One of my assumptions in creating this website is that technologies like social media have changed the way humans relate to other people, and to themselves. Human life no longer resides solely in real space but also extends into cyberspace, creating separate and sometimes very different lives and identities. We project ourselves forward every day in a virtual world that physically lives on a network of computers and fiber optic cables, but more abstractly forms an unimaginably vast network of minds interacting in a worldwide web.
Enter Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who was born in Copenhagen in 1813. The telegraph would not be invented until later in the century, nor would the camera, telephone, or motion picture. These advances were giant steps forward that took years of careful research and testing; today we carry them around with us in the compact package of a cell phone. The technological gap is truly stunning. This begs an obvious question: what can a 19th century religious philosopher, born in a relatively backwater city (then), contribute to modern questions of identity inside and outside cyberspace?
The answer hinges on considerations that span metaphysical, epistemological, and psychological understandings of human nature and its interaction with itself and others. However, another assumption I will begin with is that we cannot know whether new ways of relating to each other are beneficial without having some goal towards which to strive. We have nothing to compare our new relations unless we have some concept of what happiness and a life well-lived looks like. To a large extent, that decision is left to the individual to figure out; the person who Kierkegaard speaks most adamantly to. There have been few thinkers throughout history who are able to match the piercing psychological inquiries into the self that Kierkegaard conducted and I think it’s fairly safe to claim he is an undisputed master of introspective analysis.
On the surface, the challenge is to elucidate the ways technology has fundamentally changed how humans interact with each other, and then decipher whether the nature of these changes can be considered beneficial, and to whom. As I see it now, and admittedly it is still early in the investigation so my views may change, a Kierkegaardian analysis will begin with a conceptualization of healthy psychological relations to oneself and others. We can develop this framework only after inquiring into the daily situations we find ourselves in. Do we become narcissistic as technology grows increasingly better tailored to fit our every desire? Are we desensitized to the suffering of others when our only exposure to them is on the same TV we also watch re-runs of the Simpsons and Top Chef? What emotional impact does the increasing physical distance between people have on compassionate relationships like friendship? Turning to Kierkegaard helps us to determine what standards we use to answer these questions. My prediction is that along the way we will discover how prescient his analysis still remains today
I intend this blog space to be an on-going investigation into how the study of online identity, media, and present-day expressions of emotion can benefit from a Kierkegaardian analysis. Using both Kierkegaard’s famous philosophical works alongside his lesser-known but equally illuminating edifying discourses, I will attempt to build a framework that allows us to evaluate the positive and negative aspects of new communication technology. Along the way my goal is to bring Kierkegaard into dialogue with many contemporary thinkers that have been influential to journalism/communication scholarship like Michael Foucault, the Frankfurt School, Julia Kristeva, Jürgen Habermas, and many more.
My goal with this site is the addition of beneficial knowledge to a wide range of scholarship, from communication to religious studies and beyond. Additionally, it is my wish that what I discover may also have a pragmatic impact on the communication habits of individuals, though that may be a futile dream. I welcome all comments and dialogue produced by my posts, please feel free to post your thoughts or email me.
Thanks for stopping by.