Media of Philosophy II: Thinking with Technical Standards

I’ve just come back from a three-hour editing session with the Berlin-based video artist Antoine Desvigne. We’re collaborating on a video project based on the Skype-intervention Avital Ronell made in my course The Technologies and Media of Psychoanalysis in December. During that visit Ronell discussed The Telephone Book (1989), which examined how telephonic logic inflected National Socialism, Martin Heidegger’s philosophy, and the collaboration between the two. (I briefly discussed this project in a previous post entitled "Sein und Zeitschrift.") I had thought it’d be fun to discuss this book with Ronell nearly a quarter of a century after its publication, when technologies like the cell telephone and email have displaced the practical authority of earth-bound telephones. Carrying on this discussion via Skype provided an occasion to reflexively investigate how changing materialities of communication inflect thought today. Dr. Ronell kindly accepted our call and the conversation unfolded as a transatlantic Verbindung composed of (at least) one author, seven readers, five networked computers, and a video projector. We documented the results via two Quicktime screen recordings, a roaming digital video camera manned by Antoine, and one ambient audio recorder. These provided the sources for the video and installation Antoine and I are developing.

Not surprisingly, we’ve been plagued since the inception of this project with technological glitches. WiFi problems, different generations of Skype, PC/Mac issues and more. But the most bedeviling problem proves to be frame-rate: Antoine’s camera records at something like forty-eight frames a second, our QuickTime screen recordings are around forty-two frames a second, and the ambient audio recording has something like thirty-eight samples a second. As we reassemble these various documents into a single timeline in the Final Cut non-linear editing program, the sounds and images constantly shift in and out of sync with one another. [Edit: Since initially writing this paragraph I have found out that vying 16/32 bit standards are probably the real source of the problem]

These would-be technical problems are quickly becoming a motif for the final video project. Part of the focus of Heidegger’s late work is the globalizing drive of technological enframement that grounds modern (neu-zeit-lich) science and philosophy. And I would like to think that these “technical difficulties” we are having using time-based digital media to reflect on the thought & work of the author of Being and Time may underscore a kind of counter-force immanent to technological enframement. At the very least, these vying technical standards offer up a few problems worthy of meditation. For one thing, this problem of vying technical standards should introduce a measure of uncertainty into that old myth about digital media and globalization as agents of global time synchronization. Sure, it may be the case that in some sense digitialization eliminates the distinctions between channels by reducing image, sound, & touch  to inter-changeable informational data-flows (Kittler). And contemporary capitalism endeavors, in some loosely related sense, to reduce all times and spaces into nodes along a continuous sequence of relay and exchange (Stiegler, Castells). But even at the most local site—say, here at my desk within a few feet of an the iPod, a CD player, the QuickTime Player, YouTube videos, and an analog watch—there are in fact a multitude of competing times. Our technically supplemented “real time” is composed of a multitude of interlaced and asynchronous times born from competing working routines, divergent histories of artifactual development and implementation, and so on.

This asynchronicity shouldn’t be mistaken for “freedom from” technological enframement. There’s no fan-culture, pre-technical everyday, or prosumer culture that operates outside the metaphysics of technology. But examined up close, even global media technologies and regimes break down into a panoply of moments, times, and rhythms. These are not “exceptions” operating within the rule of global technology/capitalism, mind you. There is no temporary autonomous zone from  the global. But a certain internal differentiation and alterity is the condition for enacting any enframement or standardization. Moreover, as technological enframement co-opts and contains the experience of difference, pace, rhythm, and there-ness of everyday experience, it strategically reproduces that difference in domesticated form: Vying proprietary platforms, competing technical standards, regional differences in “economic development” introduce a variety of rates, speeds, and asynchronicities into technological enframement.

Temporal asynchronicity recedes from view in most of our everyday media consumption. The producers of films, books, and magazines, people like writers and electronic engineers, labor to furnish partial  techno-temporal closure to our media environments. But in a practical way we  experience the disruption of these times dozens, maybe hundreds, of times a day. To pick a simple example, the same high-speed internet that bridges home and office also introduces a kind of frantic, almost tramautic rate of exchange that dissolves the autonomy and integrity of both sites. As temporal difference and there-ness reduces via technological enframement, an experience of uncanny disruption surges from within.

These “technical” difficulties with time synchronization are also more intimately bound up with Heidegger’s own philosophy of time and ontological difference. I think that Heidegger himself suggests that the task of thinking—contemplative meditation—is endowed with properties that recall technical mediation. I’ll write a bit about that in the next week or two. In the meanwhile, here's a video from Antoine (appropriately entitled "World without Time"). For more, visit his page at VIMEO.



Welt ohne Zeit from Antoine Desvigne on Vimeo.