From Iceland — Ungoo



Published July 16, 2014

Part III: You Don't ROFL Alone

Haukur Már Helgason
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Part III: You Don't ROFL Alone

[Continued from Ungoo, Part II]

Recently, scientists published the results of an experiment wherein they tested people’s reaction to sitting still and thinking. No meditation was involved, no distractions and no company: individuals were told to sit still for 6–15 minutes, with nothing but their thoughts. Then they were asked about the experience. Everyone hated it. Whether in a lab or in their homes. Hated, hated, hated it. University students hated it, random participants from the wider public hated it, men and women, young and old hated it. Reportedly surprised by their results, the researchers added an element to the their subsequent tests: a button that the subject could press, while sitting, to give him/herself a somewhat painful but non-harmful electric shock. All were made to try the button once before the experiment. They were not instructed to push it during the experiment, nor were they told not to do so. In the course of the 6–15 minute sit, however, most of the people were, according to the researchers’ interpretation, bored enough by their quiet solitude to hit the button at least once. One subject shocked himself 190 times. That’s how tedious it is, they say, to sit alone and think. Let’s add: Because thought is not that sort of thing.

First of all, whatever it may look like, thought is never private. Whether sitting by a keyboard or a desk full of books and stationary, however quiet and alone you may seem: if you are thinking, you are conversing. Thought is a public act, albeit sometimes best done alone. Secondly, thinking is not something that happens ‘inside your mind’, separate from your body. Thinking is an embodied act, that involves walking, looking, listening, frowning, gesturing, writing, typing, drinking coffee, tea, eating, smoking, all sorts of habits. Habits of thought are physical habits.

(Sorry for the lengthy generalizations. We are getting to the point. Right after this chapter, what follows will be based on true stories about what happened to Icelandic cultural media. In the meantime, feel free to lend authority to the sentences below, by adding vague but reassuring references, such as ‘scientists have hypothesized that’, before, or, ‘philosophers have claimed’ after a few chosen sentences. That would be mainly mid-20th century authors, I think. We have a backlog. While, theoretically, I could do this sort of thing myself, on the one hand that would go against the policies of my one-member union, which state clearly that on my current rate, I am free to write as I want, but not to look anything up in books; on the other hand, the extended version of the Reykjavík Grapevine‘s stylebook clearly states that references to academic publications should be limited to one per article. That book doesn’t really exist, though. Nor does, of course, the aforementioned union. In other words, in terms of actual content, this whole paragraph is probably redundant. I write it because I can —and because I call these posts chapters, and there should be a minimal-length to those. You will probably not find it in the book-version, where these very words would be edited out. The book, on the other hand, will probably not come into existence either, so that should not worry us. There may be a third reason as to why I write these lines, and that one, unlike the others, might be real: because I feel there is something awkward about what follows —am I sure I know these things? Or that I have a mandate to proclaim them? To make such generalizations? Shouldn’t I add some more of ‘maybe’ or ‘it seems’ or ‘it would appear that’ to all of that? Aren’t those lines just a little too self-assured for me or for this publication? Aren’t they a few numbers too big? Then again, the more I hesitate in the face of awkwardness, the more awkward all this gets. Awkwardness is the one thing that both the union and the extended stylebook demand I never exhibit. It’s a deadlock-inducing stipulation: the more I try to avoid it, the deeper I seem to dig my heels into it. It’s a mess. All this propriety, the heavy decorum of laid-backabilty, as if grammar wasn’t enough. Towards the point:)

Thought is something we share, because we all belong to one or another language-community. And, with the exception of North-Korea again, they interact. This makes thought a historical thing. You pass through it. If you don’t update, you are left with the corpses of thoughts. Then rot. Bad smell. That’s why there once were cloisters, churches, messengers and bulletins and then, following the invention of press, people started periodicals. Let’s throw a definition out there, as invalid as any other: Culture is our thoughts and attitudes as a common resource. It happens in media. Media is a broad notion. Cooking is also media, as soon as you do it for or with others. As has been pointed out, a club is a medium as soon as you hit someone with it. When we say media, though, we usually mean media aware of itself as such. What we usually refer to as the cultural field is likewise that part of culture which seems conscious of itself as culture. In what follows I will stick to cultural media in that sense: media that would itself answer to that name.


[To be continued …]
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