In her article, Tara McPherson argues about the importance of seeing the world as a system consisting of complex parts that are each relevant. She refers to this as “lenticular logic.” For me, this logic is best showcased when she states the following:
A lenticular logic is a logic of the fragment or the chunk, a way of seeing the world as discrete modules or nodes, a mode that suppresses relation and context. As such, the lenticular also manages and controls complexity (25).
I believe that McPherson’s central argument rests on the idea that we cannot compartmentalize the larger issues in our world. She discusses the development of our social systems as they compare to the development of computer systems. It is important not only to see these social (and computational) systems, but also to understand why it is we see them this way so that we can intelligently and actively discus these social issues that surround us and act on them in the appropriate manner. This lenticular logic, for me, is most clear and affecting when she speaks of 3D postcards and how it is possible to see each image clearly, but when one steps back, it is difficult, and almost impossible, to see each individual image and pay it the concern that it warrants, so more often we do not. In this way, McPherson comments that compartmentalizing the issues that surround us in the world, whether they stem from classism, racism, homophobia, sexism, etc., and saying that once things are at least passable for one of these groups of people that all is right with the rest of the world and we can just move on with our lives leaves us with a false sense of societal contentment. McPherson states that this same idea applies to programmers as well. If we look at computers and programming systems as interchangeable units with no distinct identities, we run the risk of shortchanging ourselves and others, ultimately failing to accomplish the goal set out for the program or unit. The same thing may be said for social systems and the people that exist within, or in some cases, outside of them. McPherson strives to make certain that we, as readers and scholars, understand how all institutions, computational or social, work in tandem; and they must so if we are able to move forward with a more complete understanding of our social world and tackle the problems that exist within it. She calls for action on the part of scholars to encourage collaborative instruction and research in the cyberstructuralist discipline.
Please keep that in mind while viewing the following video:
Racism in the United States: By the Numbers
In terms of the ideas that John Green expresses here and those that McPherson discusses in her article, the ideas of compartmentalization of systematic denial of privilege may be said to have great implications within Ullman’s novel, The Bug. The notion of denying what it means to be essentially human also plays a major role in the events that conspire in the latter half of the novel. Through all of these statistics that he discusses in his video on racism in the United States, Green demonstrates that attempting to separate the notions of poverty, gender, educational opportunities, ethnicity, and race from one another is to deny to oneself, and society at large, the idea that this issues can and most definitely do directly impact each other, in a sort of cycle; it is impossible to separate one thing from the next, and that is not a bad thing. The more complex of an understanding we have of the world around us, the better we can treat and understand other people; the better we can treat and understand ourselves. One of the things that John Green states in this video that really resonates with me is when he states that numbers can indeed tell us a great deal about or society and the trends that occur within it, but humans and their stories and experiences can speak volumes more, all we need to do is listen.
In this way, it can be said that Ethan’s inability to comprehend the complexities of human nature and relationships is what ultimately contributes to his unraveling. He has constructed his perception of himself, of his system, if you will, in order to separate each distinctive part for maximum efficiency and to decrease the room for failure created by the unpredictability of human emotions. When he is in his coding zone, the entire world fades into the background. This includes his relationships with his girlfriend as well as his exchanges with his co-workers. He treats these things as distinct units that come together to create the “Life of Ethan Levin” system, not seeing that they connect with and impact one another in sometimes very dramatic ways. Ethan does not notice how this programing of his life system and the treatment of these units as disparate entities has failed him and made him feel so incomplete, alone, and tragically at the close of the novel, purposeless. As Ethan’s world starts to unravel, we learn that he may not have been the programmer he though we thought he was. We also see a little more of his personality and his past. We learn about his complex relationship with his father and how that loss affected him. Ethan’s isolation, and at times, his egotism, has truly and deeply hurt the people in his life, namely Joanna. His emotions, the acknowledgment of his fundamental humanity, become clearer and we see a more complete picture of Ethan and I believe that he becomes a more sympathetic character, if only slightly. We can make connections between Ethan’s actions how they may have been informed by his past experiences. Seeing and acknowledging these different facets and understanding their importance allows us to move towards a new way of viewing Ethan Levin as a character. As Ethan begins to connect the different units, the memories of his past that make up his life system (both that of his world and of himself) the system becomes too hard to comprehend. He cannot process all of these emotions because they cannot be categorized or controlled by a code or a program. Because they cannot be separated, they overwhelm him because he does not know how to deal with that. This suggests that the world does not, and cannot, exist in separation, whether one considers this idea in the context of computer systems or in that of social ones. This serves as an interesting context to discuss the John Green video and McPherson’s article. When we deny the connections between the different issues that contribute to systematic racism, classism, sexism, as well as other social issues that exist in our world today, we inhibit the chances that we can help people to understand their severity and the great need we have to confront them and come up with resolutions. On the aspect, Ullman states the following:
Some people think life is like that: disconnected, incoherent; that the notion of narrative is a delusion. But I don’t think so. The body and the world have their physical reality, which limits what can happen, which drives events down a path. Like it or not, we’re designed to be bipedal creatures, we have to eat, we sleep. Certain things can be implied from those facts, and from all the other facts in the living world. But the machine has no given body. Its boundaries are designed, artificial, and can be changed. Within those arbitrary bounds, the next state can be anything (Ullman 334).
These social narratives, the stories that make us human and express those emotions and connections on which we thrive are important. Looking at the world as a machine, a single unit stripped of vitality and utilizes by users for maximum efficiency alone will not fix all that is wrong with our social systems, just as it did not work in the context of computer systems. All of the experiences we have as humans, no matter our differences, are valid and have value. They cannot, however, exist as distinct units and have the same power, the same sense of complexity and wholeness. It is when we listen to these stories and accept and understand the entirety of ourselves and our societies that we can truly move forward and see the world as a truly advanced place for everyone. This will be difficult, and much like the evolution of the UNIX system and other technological systems, the development of a social system that recognizes and appreciates difference and works towards honor and integrity for everyone will take time, but we have the ability to have a hand in creating this change, to reprogram the world to address these issues, so it is time that we need to take.