ArtReview: Undinge revolves around our loss of connection to things in favour of digital information. What do objects have that new technologies don’t?

Byung-Chul Han: Undinge proposes that the age of objects is over. The terrane order, the order of the Earth, consists of objects that take on a permanent form and provide a stable environment for human habitation. Today the terrane order has been replaced by the digital order. The digital order makes the world less tangible by informatising it. Nonobjects are currently entering our environment from all sides and displacing objects.

I call nonobjects information. Today we are in the transition from the age of objects to the age of nonobjects. Information, not objects, now defines our environment. We no longer occupy earth and sky but Google Earth and the Cloud. The world is becoming progressively less tangible, cloudier and ghostlier. Nothing is substantial. It makes me think of the novel The Memory Police [1994], by the Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa. The novel tells of a nameless island where objects – hair ties, hats, stamps, even roses and birds – disappear irretrievably. Together with the objects, memories also disappear. People live in an eternal winter of forgetting and loss. Everything is seized by a progressive disintegration. Even body parts disappear. In the end it’s just disembodied voices, floating around in the air.

In some respects, this island of lost memories resembles our present. Information dissolves reality, which is just as ghostly as those disembodied voices. Digitalisation dematerialises, disembodies and eventually strips away the substantiality of our world. It also eliminates memories. Rather than keeping track of memories, we amass data and information. We have all become infomaniacs. This infomania makes objects disappear. What happens to objects when they are permeated by information? The informatisation of our world turns objects into ‘infomat’, namely information-processing actors. The smartphone is not an object but an infomat, or even an informant, monitoring and influencing us.

Objects don’t spy on us. That’s why we trust them, in a way that we don’t trust the smartphone. Every apparatus, any domination technique, spawns its own devotional objects, which are used to promote submission. They stabilise dominion. The smartphone is the devotional object of the digital-information regime. As a tool of repression it acts like a rosary, which in its handiness the mobile device represents. To ‘like’ is to pray digitally. We continue to go to confession. We expose ourselves voluntarily, yet we’re no longer asking for forgiveness, but rather for attention.