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Start The Times of the Global Screen and the Posthuman Subjectification
26 October 2017

The Times of the Global Screen and the Posthuman Subjectification

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A long tradition links the birth of modern subjectivity to factors such as the arrival of Gutenberg’s printing press which printed the first book, among others. The type of subjectivity that arose from this spiritual encounter with this new ‘modern’ device, the book, brought with it specific bodily gestures, new public and private spaces and practices hitherto unknown. Should we not assume that the modern reader’s encounter with the classics of Antiquity changed -even though the letters were identical- once the new device allowed people to read in the privacy of their own office at the same time as taking down private notes?

The arrival of the printing press and subsequent gadgets for the mass production of books and newspapers changed the relationship between man and knowledge / CC0 Public Domain

The tyranny of postmodern screens

Changes like these are happening around us today with the development of new formats of information. These days we do not carry books around with us; instead we cannot be separated from other devices –screens- which are with us from first thing in the morning -they are our alarm- until bedtime, whether it be the latest TV series or Youtube video on our Ipads. Such screens are everywhere, serve multiple purposes and condition everything from our social relationships to our access to information, from our public image to even our eroticism. As Gilles Lipovetsky and Jean Serroy have taken it upon themselves to remind us, we live in the era of the “global screen”, ranging from the big screens at any major show or the billboards of Times Square, Picadilly Circus and Callao, right down to the mini portable screens that we carry around in our pockets and give us instant and universal access to any information or contact we might need.

 

 

What new capacities and powers do these devices have? Which institutions of sociability do they establish?
What new capacities and powers do these devices have? Which institutions of sociability do they establish? Image: CC0 Public Domain

In these post-human and post-literary times -briefly outlined by Sloterdijk- the legitimate question can be raised about which new forms of subjectification are caused by technologies that have rendered obsolete not the Gutenberg Galaxy anymore, but the Marconi Galaxy that in McLuhan’s theories is the ending point of the evolution of media. What shifts do they cause in our faculties?  Which new forms of beauty could they bring? Which forms of paideia have decayed due to their presence?

The post-screen future

The times of screens are here to stay, at least until the content brought to us via these devices can be one day channeled through brain implants and therefore be incorporated directly into the stream of consciousness. For those interested in reflections on what humans will look like in the future, the impact of these changes is difficult to exaggerate. It does therefore make sense to talk, as many already do, about an openly post-human world: the presence of these technologies heralds a new manner of living and being in the world that just two generations ago would have been unthinkable. According to Michel Serres in a speech to the Academie Francaise:

Without realizing, a new human being has been born in the brief time since WWII. He does not have the same body, does not have the same life expectancy, does not live in the same space, does not communicate in the same way, does not perceive the same outside world, no longer lives close to nature; born under epidural and with a scheduled birth, he does not face the same death, due to palliative care. He does not have the same mind as his parents and acquires knowledge differently [1].

Not one of the features that had defined humans thus far are going to stay the same. This throws up a huge challenge and will force us to redefine our institutions and moral codes, our teaching practices and our forms of political participation, our beauty standards and cognitive ideals, our forms of community involvement and our ways of establishing ourselves as individuals. To sum up: nothing will ever be the same again. We must, then, welcome the inevitable. However, we must not do so as the feeble-minded who surrender to technology, rather, as Walter Benjamin urged, as distant onlookers in keeping with the materialistic point of view. We must not forget that, as Benjamin taught: “there are no documents about culture” -and this applies to technology -“that are not also about barbarity”.

Luis Arenas

University of Zaragoza

References

[1] Serres, M. (2011). Petite Poucette. Les nouveaux défis de l’éducation. Speech to the Académie française. Taken on September 25, 2013 from http://www.academie-francaise.fr/petite-poucette-les-nouveaux-defis-de-leducation March 1st, p. 3.

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