In a recent message to the Humanist listserv, Willard McCarty directs our attention to these remarks from Peter Sloterdijk’s essay, “The Operable Man: On the Ethical State of Gene Technology” (emphasis mine)”
In the current state of the world, the single most striking feature of intellectual and technological history that is that technological culture is producing a new state of language and writing. This new state has hardly anything in common anymore with traditional interpretations of language and writing by religion, metaphysics and humanism. The old House of Being turns out to be something wherein a residence in the sense of dwelling and of the bringing close of the distant is hardly possible any longer. Speaking and writing in the age of digital codes and genetic transcriptions no longer make any kind of familiar sense; the typefaces of technology are developing apart from transmission, and no longer evoke homeliness or the effects of befriending the external. On the contrary, they increase the scope of the external and that which can never be assimilated. The province of language is shrinking, while the sector of straight-forward text is growing. Heidegger, in his letter “On Humanism,” expressed these problems in an old-fashioned, yet factually correct manner, when he called homelessness the outstanding ontological feature of man’s contemporary modus essendi.
Homelessness is coming to be the destiny of the world. Hence it is necessary to think that destiny in terms of the history of Being … Technology is in its essence a destiny within the history of Being … As a form of truth technology is grounded in the history of metaphysics.”
This makes a great deal of sense to me. The idea of homelessness (alienation, really) describes the combined effects of the non-linearity of the database as symbolic form (Manovich) on cognition and the translocatedness introduced by life in the cloud on sociality. The two forces reinforce each other: as the web/cloud becomes more pervasive and invasive by the multiplication and miniaturization of innumerable personal devices, the form of the database is increasingly privileged as the dominant medium of knowledge formation and acquisition. Indeed, we, as members of the cloud (Wesch’s machine), actually become members of an actual, massive database — the social graph that connects us all in the web, and which Nick Carr rightly calls one big brain.
The role of the biological is also worth noting: in the form of genetics, biological images have served since the beginning of the cybernetic era (1950s) the role of naturalizing core symbol, legitimating the category of Information by both expressing and reinforcing the idea that knowledge consists essentially in strings of bits (like a ticker tape), with entropy serving as the core codec for how organisms communicate. This relationship has only gotten stronger with the rise of the web and the success of biological science and nanotechnology. (For more on the ideological connection between biology and information, see Kay’s Cybernetics, Information, Life: The Emergence of Scriptural Representations of Heredity for a critical genealogy, and Meyer and Davis’ It’s Alive! The Coming Convergence of Information, Biology, and Business for an unabashed attempt to monetize it.)
Ultimately, this technologically-driven Heideggerian homelessness raises questions about the validity of notions about community and sociality raised by Web 2.0 enthusiasts, especially those in the instructional technology sector. Is virtual community really community? Does it share, for example, any of the traits described by Tönnies’ notion of community (gemeinschaft)? Or is it community in the sense of Benedict Anderson’s “imagined community”? Not that the two are entirely antithetical — Anderson’s notion of national community is an interesting synthesis of the community and society set up by Tönnies. But if virtual community is the ideological inheritor of the imagined national community, what form of social and political organization does it relfect and reinforce? What is the habitat for this new habitus? Whatever it is, it has a lot to do with Google, it’s off-shore cities of data, and globalization.