October 23, 2013: Reading and Writing in the Digital Age

Creating Minds:
Conference Goals

This conference aims to stimulate a discussion on the radical, surprising, and unpredictable reorganization of cognition that has emerged from the revolution in the digital production of texts –  and to evaluate the deeper consequences of this cognitive reframing for both authorship and the act of reading.  The conference is part of a constellation of events taking place in the Bay Area on the “Futures of the Book.”

Our title for the conference – “Creating Minds” – is intended to convey the plastic nature of human thinking. Human minds (and brains) are formed by several contingent factors. We are shaped by our individual psychic experience of course, but also by powerful cultural and social norms, and increasingly, our technologized spaces of thinking. The intervention of digital technology within human experience has been radical, rapid, and totalizing. The presentations at “Creating Minds” will examine how the essence of human expression – in art, design, literature, games – has been completely reoriented by digital technologies and their social effects. And critical to any understanding of technology’s impact on how we perceive, shape, and respond to our world will be an analysis of how the post-industrial economy is transforming the nature of capitalism in a digital age.

Session 1:
Creative Disruption: Expression and Digital Form

The morning speakers all work at the intersection of writing, publishing, and critical thinking. The goal of this session will be to grasp how new technology and new forms of mediation have affected old practices that are deeply embedded in the human experience – stories, metaphors, games, and so on. The questions will center on what is afforded by digital culture, what is occluded or disfigured, and  also how human experiences shape the evolution of our digital world. The speakers are all interested in disruption, surprise, intervention, and expression. This session will conclude with a round table where these questions and related issues can be explored further, with audience (live and virtual) participation.

Session 2:
Thinking Technologies: Reading the Digital Mind

The afternoon will begin with lectures by two of the most influential intellectuals  studying the relationship between human experience and technology, the French  philosopher Bernard Stiegler and the leader in post-human studies, Duke professor N. Katherine Hayles. The talks will probe the ways in which the act of thinking is always something mediated, shaped, and disrupted by its technological forms of prosthesis. The key question for today is to penetrate what the specific effects of digital technologies are, and to analyze the implications for human individuals and communities. If the digital has often been characterized as a completely new phenomenon, philosophers have long argued that the human mind is not “natural” but instead something that exists on the border of bodies, cultures, and technologies. The implications of digital forms of thinking and expressing are far from obvious. Is attention being eroded, or are new forms of attention being developed? Are we losing our ability to navigate complex texts or has the text just moved into new media forms that demand new disciplines of reading? Our two speakers have clashed before on how to face the challenges of the new digital culture. The session will conclude with a panel discussion with the two speakers joined by UC Berkeley professor David Bates (Rhetoric) and UC Santa Cruz computer scientist and artist Warren Sack. The afternoon presentations will be moderated by New Media professor Abigail de Kosnik.