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A Blog About Culture

Recognition, Situation, Identity, Reality

I have a friend who refuses to get a smartphone. I think she doesn’t like reliance, or the importance our culture places on them, but you’d have to ask her about that. I don’t have one either; I only call and text – though I think the GPS function would be useful to me, considering how often I get lost but that’s neither here nor there, which I guess also describes being lost). Anyway so she posted an op-ed piece (someone else’s not hers) about a semi-scientific study that claims that people’s brains exhibit signs of love and compassion while using their iPhones. The article also cited similarities in MRI scans of people viewing the Apple logo and those viewing symbols of world religion.

Those similar MRIs don’t mean that we equate Apple with Christianity. They mean that our brains recognize symbols of ideology. Maybe there’s something inherent about those qualities; we have the ability to recognize a constructed organization and affiliate it to an image. Our heads say “Yes, that is a symbol of an ideology.  It wants me to equate it to that ideology. It wants to be real.”

This is all reminding me of a short response paper I wrote in undergrad. BRB while I look it up in my hard drive.

I found it. I wrote it May of 2010, and if my memory serves me correctly, it was one of those all-nighters at the Starbucks in the library in which I took on zombie-like nerd typist status. And, if my memory serves me correctly, somehow got asked on a date at 5 am as I was finishing. Also neither here nor there. What is both here and there is that it was on the relation of representation, image, and reality, and was written as a response to W.J.T. Mitchell’s What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images,  a very interesting piece on visual theory. The chapter “The Surplus Value of Images,” as well as “Representing” within Foucault’s The Order of Things, were particularly useful for my essay, which explained ways in which images referred not only to reality but also to imaginings or ideas.

Mitchell said:

The image seems to float without any visible means of support, a phantasmatic, virtual, or spectral appearance. It is what can be lifted off the picture, transferred to another medium, translated into a verbal ekphrasis, or protected by copyright law.

In some ways, assertions act in similar ways as images. They have no meaning, yet derive substance from other entities (some people might call them “facts”). Someone might hear something that tells them to act or think a certain way, and if they choose to believe it, the assertion grows legs. The article about the iPhones, for instance, purports that logos, like religious symbols, point to real things. But is a religion a real thing? Is a company a real thing? (I would say no; others might disagree.)

The importance placed on the function between image/assertion and its referent distracts from what may be considered the crux of the point – that modern technology enables interaction between people. That’s what phones were meant to do, and they do it. The feelings of love and compassion to me don’t come from using a phone. They come from associating that phone with the social connections it allows.

  • What other technologies or tools of culture “hide” true values? Why?
  • How does language distract from reality?


Read the reference: “You Love Your iPhone. Literally,” by Martin Lindstrom. (NY Times)

Read the reference: What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images, by William J. Thomas Mitchell (Google Book preview)

Read the reference: The Order of Things, by Michel Foucault (Google Book preview)


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