Post-Truth/Afterword

how
June 24

This is a translation of Postface.

Post-truth Afterword

Just before the world turned upside down in March 2020, talking about the artificializing of the world towards a digital whole, which is draining life and attacking relationships as it brutally removes ore from the bowels of the earth, was both far from us and yet remarkably prescient. Achille Mbembe associated it with an Africanisation of the world whose brutalism threatens our social structures in favour of systems of domination.[1] The smooth society presented on our screens detaches us from real conditions[2]. The digital divide[3] puts many people at risk of being marginalised and excluded from the digital world. The digital divide offers the system in place a population of abusable people who are indispensable to maintaining the materiality of the world, because not everyone is dematerialisable. This is part of the illusion of progress. The question remains of how these margins will form a society and associate another relationship with the world and with the living.

It would seem that the conditions of Mbembe’s analysis have been consolidated as the dominance of the digital, i.e. the digitalisation of processes essential to society in our contemporary world, has strongly penetrated the fields of administration, leisure, business, the university, creation and the social link. This process, recognised and questioned by many, has nevertheless been imposed without discussion thanks to a “crisis”; supposedly temporary “crisis” digital devices such as teleworking, videoconferencing, online or contactless payments, dematerialised and intermediated relations, health checks or compulsive identification find themselves anchored at the very heart of a societal upheaval.
For those of us who “come from the Internet”, it is imperative to reflect on the modalities that are imposed on us.

First of all, we must affirm, although it is obvious, that there is no equivalence between remote digital means of communication and a physical meeting: one does not replace the other. Different technical means offer different possibilities; if synchronous means of communication are useful from time to time, it makes no sense to use them between neighbours, both technically and energetically. Other means can be much more effective in allowing the expression of voices that for various reasons cannot travel: passing on thoughts before meetings, reading the minutes, commenting afterwards, etc.; working over a long period of time; the methods of participation are certainly different, but allow respectful exchanges at a distance. Preferring rigorous organisation to a video patch is much more productive for a group which, out of respect for people who cannot join them immediately, must take the time to synthesise and read rather than lose itself in the immediacy of technology.

The myth of the digitisation of the world, which is attached to the idea that the media can compensate for the lack of relationships, allows the underlying acceptance of the continuation of the myth of progress. This preoccupation is reflected in the words: “the world before”, “the world after”… Yet the proclaimed urgency avoids any questioning and seems to have no other aim than to cling to a single vision whatever happens, even if it means locking everyone up at home. This choice to sacrifice populations to the altar of globalised commercial and digital circuits has serious consequences.

Is replacing a meeting with a video conference relevant? Isn’t adding technological elements: high-definition jingles, home studios and other DIY proposals to make the space more interesting a second-best solution? Such additions increase the technological debt, the energy cost, and the inequalities between those who can afford such systems and those who cannot…

The urgency invoked, since March 2020, for the widespread use of digital tools has largely defeated our capacity to act, both in terms of reflection and coordination of efforts. We were dismayed by an unexpected change that was based on screen addiction with its corollary consequences - loss of sensitivity (“people no longer feel themselves”, loss of a sense of time, screen overdose, dysfunction of the circadian cycle, etc.), loss of reference points (“they die alone in their corner”). However, among the resistance groups, it was also an opportunity to get together, to find themselves outside the time imposed by another urgency, that of everyday life, which had suspended all integration of digital techniques, left to the goodwill of corporations.

The state injunction forced us to give up things without having taken the time to decide, while the society of the spectacle engages us in a fear of the void (FOMO, Fear of Missing Out). Thus, in order to lock us up at home, the authorities relied on a digital palliative and the extent of what we were experiencing escaped us. It’s hard to believe, but it seems that few people perceived that this was a societal shift.

Nevertheless, as in a good cyberpunk scenario, in this process of Africanisation of the world, the marginalised, whether willing or not, have often unexpected resources at their disposal. The long history of the relationship between empires and their beggars, their serfs and witches, their barbarians, their mongrels and maroons, their fugitives, their bohemians and their undocumented migrants, remains unknown and hopeful.

Countermeasures

After almost two years of change, are we not ready to catch our breath, to evaluate the consequences, to regain control of our technical gestures?

Let’s take the time to reflect on this imposition of the all-digital world, to observe our existing knowledge - did we not create the Internet without the intrusive instrument of the camera - and to ask ourselves what other possibilities exist that are not just imposed palliatives but tools that allow for the organisation and consolidation of collectives. Thus, asynchronous exchanges, the enhancement of our close networks, the links that we want to weave across distance and the way to weave them durably through the use, thought out with parsimony, of technical means allowing us to avoid the trivialisation of the exchange.

The emotional band-aid of ‘containment drinks’ cannot be the basis of a societal choice. To address this situation we must now take an active stance; when we organise an online meeting, the first thing is to recognise the difference, it is a possibility of a different order than the time of a meeting in the same shared place. If we have to exchange orally with an intelligence that is on the other side of the planet, let us do it with joy as a precious thing that we will prepare, document and whose effects we will try to preserve in the long term. It is essential to distinguish between the new possibilities offered by digital technology and its imposition on our privacy.

It is possible to perform an act, a form of ritual. Ritualising as in distinguishing the benefit of the digital when it offers a new possibility of encounter; and also making it an exceptional moment of ‘synchronous intensity’ which leads to asynchronous follow-up or prolongs it; acting as an ice-breaker: the opposite of an obligation of (omni)presence of/to the camera.


  1. Achille Mbembe, Brutalisme, Paris, La Découverte, 2020 ↩︎

  2. The global wage report 2020-2021 by the ILO states:

    In times of crisis, the level of the average wage can change significantly simply because of major changes in the composition of employment, the so-called “composition effect”[4]. [In France […], average wages have visibly increased as a result of job cuts, which have hit mainly those at the bottom of the wage scale.\autocite{oit_covid19_2020}

    ↩︎
  3. we are considering here the second degree of the digital divide, linked to the use of technologies. We will come back to this subject in a future opus. ↩︎

  4. “Composition effect”: (ILO, ibid.)

    When most of those who lose their jobs are low-paid workers, the average wage that is calculated for the rest of the employed automatically increases

    ↩︎