Digital Alienation 4

3 year old with tablet, no toys

[Digital Alienation essay part 4]

The Digital Counter-Evolution

Digital 24/7 connectivity and multi-screening entail an attack on the body and the biological or ‘wild’ self, hitherto the source of much spontaneity and primal revolt against the strictures and coercions of life in industrial capitalism, particularly in youth. Capital is extending its control of nature to the last barriers of our inner natures, with the aim of creating a totally artificial, commodified, manipulable and profitable world in its own image. In late capitalism the body’s evolutionary needs and diurnal rhythms are constantly and increasingly denied on many levels. The need for movement is thwarted by the sedentary coercion of work and screen watching. The need for fresh, nutritious food is thwarted by low-nutrition, industrial processed food. The need for direct, face-to-face human interaction in which we can sense and smell our other, is deflected into exclusively visual, virtual communication.

Another important form of this counter-evolutionary attack on our body-minds is the radical reduction or even abolition of deep sleep, solitude, daydreaming, productive boredom, of withdrawal and ‘self-recollecting’. From a capitalist perspective sleep is wasted time, non-consuming, unproductive, unprofitable time, and should thus be reduced or eliminated. They’re working on it. The US Defense Department is working on the training of a soldier who doesn’t need sleep for at least seven days and remains ‘operational’. Average daily sleeping time in the US has already been almost halved over the course of a century: from ten hours at the beginning of the twentieth century to eight hours in the baby boomer generation to six hours today. Insomnia and other sleep disorders are becoming increasingly common, as are the usage of both chemical stimulants and sleeping pills. People are increasingly taking their digital devices into their bedrooms and consulting them at night or on first awaking. Many are thus tending, like their devices, to go into shallow ‘sleep mode’ rather than radically ‘turning off’. This amounts to the reduction, degradation or elimination of biological and psycho-spiritual self-rejuvenation, indeed of the self itself ‒ at least in the old sense of ‘self’. Both daydreaming and deep sleep are essential for creativity as well as the renewal of mind, body and spirit. Any reduction or disturbing of sleep may also decrease memory and learning consolidation and thus intelligence.

All this is counter-evolutionary: daily life in advanced capitalism and its digital information overload are over-stressing us and clashing with our fundamentally ‘analog’ natures as human beings, removing us ‘from our own nature as complex, unpredictable, passionate people’, and, by reducing reality to the digital binaries of our genetic DNA code, is also ‘evolutionarily regressive’ (physicist Neil Turok ).

The Total Work/Leisure Society

Digitalisation, casual and precarious jobs and digital workaholism mean the abolition of the leisure/work distinction, with the latter consuming the former; it’s unpaid (and precarious) overtime for the Man, or we’ll outsource you to Mumbai. Leisure time is now also uninterrupted around-the-clock consumption. Just as in our Orwellian and increasingly totalitarian capitalism, war is peace and freedom (wage) slavery, the ‘leisure society’ is the total work/consumption society in which total connection also means increased isolation and alienation.

Virtual (un)Fulfilment

Like advertising in general, this technology works cleverly via perennial human needs: needs for the peer group/family, for convenience, for status within the peer group, the need for (apparent) escape from emptiness, boredom, unease, from personal insecurities… Capital promises to fulfil all these needs in the only way it can: ‘virtually’, i.e. vicariously, artificially, now in a ‘smart-phony’ way, always leaving the dissatisfaction and profound emptiness in its trail that is needed to keep the cycle of manic consumption of commodities and images perpetual. In this it is the same as drug addiction. The internet and screen addictions have virtualised and globalised the addictive cycle inherent in the commodity form.


Videos, ads, movies… these rapid changes of images on screens cleverly utilize our Paleolithic survival-wiring which automatically responds to quick movement and change in the environment because that may indicate potential danger. We thus find it very difficult not to look, to turn away. Mesmerised, capitalist marketing literally has us by the eyeballs. Once hooked by this hyper-activity, we can be sold the message, the commodity, the drug. The new capitalist sciences of data mining, neuro-marketing etc now survey us as we browse and buy, search online and watch TV, and now personalise or ‘micro-target’ their manipulative techniques accordingly.

