Rowan smiling at Christmas shortly before getting her first prosthetic.

Cancer, Loss, Change

I want to suggest that social media isn't necessarily bound to the binaries informing Walter Ong's (1986) secondary orality; it is not simply a matter of either the ear or the eye. To a culture so grounded in the ontological distance instigated by Ong/McLuhan's literacy/print (the eye), it might initially seem that this is a reincorporation of the values Ong, Havelock, and others have associated with cultures of the ear. I want to go a step farther, however, and propose that—especially given the "distance" amplified by literacy and print, the primary sensibility of social media is touch. Sensibility here is Levinas's term and I use it to suggests an affective, bodily thinking that precedes conscious thought. In proximity to an other's response, we feel them. Their difference touches us at a level "below" the skin and under-our-thought. Rhetorical support is an acknowledgement that words are a pathetic extension of our hands; they can approach as fists (Kenneth Burke, 1984, Permanence and Change, pp. 191-192) or in the form of caress (Levinas, 1969, Totality and Infinity, pp. 257-258). While they always threaten with violence, we can temper that threat through a willingness to re-orient the self rather than change the other. This is particularly the kind of determinism I believe rhetoric and composition scholars can encourage for technology. Once again: courage, humility, knowledge, and, as Madeline's email emphasizes, risk.

I want to posit my experience with cancer as a hyper-amplification of a basic human condition: a need for others in the face of others. Others as the medium for a sense of belonging and home. Others as the catalyst for first thinking and recognizing ourselves. To manipulate Bill Readings: "Others [and not thought] necessarily as an addiction from which we never get free" (see University in Ruins, p. 128). Incorporating touching others to the thinking of thought. Others as a catalyst for thought and thinking; especially a rethinking of the self (as foundational Western concept) by a self (a collection of thoughts put in motion by the stirring of an other). In my particular case, being-with-death might have been the catalyst for a subjective reformation, but others were an indispensible part of the reconstitution responsible for the new me. And it is the technological and social transformations opened up by social media that facilitated this transformation.