Post-literacy and the Arrival of Electracy

Every invention, process, system or program includes its own disaster. This is a standard Hegelian doctrine. The inventors of the ship also invented the shipwreck. There are always seeds of destruction in everything. The fact that we have stepped into the internet era, we have to recognise that it has blessings as well as curses. One of the issues that reveals to us the dark side of the web is that it traps us in the present moment. The moment that is now has become intensive and everything is compressed into it. Oral societies ran on a cyclical time and the literate ran on linear time. But something has drastically changed around us. We have entered what Gregory Ulmer calls electracy. Electracy runs now-time. Everything happens in an instant. Most of our decisions on the net as well as life do not evolve deliberative thinking. They happen on the spot in an intense moment. This means our decisions are based on intuitive beliefs that Malcolm Gladwell calls ‘blink’. We work in an instance of immediacy. My book, Being Human in a World of Artificial Intelligence invites us to cultivate prudence that Aristotle calls phronesis so that our instantaneous or reflexive actions still stay ethical or moral. This means we need a new discipline of the mind that will enable us to deal with a culture that is trapped in a now-time.

Literacy is not just a technology of alphabets but is a school that forms our thinking as well as shapes our identity. We are fast moving away from the world of the alphabets and are gravitating towards a fast paced dynamic digital world. We have entered a post-literate era. Hence, we need a mode of classification of the digital images. It has to do what concept did to literacy. Concepts gave us ways of organizing things according to essences and accidents. Electracy needs an image category that will enable us to make decisions in the now-time. This is why I have argued that we need practical reason or phronesis to respond to the challenges of the now-time. Some scholars think that phronesis is a thought in the future perfect tense and is concerned with what will have been. This means as prudence, it relies on the lessons of the past but finds creative ways of concretising those general principles in the present so that a future is hoped to be perfect. This means that the general or universal norm that is learnt from the past is to be applied case by case. Dealing with each case, the universal may modify differently to suit the specific condition. Such a wisdom was called phronesis. Phronesis, though a chief form of practical reason, did not disassociate from the pure reason. It has been argued that dismantling of the relation between pure reason and practical reason began with the renaissance in Europe. With modernity, there came a slow death of practical reason. In fact G.W. Leibniz praised the Chinese civilization for its superiority over the Western civilization in the area of practical reason.

The now-time is intensely haunting us and the fact that we have no practical reason to assist us, we are heading towards a disaster. We have seen how fake news has instantaneously converted unsuspecting humans in lynch mobs. We are seeing a mass hysteria in political rallies where people and the politicians gather in large numbers without any fear of Covid-19. This mass frenzy as well as individual addictive attachments to the web show that we need to find an ethical response to our life that is frozen into an intensive moment. With the global pandemic, our children have become nothing less than digital citizens. We are indeed struck into ‘out of joint time’ that Derrida call’s aporia. Such time that is experienced as ‘out of joint’ actually opens us possibilities of being in the world. This is why we are haunted by the potentials of that time. Hence, we need a new way of approaching the dance of images or the choreography of images on the internet. Ulmer suggests that chora (Greek word for space, since Plato) has a potency to be what topic has become for literacy. We can see how a topic becomes a choreography for related concepts in an organized constellation. This means the choreography of the images becomes an oracle that calls the individual on the web into being. We may understand this call or sense of being addressed with the help of Louis Althusser who teaches us that we are interpellated subjects.

Following Althusser , we can think that the dynamic choreography of sounds, visuals as well as verbal images say ‘Hey You’( address us) and hold our attention for a moment and we enjoy the dance of these images. But there are times when such images can lead us to a disaster like the way fake new converts unsuspecting humans into lynch murders. I like to think that digital has become phigital. We already have the internet of things. But more critically, the digital has come to become hybridized alongside our culture. This is why we can see how people succumb to mass propaganda and manipulations. The media debates on the television are full of heat and no light nor insight. Maybe we can also see that it is for the reasons stated above that people vote for notes. Usually notes come in the dead of the night and there is no time to think. Hence they blink. Pure reason has no room to guide the people so they mindlessly end up voting for notes inviting their own enslavement. The same is true about fanaticism where one has already surrendered his/ her mind to the narrow, narcissist, sadist and masochist beliefs . We can see such extremisms visible in political popularisms across the globe. This means that cyclic time and linear time has stopped influencing us. We are trapped in the now-time. Time stops for us , becomes intense and offers us possibilities of being in the world. Trapped in a Now-time we cannot postpone our response. It has to be instantaneous. Our old ethical responses require us to undergo critical analysis. This requires time and we do not have this luxury. Lest our responses be driven only by our likes and dislikes (aesthetic tastes), we need to cultivate phronesis that will enable us to respond ethically and reflexively to our fast paced yet paradoxically trapped in the now-time world.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao