On a humid evening in early summer 2015 I walk around a little park in my Silver Spring neighborhood, my right ear open and listening to bird song and kids’ voices, while the earbud in my left ear transfers these words from my iPhone: “I frequently write in a style that the reader may find ‘personal’ – sometimes provocatively or frustratingly so…. I am one of the entities caught in the hyperobject I call here global warming…; one of the entities I know quite well.” (Morton 2013; Kindle iPad version loc 142, joined to Audible audio file with Whispersync, time remaining 8:46:38) Into my iPhone’s voice memo app I speak a series of thoughts that begin “it’s personal because….”
With tissues growing over the macula of each of my eyes resulting in double-double vision, listening to as many books on audio as I can is personal. Few academic books are on audio in this way at the time of this writing though, and the cognitive sensations involved often feel rather alien to a person who is temperamentally a visual learner and, once upon a time, a speed reader. Luckily, this one, Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects, is available for audio download. Books in such multiple media formats differentially engage varying aspects of the sensorium, for me, actually for everyone. What comes to attention now is not as in “focus” as it once was, that is to say, in proportion as visually (and figuratively) sharp as the ocular (and conceptual) field is narrowed. Certainly not for me, but perhaps not for any of us as we reflect upon our abilities and attentions, never stable. That sort of focused detail depends on reducing the size of the field of view, as one learns only too disappointingly, trying to find large enough magnifying lenses
when attempting to adapt to double-double vision, struggling to get the double-double big enough to coordinate with the brain as singled details. I have to not-quite-see through my seeing, sort of being instead in and with my brain’s coordinations, which actually know better than what-I-think-I-see, what I actually do see, that is to say, what my brain apprehends. It is a strange way to perceive, this double-double vision, and unexpectedly a lot of physically hard work, where you must trust that you are seeing something not quite …there? The ophthalmologist and retinal specialist I see regularly, calls the odd shadows that result too, ghosting.
Today then, I move among extensive knowledges with newly embodied sensitivities, walking in the world listening and tethered, often to kinds of books I would not in the past have devoted time to, science journalism especially, just because these come in a format that now works for me. I “world” differently as a result, my attunements have shifted. Now, as linkages enmeshing infrastructures and embodiments become perceptible on breakdown, many conscious aspects of this thing, the personal, have to be taken up caringly and reaggregated. (Star 1999; Despret 2004) I seek out knowledges, materials, people, objects in order to take up a kind of coordination work that, say, my eyes and my liver, no longer do without specific attention. The personal materializes amid tethering elements I did not need to know and know about so intimately before. And it is not just macular puckers and type two diabetes that require companioning apparatus, nor is the personal here only about me.
Being entities with unstable perceptions caught up in transcontextual economies of action, we require enriched cognitive apparatus for reality, companioning global warming. As Morton addresses in his caption of a NASA graph illustrating his book, global warming “cannot be directly seen, but can be thought and computed.” (Morton 2013, loc 142, time remaining 8:46:38) I do not hear the graph’s caption, it is not among the verbal bits spoken in audio, but I do see it and the figure when I shift from the audiobook version to the ebook version, joined together in one media format. So much we care for cannot be directly perceived, but can be thought, computed, attuned to, felt out, companioned. As and among enfolded realities, we have senses and apparatus, some readied, some emergent, for the distributed, the extensive. And we share what we call learning at the very point of shift through that intensively focused bit, to diffuse extensive multisensations. As we world with things, the personal enfolds as exteriorities within. (Barad 2010, 2012; Kirby, V. 2011, 27)
Morton speaks of his coining of the term hyperobjects “to refer to things that are massively distributed in time and space relative to humans.” (Morton 2013, loc 105, time remaining 8:51:46) Are hyperobjects somehow Morton’s because he knew no such term himself before 2010, when he knows himself to have coined the word he needed to use? Can he have really invented the word but not uniquely? Does the term, word plus meaning, have alternative, extensive, distributed lives? Does that affect the cognitive, political, planetary encounters we call global warming? (Ngram "hyperobject,hyperobjects")
How do words come to matter when specific interventions travel extensively, carrying with each a particular intensive action or agency, a disciplinary knowledge world, a form of authority, or a political intent? What happens when this particular agency diffuses, or multiplies in extensions as a point in its alive cycle as a boundary object, something we can apprehend with our double-double consciousness in play? (Star 2010)
Science journalism or academic philosophy, say, each work to bring intensive meanings to extensive concerns. They play boundary games. Notice that boundary objects such as the word hyperobject do not create boundaries, but they do shift and alter edges of, say, philosophical apparatus, as well as altering the trajectories of membership in communities at work, for example, among scientists and artists. These us/them elasticities exist at various grains of intensive detail, and companion particular sorts of claims for climate change attentions. How might hyperobject work as, say, a relay, or a string figure for sharing patterns, for connections that matter? (Haraway  2013) How meta or conscious do our coordinations of such boundary objects and knowledge worlds in media ecologies have to be?