Pouring Postmodernism into the Computer
"I can't define it, but I know it when I see it," has become a standard reply to questions that are hard to answer, now serving as the definition of more than just pornography. Postmodernism seems to at times share this elusive definition. To paraphrase Lyotard, its refusal to take solace in and unified form and conventions are partly responsible for its apparently shapeless definition. Paraphrasing Sherry Turkle, computer culture realizes postmodern concepts, especially a realization of those concepts pertaining to the nature of the self (17-19). For Turkle and others, partaking in chat rooms, creating identities on the computer, and the structure ...view middle of the document...
The author ceases to be a sort of creator, with a preconceived plan. The book's meaning is transitory, as readers may have several different experiences with a book, regardless of the author's intentions.
Finally comes the idea of the self as a social construct. To make sense of the world around us, some have suggested that the self is created in order to give a reference point for existence. Self-construction gives our lives meaning because it allows us to make sense of what surrounds us. I am me. That house across the street is not me, neither are the people who live in that house. Ten years ago I was a little boy, but now, I'm a big boy. From a postmodern perspective, "…the self is an imaginary construct, produced to make narrative sense of each individual's personal history" (Frosh, 282). Frosh does not believe that this idea means the constructed self is fake; constructed things are real. Buildings are real. Ice cream sundaes are real.
Consider the psychological disorder known as dissociative fugue. The condition is thought to results from trauma or stress in a person's life, and leads persons to suddenly reinvent themselves as new persons, with new lives, who may live in a different place and have a different name. "A person in the midst of a dissociative fugue will suddenly pick up and move to a new place, assume a new identity, and have no memory for his previous identity," (Nolen-Hoeksema, 382). These newly selved people are able to function completely normal, and though they have no memory of past identities, they don't see anything amiss in not being able to remember them (382). Though a rarity, if this condition is taken seriously, it makes a good argument for the self as a construct through which humans deal with their environment. After all, the self that is created in the fugue state is entirely real to those affected by the disorder.
Turning now to Turkle's article, initial impressions of the computer were to think of it as a rational machine, explainable by its parts and the way it mathematically processes information (18). Complex programs can be explained and simplified to the processes that drive them. Of course, this is still the way computers work. But there are surface-oriented programs like Windows that do not emphasize the innards of computers or their language. What one sees on the screen is all that is necessary to use the computer. My reality when typing this paper is that pushing keys creates letters on the screen. I'm told that programming and hardware is what does it, but it might be magic. I don't know.
Turkle points to the development of artificial intelligence as a bridge to a less rational concept of the computer. When computers can be affected by their environment to the point that they make meaningful decisions based upon it, such as humans do, then they will cease to be explainable by only hardware and programs. They will become to a certain degree unpredictable. In humans, biology, existence...