1. We live in an era of man-made cultural catastrophe.

Novel technology changes our environment faster than modern culture can adapt to it. We are forced to live in this new environment while not having enough time to reflect on what’s changed; not having time to incorporate the changes in our culture.

2. By allowing the novel technology to change our culture, we are betraying the humane.

Technological development does not focus on humanistic or humanitarian values. Technology optimises for mass production, not for humane values.

3. Our mission is to nurture novel technology.

We must become its gardeners who guide its development towards the values that we intend to keep. It is only with our guidance the technology will take them into account.

4. Our task as philosophers is to discover and comprehend the mechanisms by which the novel technology affects both societal and individual.

To shepherd and garden the novel technology, we need a framework, a way of thought that will allow us to develop the technology without losing track of what is important for humanity and humane.

5. Our task as practitioners is to create such technology ourselves as well as to influence other creators.

It is only with action we can truly impact the emergence of novel technology in a way that it not only preserves the values that are important to us, but also returns humanity everything that the existing technology took away (being no wiser about it).

6. Technology should not serve man; man should not serve technology.

With technology becoming a ‘new nature’, we should learn how to co-exist and co-evolve. We build a garden and tend to it so it can tend to us.

Technology and humans must live together.
Happily, ever after.

From Science Fiction to Science

Today’s culture can be called ‘digital’ in many respects: digital media and technology deeply woven into our everyday life, into the relationship between people and society. [1]

Go back a century, and digital culture existed only in science fiction; the books of Bruce Sterling and William Gibson, for example. In recent decades, everything that we encounter either contains digital technology or could not be created without it, even what we usually call a ‘natural environment’ — though we would say ‘polluted by’ instead of ‘contains’. [2]

It may seem that digital devices have always been with us, but only fifteen years ago they were novel. Even then, we knew that they would soon change our lives.

And so, it happened. Schools used to ban calculators to force students multiply numbers by themselves: today, smartphones are similarly banned to prohibit students from searching in the Web. People used to go to the library when they wanted to learn something; today they open the web browser. People used to spend their evenings staring at TV screens; today they stare at the screen of their phones.

The Metaverse: An Inescapable Future?

Once again, everyone is saying that the world is about to change. [3,4,5] More precisely, that technology (this time, AI) will change the world even more than the now ubiquitous phones did.

Not long ago, the same was said about the crypto ecosystem. Now, it is called ‘Web3’ as if it is destined to become the ‘Internet of Tomorrow’. Adding ‘virtual reality’ to the mix, they call in ‘The Metaverse’ as an inescapeable future for everyone. [6] Facebook even changed its name to Meta as part of embracing this vision.

What is clear that yet another cultural shift is on the way. It is difficult to say what this new, post-digital culture will be. But it is quite clear that emerging technology will bring change, both good and bad. As it is, today: it is good that finding someone is so easy; but it’s bad that it is easy to find you.

A Man-made Catastrophe

New ideas and trends, memes, and ways to adopt new tech, all spread very quickly. [7,8,9] We do not have time to adapt to technological breakthroughs in a calm, reflective way. GPT Chat, in a matter of days (if not hours), has become the focus of attention for a huge number of people. [10] Not technological geeks, but the most common folk. A few days after its appearance in public, Chat GPT is already taking its law school exams. Not perfectly, but successfully. [11]

It is not just a cultural shift: it is a culture quake, a catastrophe, which for mathematicians is a fancy word to talk about robust and unpredictable change. That catastrophe, however, goes beyond its mathematical sense. [12,13] Toffler has written about such catastrophes, being focused on the transition from an industrial society to a super-industrial one. [14] The super-industrial society simultaneously became digital. We somehow survived the Third Shock Wave predicted by Toffler. [15] And now we are on the brink of the fourth one.

Faster, Stronger — and Smarter?

Artificial intelligence threatens our social institutions. How will the education system work when AI can take the exam for you? [11] Why would I study anything if I can instead send a question to a search engine, and get back not just all sorts of links, but an accurate and comprehensive answer? [16]

AI threatens anyone who earns their money in the digital space. Why does anyone need a illustrator when AI can draw better? [17,18] Why does anyone need an interface designer or a marketer when AI gives better conversions? [19,20] Why does anyone need a programmer when AI writes and refactors the code? [21,22]

Financial institutions seem to have repelled the first attack of cryptocurrencies, but it is unlikely that the blockchain-initiated transformation can be stopped. [16,23]

Virtual reality reconfigures identity and self-representation — whether based on sex or gender, on race or nationality, on residence or place of birth, on medical or self-imposed diet, or on features of brain neurochemistry. Everything under the microscope of identity politics is sprouting anew in the context of ‘The Metaverse’, where anyone can be whoever they want. [23,24]

New technology threatens us personally. How can one feel safe when AI is constantly watching? When the technology reads our emotions of which we ourselves are not even aware? How — and most importantly, why — should I pursue personal development if an AI always does it better?

