Digital Alienation 2
[Part 2 of the Digital Alienation essay. Image by Banksy]
The Utopia of Total Capitalism
Total capitalism can be envisaged as a super-organism or series of Russian dolls, with each level nested within the next higher. We are fast approaching a generalised market society of isolated singles and transient couples or blended/virtual ‘families’ living inside artificially cocooned screen worlds sitting inside globally homogenised, hyper-urban high-rise environments. These are totally dominated by capital and commodities and devoid of even the last vestiges of plants and animals apart from a few rats, cockroaches and a few other wily generalists. Digitally spread out everywhere, we are in fact nowhere (Greek u-topia: no-place). We are in an oxymoronic abstract space called ‘cyberspace’, a space both material (copper wires, electromagnetic waves etc.) and immaterial. This dystopian nowhere of abstraction is capitalism’s concrete utopia. It is the technological expression of the abstract materialism of its key elements, the commodity and capital. The commodity is also material (an object, a use-value) and immaterial (an exchange value, a price), both a concrete object or service and an abstraction from nature and its producer and essentially defined by monetary value. Cut off materially and mentally from the real sources of ‘use-values’, i.e. our food, water, energy, vitality, we are becoming more and more enclosed in an artificial, commoditised world of anthropocentric narcissism, a material and mental bubble of abstract exchange values which may only burst in some very concrete form of economic, ecological or nuclear apocalypse.
The Utopia of the Total State
Twenty-first century digitalisation has fused the twentieth century dystopias of Zamyatin’s novel We, Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwells’ 1984 in best Hegelian fashion: by integrating and transcending them at a higher level. We now truly live in a potentially totalitarian panopticon beyond the liberal state’s and early capitalism’s (Jeremy Bentham’s) wildest dreams: the glass walls are now both in our rooms and in our own hands. With smartphones and car e-tags we carry around the tools of our own surveillance, both as surveillers and surveilled. We both objectify ourselves in images, texts and data gathering (‘the objectified self’) and are ourselves trackable everywhere, our every movement, information search, download, purchase, communication, loaned library book gathered, stored, cross-referenced, evaluated, usually in the form of oceans of ‘metadata’ gathered by corporate and state surveillance. Urban coverage by mini-drones, mini-cameras, CCTV is becoming near total. The totalitarian Gestapo/SD, Stasi and KGB were still punch-card analog, i.e. in the surveillance stone-age compared to the current Big Brother practices of the NSA and allied agencies, which are truly total and thus truly totalitarian. This is more than the elimination of privacy, an important material condition of individualism, independence and dissent. With the inevitable trajectory of the oligarchic state, the total gathering of data on citizens is already moving from the passive to the repressive and interventionist. The Ukrainian government, for example, has already used messages to mobile phones to warn people intending to join demonstrations. Technically it is also possible to hack into webcams on people’s computers to spy on them, directly realising Orwell’s vision.
Distraction from Distraction
Even before digitalisation, we were all increasingly ‘amusing ourselves to death’ (Neil Postman) and ‘distracted from distraction by distraction’ (T.S. Eliot). We are now also distracted from realising the paradox of information overload and visual over-stimulation as the ultimate dominator tools for pacification, turning off (compassion fatigue), desensitizing, dumbing down. Too much information can be as depoliticising as too little. 150 channels and nothing on. Climate chaos, catastrophes, wars, epidemics, mass movements, revolutions, celebrity divorces, the latest phone app. Click here to save the planet. Yawn.
~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on October 9, 2014.
Posted in critical theory, essays, social change, social theory
Tags: Banksy what are you looking at, capitalism, digital alienation, digitalisation, Huxkey, Huxley, integrated spectacle, Orwell, the spectacle, the total state, total capitalism, total surveillance, Zamyatin