Digital Alienation 2

banksy_free what are you looking at

[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.

2 Responses to “Digital Alienation 2”

  1. So, technology is to serve the beast. It’s always been that way. Tangled up in whatever is the prevailing ideological paradigm. Controlled, planned and moulded by it. Now Capitalism is/was/was always, colonising the virtual world. A world touted to free up more time for us to enjoy but then neo-liberalism saw to it that wasn’t ever really to be. Bring on constant necessary unemployment, credit and DEBT, then precariousness by making sure the economy is always shaky and breaks, requiring “fixing”, a common and historically well known procedure, that requires squeezing the poor and middle classes more and more, forcing longer working hours, so there is less time to enjoy and everyone’s too exhausted to give a shit. Continue to feed us all bullshit through, television, radio and now the internet and “smart” phones, so yes, we are all completely distracted many times over, yet feeling like it is all quite normal and ordinary.

    It’s not the digital word that dehumanises or creates robots and automatons, it’s capitalism. I was programmed long before the internet and digital information overload. Private tyranny capitalism and it’s supporting crew, that’s what does it. We spend most of our lives not buried in the digital world but in a hierarchical and tyrannical one. A totalitarian one, be it inverted or just plane “verted”! An authoritarian world of private tyrannies is our home, five, six, seven days a week, one or maybe two days off to get our bearings and reenergise, the back again for more. SUPER!

    We’re used to being told what to do and yelled at. The digital world offers a place for escape, communication, self expression, diaries, blogs, uploading music, stealing intellectual property, spreading vital information, music and humour, as well as bullshit, within a very small window of spare time, then we get hammered for not paying attention to the things that matter, for having short attention spans, a lack of concern and studio tans. We can’t win (but then, THEY don’t want us to).We get accused of being clicktivists, uneducated drones who don’t know who or what to believe anymore. We get berated by those on the left for certain reasons and those on the right for others. Often they are actually the same. Funny about that.

    What the powers that be KNOW is, is that we actually require private tyranny discipline and leaders. More and more leaders. It’s leadership and discipline that we need, not real participatory democracy. Taking the risk out of democracy has always been a priority, even before Alex Carey. While the “intellectual” liberal media shows us where acceptable debate begins and ends . Go further and you’re a bleeding nut job.

    No, it’s not the digitalisation of life that’s fucking things beyond repair, it’s the same old same old. The same old same old just planning it, using it, colonising it and controlling it. Capital being capital. Powerful men being powerful arseholes who know better when outside the huge private tyrannies they work in, with their friends and loved ones. The digital world is here to stay and cannot be suppressed, so the answer’s pretty obvious. It can’t be just the same old same old again and again.

    So what’s it to be then John, a brunetto or a bleeding blonde – vague visions, maxims and utopian hopes, or serious alternatives that can deal with the very real complexities of the world and it’s diverse inhabitants? What will constitute the social pie in a free and just world? Will a digital world be a necessary part of it? If so, how does it get produced and maintained? Who’s gonna mine the necessary minerals? Who’s gonna build the components and put them together? It may seem I am off the point, but this is where I always end up when technology is questioned. We cannot suppress technological know how in a better world, that would be completely nuts, and in fact we need it to make a better world work, so we had better get serious about WHAT is to replace the present day nasty beast that governs our every move or dystopia, here we come, if it ain’t already here.

    I have no problems with idiots, drones, automatons, those who don’t care, gamers, loners, those with their heads buried incessantly in screens, off with the fairies and with studio tans, as long as they chose such personal lifestyles of their own free will, within a free, just and equitable world. Not one that forces and herds people into ways of being for the purposes of sustaining the well being of a few.

    Even an idiot can and should be able and allowed to wake up with a smile every day.

    I have and probably never will buy into the notion that concision is the way to go. Brevity not being a strong point. Fuck short attention spans. Screw the short and quick comment. Long live the meandering rant. If people don’t want to read through this “comment” or essay or lecture, then so be it. I refuse to obey the unwritten rules of this digital world, to play into the hands of its overlord – capitalism and it’s support crew.

    Next time you are in town Peter, nothing less than a long conversation will do. A whole day if possible. Coffees and food, questions, laughter and stupidity. Not a quick hello and I can’t be too long because I’m strapped for time or that I have to pick up my daughter from dance. (Actually something like that could happen, so we’ll have to be flexible!) That’s what happens ALL THE TIME. ALL THE TIME. ALL THE TIME.

    How I do go on!

    Cheers and see ya.

  2. Me thinks you give “Them” a bit too much credit. I suppose “They” could own this whole mess in total fashion if “They” weren’t also a bunch of neurotic, divorced, over-weight, stressed out freaks with kids who hate them. Sure, “They” would love all that control- but they will gum that up as well, all those billions of hours of recorded surveilance data mis-labled or mis-placed or simply too boring to bother with. There is no conspiracy, just rich idiots mugging poor idiots.

    But perhaps, given the history of the 20th century, I’m a bit too cavalier, perhaps they will lock us all up or plug us all in, perhaps there will be One Big State or One Big Corporation that takes everything we’ve got and gives us everything we need. In that case I’ll owe everyone an apology.

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