Digital … transcends the human scale: The Condition of Digitality published

Digital … transcends the human scale: The Condition of Digitality published

Robert Hassan’s new book The Condition of Digitality is the latest title to be released in the ‘Critical Digital and Social Media Studies‘ series. In this extract from the introduction in which he reflects on changes of outlook since David Harvey first wrote and published The Condition of Postmodernity, Hassan suggests – to use the words of the book’s subtitle – how the digital requires a new perspective from ‘analogue’ humans,that is – ‘A Post-Modern Marxism for the Practice of Digital Life’.

‘Digital machines and their logic are (in the operation of their logic) like nothing we have ever seen before. Everything previously, going back to the dawn of our species and our drift toward technology invention and use, was some kind of analogue technology. From the wheel to the radio signal, and from writing to television, analogue technology fashioned our world and fashioned us, making possible such human-scaled processes as knowledge and communication, cities and institutions, Enlightenment and modernity, conceptions of time and space. Digitality changes all these and more, starting with the total transcending of the human scale. Time and space are now different categories of perception, condensed into immediacy and acceleration at the general level through, for example, the now-ubiquitous smartphone. Such drastic changes in scale and perception rebound back upon the analogue legacies in the realms of knowledge, reason, modernity and so on—and we struggle with the contradictions inherent within their unavoidable interactions across economy, society, culture and politics.

Seen in this way, digital technology and digitality compel us to think hard not just about the digital, but also about that which it supplants—the analogue logic and the relationship with analogue technology that made possible our pre-digital world. We are driven also to think about where the human stands in relation to analogue and digital. Some scattered work was done in this regard in the 1980s and 1990s, but all of it tentative, and none of it from a Marxist perspective that, like Harvey, makes salient social change and the socialist project. The hypothesis I construct here concludes that we are, ontologically speaking, analogue beings from an analogue universe that evolved from out of our species’ drift toward tool-use to become homo sapiens. Some scattered work was done here too, but only suggestive, not systematic, and not with a view to conclusions that had ramifications for the present conjuncture in terms of political economy or techno-capitalism. Meanwhile, digitality spread from a nascent but obvious technological ‘revolution’ around the time of Harvey’s research for Postmodernity, to become a whole way of life—infiltrating the practice of daily life and colonising the consciousness that governs the meanings that constitute practice. It became a central element of culture, in other words; culture that is now networked and global. What this means is that the elements of Postmodernity that Harvey takes as empty ideologies—a globalising neoliberalism and the cultural postmodernity that expresses its superficiality—have become embedded, through digitality, into the practice that constitutes how everyday life is now increasingly lived and understood (or not understood).’

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