Is Airbnb the beginning of our end? Perhaps not, but, as this elegant meditation explores, it’s just one more sign of our sterile, disembodied times.
British social critic Scott’s (English and Creative Writing/Arcadia Univ.) essay on the disembodiment and dislocation that come with technology has promise, at first, of being a kind of manifesto of the sort Jaron Lanier might issue, but it soon settles into a coolly McLuhan-esque treatise, rich in reference to the likes of Virginia Woolf and Walter Benjamin, on our dematerialized condition. Whereas Lanier, for instance, might take an alarmed view of the political implications of a world in which “the moments of our lives audition for digitization,” Scott is more inclined to the existential and philosophical: we are both anonymous and exhaustively identified, seen and unseen, physical and virtual, isolated and connected, and, thanks to social media, everywhere at once. It is this last truth that lends credence to Scott’s fruitful notion that we are all suddenly four-dimensional beings who can escape the ordinary laws of physics that bound us to time and place: “Where do our bodies begin and end in a networked world?” The answer is a little scary: at least the images that Scott conjures of the 1950s sci-fi denizen known as 4D Man suggest that our newfound “ability to slip through solid objects” may not be altogether a good thing. On the other hand, it may not be bad, either. As Scott writes, the novelist A.S. Byatt has observed that even though modern passers-by seem to have their eyeballs glued to their phones, “overall they seem happier than strangers did in her earlier years.” Happier, perhaps, but certainly more tired, endlessly working to serve our technology. And more alike as well: Scott quotes Zadie Smith as noting that social media “can enforce uniformity,” shouting us down into a kind of digital sameness that, he adds, “inevitably entails a constricting of personality.”
More Adorno than Negroponte but of interest to students of contemporary first-world culture.