By a very peculiar irony, the public which demands “something new” is the very same as that which is bewildered and mocking each time someone tries to get them out of their comfortable habits and routines

October 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

One of the researchers talked about a retired man they interviewed, and one detail she mentioned was that this man explained that he has a precise procedure for buying something online: he would find exactly six options for what he wanted to buy, and write down their names, the price and where he found them in a notepad that he keeps near his computer before choosing one.

As the researcher mentioned this, an unsettled look passed briefly across her face, a clear reaction to the arbitrariness of this man’s ritual. Why the need for exactly six options? Why have a special notepad just for writing them down? Strange details like this emerge when you watch someone use a computer, which is perfectly ordinary and unremarkable except when you actually watch the precise hand movements on the mouse or trackpad, the way they reach for a key with the “wrong” finger, or perform some task using an unexpected sequence of clicks.

Two personal examples: I constantly click on, highlight and move my mouse over the paragraph I’m reading when I’m reading on a computer; and when I’m writing, I often start a sentence by rapidly and repeatedly writing and immediately deleting the first few words as I try different ways of wording what I’m trying to say. Both of these compulsive tics have been remarked upon as strange by people watching me typing and reading, and I wasn’t even fully aware that I do these things until they had been pointed out to me.

Everyone has their own distinctive, private ways of interacting with a computer that we may not even notice ourselves, but they strongly stand out as odd or even irritating to an observer. Experiences like this are captured in the rage comic The pain of watching non-geeks use a computer…, where the observer’s agony steadily escalates as he watches a “non-geek” inefficiently use Google, and brings this passage to my mind, which is from Žižek’s Plague of Fantasies and frequently reused in his other books:

when do I effectively encounter the Other “beyond the wall of language,” in the real of his or her being? Not when I am able to describe her, not even when I learn her values, dreams, etc., but, only when I encounter the Other in her moment of jouissance: when I discern in her a tiny detail – a compulsive gesture, an excessive facial expression, a tic – which signals the intensity of the real of jouissance. This encounter of the real is always traumatic, there is something at least minimally obscene about it. I cannot simply integrate it into my universe; there is always a gap separating me from it.  read more


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