Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Aesthetics of Mobile Devices

In her commentary in a recent issue of the periodical The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, the editor, Ellen Reiss, writes "on a big aspect of current life: the use of mobile devices." As a person who's come to depend on mine, I love what she explains here. She shows that, at their best, these devices have an aesthetic purpose: they put opposites together. Ms. Reiss writes of them: 

They’re wonderful, of course. And their goodness has to do with the fact that through them, we can be better related to the outside world, less separate from it. To be able, at any moment, to text a person a thousand miles away makes a one of what’s close to us and what’s distant. That is related to romanticism, because one of the large, new things the romantic writers did was present what seemed strange and distant as also close to oneself, of oneself. Byron, for example, swept English readers by writing about his intimate personal turmoil and at the same time far-off places he was visiting: like Lake Geneva or the Roman Colosseum.

Those opposites, the close and distant, personal and vast, familiar and wondrous, are one in all art. They were joined in a bigger, fuller, more elemental, also wider way in romanticism. But it happens that they are in Twitter too. Through tweets we feel that words which have come close to us—we may see them on a device held in our intimate hand—are being seen by perhaps scores, hundreds, thousands of people we don’t know. And to be, along with many other people, the swift recipient of a tweet, and then retweet it, is to feel the world coming close to us and our going out to it.

We can use the smartphone or tablet we carry close to us to find out (for instance) the holdings of a library in Ankara, Turkey. As we do so, the intimate and distant, familiar and strange, are together...."

And Ms. Reiss also explains that, in addition to people's using handheld devices to know the world better,
"they can also be a means of that entirely anti-art purpose: to grab the world through aspects of it; have people and things quickly, on one’s own terms. It’s good to get information speedily, and mobile devices can assist that. However, there is a huge tendency to think that what one can find out quickly is all one needs to know."
Read the entire issue, which includes a portion of Eli Siegel's lecture Romanticism and Guilt.