March 3, 2011

The Enframed Mirror or Beyond the Technological Horizon

There's been much talk the past months over the power of social networks and the role they play/are playing in the revolutions in Egypt and other middle eastern nations. Some have deemed these the "Facebook Revolutions" or alternatively the "Twitter Revolutions". This is on the basis that large parts of the organizing, planning, and mobilizing was done through these social networking and their ability to instantly connect people in a decentralized and rhizomatic (hence network) way.

However these lines of analysis were shown to be highly premature and quite shallow when Mubarak essentially "turned off" the internet for the Egyptian population and the revolution kept barreling forward. To the surprise of Mubarak (and those in the FB/Twitter camp) people were still able to mobilize in the same instantaneous decentralized patterns they were before. There were two main reactions to this new development. The first ,by those singing the praises of social networking, was that the internet blockade had come to late, social networking had already done its job. The second, mostly hedged by the Left, was that it proved that social networking was indeed a useful tool for organizing people but the same things would of been accomplished without they just might of been slightly more difficult.

I think however that there is a third much more metaphysical way of thinking about social media's role in the Winter of Dissent. Jean Baudrillard brings up an interesting quote of Heidegger's in the lecture The Murder of the Real: quote a very mysterious phrase of Heidegger: “When we look into the ambiguous essence of technology we behold the constellation, the stellar course of the mystery.”... It so far refutes the very conception by Heidegger himself of technique and technology... This would be that at the extreme horizon of development, of technique, perhaps something other happens, a reversibility.
 This quote by Heidegger is so very intriguing because Baudrillard is right this does seem to go against much of Heidegger's project. Heidegger was no Luddite but his ideas about how technesis enframes the dasien into standing reserve is quite a gloomy one. However the above quote makes it seem that  if we are to behold this constellation of technology perhaps we can invest in a strategy that instead of retreating from technology strives to push it to it's limits past the horizon, a reverse enframing.

 The protests in Egypt provide a pretty good example of how this reverse enframing can ideally function. When looking at the revolution in this light both the Left and the social media cheerleaders were wrong: Facebook and Twitter were did not start a revolution, but they also were not merely helpful tools of protesters.

The majority of the original protesters and organizer of the Egyptian protests were the youth of Egypt. A generation of people for whom being constantly integrated and connected is a daily function of life (I know, I'm one of them).A generation whose default mode of being is not one static identity but rather one that is constantly in motion and concert with other identities in an interconnected world, similar to how stands of DNA collide into each other and come away with bits of foreign code causing recombinants, cross-overs, and mutations.So when these individuals have a goal (oust Mubarak) there is not a need for them to study social networkings to see how decentralized networks are created because it is how they normally function in everyday social life.

This is why simply shutting down the internet didn't stop the protests- the Egyptians were not using Facebook, they were being Facebook. Heidegger and Virillo got it correct that speed and technology could easily turn the social into an apathetic silent majority, but they failed to see beyond that mysterious horizon were these would be the new methods to turn an standing reserve into a mobile one.


  1. To begin this a fantastic post Hank and thanks for the insight. Next, I wanted to address the "contradiction" in Heidegger's thought. Heidegger is not anti- tech he is anti modernity's understanding of technology. First we have to understand that when Heidegger says technology he is referencing to the greek word techne which is described as human activities including even fine arts. Heidegger does not think technology and man are in opposition but rather this human activity is the essence of humanity. What humanity creates through action(in the most existential use of the word)is what creates their very essence(existence precedes essence). The essence of technology is hence nothing technological but rather human in the most traditional form of the word and its essence as been constructed over history. THis construction is what creates the constellation of the mystery(its uniqueness, and phenomenological qualities) that is technology. Therefore Heidegger does not reject technology for the very reason of how it was used in Egypt and in the many popular uprisings taking place. This "use" of technology is one the many possibilities for it to exist(Daesin) and reveal its significance in our everyday reality. This is exactly what Hank talks about, using technology against the way that modernity has mandated us to do for centuries and instead use it to create a differential reality.

  2. Great post, and Max stole my response from me. Good to know that he was paying attention to all of those rants.

    In simple terms, an important distinction of Heidegger's is that technology in itself is not bad. Rather, seeing life merely as a technological function is bad.


  3. Consider checking out Rey Chow's book "Age of the World Target" for a useful exposition on Heidegger and enframenment in terms of contemporary warfare.

    Personally, I don't think Heidegger is useless, but there is a significant amount of re-working that has to be done to transform him from a conservative Luddite suspicious of most forms of technology. Some of the best work done in this vein today is done by Bernard Stiegler. His stuff is pretty dense, but is raising in popularity. A good place to start would be a 2009 Theory Culture Society that featured him.