Posting photos online is not living. You are actually producing your own obituary. Summer begins again. Millions of people are packing their bags to get away from it all. Their eyes are ready for fresh sights: sun-drenched beaches, famous museums, parasolled cafes.
More eyes than ever before will, however, see nothing fresher than the screens of their own smartphones. They will not need to look at sunsets and palm trees, for they will have flawless copies on their devices (click!). The great scale of the Notre Dame cathedral, in Paris, or the Coliseum, in Rome, will bring no risk of eyestrain: they will be able to see the grandeur of these sites in harmless digital miniature (click!). Screens will give them their own versions of the Mona Lisa or Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, versions that have this significant advantage over the originals: they can be owned, stored and used as material for a personal online story.
As we see more and more parents who seem to watch their children grow up entirely on a screen, it becomes obvious that storing our sensory stimuli in digital form has become the main event. No one really believes that they will sit down in the future and play back everything they have recorded. That is clearly not the objective. No, the point is that ordinary memory has come to seem inadequate as a register of “life” – whatever that is. Human experience needs to be converted into the inhuman in order for it to be real. If it has not been made digital, it did not happen.
How did we get here? Ours is a materialistic era, so we are inclined to believe in materialistic explanations. Digital technology, we tell ourselves, has caused this devaluation of experience. But the opposite explanation, though more mysterious, is equally true: it is the devaluation of experience that has caused digital technology.
It is not that digital prostheses exist, and so, with remarkable coincidence, our inner life suddenly “needs” them. No, for more than a century we have been caught up in electronic processes that have caused us to stop believing in our own experience, and – like a colonized people asserting themselves in the oppressor’s language – we feel a surge of dignity with each new word we learn of the machine’s own tongue.
Of course, when machines can laugh, and they will, like other oppressors before them, ROFL at these efforts of us to “speak machine”. They will see our obsessive self-documentation for what it is: a futile attempt to assert what we do not ourselves believe – that we actually live. I am visiting New York. I am eating chocolate cake. I have a flower in my hair.
When people were really alive, they did not need to protest so much. They did not imagine that strangers might be interested in the fact that they had chocolate cake at lunch. Not, at least, during their lifetime. They were aware that such trivia becomes significant only at the moment of death – at which point, yes, it is suddenly overwhelmingly poignant to remember that someone had those clothes and food and rhythms.
In an era when people still believed in their own lives, they wrote autobiographies. We, by contrast, have become auto-obituarists. Despite all the work that social media users do to document themselves from one day to the next, what is recorded is not life. Rather it is death-in-life: it is “existence” from which life has already fled, leaving behind a digital husk.
Our social media footprint is an obituary we write ourselves – a set of remembrances we leave for future generations to give strength to this simple, spurious claim: that we lived. Only at the moment of our death does our Facebook or Instagram account acquire its true and always intended significance, and finally the chocolate cake that we had for lunch once is meaningful.
That consummation lies in the future. A day will come when this summer’s screen obsession finally makes sense. It’s just that we will never live to see it.
Read Article (Rana Dasgupta | theguardian.com | 05/29/2016)
Scream at the Digital Demon, for he hears but sees not. Maybe through volume your true intent may be understood.
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