“Culture” and “Digital”
At the current moment, with a new administration coming in and certain foreign relations under strain, digital culture is of particular importance. We are surrounded by calls to protest via the internet, to spread news (that may or may not be real), and to identify ourselves with others of our viewpoints in various online spaces. It might also be safe to say that notions of our “home” cultures are collapsing through globalization, since ideas, traditions, and affiliations are further able to mingle both in the real and the digital sphere. What constitutes our culture is no longer tied to nature or the people and things around us but transcends into technology: “What one sees here is an awareness of how specific categories of signs, unintelligible to or unintended for humans, can nonetheless have a profound effect on the form, content, and delivery of culture” (Striphas 77).
This “profound effect” can include a threat. Any loss, whether of old traditions or of languages, feels dangerous, as do other actions that are bound up inside of these changes: industries and jobs shift, people immigrate, terror and politicians threaten long-held beliefs and emerging assumptions. Compounding these is the problem of focus in the digital realm. Although strides are made toward using technology to bring greater education and opportunities to more people, much of the day-to-day use of the internet and personal digital devices relates to entertainment. When threats and instantly-gratified wants remain so powerful in the use of technology, how can we dream of a creating and indexing a world that is more fair and equatable for all, one that maximizes the positive effects of digital culture?
“Digital media thus have meaning insofar as they index the world” (Peters 99). We can index a “good” world, calling it into being, but we are swept up in the current of consumerism, threat, and self-gratification. Fighting against it is one good way to drown, especially if you don’t have power (with power, naturally, being equal to money). Personally, I experience this as a kind of angst. It’s not existential; I don’t worry about meaning or what happens when you die or why are we put here. It seems fairly obvious that we are here and will continue to experience life around us until death. This is true of everyone. Pain is also a truth, but one over which we have more control. So wouldn’t it make sense that pain should be limited for people? How, then, to create a digital culture that uses signs to affect human culture in a way that is positive, pain-lessening, for all involved?
This is the question that Peters is inviting us to consider. He writes, “There remains much to be done to model more equitable and sustainable worlds” (105). Striphas’ contributions might also be imported into this project: “Though their means and ends differ, both Arnold and Google are invested in determining which aspects of human expression are most worthy of rising above the din. Both, therefore, are in the business of finding order amid the apparent chaos” (78). At our particular moment in history, when big changes are seemingly on the horizon, perhaps the way toward addressing these issues, lessening fear and creating a nourishing global culture, is to pay more attention to how we interact and create signs in the digital realm.
Peters, Benjamin. “Digital.” Digital Keywords, edited by Benjamin Peters, Princeton University Press, 2016, pp. 93-107.
Striphas, Ted. “Culture.” Digital Keywords. Edited by Benjamin Peters, Princeton University Press, 2016, pp. 70-79.