SFCP Library News December 2013
by Alyson Barrett-Ryan, MA, MLIS
Technology and Psychoanalysis
Once in a while, a writer lucidly describes a cultural shift from its center. In his book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2011), Nicholas Carr does just that, putting complexity and uncertainty into words and considering what is lost as we stumble forward, dazzled by new technology. My justifications for mentioning this book here are twofold: first, as the SFCP librarian, I am almost always using, evaluating, or thinking about technology, and second, this book caused me to consider a possible intersection between your field and mine. By asking what happens consciously and unconsciously when one becomes lost in a book, Carr shows what we as a culture might lose in our unequivocal association of technology with progress. Not only does he offer an assessment of the risks of developing and disseminating new technologies while failing to wonder how these new inventions change humankind in the process, he makes a strong argument for the tangible and real, for deep reading and thinking, and for the simultaneous fortitude and fragility of the human mind.
The latest in a line of cultural critics urging a thoughtful evaluation of technology’s relationship to progress, Carr draws from Marshall McLuhan, who in 1964 famously noted, “The medium is the message.” Carr supports McLuhan’s argument that content blinds us to the changing power of the medium itself; we are acquiescent and often unaware as new technologies permeate culture. To illustrate the way a medium can change our perception of the universe and our place within it, Carr unfolds Lewis Mumford’s history of the clock in the Western World. He shows that in the Middle Ages, the internal world of the church, marked by routine and schedule, resonated outward through the church bell, punctuating hours of the day. As towns and cities grew, so did the need for their inhabitants to parse the days into measurable quantities. Agrarian rhythms that loosely marked time no longer sufficed, and as the demand for timekeeping broadened, the technology became smaller, affordable, even fashionable. From the church bell in the center of the village to the household clock to the pocket watch, timekeeping infiltrated every aspect of civilization in the Western World so completely that by the time of the Enlightenment, our universe ran like “clockwork” and the human body could be described in the language of mechanization. Carr compares the cultural infiltration of the clock with that of the computer: as both grew smaller and more ubiquitous, their presence commandeered everyday language and arguably, changed our worldview. Rather than take a Neo-Luddite stance, Carr does show that cultural saturation with new technology is not completely detrimental and there are some positive results of our use of new mediums. Nonetheless, McLuhan’s words of caution are perhaps more relevant today than they were in 1964: “A new medium is never an addition to an old one… nor does it leave the old one in peace” (Quoted in Carr). Not only is the computer embedded in
our culture, but it eclipses old mediums and breaks them into parts (text in fragments, video in clips) prompting a new form of intellectual digestion in the process.
In urging us to consider what new technologies might be replacing, and at what cost, Carr begins with Sigmund Freud’s 1895 study of the brain’s ability to change in response to experiences. He then traces the history of reading to show that many of the great intellectual achievements of the past 1500 years were made possible in no small part by linear thinking enabled through silent reading of the printed page. Covering the transition from oral to written culture, he discusses early reading as a mentally taxing affair requiring the reader to decipher a continuous script with no particular word order. This could best be done by reading out loud, and silent reading, as we know it, did not become common until the Middle Ages. Of course in the Early Modern era, the printing press further democratized the written word, allowing more private citizens to engage in silent, deep reading. As Carr notes, “Whether a person is immersed in a bodice ripper or a Psalter, the synaptic effects are largely the same” (72) and silent, deep, concentrated reading – an unnatural act for a species whose brains are highly adept at processing sensory stimuli for survival – became the norm. In the present-day, Carr argues, as our malleable minds adapt to the steady stream of electronic media, “we are evolving from being cultivators of personal knowledge to being hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest” (138).
The Shallows inspires the reader to consider that our control of the tools we use is tenuous at best, and Emerson’s observation that “Things are in the saddle / And ride mankind” is aptly transcendent (quoted in Carr, 46). There are many studies cited within the book illustrating the detriments of divided attention, neurological changes incited by internet use, the processing, internalization and information-absorption potential of the human brain, and the intellectual consequences of our present multimedia assault.
These serve as a foundation for Carr’s point that “The Net’s cacophony of stimuli short-circuits both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our minds from thinking either deeply or creatively” (119). For me, the meaningfulness of the book lies not within the science presented, but within Carr’s articulation of the meaning and importance of reading deeply, immersing oneself in a text, developing a symbiotic connection with an author that transcends both space and time, and thereby creating a vital part of identity contingent on “the ability to know, in depth, a subject for ourselves” (143). Carr puts the ecstasy of deep reading into words. In doing so, he prompts the reader to consider what might be the consequences if our capability to think and read deeply diminishes as we adapt to distracted, multisensory uses of new technology.
