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1950 __ « The Thing »
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)
Comment : Martin Heidegger opens his short essay, "The Thing" (1950), with a commonly-claimed assertion about transport and media technologies: "all distances in time and space are shrinking." He forecasts the philosophical consequences of an impending technological change: "the peak of this abolition of every possibility of remoteness is reached by television, which will soon pervade and dominate the whole machinery of communication." What Heidegger’s 1950 essay took to the furthest reaches of philosophical parsing, the 1951 science-fiction horror film The Thing (directed by Howard Hawks from a screenplay by Hawks, Charles Lederer and Ben Hecht) extrapolated to camp hyperbole. At a military outpost near the north pole, scientists detect an abberation in their instruments, they find a space craft below the ice, attempt to destroy it only to discover it contained a passenger, an 8 foot frozen alien. "An intellectual carrot. The mind boggles," quips a scientist aghast at the potentially deadly intelligence of the partially-thawed object. (Anne Friedberg)But it was probably the German philosopher Martin Heidegger who most clearly anticipated contemporary debates about globalization. Heidegger not only described the “abolition of distance” as a constitutive feature of our contemporary condition, but he linked recent shifts in spatial experience to no less fundamental alterations in the temporality of human activity: “All distances in time and space are shrinking. Man now reaches overnight, by places, places which formerly took weeks and months of travel” (Heidegger, 1971 [1950]: 165). Heidegger also accurately prophesied that new communication and information technologies would soon spawn novel possibilities for dramatically extending the scope of virtual reality: “Distant sites of the most ancient cultures are shown on film as if they stood this very moment amidst today's street traffic…The peak of this abolition of every possibility of remoteness is reached by television, which will soon pervade and dominate the whole machinery of communication” (Heidegger, 1971 [1950]: 165). Heidegger's description of growing possibilities for simultaneity and instantaneousness in human experience ultimately proved no less apprehensive than the views of many of his predecessors. In his analysis, the compression of space increasingly meant that from the perspective of human experience “everything is equally far and equally near.” Instead of opening up new possibilities for rich and multi-faceted interaction with events once distant from the purview of most individuals, the abolition of distance tended to generate a “uniform distanceless” in which fundamentally distinct objects became part of a bland homogeneous experiential mass (Heidegger, 1971 [1950]: 166). The loss of any meaningful distinction between “nearness” and “distance” contributed to a leveling down of human experience, which in turn spawned an indifference that rendered human experience monotonous and one-dimensional. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Original excerpt : « All distances in time and space are shrinking. Man now reaches overnight, by plane, places which formerly took weeks and months of travel. He now receives instant information, by radio, of events which he formerly learned about only years later, if at all. [...] The peak of this abolition of every possibility of remoteness is reached by television, which will soon pervade and dominate the whole machinery of communication. Man puts the longest distances behind him in the shortest time. He puts the greatest distances behind himself and thus puts everything before himself at the shortest range. Yet the frantic abolition of all distances brings no nearness; for nearness does not consist in shortness of distance. What is least remote from us in point of distance [...] can remain far from us. What is incalculably far from us in point of distance can be near to us. Short distance is not in itself nearness. Nor is great distance remoteness. » (Martin Heidegger, “The Thing,” Poetry, Language, Thought, p. 163)
Source : Heidegger, Martin (1971), “The Thing”, In “Poetry, Language, Thought”, New York: Harper & Row.
Urls : http://networkedpublics.org/afriedberg/blog/place_ubiquity_and_the_thing (last visited ) http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/globalization/ (last visited )

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