Let us play, then, with the idea of a Digital City and an Analog City, and consider how the tension between the two shapes our moment. Our political culture has been hitherto formed predominantly by the Analog City, which reflected to varying degrees both the inheritance of print culture and the conditions created by electronic media. What we are now witnessing is the ascendancy of the Digital City, which is characterized primarily by the advent of ubiquitous Internet connectivity, no longer just at home or work but also on mobile technology. Of course, the analogy to Augustine’s two cities breaks down at a point — the Digital City is in most respects unlike the City of God, nor are we considering eternal destinies. The key parallel is that our participation in the public sphere is shaped largely by our loyalties to one or the other city and that we are witnessing the emerging dominance of one of them. Some of us have inhabited both the Analog City and the Digital City, while an increasing number of us have known only the Digital City.

It is useful to remember where exactly we are in the history of the Digital City. The Internet has been around for a half century, but the World Wide Web — the part of the Internet we access through web browsers — is about thirty years old. The transition to what was dubbed Web 2.0, which made participation more widely accessible, and connected what we then quaintly thought of as our “in real life” identity more closely to our online presence, began just over fifteen years ago. The transition to smartphones and tablets, which made digital media a constant presence in our lives and our default media environment, has occurred only over the last decade. In other words, only recently has the Digital City begun to manifest itself in the public spaces that have been hitherto ordered by the priorities and sensibilities of the Analog City. Before then, the consequences of digital media, although much discussed, remained superficial, which allowed us to believe that the future would be business as usual, only faster and better and more inclusive.

the digital city and the analog city