The Analog City and the Digital City

L. M. Sacasas at The New Atlantis: “…The challenges we are facing are not merely the bad actors, whether they be foreign agents, big tech companies, or political extremists. We are in the middle of a deep transformation of our political culture, as digital technology is reshaping the human experience at both an individual and a social level. The Internet is not simply a tool with which we do politics well or badly; it has created a new environment that yields a different set of assumptions, principles, and habits from those that ordered American politics in the pre-digital age.

We are caught between two ages, as it were, and we are experiencing all of the attendant confusion, frustration, and exhaustion that such a liminal state involves. To borrow a line from the Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

Although it’s not hard to see how the Internet, given its scope, ubiquity, and closeness to human life, radically reshapes human consciousness and social structures, that does not mean that the nature of that reshaping is altogether preordained or that it will unfold predictably and neatly. We must then avoid crassly deterministic just-so stories, and this essay is not an account of how digital media will necessarily change American politics irrespective of competing ideologies, economic forces, or already existing political and cultural realities. Rather, it is an account of how the ground on which these realities play out is shifting. Communication technologies are the material infrastructure on which so much of the work of human society is built. One cannot radically transform that infrastructure without radically altering the character of the culture built upon it. As Neil Postman once put it, “In the year 1500, fifty years after the printing press was invented, we did not have old Europe plus the printing press. We had a different Europe.” So, likewise, we may say that in the year 2020, fifty years after the Internet was invented, we do not have old America plus the Internet. We have a different America….(More)”.