10/5/10

Wanting but not Caring

Harry Frankfurt's book The Reasons of Love is perfect reading for today's miserable over-connector.  Practically ever week I read about someone who obsessively reads blogs, checks e-mail, texts, checks Facebook, and tweets--and can't take it any more.  Here's Charlie Brooker in The Guardian on being assaulted by Google Instant, and Gary Shteyngart is just as hilarious in a NYT column called (brilliantly) "Only Disconnect."

So what does this have to do with Frankfurt?  He has an appealing view about what it is to care about something--it's to both want it, and to want to want it.  You care about something when you're pleased by your desire for it, and you would be disappointed if the desire ebbed, and you'd even fan the flames somehow, to get the desire to return.  Clearly, we want to read blogs, check email, and the rest, but do people want  to want to do those things?  Here's from that Charlie Brooker column:
Last week I realised the internet wants to kill me. I was trying to write a script in a small room with nothing but a laptop for company. Perfect conditions for quiet contemplation – but thanks to the accompanying net connection, I may as well have been sharing the space with a 200-piece marching band.

I entered the room at 10.30am. [snip] By 1pm I'd written precisely three lines of script. Yet my fingers had scarcely left the keyboard. My brain felt like a loose, whirring wheel that span with an audible buzz yet never quite touched the ground.
That final sentence couldn't be more perfect. "Never quite touched the ground..."  Exactly!

So stop, why don't you? That's what I think every time I read one of these harangues about the evils of our hyperconnected world.  Stop whining and do something about it!  The thing is, all these connections are potato-chippish and addictive, especially for someone sitting at a computer all day, waiting to have Deep Thoughts. So doing something about it might mean doing something drastic--like chucking the computer out the window.

OK, so we do stuff we merely want to do, but don't care about. So what?  According to Frankfurt, so a lot.  His answer to the perennial question "how are we to live?" is: with care.  If your waking hours are filled with doing what you want to do, but not what you care about, then you're not living well.

Irony alert:  yeah, yeah, I'm writing a blog post here, and you're reading it. We can see that.  We're not stupid!

4 comments:

Wayne said...

I forgot who said this about art, maybe Kant? But it went something like, letting our mind work meaningfully on nothing. I know I'm butchering the quote. But there is something very satisfying having our mind working, but not doing anything.

Why must we be producing stuff?

Also, one of my favorite XKCDs ever.

Wayne said...

Sorry my mind wandered while I was writing that last comment. I started writing that quote then realized I had it wrong, then tried to find it, to no avail... Then finished the comment which by then had no relevancy to the post.

LoL!

When we're working on stuff we care about, its exhausting, partly because we care about it so much. When we're not working on something we care about, its fun. That's what makes art fun. We're not really being productive (unless you care deeply about it).

There seems to be a bit of a paradox here too. If you care about something, then you usually want to do whatever it is that you care about, don't you?

cleverphilosophyblogname said...

I like Frankfurt's book a lot. We discuss his Bullshit article in my critical thinking class and I show his Daily Show appearence. That usually does well.

I have some critical comments here:
http://cleverphilosophyblogname.wordpress.com/2010/09/19/frankfurt-on-love-and-reasons/

At least he's not wrong on the internet.

(Sorry if it is bad form to cite your own blog as I have.)

Jean Kazez said...

I really don't think it's bad form! Will read your post, and thanks for the tip that he was on the Daily Show. I had no idea!!! My students might be in for a treat, as I'm having them read that book now.