On the ideology and dogmatic of the "new"
Once our authoritarian technics consolidates its powers, with the aid of new forms of mass control, its panoply of tranquilizers and sedatives and aphrodisiacs, could democracy in any form survive? – Lewis Mumford1
As serious debates swirl about the specific role of systems and network technologies, culture continues to swoon in its anticipation for technologies destined for nearly immediate obsolescence, on the acceleration of a rapacious assumption that connectedness has become the social circulatory system that links everything in an uneasily virtualized co-presence that substitutes profiles for individuals. De-socialized identities creeping through the so-called “social networks” of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumbler, etc., represent a fundamental re-conceptualization of the increasingly vacant “collectivity” of the public sphere. Instant, reflexive and mostly vapid “instant messaging” masquerades as a kind of rapid [immediate] response system driven by incomplete and fractured event horizons, events under deconstruction prior to or in anticipation of any form of closure. Everything just happens in an undifferentiated present saturated with inst-opinion, frantic status-updates, fleeting images and video, unfiltered (for better or worse) threads of “content’ swamping an omnivorous and increasingly indiscriminate media sphere desperate for the spectacle of “real-time.” Even social conflict, political campaigning, proclamations of war, and battles unfold in the torrent of the immediate. Everything co-present and mostly unverified.
In one sense the “social networks” have become a repository of murky consensus, mutable and virtual “identities,” and fosters the destruction of reflection in favour of partial moments laden with imminence but just as quickly forgotten. An astonishing system of accumulation with essentially little meaningful purpose other than the sundering of subjectivity or reflection. Zizek writes: “I stumble around in this infinite space where messages circulate freely without fixed destination, while the whole of it remains forever beyond my comprehension. The other side of cyberspace direct democracy is this chaotic and impenetrable magnitude of messages which even the greatest effort of my imagination cannot grasp.”2 Vilém Flusser says it another way: “Our praxis with electronic memories forces the abandonment of the ‘self’ upon us.”3
Yet is a system that incorporates and monetizes virtually every form of transaction within omnivorous detection algorithms mining “personal” data for infinitesimal (and cumulative) behavioural patterns based on predictive modelling, and that is heavily promoted as socially progressive, actually socially necessary or socially beneficial? It comes with a relentlessly cascading flood of innovative apparatuses designed for the immediate consumption of inchoate and equally relentless torrents of so-called “content”. Emptied of context – other than the context of instantaneity – the distribution of information about us has become our insufficient metaphor for presence. As Daniel Boorstin wrote: “The vacuum of our experience is actually made emptier by our anxious straining with mechanical devices to fill it artificially.”4 The shattered public sphere, the “virtual community,” the twitter-sphere – a complex legacy of the dematerialization of embodied presence tethered by apparatuses. Indeed, as Giorgio Agamben suggests, “What defines the apparatuses that we have to deal with in the current phase of capitalism is that they no longer act as much through the production of a subject, as through the process of what can be called desubjectification.”5
And this comes in the succession of undifferentiated “presents” on devices that themselves are barely capable of processing the ever-shifting protocols, compression algorithms, or bandwidth demands of a system compulsively flooding the networks with vast yet ephemeral archives of a system in perpetual flux. To accommodate these alleged technical deficiencies, devices proliferate in a constant state of the new. Obsolescence and instantaneity have merged and leave every device and maybe most identities almost immediately outdated.
Of course the ideology of “newness” has a long relationship with modernity. It fuelled the novel machines for the consumption of a culture inebriated by its constancy. It fuelled the conceptualization of artistic avant-gardism. Theodor Adorno, looking at the link between the nineteenth century fascination with newness (as in Baudelaire) and Fascism, writes: “Itself unattainable, newness installs itself in the place of overthrown divinity amidst the first consciousness of the decay of experience,” newness represents the “convulsive moments of illusory living” and becomes “the omnipresent medium of false mimesis.” 6 And later, as Enzensberger rightly understood that “the avant-garde must content itself with obliterating its own products.” And clearly the artistic avant-garde has been supplanted by the corporate avant-garde.
