book, and here we have Louis C.K. questioning human authenticity in an age of unceasing technological innovation, one which increasingly seems to support George Orwell’s notion in 1984 that technological progress is primarily and perhaps only for the diminution of human liberty. This is true, of course, if we presuppose that liberty has something to do with the “ability to just be yourself and not be doing something,” which in itself presupposes that there is a self which you can just “be.” For Louis C.K. in this quote, being a person effectively means experiencing unmediated existence, which is hardly a situation that phones alone take away, or a situation that phones uniquely create. To just sit somewhere and be is a strange philosopher’s dream, one that may have enabled Descartes’ cogito, but which has dubious relevance to personhood.
Let’s say that being a person means consciousness, which it could be argued is the most confounding evolutionary adaptation and the one which makes us transcend the simple impulse/purpose of life: to live. Consciousness does provide us with a necessary, effective means to survival and life, and so it’s not an unsurprising or unfit adaptation, but it goes well beyond any biological calling, to the point of dangerous inefficiency and irrelevance, challenging the natural development of life as we know it. Surely consciousness will be selected away in future tinkering, unless we’re somehow usurping the process that would reduce this singular trait.
Regardless of natural selection, Louis C.K. exposes the possibility that we’re actively creating the destruction of this very thing, consciousness, that makes us most human (as though there are degrees of humanness associated with varied traits), since when we use phones, we’re submerging our consciousness and letting ourselves become prey to our own creations, degrading our personhood into this simplistic mode: consume and be consumed. Quite a life we’ve fabricated. Although right in line with natural affairs.
But perhaps we should celebrate boredom a bit more before we’re so eager to purge it. At once, it’s a sign of death because it reflects a sense of stasis and therefore non-life, but it’s also a sign of conquering death because it points to the power of human creation to let us move past simply surviving, which to most species is living. Yet then the phone would pair with this conquering at the same time that it’s conceding.
Or I’m hitting a wall, getting bored with my own thoughts, hearing my phone buzzing in the distance and wondering what’s so important that it has to insist on itself so violently, that it has to fill the void of consciousness and beg me to dive into nothingness with it. Should I really lament that phones are taking away my ability to sit here and vomit ideas all over myself, and worse, spill them all over anyone reading this? Is blogging taking away this ability?
Is this writing just me running away from myself? Why are you running with me?