Conceptual Cluster 7: Container Technologies

by asahelenastjerna


Since some time, I refuse using the iPod function in my iPhone during my daily travels in public space. I leave the headphones at home. The aim is to avoid letting my listening – this active, sensuous, bodily instrument – becoming appropriated by the very private act iPod-listening in public space generates. One could claim this as media conservative or retrograde, but my position is neither conservative nor retrograde. What it all is about, is that I consider the act of listening of being an active action. The act of listening being an act of producing. What do I chose to produce through my act of listening?

In the wake of the last decades dismantling of the physical public space, replaced by a global virtual space cheered on by a likewise global information capitalism, the specific space the act of iPod listening creates, transformes the public space to a private one; displaces the focus of attention to something disconnected from a situated here.  This subject directly relates to the texts by Peter Sloterdijk, Lieven de Cauter and Alice Jardine (et al.) from several perspectives, in which they discuss how politics, technology and bodily-spatial- architectonic isolation stand in an immediate relation to each other. Bodies are both generated and manifested in the way technological achievements are politically adapted. The present conditions of the market are manifested through our bodies, in terms of producing cultural beings.

Sloterdijk states that our living is constructed upon a politically generated culture of mega individualisation in which singular cells (the individual apartments) establish societies constructed out of separated bubbles; so called spheres. The technology helps to maintain this strictly separating structure. “The modern apartment […] is the material realization of a tendency toward cell-formation” (p. 89) “The apartment as an atomic or elementary “egospheric” form […] of which generates individualistic foams (p.90) “This single bubble in a “living foam” forms a container for the self relation of the occupant, who establishes himself in his living unit at the consumer of its primary comforts” (p.92)

Sloterdijk also interestingly claims that “[…]portable music players with headphones – an insulation technology that is the equivalent to the introduction of an acoustic micro-apartment into public space…” (p. 102) Sloterdijk comments on how iPod listening in public space, evoked by a capitalistic market, turns us away from the public space in terms of a shared experience. The act of listening therefore, according to my opinion, can not be said to be anything else then political.

During my travel through Stockholm during rush hours, the public space transforms into a by hundred of thousand of people executed solipsistic iPod-choreography not far from from what Sloterdijk describes as “the setting free of solitary individuals with the help of individualized home and media technologies, and the aggregation of masses, unified in their excitement, with the help of staged events held in “fascinogenic” mass structures.”

The individualized headphone culture establishes to a high degree privatized affective states, not shared with the passenger next to him or her, but only with oneself.

The technological separation arising with the consumer based use of iPod/iPhone, enhances a local alienation. It emphasizes the lack of a priority of the local and an exclusion of the neighbouring common. Such a techno-spatial demarcation between what is considered meaningful and meaningless connects to De Cauter’s discussion on the societal state of mind, entitled “high-intensity capzularisation.” This state, according to De Cauter, emanates from two basic developments: On the one hand the “technological logic of capzularisation” and on the other the “logic of exclusion in a polarized society.” The capzularisation influences all disparate layers of society.

Applied to the common market according to De Cauter – formed by a notion of capzularisation as the basic engine of inclusion and exclusion in a dual society – “the structuring of capital in the network society, corresponding to the shift from industrial to “informational capitalism”, has brought about a giant social exclusion, a polarization of society in the global economy” (p. 80) and “The rise of the network society and the formation of ghettos are intimately linked.” (p. 81)

Also the daily life is heavily affected by this, as we navigates through different capzularisations as “home, “shopping mall”, “work”. What unites these different modes of capzularisation appears to be an unanimous exclusion of the environment in which they are situated. By placing what is considered as valuable on an “inside”, the mental distance to a non-valuable “outside” constantly increases. Bio-politics – migration – the exponential growth of the refuge are extreme conditions caused by the capzularisation where problems are pushed away to an abstract “outside”.

– But also the distance to me and the iPod-using passenger next to me on the bus could very well fit into De Cauter’s argumentation.

The use of iPod separates us from the potential act of meeting implied with public space. I don’t argue for initiating a mega social activity. It is not about to shake hands with each person I meet in the subway during my travel from work. But the iPod, the way it is consumed, is an actively turning away from the political act implied with a collective possession of and in public space. What is left of public space, is a giant leftover, transformed into a “foam of ego-cells”. (Sloterdijk)

The iPhone as such is not the source of the problem. It is the use of if that is the problem. I can imagine scenarios taking place where the use of the technology deterritorializes the current capitalistic consuming, the consumers release themselves from Spotify, using technological software transforming themselves into producers establishing local networks here and now in public space. Imagine a technological patchwork connected to the subway where passengers, during the journey could connect to passengers in the other cars of the train set. Just as an illustration. I agree with De Cauter claiming that the increasing of the capzularisation in society is coupled with the informational capitalism, but not the statement that networks per se must establish capzularisation, or to quote De Cauter; “No network without capsules”. (p.85)

Meanwhile, besides an awareness of  possible technological uses that challenge the information capitalism transforming us from consumers to communicating producers, could such a simple act as an active listening be one way of, what Deleuze and Guattari would call, drawing a line of flight. A positive deterritorialization, a decoding of a situation transforming it into something else.

–To switch off the iPod, to put away the headphones and to start to listening to the always transforming multiplicities we call public space, might be the minimal action that makes the difference.