Digital politics

Digital Politics

Digital Fourfold 0,0

The line splits—into one that moves objects and subjects, and into another, faster one that moves information, the line of telesthesia, of the telegraph then telephone…this power of telesthesia—perception at a distance—is everywhere…. As telesthesia develops, then telephone to television to telecommunications, topographic space deepens and hardens but always with gaps and exclusions.[1]

DIGITAL POLITICS: Most textiles incorporate a basic digital function in their makeup, millions of tiny weaves that write an elusive code into the background of everyday life. Today, the digital of technology has overtly and discreetly invaded everyday life at a deep and profound level.[2] Instead of the digital space and movement of an interwoven fabric, our lives tend to be ruled by other digital lines. As we move across the web, we can be both everywhere at once and virtually nowhere  — a binary that risks trapping us in a net equally quotidian and ubiquitous. This is what Wark calls Digital telaesthesia— something that starts with the SAGE computer system of the 1950s and goes on to operate as a means of command, control, and communication: 

“The theory of the digital, and of its distinction from the analog, emerges as a by-product of this attempt at self-control by the military industrial complex, but it transformed the complex into something else…The military entertainment complex emerges out of the control of the analog by the digital, of the military and industrial production lines by the digital lines of command, and by the extension of the digital to all aspects of everyday life.”[3]

In Gamer Theory, Wark unpacks the relationship between the analog and the digital such that the latter gradually extends and expands to encompass the whole of telesthesia.[4] This very text and the journal in which it is contained exists through a web of code, signals and pixels. Displayed on devices that were once tied by cords and cables to a fixed place, we can now surf freely in any particular space as we carry our net with us. Thus our day-to-day lives are tied to a digital telaesthesia that continues to expand further within space and time, with these invisible lines becoming more tightly bound to our ‘selves’. The combination of telaesthesia speed and an almost constant stream of digital exchange is what makes possible a vast and inclusive topology of gamespace.[5] Wark’s theory of gamespace affords a useful means of thinking about the digital as a worlding force that is at once ludic, agonistic, decisional and managed. 

Inside gamespace we can begin to see how “the digital always addresses its subject as a gamer, as a calculator and competitor who has value only in relation to a mark, a score”.[6] This offers a means of thinking through the question of what it means to be digital. Wark again: “The digital inscribes gamespace within the subject itself. Gamespace makes topology seem like it could have, if not meaning, then at least an algorithm. Gamespace makes the uploading of the world into topology seem natural and inevitable.”[7] 

Thus, gamespace is an always and everywhere of the digital as it lays an invisible hand on reality — a hand that opens its digits to calculate what it may gain, and an invisible fist that closes to calculate what it may claim. The invisible hand of gamespace also reminds us that digital life constantly abstracts labour, information and economies for a class that controls the vectors along which the digital flows.[8] You don’t necessarily have to be a gamer to get this, though it may help, as to comprehend the digital within a gamer theory used here is to see if we can get beyond “the phenomena of gaming as experienced by the gamer to conceive of gaming from the point of view of the game.”[9] 

For myself, even before I had encountered Wark’s text, I was trying to exit gamespace whilst trying to see this from the point of view of design. Here, digital object-things ruled the state of play. The phone, the laptop, the tablet and a host of other shit I couldn’t (and still can’t) afford to buy, update or replace, meant that living my modern, work-a-day life in a major city was to live a constant uploading of the world through a weird portal. Each screen played out a topological game written between the lines of digital telaesthesia such that to say (and use) ‘device’ is also to say (and use) platform, program, application, cookies, tabs, data, data plan, meta-data, signal strength, GPS, location and account. Each in their own way produces a point-score that tracks and traces what I buy, what I ask, what I read, what I watch, what I see, what I say, what I listen to and where I go. This is DIGITAL-1. 

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[1] Wark, Mckenzie. 2007. Gamer Theory, Cambridge, London: Harvard University Press, 41.

[2] Needless to say there are many thinkers who explore this from various angles; however, my specific take on these kinds of observations draws predominantley on the work of the Australian design philosopher Tony Fry. A key issue, discussed throughout several of his texts, a useful focus to this argument can be found in Becoming Human by Design (New York: Berg, 2012). In particular, Fry argues that we live within a naturalised artifical, technologically infused world within the world such that things spring forth technologically, and bryonf functionality and means, technologies including the digtal and interface, are now intrinsically part of an induction into instrumentally biased education and perception and a conditon of our being technological (Fry, 2012, 100-101).

[3] Wark, 2007, 67.

[4] Ibid, 43.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 72.

[7] Ibid

[8] See Wark, Mckenzie. 2004. A Hacker Manifesto. Cambridge, London: Harvard University Press and Wark, Mckenzie. 2014. “Designs for a New World.” e-flux journal #58 (October), where Wark unpacks a tense and tight relation between art, design, hacking and labour: “What the capitalists did for the production of things, the new ruling class is doing for the production of information. I call them the vectoralist class. They rule through the ownership and control of the vectors of information, its stocks, its flows, its design.”

[9] Wark, 2007: 160.

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