I wondered as I read what psychoanalysts might think about The Shallows. Because psychoanalysis uncovers the creative depths of the unconscious and demonstrates the profound potential of real, human relationships, and because the discipline remains dependent upon intellectualism based on both knowledge and wisdom cultivated by years of reading, thinking and working, it certainly seems that analysts can enrich the conversation about technology’s influence on culture. What does our frenzied adoption of new technology say about our fears, loneliness and malaise, our desire for acceptance? Just as I was wondering about the connections between psychoanalysis and technology, Psychoanalysis in the Technoculture Era, edited by Alessandra Lemma and Luigi Caparrotta, was published. While I did not order Carr’s book for the library, I did order Psychoanalysis in the Technoculture Era, which illustrates, as Caparrotta and Lemma elucidate in their introduction, that “… technologies have become an integral part of our everyday lives and of our psychoanalytic practice. We are thus keen to seize the opportunity in this book… to explore not only the varied uses made of new forms of technology and their psychic function in the internal world, but also to be curious about how such technological developments may help us to explore some assumptions about what we call the
psychoanalytic frame” (5). I hope this and the other new acquisitions below will be of interest, and I also hope you will let me know your thoughts on the intersection between technology and psychoanalysis.
Carr, N. (2011). The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.
Lemma, A. & Caparrotta, L. (2013). Psychoanalysis in the technoculture era. New York: Routledge.
McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man; 1st Ed. New York: McGraw Hill.
Postman, N. (1993). Technopoly: The surrender of our culture to technology. New York: Vintage.
June – December 2013
Akhtar, S. (2013). Unusual interventions. New York: Routledge.
Arvio, S. (2006). Night thoughts: 70 dream poems & notes from an analysis. New York: Knopf.
Beebe, B. (2013). Origins of attachment. New York: Routledge.
Busch, F. (2013). Creating a psychoanalytic mind. New York: Routledge.
Civaterese, G. (2012). The violence of emotions: Bion and post-Bionian psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge.
Clarke, S., Hahn, H. & et al. (Eds.) (2008). Object relations and social relations: the implications of the relational turn in psychoanalysis. London, UK: Karnac
Cohen, J. (2001). Apart from Freud: Notes for a rational psychoanalysis. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books.
Eagle, M. (2013). A New look at unconscious processes. San Francisco, CA: SFCP Library. [DVD].
Fisher, C. (2013). 2013 SFCP Graduation. SFCP Library [DVD].
Harasemovitch, J. C. (2013). Conversations with shades from the past. San Francisco, CA: SFCP Library [DVD].
Hobson, P. (2002). The Cradle of thought: Exploring the origins of thinking. New York: Macmillan
Hobson, P. (2013). Consultations in psychoanalytic psychotherapy. London, UK: Karnac Books.
Junkers, G. (Ed.) (2013). The empty couch: The taboo of aging and retirement in psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge.
Lemma, A. & Caparrotta, L. (2013). Psychoanalysis in the technoculture era. New York: Routledge.
Lemma, A. (2003). Introduction to the practice of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Massie, H. (2013). Felice’s worlds. New Orleans, LA: booksBnimble.
Meltzer, D. (2011). Adolescence: talks and papers. London, UK: Karnac Books.
O’Gloughlin, M. (2013). Psychodynamic perspectives on working with children, families, and schools. New York: Aronson
O’Neill, R. (2013). The scandalized history of the Freudian homosexual. San Francisco, CA: SFCP Library. [DVD].
Oelsner, R.(Ed.) (2013). Transference and countertransference today. New York: Routledge.
Ogrodniczuk, J. S. (2013). Understanding and treating pathological narcissism. Washington, D.C.: APA Press
Scharff, J. S. (1991). Projective identification and the use of the therapist’s self. Northvale, NJ: Aronson.
Sendak, M. (1981). Outside over there. New York: Harper & Row.
Sendak, M. (1965). Hector protector. New York: Harper & Row.
Sendak, M. (1970). In the night kitchen. New York: HarperCollins.
Skylar, J. (2013). The psychoanalyst and the clinic: A Balint group for psychiatrists. SFCP Library [DVD].
Stewart. C. P. (2007). Dire emotions and lethal behaviors. New York: Routledge.
Webster, B. S. (2009). Vienna triangle. San Antonio, TX: Wings Press.
Library Volunteers & Projects
We have two wonderful volunteers currently working on library projects. If you have received an email notification from the library indicating that you checked out or checked in a book, then you have seen the handiwork of Helen Ng. Helen completed the arduous task of updating our catalog database records with SFCP’s current membership roster, entering contact information for all library patrons. Secondly, Patricia Rodgers is bringing a great deal of intellectualism and expertise to an immense project related to SFCP’s unpublished papers. This archive, as many newsletter readers may already know, contains a wealth of unique psychoanalytic material. Look forward to future updates regarding this project, and the outstanding work of both Helen and Patricia.
Additionally, along with creating the course readers for the spring semester, Assistant Librarian/Media Archivist Eric Rosen has been instrumental in continuing to add video and audio content to SFCP’s media archive. We have some exciting video projects ongoing with PEP-Web, and I look forward to sharing more details with you about this in January.
I hope you all have a wonderful holiday, and I look forward to seeing you here in the SFCP Library!
Alyson Barrett-Ryan, MA, MLIS
Library Director, San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis