What we stand to lose. Final, Series 5.5

In the final instalment of this series, I lay a few bones on the table for your consideration. I hope you value them as I do.


“If the human race is under threat in some way that we don’t yet understand, it will probably be at the community level that we either solve the problem or fail to. If the future of the planet depends on, say, rationing water, communities of neighbors will be able to enforce new rules far more effectively than even local government. It’s how we evolved to exist, and it obviously works.” (109)

 Sebastian Junger. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. Harper Collins: 2016


Cynthia Townley observes that “our epistemic [i.e. knowledge seeking] practices are deeply cooperative.” (23) She defines an epistemic community “as a network of relationships between [people] engaged in epistemic activities and practices.” (2) [wherein] “trust has an extensive role.” (26)

Cynthia Townley. A Defense of Ignorance: Its Value for Knowers and Roles in Feminist and Social Epistemologies. Lanham: Lexington Books. 2011.


“What binds the members of a community is trust…this trust, I suggest, is sustained and reinforced by a feeling of dependence on others. We are linked with one another by a complex web of epistemic dependence-relations and we must all, at least dimly, sense that we are not separately self-sufficient in knowledge.” (303)

Welbourne, Michael. “The community of knowledge.” The Philosophical Quarterly (1950-) 31.125 (1981): 302-314.


“Knowledge is a collective good. In securing our knowledge we rely upon others, and we cannot dispense with that reliance. That means that the relations which we have and hold our knowledge have a moral character, and the word I use to indicate that moral relation is trust—Steven Shapin.” (159)

From, Miranda Fricker. “Rational Authority and Social Power: Towards a Truly Social Epistemology.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. New Series, Vol. 98 (1998), pp. 159-177 http://www.jstor.org/stable/4545280


Sarah Blaffer Hrdy warns that under certain environmental conditions, such as children “surviving to adulthood without ever forging trusting relationships with caring adults [we can lose the traits of] empathy and understanding.” (292-293)

 Sarah Blaffer Hrdy Mothers and Others. Belknap Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2011. Print.


Eric Pickersgill’s Photography project, Removed , depicts people staring at their cell phones. Or rather, people appearing as if they are staring at their cell phones, since Pickersgill removes the devices from the subject’s hands just before he snaps the shots.

Excerpt from Pickergill’s Project Statement,

    “The work began as I sat in a café’ one morning. This is what I wrote about my observation:

          Family sitting next to me at Illium café in Troy, NY is so disconnected from one another. Not much talking. Father and two daughters have their own phones out. Mom doesn’t have one or chooses to leave it put away. She stares out the window, sad and alone in the company of her closest family. Dad looks up every so often to announce some obscure piece of info he found online. Twice he goes on about a large fish that was caught. No one replies. I am saddened by the use of technology for interaction in exchange for not interacting. This has never happened before and I doubt we have scratched the surface of the social impact of this new experience. Mom has her phone out now.

     The image of that family, the mother’s face, the teenage girls’ and their father’s posture and focus on the palm of their own hands has been burned in my mind. It was one of those moments where you see something so amazingly common that it startles you into consciousness of what’s actually happening and it is impossible to forget. I see this family at the grocery store, in classrooms, on the side of the highway and in my own bed as I fall asleep next to my wife. We rest back to back on our sides coddling our small, cold, illuminated devices every night.

The large format portraits are of individuals who appear to be holding personal devices although the devices have been physically removed from the sitter’s hand. They are asked to hold their stare and posture as I remove their device and then I make the exposure. The photographs represent reenactments of scenes that I experience daily. We have learned to read the expression of the body while someone is consuming a device and when those signifiers are activated it is as if the device can be seen taking physical form without the object being present.”

See also Eric Pickersgill’s Ted Talk “Do Our Devices Divide Us?” (2016)

And, “Photographer removes our smartphones to show our strange and lonely new world” by Steve Mollman, Quartz Magazine, August 28, 2019.


Teens have less face time with their friends –and are lonelier than ever”, Jean Twenge , The Conversation, March 20, 2019.

“There’s something about being around another person – about touch, about eye contact, about laughter – that can’t be replaced by digital communication. The result is a generation of teens who are lonelier than ever before.”

*Report on the findings of a study by Twenge et al (examining trends in how 8.2 million US teens spent time with their friends since the 70s).


Michael Ball, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” Les Miserables, 10th Anniversary. Posted November 8, 2010 by hou9kcp.

Categories: Rhetoric and Epistemology, Series

Tags: , ,

3 replies


  1. What’s in a name? A face, a voice, laughter, habits….Series 5.1. – pam-mentations.com
  2. Mattering to each other. Series 5.2. – pam-mentations.com
  3. Survival. Series 5.3. – pam-mentations.com

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