Scuba: Body, Technology, and world


Scuba diving offers us a way of understanding ourselves, our relationships with technology and the world.  When we descend into the depths, we leave behind the familiar contours of everyday life.  When we return to the surface, we find the familiar world illuminated in new ways.

Publication & Attribution


© 2013, Kevin Williams




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Scuba Cover lg


This is a work of multimedia. This eBook is scored, much like a film, but with different technology. The score is both embedded and available on Sound Cloud (Sound Cloud selections vary with available memory).

Listen while reading, or download for later.


This work is dedicated foremost to my parents for providing the conditions for the possibility of dreaming, doing and enjoying those things that make a life deeply lived.  My vocation and avocation are one and the same, and that sets the stage for a busy, but beautiful, life.  Thanks also to my brother “Sea” Rogers Williams, the ultimate dive buddy, marine scientist and veterinarian.

Great love and appreciation go to my wife, TC Williams, for editing (and support in general). TC is an “Englist.” She understands all the fine workings of the language.  Then I come along and re-edit the material (in other words, the mistakes here are my doing).

I had the great fortune to study diving while working on my doctorate under the direction of Jenny Nelson in communicology. The original research, a phenomenology of scuba diving, was her idea.  Algis Mickunas helped me prepare the first manuscripts (the project quickly took on a life of its own).  Elizabeth Lozano helped from the start; my compañera.

Shepherd University has been very supportive of reviving this work, not as a book, but as work of new media.  The Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, Dow Benedict, has nurtured a fantastic program.  President Susanne Shipley, VPAA Richard Helldobler, and the Professional Development Committee, chaired by Doug Horner, have supported this work with a grant for equipment to record interviews, funding for the presentation of the original papers, and finally a sabbatical to bring the collective materials together.  My colleagues, Monica Larson, Jason McKahan, and Matt Kushin, along with others, have been supportive of my work in multimedia, as well as traditional scholarship, and of my desire to address an audience beyond communication professionals. I could not self-publish and hold my head high if the university, school, and department did not recognize and value my attempt to publish a work of new media that transcends the limits of current academic publishing.

Finally, thanks are incomplete without mention of my dive instructor, Jon Tobin.  From your former student, “Wildman,” I thank you and wish you many years of diving, or, as you say, “blowing bubbles.”


Jon Tobin and Kevin Williams





Backstory: Why Bother?

This site features a phenomenology of scuba diving. The study began during my doctoral studies in communication. Prof. Jenny Nelson, Ohio University, suggested I use my concurrent study of scuba diving to practice phenomenology as it should be -direct experience with ‘something’ (i.e., an object of intentionality), or, by going ‘to the things themselves’ (Husserl).

What I found was that the body-world relationship was even more mysterious than I presupposed. The cosmos spread over me, around me, and through me. Scuba diving offers us a way of understanding ourselves, our relationships with others, and the world; integrating persons, culture and world opening an ecological field for investigation.

An ecosystem has three integral phenomena (Wilden; Lanigan):

  1. Organisms
  2. Environment
  3. World

For our purposes studying communication and scuba diving

  1. Persons (perception and expression)
  2. Culture (language, arts, humanities, sciences, etc.)
  3. World (configurations of time, space, movement)

When we enter the water, and thus scuba’s configurations of space-time-movement, we leave behind the familiar contours of everyday life.  Normal and natural, taken for granted phenomena, like breathing, moving and seeing, are made strange. When we return to the surface, we find the familiar world illuminated in new ways.

The diver is cyborg

Here, with an integrated mechanical body, I am a cyborg. I am magic, the making, that reveals the mythos of the sciences, arts, religions and popular culture, all the while depending on the rational physics, science, to keep myself alive. I am a cyborg underwater.

Looking into the depths of perception is where I begin (both as a fledgling diver and as a graduate student).  Passing through surfaces into depths, and back again, allows me to experience the mysteries of life that are right in front of me all the time, but which are rendered invisible by cultural and societal norms.  In this series of reflections, I bring perceptions of myself and others to expression; I discuss how trips into the unfamiliar underwater world to shed new light on what we often take for granted -things as fundamental as breathing, moving and seeing.

I know a good number of people who have logged many more hours scuba diving than I have.  I don’t profess any special knowledge.  I dive when I can (which is not very often).  I do profess a true love of scuba diving, and consider my dive time transformative.  I have shared in the magic, beauty and wonder so many people experience when diving.  My experience, research on the science of diving, and ethnographic anecdotes are used to bring scuba to life in communication research.  Creating this work of multimedia began when my professor and mentor of my doctoral studies in Communication, Jenny Nelson, suggested I integrate my recreation (scuba diving) with creation (writing), my vocation (my calling to become a professor), with my advocation (my quest to understand and teach human communication).  I continued this work after graduate school, presenting peer-reviewed papers at professional conferences in communication and philosophy.  Scuba diving became a bridge between my personal and professional life.

