A Gibsonesque cyber-word, meatware refers, somewhat contemptuously, to those aspects of information processing that are neither software nor hardware. Programming is a grueling mental activity, and there is a tendency among software programmers to, shall we say, not look after themselves. There is an old adage that one should never trust a thin cook, and this might be extended to programmers also. The most consummate technologists spend so much of their time in virtual worlds that their bodies often get neglected. The state of their bodies becomes, consequently, an ironic badge of their devotion to their craft.
It has been said, mainly by its critics, that Modernism in philosophy since Descartes is distorted by the implicit assumption that object of philosophy is strictly rational, conscious, and intellectual. This trend was turned back, somewhat, by Heidegger’s discussion of Mood in his masterpiece Being and Time. Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, which at times reads like a rewriting of Being and Time much as Sartre’s Being and Nothingness does, takes this battle further by placing himself within the heart of the intellectual tradition, Husserl’s Phenomenology, and emphasizing the point that all perception, all experience, occurs through the medium of our bodies. This was, strangely enough, a revolutionary insight at the time.
Eventually Feminism (or at least certain branches of Feminist thought) took up this controversy and used it as a central template for understanding the misunderstandings between men and women. Men misunderstand humanity as a primarily intellectual (and phallic) being. Women, on the other hand, implicitly understand the role of the body in the same way that tides understand gravity. It is an inescapable aspect of a woman’s existence, which the scholars of women’s issues tend to call “embodiment“.
It can’t be said that software programmers really learned anything from the insights of Feminism other than the fact that they would prefer to have very little to do with the body. If there is such a thing as human nature, software programming tends to distort it and encourage anti-social behaviors such as distractedness, obsessiveness and self-medication. Exemplary programmers need not be exemplary human beings, and perhaps ought not to be, to Aristotle’s dismay.
Stephen Dubner at Our Daily Bleg suggests an economic explanation for the rise in American obesity. He suggests that the elimination of outhouses and dramatic improvements in indoor plumbing may have led to the rapid increase in median weight. Our improved ability to vacate our own waste, he avers, has lowered the inconvenience of indulging in the gastronomic pastime, and so we do. It depends, I imagine, on whether one seeks answers in the superstructure or in the base.
Vanity Fair, on the other hand, has a series of articles currently online which may provide a glimpse at what the unhealthy have to look forward to. Though not himself a programmer, Christopher Hitchens has drunk, smoked and eaten himself to the point that he can be mistaken for one. At 58, he attempts to turn back the clock of desultory living with a check-in at a spa, and writes about it.
The articles are accompanied by illustrative photos which highlight this cautionary tale about the importance of maintaining your meatware.