What does it mean to construct digital worlds while the actual world is crumbling before our eyes?
After all, there are forms of technology—from tools that let us observe the natural world to decentralized, noncommercial social networks—that might situate us more fully in the present.
Things like the American obsession with individualism, customized filter bubbles, and personal branding—anything that insists on atomized, competing individuals striving in parallel, never touching—does the same violence to human society as a dam does to a watershed.
When the language of advertising and personal branding enjoins you to “be yourself,” what it really means is “be more yourself,” where “yourself” is a consistent and recognizable pattern of habits, desires, and drives that can be more easily advertised to and appropriated, like units of capital.
When the pattern of your attention has changed, you render your reality differently. You begin to move and act in a different kind of world.
Our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new, whereas we do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way.
But how can we do that when our platforms for “connection” and expression detract from the attention to place and time that we need, simultaneously eroding the contexts that would allow new strategies to sharpen and flourish?
I wonder what it would be like to experience a social network that was completely grounded in space and time, something you had to travel to in order to use, that worked slowly.
For Arendt, the space of appearance was the seed of democracy, and it was defined by any collection of people who speak and act meaningfully together.
But this restraint is difficult when it comes to commercial social media, whose persuasive design collapses context within our very thought processes themselves by assuming we should share our thoughts right now—indeed, that we have an obligation to form our thoughts in public!