To promote the so-called “new” has become the compulsion of a culture assimilated in its ludicrous myth. But “new” is a term that is so loaded with pretension that it has become farcical, inane.
New is not a category of meaning, new is not a signifier of coherence, new is the mindless illusion of the engineers of marketing, new is the ideology of the hustlers of phoney collaborative spheres, new is the term most loved by universities desperate to globalize so that students might want to pay to come to their worldwide, franchised, campuses, new is the emptiness of hybridization, new is virtuality that bears a resemblance to but no necessary relation to any existing reality, new is the rejuvenation of “the society of the spectacle” (or better as ADILKNO called it “the society of the debacle”), new is a symptom of the dissolution of history and memory, new is the fallacy of “relational aesthetics” and its “operative realism,” new defies refection and demands obsolescence, new is shameless and destructive in its insistent obliteration of itself, new is bad faith gone awry, new is the nice soft underbelly of globalization and a sign of pre-emptive repression, new is a convenient trope of complicity and compromise, new capitulates to the most rapacious myths of capital and its devaluation of a material economy, new makes one a participant in a non-existent history. The new is vacant, is social amnesia, is defeat, the new refuses to do what is most necessary – it refuses to interfere, refuses to reflect, refuses accountability, it refuses to contest, refuses difference, refuses transgression, refuses defiance, disdains otherness, it refuses dissent. The new, by necessity, has no conscience and is hence the immoral signifier of the repudiation of the past.
New is a continuing present devoid of extension, new is repetition without differentiation, new repeats the emptiness of its own incessant vacuity, new is pointlessness raised to the level of theology, new is the belief system of the witless, the new homogenizes and becomes the ultimate brand: BRAND NEW, the new is reckless and treacherous, the new is a submission to sloganeering of a commerce of repudiation, the new capitulates in the dogmatism of an empty present, new is the triumph of neo-liberal media theory that gladly abandons scholarship as an erudition of forgetting, new is a blank dictatorship of the immediate, is a propaganda system devoid of an ideology, the new is a submission to everything as obsolescent, new is an admission of defeat, surrender, ceding everything to an intractable momentary deceit. New is the incessant exhaustion of novelty, the dull routine of a principle of incessant abandonment, new is the aesthetization of itself for no other purpose than reifying its dubious status as relevant, the new is contingency as a horizon of possibility, the new has no variables, the new is a protocol of a culture emptied of memory, the new is unconditional, new is its own oblivion, the new promulgates the desperate imperative of limbo, the new is the supply creating the demand, the new only proclaims its own arrival and collapses simultaneously.
The new is the declaration of independence for morals, new is the desolate wait for speed-bumps, plug-ins, and upgrades, new is the ultimate special effect – itself! New is the obsolescence of critical thinking, the new merely anticipates its own demise and celebrates itself as defunct – exhausted by its own vacuity, new is time stripped of its succession, the new is futurism’s triumphant abandonment of experience in favour of sensation. The new shatters the coordinates of reason subsumed in the continuous onslaught of information, the new is already passé. The new is the transparent myth of social communities drifting in indeterminacy, the new is impervious to criticism, the new is the “uncertainty” without the “principle,” new is complicity with momentary valuations and is situational in a profoundly dangerous form, new has become the phantasmagoria of a culture mesmerized by consumption, the new is urgency stripped of its purpose, new is coercion in its most potent form, the new has emptied itself of accountability for anything other than its obscure assurances, the new annihilates time and is indifferent to individuals, to culture or to meaning.
The new is anti-humanism’s triumphant gesture of tautology and the evisceration of imagination, reflection or time.
- Lewis Mumford, "Authoritarian and Democratic Technics", Technology and Culture 5, no. 1, Winter 1964, 1-8.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Is this digital democracy, or a new tyranny of cyberspace?", Guardian, 30 December 2006.
- Vilém Flusser, "On Memory", in Leonardo 23, no. 4 (1990): 399.
- Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, Atheneum, 1962, 60.
- Giorgio Agamben, What is an Apparatus? Stanford University Press, 2009, 20.
- Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia, 1951, 14ff.