Why this widespread sense of uncertainty ? Because things are fixed points - anchors, handles - of the existence. Because things, such as chairs and tables but also analogue photographs, are solid and concrete landing places to cling to. But non-things are taking over the real.
This is what the German philosopher of South Korean origin Byung-chul Han clearly and frankly states in the book Non things. How we stopped living the real edited by Einaudi.
What are non-things?
The continuous, chaotic, disturbing flow of information and data generates non-things, which distract from and things, those tangible, by their power, by their magic.
Why do we reserve them constant and frenetic attention? Because everything that which stabilizes human life is demanding: it involves bonds, constraints, rituals and slow times, it is not based on contingency, on immediate sensationalism.
The solution? To linger: that contemplative gaze, without ulterior motives, at silent, inconspicuous, ordinary things. And to listen to us and to others.
But let's proceed one step at a time, starting precisely from the words that Byung-chul Han uses, never by chance, with a direct, clear and concise style.
A lashing reflection on digitization
In his new essay on the society fluid and hyper-connected, Byung-Chul Han, through ideas and precise and peculiar examples, brings lashing reflections on digitization and communication, smartphones and selfies, possession and access, the Internet and the future. The book invites you to cultivate the art of slowness, silence and ' delay, as well as highlighting the criticalities of artificial intelligence and the very idea of post-human.
“Computer memory is additive, ours is always narrative” is the fundamental concept around which all the philosopher's arguments unfold.
It is not objects but information that prepare the world we live in
According to Byung-chul Han, today we are in the era of transition from things to non-things: we are dedicated - obsessed - a information and data and the consequence is infomania. “We run after information without arriving at any knowledge”.
“The earthly order, the planetary order, is made up of things that take on a lasting form and create a stable, habitable environment”. “Today the earthly order is replaced by the digital order. The digital order derealises the world by making it computerized”.
“Alone le information do light up the world. Indeed they can obscure it. The information chaos throws us into a post-factual society that planes the differentiations between true and false. The efficacy replaces truth”.
“The truth is challenging. When a information drives out the ' other, not we have more time for the truth”.
The memories preserved by analogue photography...
“If we observe an image only starting from the information, its stubbornness, its magic escapes us”.
According to Han, digitization has a purely additive nature, as opposed to human memory which is narrative: it simply queues data and stores it as it was entered, without any processing.
Like the Photograph of Roland Barthes's dead mother which Han focuses on. An analogue photograph - alive, fictional - which embodies a presence, contains (physically) memories and emanates a story, painful and moving, to be preserved, well beyond the ephemeral sequence - instantaneous - of a selfie.
... the communicative act of the selfie
“Taking selfies is a communicative act, so they must be exposed to the gaze of others, must be shared, their essence is l 'exhibition, while to characterize the Photography (by Barthes) is the mystery”.
The smartphone as a narcissistic and autistic object
For the philosopher, the smartphone " is a narcissistic and autistic object thanks to which one perceives oneself above all”. Everyone lives inside his own hypersocial bubble, evading the corporeality of social contacts. The result is a widespread social solitude: nobody listens, everyone produces himself.
The smartphone “take care of any task for us”. “We delegate our perceptions to it. We perceive reality through the screen”.
“Debella la contingency of the future. A foreseeable future in the form of an optimized present”.
Homo faber vs homo ludens
The worker's hand is compared with the finger that types and scrolls constantly , that of a a man who has no obstacles to counter, he only has to choose, through almost liturgical gestures, and play.
“The hand is the ' organ of work and action. The finger, on the other hand, is the organ of choice. The man without hands of the future uses only his fingers. Instead, he chooses to act. He hits the keys to satisfy his needs”.
Memory is not additive but narrative
The critical to post-human approach is based on the concept that memory is not additive, rather narrative: memories shape a changing story, while digital mediums operate only by storing data.
“Addition and accumulation drive out le narratives. Only le narratives generate sense and hold. The digital, numerical order is devoid of history and memory. So it fragments life”.
“Memory is a narrative fabric. The memory traces are alive, the device that saves the data is dead. The stored data always remain the same as themselves. Died. Living things do not allow themselves to be transformed into data and information”.
Possession vs access - having vs experiencing
The smartphone is smooth, perfect, it does not generate worries or contrasts but optimizes life: an object that strips itself of an affective value to take on the performative one.
“The phono sapiens finger-trafficking on the smartphone” “ n does not even want to own anything, just to experience and have fun”.
The screen protects us from reality
The information din is not composed of pointed arrows: it does not pierce, does not prod, it does not scare but neither stimulates.
“The punctum of reality pierce the field of the representation and breaks the presence. It creates epiphanic moments. Digitization absolutizes the studium reducing reality to information”.
“The digital screen that defines our experience of the world protects us from reality. The world becomes unreal, it is derealized and disenchanted. The growing ego no longer lets itself be touched by 'Other: he just mirrors himself in the back of things”.
The personal note: the jukebox
Introduced as a digression (but it is not), the 'last chapter is the most personal and at the same time what I ask for the circle and answers the initial question: why do we feel uncertain/lost?
Byung-chul Han tells the relationship with a juke-box found by chance and became one of the three iconic (and unique) objects that inhabit his house. The philosopher explains with passion the fascination for that thing, in fact, out of time, so physical, huge and heavy, so chromed and shiny, as to emanate intense and multifaceted emotions “a gravitational center that gathers and connotes everything around it, making it a place”.
Without a towering interlocutor we fall back on our ego
A jube-box from aura so special - magical -, to become an authentic interlocutor, a 'counterbody' for Byung -Chul Han, which concludes “To be happy we need an interlocutor soaring that imposes itself on us. Digitization kills any counterpart , any counter. In this way we lose the sensitivity towards what holds up, stands out, elevates us. Because of the missing interlocutor we do nothing but fall back on our ego, and this makes us deprived of the world, therefore depressed”.
Photo cover: Ziqian Liu, Symbiosis (detail), 2020. Ph. Courtesy Paola Sosio Gallery. As part of the exhibition Ziqian Liu. Inner Eye, curated by Claudio Composti, at the Other Size Gallery in Milan, until 16 September 2022.
An invitation, graceful, quiet and rarefied, to slowly recover one's time, the exhibition, created in collaboration with Paola Sosio Contemporary Art, exhibits a gallery of ten self-portraits in which the photographer Chinese approaches his body to natural elements such as flowers or fruit in compositions that express a sense of balance, delay and calm contemplation.
Slow and lonely times to get to know yourself
For Ziqian Liu the self-portrait is a way to talk to herself: the process of constructing the image - the composition of the objects, one's positioning within the photograph - is in fact carried out in complete solitude, in complete freedom. and with slow times, how long, meticulous and slow is the process of self-knowledge.
Being able to feel yourself breathing
“I choose the self-portrait” says Ziqian “because in everyday life we have a lot of time to communicate with others, but I think it is necessary to dedicate time to ourselves as well. I think sometimes loneliness is also fun. I love the moments when I can feel myself breathing”.
In looking at his shots, the observer has the sensation of reading the pages of a personal diary, of witnessing a private moment to which, however, he does not have complete access. In fact, Ziqian's face - and paradoxically, being self-portraits - is always denied or revealed in small strokes, as if to invite the viewer to imagine it or to replace it with their own, in a game of references between the self and the other.