The Wasteful Self of the Internet

Image Source: Network World

There is no doubt that we have moved into a post-literate society. Following Gregory Ulmer, we call it electracy. Just like literacy gave us the technology of phonic writing and its allied possibilities of manipulation of words and meanings, electracy has given us the technology of the internet and its allied possibilities of manipulation of digital images/ traces. Literacy led humanity to invent a metaphysics that is based on separating the essences from accidents to categorise its experience of the realities of the world. This created a thinking that concentrated on having. Everything has an essence. Therefore, thinking becomes thinking as having. Thinking as having relates to some feature/ element as present. This is why Derrida accuses western thinking as contaminated by metaphysics of presence. But with the coming of the internet, we are experiencing a tremendous shift. The old metaphysics of presence is breaking down. The play of the traces in the internet challenges the thinking as having/ the metaphysics of presence and new metaphysics of play is taking shape in the internet. This metaphysics of play is producing a playful/ ludic self. We seem to say. ‘I play, Therefore, I am’.

To come to understand the change that we have come to live with almost in our sleep, we have to look at the metaphysics of the three stages that are pushing us into a new condition. The stages that we are talking about are the oral stage, the literacy stage and the electracy stage. The oral metaphysics developed the axis of right/wrong (ethics and politics of practical reason or moral freedom). The literacy metaphysics developed the axis of truth/ falsity (knowledge through pure reason and science) while electorate metaphysics seems to be developing the axis of attraction/ repulsion ( pleasure/ pain, joy and sadness). Thus the oral metaphysics gave us ethics, the metaphysics of literacy gave us epistemology and science and the electorate metaphysics offered us epidemics (science of desire or aesthetic tastes). The oral metaphysics nurtured the spirit/soul, the literacy metaphysics nurtured the mind and the electorate nurtured our body.

Decarte’s cogito is already dead in our post-literate age. Self is no longer a thinking self. We seem to be mindlessly surfing the world of the internet. How are we to describe this new self? We cannot say with Descartes, ‘I think therefore I am’. The self of literacy is dead and gone. George Bataille seems to be offering us a way describing the new playful self of the internet. Bataille’s general economy of expenditure (against the profit based restricted economy of profit and productivity) gives us a way of expressing what has become of the self in the age of electracy. Inspired by Bataille, we can say. ‘I waste, therefore I am’. Battaile’s wasteful spending self is born. The self of the internet divides itself into many avatars on the web and rides its aesthetic desires playfully in the flows of the worlds of the internet. The playful self becomes fully immersed into aesthetic worlds of the web. The metaphysics of electracy has given us a new anthropology of a playful and a wasteful self. The wasteful self has become an electorate. We cannot understand this electorate self with our old habits of thinking through the either/or structure. We are encountering a webbed self, the self of the network.

Grammatology has shown us that logical order of literacy was invented by observing and capturing patterns of concepts in Greek language. The clock seems to have unwounded itself. We have a similar opportunity to invent/ develop the logic of electracy from the big data bases that bring into appearance and patterns formed in massive information storages. The science of big data analytics is still young and we have not yet fully mastered the way to extract meaning from these massive patterns. We have the challenge to do what Aristotle did to literacy by inventing logic and rhetoric. This means we have to follow what he did and not what he taught. His logic and rhetoric is made redundant by electracy. We need an equivalent logic and rhetoric so that we can learn what electracy is doing and how it is influencing us. Ulmer teaches us that the electorate’s meaning will not be conceptual but vectoral ( undergone as attraction and repulsion). It is holistic, requiring simultaneous understanding-undertaking-and-undergoing. The distant/ objective learner cannot understand electracy. An electorate subject understands-undertakes-and-undergoes.

Where can we find the trace of the new logic for electracy? Maybe we can trace it in the collage. We may call it cologic. Collage works on the principle of coherence. Collage is a technique in art, photography, mediamedia, where we lift a number of elements from works, objects and pre-existing messages and insert them into a new creation to produce an original totality manifesting ruptures of diverse sorts. The best example is the Hitlerian Salute (1933) with a caption. ‘I have millions behind me’ which depicted Hitler giving his salute while a man is black dress offers him a wad of bank notes. This college has a subversive effect. It certainly questioned German capitalists backing Hitler. We can find several such subversive collages. They use familiarity, contrast and juxtaposition to produce meaning. Perhaps this associative/ correlative thinking / cologic seems to be at work with the playful self of the web.

The wasteful self of the internet uses cologic and extracts his/her meaning in the networks of the internet by using the principle of coherence. The principle of coherence has an important aesthetic dimension in this context. This means the principle of coherence works through the axis of attraction and repulsion developed by the metaphysics of electracy. This axis of attraction and repulsion foregrounds both desire and stupidity. This is why cologic of the internet is a double edged sword. It can lead to self-destructive behaviour too. It is the cost of creativity and we cannot avoid it. This is why Socratic dictum: Know thyself that was valid to literacy is also valid to electracy. The wasteful self has to come to his/ her senses. The truth is that one cannot come to the senses without one’s mind. This is why we still need a wakeful mind to engage fruitfully with the reflexive worlds of the internet. We have to enter the worlds of the internet without losing our soul, mind and body.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao