Book Out: Digital Condition (Polity Press)

I'm very happy my new book (a translation of Kultur der Digitalität) has just been published by Polity Press.

In the book I argue that referentiality, communality, and algorithmicity have become the characteristic cultural forms of the digital condition because more and more people – in more and more segments of life and by means of increasingly complex technologies – are actively (voluntarily and/or compulsorily) participating in the negotiation of social meaning. They are thus reacting to the demands of a chaotic, overwhelming sphere of information and thereby contributing to its greater expansion. It is the ubiquity of these cultural forms that makes it possible to speak of the digital condition in the singular.

The goals pursued in these cultural forms, however, are as diverse, contradictory, and conflicted as society itself. It would, therefore, be equally false to assume uniformity or an absence of alternatives in the unfolding of social and political developments. On the contrary, the idea of a lack of alternatives is an ideological assertion that is itself part of a specific political agenda. Indeed, advanced democracies are faced with a profound choice, to continue their long slide towards post-democratic authoritarianism or reinvent democracy for the digital condition.

You can get it from the publisher (UK, US), from Amazon (UK, US), or you local bookseller (UK, US).

The great cover image is by the Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde, from the series Nimbus, Probe #6, 2010.


Escape Velocity. Computing and the Great Acceleration. New Book(let)

Escape Velocity Cover

PostScriptUM #41
Series edited by Janez Fakin Janša
Publisher: Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana, March 2022

After 70 years of acceleration, human civilisation has now reached escape velocity, enough energy to move the Earth system out of the steady-state of the Holocene, the relatively stable climate pattern in which human civilisation unfolded over the last 10,000 years, and into the uncharted, and as for now unchartable, territory that is the Anthropocene.

The notion of the “great acceleration” captures the fact that key socio-economic and Earth system indicators all share a common feature: they show a kink, a sharp upward movement from approximately 1950 onwards. These indicators point towards an unprecedented intensification and acceleration of human activity and self-destructive use of resources necessary to sustain this development under capitalism. Which begs the question: what happened in the early 1950s to enable this process? There is certainly no single answer to this question, my intention is to focus on one cause that has been relatively overlooked in this debate: computing.

Get the full text, open access or print-on-demand ► eBROCHURE (PDF) | ► PRINT ON DEMAND | ► LIST ON ISSUU

The ‘Known Unknowables’ of Quantification and the Paranoid Self.

This is my contribution to "Digital Unconscious – Nervous Systems and Uncanny Predictions!” Autonomedia 2021: Eds: Konrad | Becker, Felix Stalder You can get a nice printed copy directly from the publisher, Autonmedia.


Driven by the need to manage large-scale, complex systems in real-time, the notion of rationality shifted during the cold war. Rationality was no longer seen as something that required the human mind, but rather as something that was requiring of large, technical systems (Erickson et al. 2013). While the enlightenment idea of rationality emphasized reflectivity (as in ‘know thyself’) and moral judgments (as in Kant’s categorical imperative), this new notion emphasized objectivity (in the form of numbers) and the strict adherence to predetermined rules (in the form of check-lists, chains of command, and computational algorithms).

The study of the self has long resisted this shift. Throughout the 20th century, psychology, with almost all its variants based on individual introspection, remained the predominant mode of learning about oneself (Zaretsky 2005). Within the domain of psychology, the exception, of course, was behaviorism, which was strictly based on external observation and disregarded all accounts of mental states. Its impact on the study of the self was rather limited, due to its primary use being focused on learning about others rather than oneself, as well as its methodological and political groundings having been quite controversial. Its main proponent, BF Skinner, was, as Noam Chomsky (1971) put it, “condemned as a proponent of totalitarian thinking and lauded for his advocacy of a tightly managed social environment”.

From Commons to NFTs: Digital objects and radical imagination

Emilio Vavarella THE GOOGLE TRILOGY | Report a Problem. 2012

“From Commons to NFTs” is an (expanded) writing series initiated by Shu Lea Cheang, Felix Stalder & Ewen Chardronnet. Cautioned by the speculative bubble (burst) of NFTs, the series brings back the notion of commons from around the turn of the millennium to reflect upon and intervene in the transformation of the collective imagination and its divergent futures. Every last day of the month during the next six months Makery will publish a new contribution of this “chain essays”. First text by Felix Stalder. Further contributions by Yukiko Shikata, Michelle Kasprzak, Jaromil (Dennis Rojo), Cornelia Sollfrank, Tzu Tung Le, and Jaya Klara Brekke

New Book out: Digital Unconscious – Nervous Systems and Uncanny Predictions!

“Digital Unconscious – Nervous Systems and Uncanny Predictions!”
Autonomedia 2021: ISBN: 978-1-57027-387-2 193 Pages
Eds: Konrad | Becker, Felix Stalder

In hyper-normal hybrids the boundaries between man and machine have dissolved. Inside their nervous systems lies a strange but fascinating theme: the digital unconscious. Which forces act through algorithmic processes? What secrets be found in the shadowy realm of technology, welded to human nervous systems? How can the complexity of these relationships be described and what forms of access can cultural approaches offer?

