May 17, 2013
berlinbooks.org | By BRB
Do you participate? If not, why not? You should get involved, make a contribution, let them know what you think. Be part of something! It’ll be collaborative and democratic. And fun, too!
The demand to participate is now an everyday experience. Television and radio shows endlessly plead, tell us your views, while online articles are trailed by a snaking list of readers’ comments. Politicians affirm their commitment to ‘public consultation’ and test each idea within specially-designed focus groups. Cultural institutions must offer interactive displays, issue evaluation forms and carefully monitor attendance figures. Academic projects are praised for the number of partners involved, the voices heard, the collaborations undertaken. Group work and class discussion have become the foundations of teaching practice. Underpinning these diverse trends is the sense that participation, in and of itself, is a positive thing – regardless of the end result. Taking part is what counts. Participation is both the aim and the justification; passivity must be renounced; to be a spectator is no longer enough.
That a society governed by the imperative to participate, and constantly buzzing with opportunities to socialize, should lead to boredom and isolation was of great concern to David Foster Wallace. In The Pale King, posthumously published in 2011, he wrote: “This terror of silence with nothing diverting to do. I can’t think anyone really believes that today’s so-called ‘information society’ is just about information. Everyone knows it’s about something else, way down.” Characteristically, Wallace offers no straightforward answers as to what this “something else” might be. Yet, in the midst of relentless calls to participate, his emphasis on dullness, on the ways we try to distract ourselves and on the terrors we might be escaping feels radical. Wallace’s suspicion about the ‘information society’ also offers a useful framework when considering the broader desire for participation today: no one really believes that all these activities are about encouraging people to work together, about hearing diverse voices or strengthening social bonds. Why, then, do so many people want to take part? Why do they want so many others to join them? Something else, perhaps way down, is going on here. Read More...
Image Courtsey of David Gomez Fontanilles