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Digital media and ontological security 

There’s an intriguing argument in The Mediated Construction of Social Reality, by Nick Couldry and Andreas Hepp, concerning our dependence upon digital media and how we respond to its failure. From loc 5527:

We feel the costs viscerally: when ‘our’ media break down –we lose internet connection, our password stops working, we are unable to download the latest version of software required by the device or function we want to use –it is as if the social infrastructure were itself, in some respect, breaking down: recursivity has been interrupted, ontological security becomes threatened.

I take their point to be that our reliance upon digital media isn’t simply about specific purposes. For digital media to fail does not frustrate us because it impedes a particular purpose. In an important sense, our purposiveness as such, has come to rely upon digital media. For this reason, there is a latent trauma inherent in its breakdown. We experience its failure in terms of a impeded capacity to act within the world, as opposed to simply frustrating specific actions.

The argument is underdeveloped, as can be seen by the “in some respect” clause within it. It’s nonetheless an important and provocative one. It left me wondering if anyone has done qualitative research about experiences of wifi breaking down in terms of the affective fallout from such a failure? My experience of this has tended to be one of whole categories of action being foreclosed when this happens, as in a real sense I lose the ability to proceed with my work, rather  than it simply being a contingent impediment to particular tasks. I imagine there’s a great deal of variability in how people respond to such a situation but I nonetheless think Couldry and Hepp are pointing towards something very interesting.

Categories: Becoming Who We Are Digital Distraction, Personal Agency and The Reflexive Imperative Digital Sociology Philosophy of Technology Thinking Uncategorized

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Mark

2 replies

  1. It’s an interesting question. The only ways I have come across something close is descriptions of what happens when crises that cut wifi and power (Sheller doi: 10.1080/00045608.2015.1113114) and descriptions of off gridders for the ways that they depict wifi and power (Vannini & Taggert 10.1177/1474474013516406). They don’t address your question, but might add insight to how to go about investigating it – and certainly point to ways that ontological security is framed/reframed.

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