The things which bring us together

I’m fascinated by how we assemble around things and how events of particular types ensue from the nature of these things. As Dreyfus and Spinosa (pg 274) describe in Philosophical Romanticism this is something which was a significant theme in the work of the later Heidegger:

For Heidegger, the gathering of people around things like a jug of wine or a family meal resists the totalizing and dispersing effects of the efficient ordering demand by the technicity. Heidegger calls this event a thing thinging and the tendency in the practices to bring things and people into their own, appropriation. Albert Borgmann has usefully called the practices that support this local gathering focal practices. Typical Heideggerian examples of things that focus such local gathering are a wine jug and an old stone bridge. Such things gather Black Forest peasant practices, but, as Borgmann has seen, the family meal acts as a focal thing when it draws on the culinary and social skills of family members to create a world that solicits fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, familiar warmth, good humour, and loyalty to come to the fore in their excellence, or in, as Heidegger would say, their ownmost.

I’m interested in how digital media can facilitate gathering in this sense. These might be objects such as articles, podcasts or videos or with a slightly different temporality the accounts through which these objects are shared. There’s a sense in which these objects are different to the kinds which Heidegger considered but they are still in a real sense objects, even if they are materially distributed through networks in a way which foregrounds their semiotic character. Furthermore they are embedded in platform infrastructures which shape their circulation and our encounters with them in opaque ways which run contrary to the familiar rhythms of pre-digital social life. Their capacity to make a claim on our attention becomes crucial here in the context of the platform infrastructure.

They retain a capacity to ‘thing’ in the sense of (a) organising how we gather around them (b) presenting certain ways in which they can come to matter to us (c) opening up certain possibilities for action in relation to them (d) enabling ways of being together around them with what Donati would call relational goods possible through these.

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