The Dawn of Everything (very short review)

So, I finished reading "The Dawn of Everything", the new book by David Graeber and David Wengrow. In many ways, it's the perfect book for our dark historical moment. It's all about historical possibilities, yet not in the future, but in the past. Thus, an escape and an inspiration. It's an amazing read, so full of detail that's impossible to summarize. You really should read it yourself.

I'll just focus on the structure here. The book aims to deconstruct the dominant linear narratives of human culture, in which the "agricultural revolution" (which wasn't a revolution in the sense of quick and radical change) and the emergence of cities (again, a multi-directional (back and forth), rather than linear development) inexorably lead to inequality, domination, and "the state". There are two conventional versions of this story: the loss of freedom/equality (Rousseau, Hariri, etc) or the gain of civilization (Hobbes, Diamond, etc). Graeber and Wengrow argue, in dizzying archeological and anthropological detail, that both are wrong and severely curtail our imagination of social potential. Their baseline assumption is that humans since the neolithic are our cognitive equals. No more, but also no less intelligent than we are, hence also no less capable of making decisions about their own lives, individually and collectively. So, no more treatment of foragers as semi-apes living in small bands, unable to overcome supposed constants like Dunbar's 150 people group threshold (if it gets larger than this social stratification sets in).

A "carnival parade" of social forms

Don't use "tragedy of the commons" to describe the failure to regulate CO2 emissions.

With all eyes on #COP26 I've seen the failure to regulate effectively CO2 emissions referred to as "tragedy of the commons" evoking Garret Hardin's (in)famous 1968 article of the same title. But don't do this.

I know it's suggestive. Because it seems to be pretty much the situation Hardin described: privatized gains and shared losses provide a strong incentive to overuse a resource, here the amount of CO2 that can be released in the atmosphere, to the point where the resource collapses and "brings ruin to all."

However, to call this the tragedy of the commons is completely misleading because Hardin's article was so deeply flawed.

First, commons are communal institutions to manage a shared resource for long-term use by its members (Elinor Ostrom won a (kind of) Nobel Price in Economics for showing this). What Hardin describes is the lack of a commons, not the failure of the commons. He makes this error strategically because he then proposes two solutions, state intervention or privatization.

Hence, the COP26 reveals is the failure to create institutions of shared stewardship, but there is no alternative because there is no "superstate" to intervene and the atmosphere has so far resisted attempts at privatization (though we might be getting there).

Hardin himself corrected his article 25 years laters, narrowing it half-heartedly to "The tragedy of the unmanaged commons" which makes as much sense as speaking of 'leaderless hierarchy' as commons are about communal management as much as hierarchies are about creating leaders.

Was liegt daran, wie gesprochen wird? Dividuelles Sprechen in Gerald Raunigs “Ungefüge”

Ungefüge_Cover“Was liegt daran, wer spricht?” Michel Foucault wollte bereits 1969 kein weiteres Mal das Verschwinden des/der Autor:in konstatieren, tat es dann aber doch wieder. Und etwa so lange dreht sich auch die Diskussion um Autor:innenschaft im Kreise, nicht zuletzt deshalb, weil auch die Kritik den/die Autor:in als Figur ins Zentrum stellt und wenn nur als Leerstelle, die es zu untersuchen gilt.

In einem der aussergewöhnlichsten Bücher der politischen Philosophie der letzten Jahre dreht Gerald Raunig Foucaults Frage um, ohne sie je direkt zu erwähnen. Als Problem erscheint nicht mehr der/die Sprechende, sondern die Sprache selbst. Denn es ist in der Sprache – als Struktur wie als Praxis – in der sich das Subjekt konstituiert. Dieses Subjekt ist heute dividuell, endlos teil- und wieder zusammensetzbar in der grossen Datenbanken der digitalen Konzerne, algorithmisch konstruiert, reibungslos und umfänglich verfügbar für smarte Strategien der Kontrolle und In-Wert-Setzung. Die hegemoniale Form, in der sich diesse Prozesse vollziehen, ist die Quantifizierung und das Ziel ist Optimierung.

Celebrating 25 Years of "Information Age" trilogy. A round table

A semi-virtual roundtable to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the publication of the first volume of Manuel Castells' The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. Castells, Professor of Sociology at the UOC, gave the opening lecture.

My contribution starts at 01:49:50. In it, I draw parallels between our current systemic blockages preventing necessary (ecological) transformations and those of the late Soviet Union blocking the adaption to informationalism. This argument is worked out more fully here.
My review of the trilogy from 1998 is here.

Mind Map zu Digitalität und Stadt

Die Student:innen des Studiengangs "Kultur der Metropole" der HafenCity Universität in Hamburg hatten mich zu einem Gastvortrag zur Digitalisierung und Stadt eingeladen. Während des Vortrags haben sie gemeinsam diese Mindmap erstellt. Ein sehr schönes Verfahren des gemeinsamen Notierens.

Lokale Kopie als PDF

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