Einstein’s Nightmare – On Bernard Stiegler’s Techno-Dystopia

Posted: Marzo 23rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: anthropos, arts, au-delà, bio, digital conflict, epistemes & società, post-filosofia, posthumanism | 66 Comments »

by Mark Featherstone


I. Gadget Love

In the winter of 2013, I became aware of “Einstein’s Nightmare,” an Internet meme, a fragment of information, which reflects the horror of what I call in this article the “technological dystopia.” [1] The meme, titled “Einstein’s Worst Nightmare,” explains that “The Day That Albert Einstein Feared Has Arrived!” Below the caption, six images show people in various collective scenarios — “Having Coffee with Friends,” “A Day at the Beach,” “Cheering for your Team,” “On an Intimate Date,” “Enjoying the Sights,” “Having Dinner” — where a communal or social event is torn by technological mediation. The people in each image are distracted. They grasp their gadgets, gaze at screens, lose themselves in mediation. They are immersed in their iPhones, smart phones, and other devices, and disregard the presence of their friends and family members. At the bottom of the meme is a quotation from Einstein. Here we read the details of Einstein’s Nightmare: “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” We understand the problem. Perhaps the meme is inspired by McLuhan, Baudrillard, or both? According to the meme, we may argue that the technological medium of human communication has started to work against its original purpose — the creation of social relations, where the term “social” implies a relation defined by a phenomenological, embodied, thickness, a quality necessary for durable sociality. But this is not the relation that predominates in Einstein’s Nightmare. In the nightmare, we gaze at screens and communicate with absent, virtual bodies, yet we ignore the real people in our immediate vicinity. The people in the images are McLuhan’s gadget lovers who love their phones because they insulate them from real social interaction. As McLuhan explained, there is simply too much happening in our hyper-media society to take everything in, so we “self-amputate” ourselves in our gadgets. [2] On the other hand, and in order to balance our retreat into isolation, we fall into Baudrillard’s ecstasy of communication, where we become addicted to the very act of communication itself. [3] Meaning is irrelevant. Speak, write, communicate for the sake of it. As John O’Neill noted long before the Internet — let alone the iPhone — took off, “televideo ergo sum” — I am on screen, therefore I am. [4] I exist, and I resist my self-imposed retreat from the world, because I communicate at a distance. According to the meme, this is Einstein’s technological dystopia.


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