The Craft of Writing – Film Focus – The Technical Delusion: Madness and Media
R1B 002 | CCN: 29096
Location: Dwinelle 263
Date and Time: TU, TH 11:00am - 12:29pm
Just a few decades ago, those who claimed that the government was conducing secretive mind-control experiments on the public were a fringe group; they were labeled mad and generally ignored. Today, every major news outlet has run a story (or several) detailing how the design of smartphones and smartphone applications hijack the brain’s neurochemical systems and produce addictive tendencies, among other worrisome side effects. Controlling the release of dopamine is assuredly different than the ‘thought implantation’ that led some to don foil hats, but this ubiquitous form of neurological manipulation suggests that there may have been a kernel of truth hidden within those earlier experiences of ‘madness’. From recent revelations that link the use of Facebook products to an increase in reports of depression and anxiety (not to mention body dysmorphia and eating disorders), to the widespread paranoia that is fanned by and channeled into conspiratorial organizations such as QAnon, to the ‘phantom vibrations’ and other physiological compulsions that tether us to our devices, it is clear that our bodies and minds have become intertwined with networked technologies. Although these particular fears are new, like the technologies that are their object, anxieties about the relationship between the human and the machine have been with us for quite some time. Sigmund Freud, writing in the early decades of the 20th century, claimed that human beings had become “prosthetic gods” by extending their natural capacities through invention. For Freud, however, this quasi-divine power does not grant us a godly satisfaction to match; our subjective discontent increases proportionately with our objective, technological mastery over nature. Jeffrey Sconce, from whose book I borrow the title of this course, notes the surprising connection between the development of radio systems and the meteoric rise of spiritualism and mediumship in the United States. The invisibility of radio transmissions, according to Sconce, led many to wonder what other types of imperceptible signals might be out there in the ether, waiting to be discovered. At present, social media services that exacerbate or perhaps even cause mental illnesses also house formal support systems and vernacular attempts to theorize and alleviate psychical distress. As social media companies fine-tune their programs to produce more pleasurable surges of dopamine, meme groups are sharing content about the connection between brain chemistry and behavior. In each of these examples, drawn from disparate moments in the historical development of media, psychopathological states mirror, exaggerate, and sometimes preempt technological shifts. In this course, we will investigate the interplay between mind, body, and media technologies, taking technical delusions–fantasies, psychoses, and hallucinations that center on the fusion of human and machine–as our guide.