Some Additional Thoughts on Illich: Responsibly Limited Tools [ #captions]

On the Path to Convivial #Captioning

When considering #captioning as a convivial tool—or at leas potentially as a tool to help foster, if only temporarily, a more convivial society or culture, it’s useful to fill in some other pieces of Illich’s view.

For Illich, a convivial society also places technology with a specific role:

“modern technologies serve politically interrelated individuals rather than managers” (1973, xii).

The emphasis is clearly on individuals and citizens communicating and connecting with each other as opposed to giving supervisory or surveillance powers to the bosses. Placing #captions in this frame would then have people captioning text for each other—as service, for pleasure, for fun, for critical thinking and engagement—as opposed to captioning as product or control.

Illich does not allow technology anything close to free reign—certainly not the way technology is currently allowed to drive cultures and government. Instead, he uses convivial to “Label a culture of responsibly limited tools” (1973, xii-xiii). Keywords: responsibly limited tools. How might captioning fit here? Are there ways in which captioning could be used irresponsibly—so much so that people are actually harmed or damaged from the process? It’s hard for me to conceive of right now, but perhaps if captions were intentionally created that misrepresented what was said in the piece? Or? Can you think of a reason why captions **should** be limited?

Illich makes it pretty clear that in a convivial society, every citizen has free and ready access to the community’s tools. This access and use is limited only when it might impinge on another’s freedom. One way to interpret this within the frame of captioning is that the tools used for caption creation, rendering, and viewing should be free and/or open source. [This is another discussion entirely, free vs. open source, but either solution might work for convivial captions.]

What do you think?

Conviviality & #Captions: A Wandering for #digiwrimo

Opening & Background

#Captions are on my mind, and I’m working to integrate captions and different approaches to captions within the larger frame and work I have engaged in and researched. Connecting the content to what I’m involved with, with what I care about, is a basic approach that relates to constructivist learning. A part of constructivism, as well, is connecting with others and learning with them. I watch, read, review, and consider others’ work on captioning—a form of social learning. End goal, on top of all of this, is to move into constructionism and engage in intelligent, theory-driven practice. 

a light caveat

[I realize this might seem in part, like a surface or shallow discussion, but one of the roles of a blog is to reflect, discuss, and explore lines of flight instead of always trying to remain deep and focused. Those have their value, too, but my use of this blog is to explore, connect, reflect.]

Now Back to Illich

I’ve been reading about conviviality slowly and surely, thinking about it as well, since I first learned of it in 2005. A clear definition of conviviality comes from Illich’s Tools for Conviviality reads:

"autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment" (1973, p. 10).

That leaves a lot of room for interpretation and adaptation. Key ideas here are that interactions are not moderated or controlled by hierarchy or external authority. Instead, people communicate directly with and among themselves. Similarly, their is no moderator between people and the environment around them.

a second caveat

It’s important to note here that I am probably veering away from Illich’s compelling and holistic vision for a society. Illich was not writing for short-term solutions or “fixing” capitalism or industrial society. No. He wanted to control technology, to make sure that the health of people and the planet’s welfare came first; any technology that would disrupt, destroy, or challenge that would, and should, be banned or stopped by an intelligent culture. Why, after all, would you allow the development of tools that destroy and hurt the planet or other human beings?

A short version of Illich’s vision can be found in his description of a convivial society:

“A postindustrial society must and can be so constructed that no one person’s ability to express him- or herself in work will require as a condition the enforced labor or the enforced learning or the enforced consumption of another” (1973, p. 13).

In this work, in my thinking, I am thinking about how captions might be a *convivial technology*. I don’t claim, by any stretch, that the captions could remake society or other such delusions.

However, if we frame or consider captions and captioning as a convivial technology, what does that do to captions? How might that reframe practice and application? What might evolve out of this? Is it possible that a small community of captioners might be able to create a Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ)?

Remembering the Context; Captioning as Literacy

This may seem far afield from how we traditionally see and use captions, and I’m fine with that. I’m not attempting to overthrow the traditional use, application, or framework of captions. That would be silly. Captions, as they currently exist, do fulfill a role—although they often do it to a limited extent.

Currently, it appears as though captioning is very limited in its approach and application. Multiple scholars and practitioners have pointed this out (I can name drop later when the literature review is more thorough, but trust me on this). You could also frame captioning as a form of literacy. Wish this idea was mine, but from what I can tell it emerged in the work of Brueggemann and Karl Fredal in their “Captioning CODA” portion of [Articulating Betweenity].

One metaphor is that captioning is a brush. So far that brush has only been used to write letters. Calligraphy can be beautiful, no question:

However, the experiences of reading calligraphic text, and learning to create it, are very different from reading illuminated text, and learning to create them. 

Illuminated texts rely upon, and need, the alphabet, the brushes, etc. Illuminated texts are built upon the basic, pragmatic communication tools. Why should we remain with those basic communication tools? 

Back to Conviviality

As captioning is currently practiced, there is usually only one captioned track—the track paid and/or provided for by the media creator. Maybe this is the master narrative, but captions often lack in emotional and connotative aspects (see Zdenek and Snell—more details in a future article).

Captioning convivially could have a very different approach, an approach where the captioning is not “paid” for by the media company or government, by some top-down authority, but instead horizontally. Sure, yes, I might want to take the original “master” narrative from the media company—but then modify the captions, indicate sounds that I know are important (like the sound of a click on the phone in an early “X-Files” episode—the sound that indicates a phone tap but which is not captioned) in my viewing and reading of a show or series. If I had friends, local or global, who liked the same shows, they might create their own captions that center on the sounds and content which interest them—and maybe add some animated captions here and avatars for speaker identification.

In many cases, many of our captions might have the same core body of text—especially in terms of dialogue—but there would be variations, iterations, and versions. The captions are created for each other—for other fans and viewers—as opposed to being a product that is bought, sold, and consumed.

Illich’s Environment

Given Illich’s critique of technology and its manifold abuses, I think he would disagree with the following discussion. Perhaps. 

Let’s return, briefly, to Illich’s definition of conviviality:

“autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment (1973, p. 10).“ 

What if this environment is not just the physical environment but the mediascape in which we interact and live? Is that a potential reading of Illich’s discussion? 

What do you think? Am I stretching things a bit too far? Do you want more evidence or proof? What directions might things go?

Calligraphy image

Calligraphy - calligraphie

Illuminated Mansuscript

Illuminated Manuscript, Duke Albrecht's Table of Christian Faith (Winter Part), The Veil of Veronica, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.171, fol. 1v