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Here’s my most recent foray into Heidegger… wish me luck:

I recently read an article by Steven D. Brown and Geoffrey Lightfoot titled “Insistent Emplacement: Heidegger on the Technologies of the Informing.” Sounds like a real brain-burner, doesn’t it? It is actually a remarkably accessible and prescient piece (it was written in 1998). This article deals with the views of German philosopher Martin Heidegger as they relate to technology. I found it to be a healthy balance to the usually optimistic views of technology.

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

Heidegger was concerned with exploring the nature of Being (think of “being” in the verbal sense) as opposed to beings (like objects). Science (and, perhaps unknowingly, philosophy) have been preoccupied with studying the Being of beings, but not simply Being itself…. (I promise it’s more intuitive than it sounds!). Most importantly for this article, Heidegger stresses the difference between knowledge of our authentic existence in space and time, versus the human tendency to ignore our Being as such and become absorbed in the “everydayness” of information (which we can consider “inauthentic”).

This is where the issue of technology steps in. This article explains how technology, as a man-made instrument of coordinating information, puts a premium on the immediate “ready at hand” state of information, but not necessarily knowledge. This information, as we can probably all relate to, is most often “inessential or trivial.” The internet doesn’t care, it just serves to put us in “massive proximity” to information, making “a new type of informing.” The authors describe it eloquently:

 “Here, one can gain existential understanding through accessing the truth that is out there, downloading the vital pages and, through gathering sufficient information, making the necessary connections that will ultimately explain everything, everywhere. This celebratory rhetoric now aligns the discourse of authenticity with the accretion of information.”

This seems accurate to me—people want to have the smartest phone, with the most applications and widgets, so that they can be reached and reaching at any and all times.

 What the hell does this have to do with anything? Well, for Heidegger, truth is the result of our “comportment” that “allows for beings to be as they are,” or being open to their unique disclosing nature. And like Derrida (someone who (mis?)read Heidegger) all “disclosures of truth are previously concealed,” so in a sense all truth “is nourished by what is untrue.” It is this human behavior of “letting be” that cannot ever completely command information because their nature is such that there is always a “manifold openness that emerges from concealment.”

So, basically, technology seduces us into thinking that all information is manipulable and “calculable,” and that as long as we get in closer proximity to it, we will be getting closer to our being. When in fact, our being as such is intimately connected with grueling durations of time (hence Heidegger’s work Being and Time). Again, “modern informing demands or ‘insists’ value of availability which is detached from a relationship to fundamental being.”

Lastly, technology is “enframing.” Enframing or “emplacing” is a “way of revealing what gathers together and orders what is revealed into a prearranged space of calculation.” This is opposed to the more authentic comportment of “letting things be” without any concretely presupposed objectives in mind. Isn’t this what media is though? An ordering, or organizing, or ‘mediating’ of information? Ultimately, technology’s emphasis on information and proximity reduces humans to nothing more than “standing-reserves” or attendants to the amorphous mass of information. This is similar to the concern in my tetrad: I don’t always know where I stand in relation to all of the information.

The authors suggest that the more enframing, or emplacing schemes there are, the more “the resulting emplacements come to seem ever more provisional and insecure.” Ultimately, humans, as “standing-reserves,” lose the “possiblity for finding a secure standard for ordering.” We fall to the allure of the enframement mentality and believe that “increasing in ordering alone will bring us closer to being,” although it is now evident that Heidegger and the authors completely disagree.

We must instead embrace the “dread” or “anxiety” of our authentic comportment of “letting be,” i.e. having “non-objective plans presupposed in ordering.” This will lead to anxiety as we feel ourselves being uprooted from trivial information and everdayness, but it will articulate our Being as separate from beings to us as the very nothingness which is the “object” of anxiety. The authors state:

“Crudely put, planning must be directed towards creating the space where things happen without prior rigid objectives. Yet a world constituted in this way is also one which is filled with dread, since in letting beings be it foregoes the opportunity of challenging and commanding. It is placed in the precarious position, pushed right up against the insistent emplacement mystery of concealment, of waiting for the unconcealed to bring themselves forth into unconcealment. Such a world gives time.”

It is only in an authentic grasping of ourselves as temporal beings that we can become closer to our Being as such. I realize this puts a somewhat negative spin on technology, but I think it instead offers a great future for it—the challenge of finding ourselves within and apart from the mass of information that has always, in a sense, been there, but is only now so close to us via the internet.
Also, does the internet really work in this way, as a distance-shredding information behemoth? Or does it in fact offer us a new way to look at information-gathering as a whole that perhaps Heidegger couldn’t foresee? Wish I knew the answers!