Brand New World

Next we may even see the loss not just of book shops, but of shops. The ancient temples of trade and capitalism are becoming increasingly virtual. In-store shopping will increasingly be digitally monitored and marketing manipulations personally targeted. Online shopping even gets rid of the sensory appraisal of actual commodities in favour of their digital image representations. To compensate for unsatisfying lives and work under capitalism, people have long been buying brands (images, promises of ‘experiences’ and status, exchange values) more than useful objects (use values). Now the brands have increasingly moved from the actual commodities (which, as brands, are already tradable images of use-value) to the digital images of these image-commodities. Brands, as pseudo-persons on Facebook just like the walking human brands known as ‘celebrities’, now have millions of online ‘friends’ or ‘followers’. After decades of televised mass, the Catholic Church brand now also has a commodity called ‘mass on demand’ for the commuter smartphone: Christ’s Body is now also as virtual as the host offered by the virtual priest. Capitalism’s Protestantism has finally won the bloody theological battle over transubstantiation by technologically abolishing the mystery of the Eucharist, and thus Christianity, itself.


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on October 16, 2014.

One Response to “Digital Alienation 4”

  1. See, now your just startin’ to scare me. The digital world is one of the last areas of colonisation by capital for sure. So the question really is, how would this technology be used in a freer, equitable and just world, a truly participatory democratic society, because it ain’t going away. It’s here to stay. In fact it’s probably absolutely essential for the functioning of a large libertarian socialist society, as Chomsky suggested in the Peter Jay interview back in ’76.

    Yes there are always problems with things like new technologies, but as capitalism squeezes every last moment and breath out of us, the digital world offers a place to recoil, to disappear into, and do shit we don’t have time to in the real world, because the digital world is fast. We can fit more in and move around it faster and easier than the real world. It’s an illusion in part yes, but completely understandable that we grasp at even the illusion of time, space and freedom. Like the home studio making it possible for anyone to make quality music, digitalisation opens up a new world, another dimension, that is denied most of us in the real world. Time constraints and distance can be seemingly conquered? Even just to shop or look for a book. In this new digital place people can seemingly take back time from the ‘man’. But yes, it’s similar to workers demanding a pay rise, implicitly or even explicitly accepting the immovable structural boundaries of market capitalism. In other words, the bastards have us where they want us.

    We retreat to a new virtual world and it gets colonised by the same force that drove us there in the first place. And it was always going to be and we were never going to notice because we are immersed in the capitalist world and merely following its logic. It’s a bit like downloading movies, books and music for free. Sharing or as they say, ‘stealing’ intellectual/artistic property is merely following the logic of capitalism and the idea of the ‘rational’ consumer. Cut costs and making cheaper products will attract consumers who are always stressed, anxious and financially and time squeezed. If something is available for free, through open source software, designed by people well and truly entrenched in the capitalist world (and probably not financially squeezed) for example, then those who are being fucked over will take advantage of it, well, because it’s rational to do so. It’s only logical.

    So the powers that be are trying to lock up the internet to stop people sharing shit for free. So they colonise it, then lock it up so it can only be used in appropriate ways that serve the interests of the usual suspects. That’s what they do/did to countries, like Australia for instance. Colonise it (steal it), tell the original inhabitants to do as we do or fuck off, then lock it up so others can only come in through the appropriate channels.

    Yeah, I know, on and on and on. Well, I’m defying the unwritten law of brevity and conscicion when commenting and I don’t care. There’s plenty of space. I just keep thinkin’ that these discussions just come down to the same old same old. We need a new system, but one that can handle new technologies because they are going to come and cannot be stopped or suppressed. Participatory economics or geo-engineering? I have a bad feelin’ ’bout this one.

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