New technology exploits nature, too, demanding even more rare metals and consuming even more electricity [25,26,27,28].

How Will We Make Sense of Emerging Culture?

The pressure that emerging technology puts on our modern culture may intensify. In the last fifteen years, we managed to build some shaky pillars to keep up with the novelty of digital. Soon, those pillars will not hold, and we’ll have to look for new foundations. What art and philosophy will come to our aid?

From Modernism to Postmodernism and Metamodernism

Every new technology generates new artistic trends. On the Modernist foundation laid by impressionism, Futurism first flourished. Then a whole tree of artistic movements: Art Deco, constructivism, Surrealism, and others. [29,30,31] The constructivists in their art reflected the changes taking place in the industrial society. [32] New materials, or  the new use of old materials, of glass, while mass production took hold: all this helped to create the Bauhaus, which continues to influence us today. [33,34,35]. Contemporary smartphones owe their form not only to their function (already echoing the Bauhaus slogan), but also to the influence that the Bauhaus School had on Steve Jobs and Jony Ive. In turn, they influenced how all mobile phones look today. [36]

Artistic movements developed hand in hand with philosophy. Artistic ways to express meaning converted to ways of thought which enabled people to create, improve, and change their environment using technology.

Starting in 1950s, post-modernism emerged by pushing itself off from modernist philosophy. It sceptically opposed everything on which modernism was built, its universal values and meta-narrative. [37] It opposed meta-narratives in general: the only truth of postmodernism is the absence of truth. [38–40]

As digital technology first found their reflection, and then their support in modernism, in the same way, digital media uses the post-modernistic foundation. [41] Technology creates what the media criticise: the dynamic balance between this pair is called the philosophy of metamodernism, invented in 1975, and following in the wake of postmodernism. [42] By 2010, metamodernism was deemed to have evolved once more. Revisited over the past fifteen years, it has increasingly reflected modern digital technologies and interdisciplinary science studies. [41,43]

Metamodernism, both from its name and its genesis, is a derivative of previous philosophies. Is that all our culture deserves, the prefix ‘meta’ to its predecessors? We call this culture ‘digital’ to reflect how the metamodernism and digital technology rose together, feeding from each other.

From Digital ‘Mirrors’ to Immersion

Treating the digital culture as a foundation, we can push off it, as postmodernism did with modernism. One first step is to discover the instances where present digital technology is being replaced. Especially interesting are the cases where this shift violates the state to which we are accustomed.

Digital technology heavily impacted the availability of information. Wikipedia and Google once made it a mission to make information available at your fingertips; they have succeeded. Now, one search query is more than enough to start your journey into an endless ocean of information. AI, the novel emerging technology, replaces this ocean. Now, instead of learning to swim and to navigate in it — skills known as ‘digital literacy’ — we need to learn a completely different skill: how to build ‘prompts’, that is, ‘how to ask AI questions’.

With no manufacturing costs in the digital space, effortless duplication became customary at the end of the twentieth century. This quickly evolved to a phenomenon that was dubbed ‘piracy’, bringing pains to those making their living by producing ‘digital content’. The very word ‘content’ arose as a generalisation of works that can be copied. This not-yet-established domain will be revolutionised once more as Web3 takes on its promise to preserve and protect authorship.

What will happen to mobile phones (and their apps)? YouTube, Tiktok, Netflix, even websites, all depend on them. Today, the digital content is made and destined to appear on small rectangular screens. No doubt, we’ll move past pocket-size digital mirrors to something more immersive. How will it change the lives of ‘content creators’? And how will it change the lives of those who make money from such content?

With all these changes and more, social institutions must adapt. Family and education, work and economy, politics and religion — these things will have little time to reflect and act.

Humanity needs to find answers to all these questions by itself, or otherwise arrive at them after a period of radical change. The change that will happen ‘naturally’ won’t be natural in any way. Technology will bring it upon us.

This argument might be played in reverse. If technology brings change that we can only experience and accept in a ‘natural way’, then maybe the technology becomes our ‘nature’.

We Can’t Stop Looking for Answers

In the framework of metamodernism, we stand on its modernistic actionable foundation: that novel technology should give a person more power and opportunity to live a life full of creativity and to integrate in the world and in society.

In the modernist perspective, technology should serve humanity — and humaneness, not the other way around. And be powerful enough to scale across the world.

Postmodernist skepticism has a counterargument: technology itself knows nothing about humanity and humaneness. It is not aware what makes us humane. Neither does it have such an intention.

Left to itself, the novel technology strives for its own optimum. Relying on the values of modernism, technology is looking for scale, that is, for mass production.

Mass production and humaneness don't mix well.

Bringing those perspectives together, we can’t allow the technology to grow along the path of least resistance. With the novel technology increasingly replacing nature, we must become its gardeners. We need to take care of the garden we have planted, otherwise it’s become a wild forest where we don’t have a place.

Like in the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, we are responsible for the technology we brought into this world.

— Post-Digital Collective, February 2023.


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