Spool Five

Journal - Technologies of the Self

Author: Eoin Carney Published: Mar, 2021

Wed Mar 17 22:35:27 KST 2021

I used to study philosophy. Specifically, the philosophy of technology and hermeneutics. In the philosophy of technology, there has recently (recently in academic terms at least) been an increase in interest in Michel Foucault’s late lectures. In these lectures he continues his examination of power, but turns toward a more ‘appropriating’ sense of power. To do so, he returns to an ancient Greek understanding of ‘technologies of the self’. Of course, the term ‘technologies’ is a bit ambiguous here.

It could also be rendered broadly as ‘techniques’ of the self, or ‘practices’ of the self. Nevertheless, through philosophers like Peter-Paul Verbeek, it has indeed been applied to how we conceive of modern technologies.

It is also related to the question of hermeneutics (some lectures are under the title ‘hermeneutics of the self’). Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation.

So, putting all this together, we could say that Foucault’s late lectures are about how the self comes to know/interpret itself though various technologies/practices/techniques.

The twist is that the ‘self’ is not a fixed thing, or really a ‘thing’ at all. So, in the same way that Foucault linked ‘knowledge’ to ‘power/production’ in his more famous works, the question of knowledge of oneself here is also linked to self-production. All the self is is a kind of history/record of the tools used to produce it

By interpreting/examining myself, I am producing a certain kind of self. Interpretation is always a qualitative procedure, not a quantitative one.

One of Foucault’s main examples here is the classic Greek dictum ‘know thyself’, a founding thought for western philosophy and science.

Foucault points out the context for this kind of command is usually missed. It can be linked to the practice of visiting the oracle at Delphi. Before going in to ask the oracle a question, you had to first examine yourself and discern the most potent question.

In other words, self-knowledge/self-examination was linked to the broader practice of caring for oneself and directing oneself. You never just tried to ‘know’ yourself for the sake of ‘science’ or ‘knowledge’, there was always an ulterior motive.

This, of course, is how self-knowledge functions in modern society, it’s just that sometimes we take ‘knowledge’, especially the kind produced by the sciences, in an overly-neutral sense.

For example, in a positive way, Verbeek has used Foucault’s sense of ‘technologies of the self’ to frame the introduction of birth control into society in the 70s. Medical/anatomical/chemical knowledge produced this simple technology which, in turn, led to a radical transformation of women’s freedoms.

In the negative sense, knowledge of your browsing patterns by major corporations like Facebook and Google can lead to many practical consequences too. Maybe you spent to long browsing the Steam store and now that perfect job-advertisement doesn’t pop up on your screen because you’ve been marked ‘undesirable’. And so on…

In short, self-knowledge is always about self-transformation. Furthermore, self-knowledge/transformation is always about power and the process of subjecting yourself to a power (we become a ‘subject’ through ‘subjectivation’). The ethical task is to appropriate this process. Instead of subjecting ourselves to major tech corporations, and becoming their subjects, we should instead harness the power of technologies to produce a self of our own making.

In even shorter terms, this post is supposed to be a journal entry. I’ve been avoiding the question of self-examination by going on about the philosophy of self-examination. Hopefully, this is just preparation for the actual self-examination.

One of Foucault’s common ‘techniques of the self’ is keeping a diary. The simple act transforms how one thinks and acts in daily life. That’s why I started talking about him here. I was also wondering about what kind of ‘technology of the self’ gopher/gemini are?

I will try harder in the future to talk more about myself. I think too much about other things and not enough about myself.

P.S. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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