Ego, Id, iPad? Freud and Tablets?

Posted by M ws On Sunday, January 27, 2013 0 comments
No, of course Freud didn't write anything about the iPad. But an obscure 1925 essay on the "Mystic Pad" gives us some clues as to what he would have made of modern computing technologies.


In 1925, Sigmund Freud published an essay, "A Note upon the 'Mystic Writing Pad.' " In it, he considered a recent market arrival, the Mystic Writing Pad (of course), as a sort of metaphor for the human mind.

At base, the Mystic Pad was "a slab of dark brown resin or wax" on which sat a translucent sheet of wax paper covered by a transparent sheet of celluloid. When a person set a stylus to it, the dark resin would become visible through the wax paper at the points of contact, and thus one could write. When the record was no longer desired, erase it by simply lifting the wax paper off of the slab. (This contemporary kids' toy is a rough equivalent.) The celluloid served merely to protect the wax paper from ripping as the stylus ran across it.

This may not sound like much of a metaphor for the human mind, but one unintended consequence of this procedure struck Freud as quite significant: "The permanent trace of what was written is retained upon the wax slab itself and is legible in suitable lights." The Mystic Pad had a particular kind of memory.

"I do not think it is too far-fetched," Freud wrote, "to compare the celluloid and waxed paper cover with the system of Pcpt.-Cs. [Perception -Consciousness] and its protective shield, the wax slab with the unconscious behind them, and the appearance and disappearance of the writing with the flickering-up and passing-away of consciousness in the process of perception."

For Freud, this was new, as far as technology metaphors go. The other two major technologies he examines in his essay -- paper and slate -- he scrutinizes not so much as a metaphor for the mind, but in their capacity as memory aids or, "mnemic apparatus," as Freud calls them.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the entry by Rebecca J. Rosen.

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