November 19, 2009 | Leave a Comment
Clive Thompson’s September Wired article, “The New Literacy,” had me thinking several things.
The article describes an academic’s conclusion that there is a writing renaissance going on with astonishing increases in writing by students as they use communications technologies. It has been believed by many that texting and social media are deprecating communication. Professor Andrea Lunsford concluded the opposite. New technologies are encouraging the young to share experiences by writing.
Several things come to mind.
First, texting is acquiring a number of unique conventions that are beginning to approach a different language. I don’t speak text. This is a function of my peer group, my age and the fact that I’m at my computer three-fourths of my waking hours. Perhaps text is approaching another language as its conventions proliferate. If that is the case, then maybe this is a good thing as regards the inculcation of flexibility of mind. As youth text, they encourage an ability to experience the world through an alternative perspective.
Second, the day will come when voice translators advance to offer an effortless ability to take our spoken words and transform them into written text. Gifted youth will find they can profoundly proliferate their productions by speaking instead of typing. The Thompson article describes the emergence of performance as integral to text communications, with participating individuals able to broadcast to their unique collection of followers. Thompson, with insight, observes the importance of performance to the new technologies. Participants often speak with an attention to detail not obvious in communications up to now. Consider the power of these technologies to enhance performance by letting people speak, instead of type, their minds.
What struck me most forcibly while I was reading Thompson’s article is the presence of yet another aboriginal feature emerging in modern youth, and the possible connection of this feature with autism. In other pieces, I have described the relationship between neoteny emerging in contemporary society and the increases in autism. Just as in biology, where ancestor infant features prolong to emerge in descendant adults, so it is in society, where ancestral societal-stage traits featured by aboriginal matrifocal societies emerge in contemporary times. The dramatic horizontalization of society, with accompanying transparency, diversity, creativity and sharing, is evidence of this aboriginalization of culture. I would add one more thing. Performance during dance, song and mating rituals in aboriginal society are becoming embedded in our new technologies. As each Twitterer and social-media user becomes more invested in communicating to a group, we are integrating ancient intuitions into the contemporary times, which offer an ubiquitous experience of performance, not unlike the way we communicated as our species bridged from a band society into culture.
In my work, I hypothesize that performance, the performance of dance and song, was integral to our evolution as a species. I have also hypothesized that the autistic are embedded in this earlier artistic mode, compelled to experience the world through dance, rhythm and sound but few words. In the previous piece, I suggested that perhaps performance could be a bridge experience that provides the autistic ways to cultivate split consciousness or a theory of mind. It strikes me now that as performance emerges as a common communication form among youth in contemporary society, we are perhaps glimpsing the ways humans communicated back in the dawn of language.
In other words, I believe there is a connection between communications technologies enhancing performance consciousness characterized by the broadcast of information to large groups and the increases in autism, perhaps featuring a consciousness evolved to perform, less so to communicate.
This is the seminal issue. If humans evolved by growing big brains and facile bodies, dancing up a storm to mate with discriminating members of the opposite sex (see Theory Summary), then perhaps performance consciousness is integral to who we were and what we are becoming. If that is the case, providing the autistic performance contexts may be necessary to provide them an ability to gain some purchase to connect with other humans.
Lunsford’s discovery that our youth are writing far more than anytime in the past combined with Thompson’s insight that performance is integral to the process offers a bridge to understanding how autism is understood. Once again, our youth seem to have the answers. Observing how the young experience the world, we have a chance to understand how our world came to be.