Martin Heidegger's work was a large part of the foundation for our Ph.D. program in psychology at Duquesne University in the early 1970s. We were the most progressive thinking psychology program in America at that time.
Our work was based on a long and fruitful intellectual history going back to the pre-Socratic Greeks. I was introduced to this approach to the discipline, which I eventually came to know as existential-phenomenological psychology, by my mentor at the University of Dayton, Dr. Antos Rancurello. Antos was a genius. He had two Ph.D.s, one in philosophy from a university in Italy whose name I, ashamedly, do not know for certain (Bologna?), and one in psychology from Loyola University in Chicago. Antos carried within him an appreciation for the human spirit that was so abiding, so embracing, that nothing, nothing that any human being had ever done, or could do, was foreign to him, and, by extension, all of us. He recognized the commonality of human experience for what it was (is): a broad continuum on which we all abide. This is what Alfred Adler eventually came to call "social interest."
At Duquesne, we psychology students were required to take graduate courses in the philosophy department, the same courses that their Ph.D. students were taking; major league shit. So, in my first year, when I took a course in Heidegger's Being and Time taught by Father Andre Scheuer, I had no idea that I was about to be guided in the reading of this incredibly enigmatic, poetic, impenetrable tract (or, Part 1, to be wholly accurate), by one of Martin's own lifelong friends, someone who, in summers, would stroll through the Black Forest with the author himself, contemplating the true essence of sorge, translated in the English, as "care."
So, Andre had big time street cred.
And, he was an amazing prof. First, he was, after all, "Father" Scheuer, at a Catholic educational institution in 1971. One expected a bit of communal conformity.
No. None was discernible.
Each week, Andre silently walked into class impeccably dressed in a dark near-ganster-striped suit (even thinking about writing about Heidegger gets me started with the hyphens), wearing gold-framed wire rim glasses, carrying a sheath of papers. He'd walk slowly to the podium, take out another pair of reading glasses (identical to the ones he was removing), take a deep breath, and begin. In a thick German accent, Andre would read his lecture notes from the papers on the podium. He would precisely explicate the meaning of a particular paragraph, phrase or word from Being and Time; sometimes for up to two hours.
We were rapt. This was studying as close to the feet of the master as any of us could ever hope to get. The coolest intellectual experience I've ever had. I will remember it always.
Anyway, I was talking to a friend of mine last night and Heidegger came up. Well, not explicitly, of course, but he came up just the same.
My friend and I were talking about the powerful appeal of establishing online relationships with people (and things) that "interest" you. We allowed as how searching for, finding and connecting with...what?...people and things you care about...is the great engine for today's "social media" boom.
"Engagement" is the new black.
And, since (here's another Heideggerian part) care drives experience, we see that we find what we care about when scanning a richly populated landscape (read: crowded marketplace). So, literally, we see that-about-which-we-are-already-concerned (since fully explaining Heidegger's concept of "care" would wear us both out, let's use that phrase as a placeholder: "that-about-which-we-are-already-concerned").
Well, that may seem trivially obvious, but it's anything but. It means that as we enable ourselves to connect with the people and things we care about, and to interact with those people and things in the ways-we-do-when-we-care-about something, cool shit can happen (that's not exactly the Heideggerian "being-with," but "cool shit" gets it just fine).
And, that's what the city is all about.
PS - Oh, yeah. If Heidegger's picture freaks you out because he looks like some kind of SS stormtrooper, turns out you're probably about three-quarters right. Those beliefs were not at issue for us in the early 70s, struggling, as we were, to learn the basics of Heidegger's thinking, beyond which, I know, I have never progresses.
You know the French saying: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, right? Roughly translated, it's "the more things change the more they stay the same." I came upon a piece in an old issue of the New Yorker this morning that brought the phrase to mind.
Henry David Thoreau is one of the icons of rugged American individualism. His memoirs of living in a self-build cabin on Ralph Waldo Emerson's Walden Pond still stand as a starting point for many reflections. As Thoreau was moving into his cabin, telegraph wires and railroad tracks were being strung and laid across a Westward-reaching America. Newspapers were springing up in their wakes.
What did Thoreau think of all this development?
We are in great hast to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.
On the postal service:
I never received more than one or two letters in my life...that were worth the postage.
Men have an indistinct notion that if they keep up this activity of joint stocks and spades long enough all will at length ride somewhere, in next to no time, and for nothing; but though a crowd rushes to the depot, and the conductor shouts "All aboard!" when the smoke is blown away and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few are riding, but the rest are run over.
Bloggers, vloggers, podcasters: Take heart! Smarter people than today's doubters have said these things in the past: "You have nothing to say, regardless of your ability to say it. Leave these things to the pros."
Fortunately, we didn't share Thoreau's view then and don't share these views now.
Boomers and those who lean toward them are highly email dependent, hence the success of the Blackberry, the uber email device.
Younger folks get what they need via mobile platforms. An integrated telephone, image capturing, music listening, email fetching, video watching, "I'm over here" machine, is pretty cool, you know?
Oh, and also text message watchin.' Which, as it turns out, is the key.
Because young people text and talk much more than they do email and wait. They're connected, real time, now! Text somebody, where you at, I'm here, bang...called. Much more reactive and improvisational.
And, SMS has been around a long time, so, reliability is not an issue.
Anyway, that got me thinking about how Twitter is also based on old communication methods, 'cause it's also SMS based.
So, here are two of the hottest trends in "social networking" (people finding people they enjoy being with...what a concept!) both based on a very old technological platform that has enabled terrific innovative exploration.
The task of talking out loud about one’s own mistakes is a very helpful
thing to do. I think it’s more helpful than pretending you know
everything and proclaiming every now and again from some high horse
what the truth is. Blogging is a whole new way of writing, and a new
way of experiencing the world. It’s very real and very human.
That business about experiencing the world differently as a result of blogging...another of its most powerful effects. Having a place from which I could capture all the little quirky thing that happen every day was a blogging revelation. It changed the way I moved through the world, made me more observant and reflective.
Not that any of that shows in the blog itself, of course!
After a month of so of heavy Twittering, I'm finding myself enjoying these little bursts more and more. My old blogging buddy Evelyn Rodriguez (Twitter handle eve11) is particularly enjoyable in tweet format, routinely dispensing nuggets of wisdom and charm as she prepares to move from Northern Cali to New Orleans.
But it's when you head to the Public Timeline that you find some real gems, like this one:
Mom talking about her slow cellphone: "Well it's probably only got, like, 12 grams of memory..."
I'm tomguarriello over there, if you're interested in following the conversation.