This is a very good piece, but this point - which I’ve seen made elsewhere a few times - got me wondering, are people really thinking this through to what seems to me to be a logical conclusion, that either this is a kind of meaningless point or lots of modern life might well be considered ‘anomalous blips’? Things like labour rights, mass literacy, much of women’s liberation, a broad franchise - innovations for the most part of the 20th century, or at least the ‘long century’ back to 1870 or so. Most aspects of modernity are ‘very unusual in the course of human history’ - that’s why it’s called modernity. Is there a difference, though, in how we think we about social/political and technological change in terms of inevitability, or of conscious, collective control? Are optimism and pessimism applied differently to each on the assumption that progress in one can be objectively measured and referenced, even if its ultimate effects lie in the same subjective sphere that constitutes human relations? Does it make sense to say that we have a ‘choice’ to pursue liberal democracy as much as we have of using digital media, or does each represent a change in an overarching structure that determines the superior course of action?
I guess the standing point of techno-optimism is that the capabilities engendered by technological change sooner or later, and to a greater or lesser degree of predictability of outcome, override political or social inertia. But what is perhaps less considered is the extent to which social and political factors warp technology, determine the form of our engagement with it, and produce a hybrid result (implicit, indeed, in the first sentence of the quote above). All of which is by way of saying that, although I’m not really opposed to the broad shift away from physical media, its existence purely in the period of late industrial capitalism is a pretty weak argument for its distinctiveness, and an even worse one for accepting its disappearance as an inevitability. Because if something else starts disappearing, something you really want to hold on to, there needs to be a better justification available for its continuity than just ‘it existed before the gramophone’…
3-Factor Authentication: A guy from Google cycles over to your house with an envelope containing your verification code
5-Factor Authentication: You have to fight and kill the guy from Google to get your code, which is tattooed inside his stomach.
10-Factor Authentication: Your verification code is in an ornate Chinese puzzle box, held deep inside a crypt full of traps and monsters.
100-Factor Authentication: You achieve total consciousness of reality in order to realise that there are no codes and there is no account to unlock in the first place.
"There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. An angel is depicted there who looks as though he were about to distance himself from something which he is staring at. His eyes are opened wide, his mouth stands open and his wings are outstretched. The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment so fair [verweilen: a reference to Goethe’s Faust], to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm.”
Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Concept of History, IX
The Future’s Void (re: my last line here)