I’ve been fortunate to work with a community of scholars at Shepherd University.  Professors in the physical sciences, social sciences, and humanities have supported my work with generous grants and their gifts of time to compose this work, and even to present it as a live musical, multimedia work of scholarly theater.  However, I know that studying something like scuba diving sounds superfluous, or even unscholarly, to some colleagues.  To counter this critique, I offer an anecdote (maybe apocryphal).  It is said that eminent scientist Steven J. Gould studied a rare, but generally considered irrelevant, snail for his doctoral thesis because the animal only lived in tropical environments; he would thus “have” to travel to paradise to complete his research.  However, even in paradise, the research and scholarship need to be sound.

This is a work of communication scholarship.  However, I am writing for anybody who wants to explore the experience of scuba diving.  It doesn’t matter if you have never dived.  It doesn’t matter if you are not familiar with communication research.  This book is for the anybody who wants to dive into unfamiliar territories.

About the Text

This text was composed to put expression back into perception.  The phenomenologies of media tend to rightly focus on acts of perception, and the ways those acts are contoured by the world and culture.  Si-called “new” media provide me with tools to put expression back into perception.

For example, the first digital publication of this “book” won a National Communicator Award for musical score in 2013. It was submitted for Interactive Education and Music.

I’m proud of this achievement to the extent that one usually doesn’t think of “scoring” a book–the way you might score a movie or play.  That first attempt at publishing this work failed because I chose a software application that, while being amazing, is simply not supported in the real world.  What you are reading is a second attempt to post this material. It is equally a labor of profession and the love of my futile, but worthwhile, attempt to create more than I consume.

The Depths of Perception is composed for computer-mediated communication in the digital domain.  It is not just a book published using digital publishing software. It is a multimedia work composed for the changing digital communication environment.  This environment is no longer defined by the word (logos and literacy), but by the image (echos and media literacy; for a commentary on “echos,” an indicator of multiple, simultaneous and overflowing logics, see Merleau-Ponty, Eye and Mind, and Williams, Why I [Still] Want my MTV).

“We must prepare young people for living in a world of powerful images, words and sounds.” UNESCO

Words, sounds, sights, and all sensual material are the stuff of imagery. What we call “images” are too often wrongly thought of as pictures. Speech and writing, for example, have always manifested imagery. However, as multimedia images proliferate (and can become manipulative, especially in advertising), we need new tools of perception to meet the demands of contemporary, and in some ways, post-literate, expression.

“The ability to communicate in ways other than using words is an area that has not been promoted I think heavily enough in the educational system. The world of graphics and music and cinema are all areas that are very powerful, and as we enter the 21st century, the needs to become literate in these other forms of communications are becoming increasingly important.”  -George Lucas

The point of this book is twofold. First and foremost, it’s a look at scuba diving through the various theories of contemporary communication. At the same time, it is a multimedia text that seeks to use new media. If I can bring the Real (with a capital R) to light, it will be between the images that make this book (including words, music, pictures, movies and more).
However, this book is written as a way of practicing what I teach. It is both a book about scuba diving and a book that looks at its own rhetoric of diving.
This book is an example of applied media literacy written for a non-professional, college educated readership.

“Media literacy is a basic tool for citizenship in an Information Society.”-Pat Aufderheide

Calls for a literacy not solely based on the word (logos), but on “images” are many. Sometimes the word “images” is mistakenly used for pictures. Images are not just pictures. They are any spiritual appearances of sensual communication. The smell of Rose Hip bushes that remind you of your youth. The sound of a song that defined a particular summer. These expressions of perception are just as imagistic as a photograph or movie.
Having read, it’s apparent that no person has the time to study, let alone know, everything in their own discipline: This indicates that I need to compose a book that moves in a depth dimension (hypertext), allowing individuals to take their own path. The teacher (author) may be a master of a subject matter, but the student (reader) may require paths to knowledge and understanding beyond the teacher’s pedagogy. In this book, every word is an opening to your own path; use the dictionary, thesaurus, web, and glossary to your heart’s desire. Use the web tools to add your own comments, anecdotes, and chapters. Make this book your own.
I’ve also learned, though it’s not often repeated, that the activity of scholarship cannot be a pure inscription of fact or truth. Since all purposeful endeavors are interested (disinterest is an idealistic wish), and all facts and truths are woven into, are the product of, discourse, we need to see the fact in its communicative presence. We learn facts in relation to subject areas, and those facts may not be valid outside of those areas: Such multiple understandings in the face of ambiguity is communicative Intelligence.


“The activity of research and scholarship is a creative” activity  -Catherine Belsey

This creativity is productive. We have an opportunity to refresh our awareness of ourselves, our relationships with others, and our sensitivity to the world. Scuba diving is an ideal way to experience the mysteries of life. By understanding communication, we develop a more critically aware understanding of the ways that legitimate discourses, sedimented practices, regionally defined theories, and institutionalized conceptions bridge two identifiable regions of experience that can be integrated:

  • Taking scuba diving as an object of study (using specific methods and theories) reveals much about human communication, sensation, meditation, perception, and expression. Consider what we can see:
  • Scuba diving is an adventure into another facet of the world (we can experience the alien world of the underwater).
  • Scuba diving is a chance to become a cyborg (we must embody technology in order to survive).
  • Scuba diving is a trip to a new understanding of things (our travels shed light on the ordinary, every day, and mundane).
  • Scuba diving opens doors to the perception that I want to bring to expression in multimedia to help the “language” of diving become more well known, and its nuances better understood.
  • Scuba diving is a trip millions have taken. It’s a trip I’ve taken. It’s a trip I want to share

Communication & Profession

Besides diving (which I do not do often enough), I do a variety of things. I’m a Professor of Communication.  I teach media studies–both criticism and production. My pre-doctoral professional communication experience includes working as an audio engineer, sound designer, videographer, television director and corporate communications consultant.  Before that, I was a musician.  I remain today an amateur musician; we need to remember that the root of amateur is amore, meaning that our amateur endeavors are not the opposite of our profession (paid versus unpaid), but they are the things we do for the love of the practice.  I play electric violin, a Mark Wood Viper, the ethereal sound of which takes me on transcendental travels to what Don Juan would call non-ordinary reality (Carlos Casteneda), or what Jean Gebser would call “magic.”

Since we live in the age of communication and information, and since teaching is, in my experience, learning while earning a living, the balances appear to be in order for producing this work, as a work of multimedia. Communication is still a young field of study.  While its roots are fed by Classical Rhetoric, the discipline we see in Universities begins with World War II efforts at not only deciphering and ciphering propaganda but developing anti-missile missiles (E.M. Rogers, Communication Technology, 1986).  Later, influences from Europe, 20th Century Continental Philosophy, Critical Theory and Cultural Studies brought new theories and methods of qualitative and critical inquiry. This branch of the communication field is Communicology (following the lead of Richard Lanigan).  It provides a rich explanation of human communication–perhaps the defining phenomenon of our times. Yet, it is widely unknown.  In this book, we will look at scuba diving through the multiple eyes of a communicologist.

Communicative Intelligence is a series of works (essays, blogs, conference papers, books, movies, web pages and university courses) that explore, explicate and explain media literacy in the age of communication, imagery, and information.

Understanding images, arguably the “language” of the day, is complex, much like a psychoanalytical complex -a constellation of significance in which signs may be functional or dysfunction depending how they are lived.

if there is a neurosis at the heart of the complex it remains the economic base; it’s here an image of inspiration may turn to an image of manipulation.  The advertising environment, propagated by post-modern capitalism (in Jameson’s sense), has grown far beyond the relationship Marx proposed; image and attitude appear to be “everything;”  the thing (the car, the scuba suit); it’s valued in use, and it value in exchange, are both less than its value in appearance -we move from economics and rationality to mythos and to finally to magic (Williams).

However, some-thing that is everything must be no-thing (in other words there is neither a singular cause, perception or expression). We have a cognitive matter instead of a physical problem.  No-thing, however, can be used to indicate the presence a phenomenon.  And what we have here is a post-structural phenomenology of scuba diving.

Communicative Intelligence

While I don’t claim any comprehensive “communicative intelligence,” I have spent the majority of my adult life dealing with the questions raised by communication and mediation which guides almost all entertainment and technologically mediated communication.  The rhetorical tendency is more manipulative than persuasive, so new tools for the seductions of eloquence, as Bertrand Russell noted for the literary world, must be implemented.  These “tools” are theories; the tools for conviviality Ivan Illich discussed in his book of the same name.

In the post-literary age, image and attitude overbear fact and fiction. I seek to explicate the logos of images. The logic(s) of images are more multiple, “” than logos, and require a postmodern approach of multiplicity and ambiguity over positivity and certainly.

This foray into the experience of scuba diving strives to keep the question of communication as it functions in concert with a series of other texts on, e.g., music video, science fiction, and music.

Table of Contents

How do I arrange an act of communication that has the content of print but the form of a blog?


While my work on scuba diving has been presented and published in several forms (see Chapter 0.0). These forms are academic and practical only in McLuhan’s world of Print.

