✦ how do we filter through all the information for more depth in our attention, for more meaningful connections?
✦ how do we build systems that create awareness and safety to protect us from disinformation?
✦ how do we transmute information overload into collective sense making?
I think trust is a social practice, and today it is being replaced by transparency and information. Trust enables us to build positive relationships with others, despite lacking knowledge. In a transparency society, one immediately asks for information from others. Trust as a social practice becomes superfluous. The transparency and information society fosters a society of distrust.
I refer to objects as resting places for life because they stabilise human life. The same chair and the same table, in their sameness, lend the fickle human life some stability and continuity. We can linger with objects. With information, however, we cannot.
If we want to understand what kind of society we live in, we have to comprehend what information is. Information has very little currency. It lacks temporal stability, since it lives off the excitement of surprise. Due to its temporal instability, it fragments perception. It throws us into a continuous frenzy of topicality. Hence it’s impossible to linger on information. That’s how it differs from objects. Information puts the cognitive system itself into a state of anxiety. We encounter information with the suspicion that it could just as easily be something else. It is accompanied by basic distrust. It strengthens the contingency experience.
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 Today the terrane order has been replaced by the digital order.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 , 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.
The irony is that even as digitization is making an increasing amount of information available, it is diminishing the space required for deep, concentrated thought. Today’s near-constant stream of media increases the cost, and thus decreases the frequency, of contemplation.
Kissinger, Henry A; Schmidt, Eric; Huttenlocher, Daniel. The Age of AI (p. 160). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.