Digital as Third-Degree

To David XXX:

If you are ultimately asking whether we would prefer an analog over a digital world, my answer is an unequivocal yes.  I think yellow slips, phone calls during office hours for work, and evenings and weekends for family and friends, and a couple of hours a day for typewritten or long-hand correspondence, did a much better job for me.  Yes, now I can easily share with my nephews and nieces in Spain the story of the Florida man who liberated his Spaniel puppy from the jaws of an alligator without dropping his cigar, but I have not had a proper conversation with any of them since the last time I was in Spain, when most of them were busy anyway texting their friends.

I have been privileged enough to have access to adequate libraries, so that using the card catalog and walking through the stacks, and then going downstairs to read a couple of newspapers in the newspapers section, was good enough for me.  Of course it is more comfortable, physically, to order books from Amazon and to download everything else into my computer, but at the end of the day that kind of hyperaccess, which I enjoy professionally, has not done much for me in terms of thinking and writing about what is important (for me).  And the pleasures of posting in or Facebook are offset by the pain they produce on a constant basis.  Just think about what it has done to your friendships, together with email.  There are now for the most part only nominal friendships having to do with a steady digital contact.  But you are dead in the water if that contact vanishes, for one reason or another.  Nothing easier.

Even writing here in the Heidegger Circle is painful, no matter its compensations.

I have no choice, however, or my choice is very limited.  Yes, I may drop out of Facebook and my Slack chat rooms and even the Heidegger Circle, and willingly assume a heroic, radical solitude that will feel very much like what I imagine prison time to be.  Or I may assiduously continue the activities I engage in, and this letter is part of it, in full awareness that they are radically compensatory in nature and far from any kind of “real thing.”  So that the isolation regime becomes more like a third-degree jail regime, where I am given some communication benefits in exchange for good behavior, if I manage to keep it.

Given that situation, I will of course try to make the most of my options as they are, never knowing whether I am doing it right or, indeed, the costs it enacts.  But I am pretty damn sure I cannot call that “a free relation to technology.”  That would only be self-delusion, and a corrupt use of the very notion of freedom.

In the meantime, the regime of work and permanent evaluation on quantitative factors the university imposes on us–definitely Ge-Stell and Bestand-based, and digitally motivated and empowered to the core–has gutted any conceivable academic stimulus for me.  As far as I am concerned, social networks have taken the place of university discourse, since proper university discourse is to be found nowhere.  But they have not really taken its place, except as farce.

So, yes, I will continue to try to make the most of present conditions, but I think they generally suck, even though they suck for me less than they suck for others.

All the very best, Alberto

PS: It would of course be naive of me to expect, even to hope for, a good discussion concerning these issues.


David, thanks.  Likewise, I have no reason or inclination to question your experience.  I realize the world is complicated.  And it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that I do not try to extract as much as I can extract from the digital world as it is.  I am successful enough at it at any rate to sustain my life as it is.  And of course there is no alternative life I can countenance at this point.   I am, for instance, enjoying this exchange, and I would not give it up.

So perhaps the key here is not to take absolute or dogmatic positions and try to make the most of the possibilities we do have–there is certainly no return to the analog world, as it cannot be done on an individual basis–to be the one analog in a digital world is to be in a position a lot worse than the ugly duckling’s, as there will be no redeeming swan flying by.  We have to make do.

The difficulty, then, at least for me, is how to continue to produce some thinking that I believe is good enough for my possibilities in the face of a net of digital relationships that are only receptive rarely, infrequently.   In the notion that thinking can only happen relationally, that there can be no thinking in the absence of interlocution.  (Unless one is some kind of saintly genius.)

Say, you produce a text here, or in Facebook, and there is no response.  How many times can you bear it without throwing in the towel?   And then, what do you do: do you adjust your discourse to your prospective audience, meaning that you will have to come in your thinking as close to producing a cat picture as you can, or do you just opt for silence and withdrawal?

Of course those are two bad options.  Today a friend of mine posted a picture of the cover of a book I had co-edited with him, and I posted a reflection on the issue we are currently discussing.  Within half an hour that cover picture had 102 likes, and my reflection had 9 likes.  But I know that well above 90% of the people that “liked” the cover picture will forget that the book exists within half an hour.

I find that kind of thing endlessly frustrating, and precisely because people’s digital commitments have made them become very scarce when it comes to facilitating serious conversation, and there is nothing but facebook, say, available any more.  There is no alternative.  Even email is failing now, compared to its function in, say, the 1990s.

I believe the tendency of thought associated with Heidegger helps endure all of this, which definitely has existential implications.   Actually, this is why I am interested in the notion of an existentially transformative thinking.   While I know present conditions are not to be ignored, cannot be ignored, I find it hard to inhabit them, and I need something else.  Please do not think of this as overly dramatic on my part.  I think it is what we all feel.  At some level.

All the very best, Alberto

One thought on “Digital as Third-Degree

  1. I like the term hyperaccess, it describes that cold blanket of technology I sometimes feel has engulfed my life. I fought the cell phone, the “I’ll just look that up Right Now!” I didn’t buy one until 2008. Then, I purposely got one that had no internet access. Onward and upward (or not), I now have an iPhone. My thought is the more venues we have to contact someone, the less we do contact them. Electrical connection is easy to get, real connection much more difficult. Thank you for your discussion. -Rebecca


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