To facilitate reading, I am borrowing a map.  Maps and mapping have become staples of the postmodern consideration of communication phenomena. So, it’s time to put the theory to practice (which is the purpose of theory anyway).

The map used here is the mythological and archetypical map popularized by Joeseph Campbell.  The Hero’s Journey is known well enough that I hope to organize a segmented body of material in a way that can be read in any order, but that has an original ordering, a punctum, a line of flight that carries the reader (or at least it should) from beginning to end (Ulmer, Barthes, Deleuze and Guattari).


The map begins in the upper right and reads clockwise.

  • 00 THE PREFACE We begin with the “known,” and “normative.” These words are in quotation marks to indicate that our cultural understanding is discursive, and may be smaller than we think.  What we consider known resides within the cultural sphere that maps and marks the work with language, education (formal and informal).  The normative is a reminder that what we call common-sense is really communal-sense; it’s the word and law of a tribe (no matter how large or diverse).  The preface, with its necessary legal, copyright notes, and some introductory material belongs here because it’s expected.
  • 01 THE CALLING, or call to adventure, take the person on a kind of vision question.  Here is where and when diving becomes a calling, a need or lack to be filled.  Also, in psychoanalytic terms, the pre-diver (OK, that’s a funny term) is imbued with imagery, and an imaginary that operates both at and below the levels of language; in fact, I mean this quite literally. The technical language of diving, while ultimately responsible for keeping oneself alive, need not be present here.  Note as well that the language (the non-professional language) and imaginary touch the water but do not and cannot go below. Entering the water is its own experience.
  • 02 RUN AWAY. When the diver looks again at the water-world, he has good reason to simply run away.  The creatures of the sea, not to mention the horrors of underwater pressure, are truly frightening.  In the hero’s journey, reluctance is an integral theme.  If you have read about the physiology of diving, and have not had second thoughts, well, you are a braver person than I. However, a true imaginary image (that is not tautological) will drive (a triumph of the will–not the film) the rational person to use that rationality to overcome fear.  If “fear is the mind-killer” (Herbert), then the mind is the fear killer. We move from chapter 2 to 3 when we realize that we have a powerful ally–science.
  • 03 THE MENTOR.  I’ve been a professional teacher for more than twenty years.  The first thing I’ve learned by teaching is that when you want to learn, let alone master, any discipline, you do want to start with the good teache
    r.  Why?  Because you don’t know what you don’t know (and you have to get over that and open up to the literature or whatever passes for knowledge and, hopefully, wisdom: The realm of the known and normative is a fog, a cloud, an eye-cover that the mentor is able to see through. She is the one who knows the way.  My dive instructor, Jon Tobin, became a friend.  He had a bike shop, but taught scuba so he had an excuse to dive all the time.  I caught the bug from him.  He showed me the way, and he even did it in Ohio. I then learned that if I helped him prepare for instructor dives, I could get days worth of free air tanks–Jon ruled
  • 04 MAKING STRANGE.  We now enter the water. We have the discourse of science to protect is, and the mythological desire for undergone experience.  What now?  We open our senses to the sensual and sensible, and notice how different things, even ordinary things like a potato chip delivery truck, can be at 100 feet and covered with…stuff. Because we are entering the “unknown” we begin to metaphorically and mythologically die to the terrane world, and begin to inhabit planet ocean.  This death can be profound as a religious experience or conversion.  The old elf passes away and a new self emerges.  Yes. The old self can come with you (if you want), but the depth of “death” (which is an a-rational experience, and takes place not in the scientific discourse, but in the positioning of your self in the world–the imaginary reality of the psyche may be changed forever–and I hope it is and in a positive way.  Because real death is always present underwater. The water doesn’t care about you. It’s not your womb. If you take the water into your body, you might die in the flesh.  Care.  Always care (and remember physics).

(This is a work in progress)


Previous Peer-Review

Williams, K. March 1992. “The Diver’s Body & Perception: Depths & Surfaces,” presented at the annual Popular Culture Convention, Louisville, KY.

Williams, K. November 1995. “Vital Communication,” presented at the XIII Meeting of the Jean Gebser Society for the Study of Culture & Consciousness, Chicago, IL.

Williams, K. November 1996. “The Performative Body & Communication,” presented at the Performance Division of the Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication Association, San Diego, CA.

Williams, K. May 1996. “Breath & the Body: A Cultural Study of Scuba Diving,” presented at the Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, Chicago, IL.

Williams, K. March 1996. “The Diver & the Deep Blue Sea: A Phenomenological Investigation of the Body & the World,” presented at “Back to the Things Themselves” Conference on Phenomenology, Carbondale, IL.

Version 1 of the ebook won a National Communicator Award for music in 2013. It was submitted for Interactive Education and Music.


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