The Modern Myth of Digimodernism

Perhaps the defining feature of our modern age is the computerization of both our physical and cultural lives. While many see this as a sign of technological progress, a simple and unequivocally positive result of technological evolution, the cultural and artistic impacts of this increase in computerization are important and should be given critical consideration. Analysts like Kirby have referred to this cultural period as the period of Digimodernism, where the driving force behind popular consumption of the arts is our access to digital media, and most importantly the internet. Although it may seem that digimodernism amount to a mere shifting of medium, it actually has profound impacts on the ways we consume, use, and understand media and narratives.

One area which has been impacted in a major way by the advent of digimodernism is the news media, which now has access to almost incalculable amounts of content, content that is then filtered down to consumers. At the same time, online databases like Wikipedia or Google Scholars give readers access to unprecedented amounts of knowledge, research, and criticism. This access to knowledge has allowed the average individual a greater degree of awareness about the struggles of others, whether it is others around them or people halfway around the world. The importance of digital mediums of communication when it comes to informing and organizing political action has been proven repeatedly in recent years, whether one considers the Arab Spring of 2011 or the recent demonstrations in reaction to politics in the U.S. Undoubtedly, the increase of availability and accessibility that we see in digimodernism has had profoundly positive effects, but the changes caused by digimodernism have also had problematic effects on our relation to the news we consume.

Every day we are inundated with stories and images of unimaginable suffering and pain, often focusing on the trials of people in still developing countries in far off continents. While the argument that such images promote awareness of global issues and create compassion for those in difficult situations may hold some water, it is also true that compassion is a slippery emotion- it can be overwhelming in certain situations, but if it remains as a purely abstract emotion, separate from any opportunity for intervention, it rarely survives for long. Despite the vast amounts of knowledge and emotion spread by digital media, the question remains the same as ever: what do we do with what we know? What purpose can we put our emotions to? If we cannot find sufficient answers to these questions, as we often cannot, then we often start to feel that there is nothing we can do and that things are simply unchangeable. We become participants to our own desensitization, and our original compassion and sympathy are often transformed into apathy and cynicism.

This is not to say that there is no benefit to the hypermediacy of digimodernism, or that stories about world problems should not be shared. The supremacy of digital medium is an unavoidable fact of our contemporary existence, but we should be careful not to take the mythology of benign, all-solving technological advancement at face value. Narratives do not necessarily need to be deliberately created in order to be effective, and the disconnect between quantity and quality of content has been well established.

As Kirby discusses in The Digimodernist Text, interactivity, or the possibility of active involvement is a central tenet of most digimodernist works. However, this interactivity is neither as profound nor as prevalent as we may originally assume. Although the thousands of people listening to radio shows in their cars each morning could all hypothetically call in to the show and become directly involved in the media that they are consuming, few ever do. And while many voraciously consume the near omnipresent coverage of human tragedies and political scandals, few ever feel compelled to or capable of actually becoming involved in the issues that preoccupy their thoughts. Perhaps knowing that all this knowledge, this emotional capital, is available to more or less the entirety of society helps to alleviate any sense of personal responsibility.

Digimodernism concerns the impact of computerization of culture on society and on the individual, and while these effects are often positive they are not universally so, despite the often simplistic mythology of advancement that often accompanies technological progress.

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