The Thinking follows the Data

In the Frankfurter Allgemeine of 12th March 2014, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht writes that the humanities are helpless towards the digital revolution. That we must invent new terms to get along with it. That our traditional concepts and ways of thinking are opposed to it – which means that its development and  influence have drifted out of the reach of our intellectual and scientific analysis. Gumbrecht believes, that now only we see the whole significance of the thoughts of Jacques Derrida and those about The Truth of the Technical World of Friedrich Kittler. Gumbrecht forgets to mention Foucault’s L’archéologie du savoir, here.

Electronic communication does not only shift social distinctions and boundaries, it also changes the conditions of temporality, under which we act. Gumbrecht analysed this in a fascinating essay about the enlargment of the present, The Big Now.

Before we can dream of  controlling the effects of the electronic revolution, or at least mitigate it, we need to invent new instruments of analysis in order to capture their structures and processes, Gumbrecht says. The thinking owes our present first steps in a zone that is not yet labeled by terms of experiences – with the aim to conceive a new relationship to the world and to ourselves. It now is all about the ability to select, in a concise manner, knowledge in confrontation with the overall complexity of abundant information. More than ever, we have become Cartesian, Gumbrecht says.

In this, he sees a trend towards one-dimensionality and randomness in the world disclosure under electronic conditions. But for now, he can only state the simultaneity between the emergence of the electronic world and the emergence of epistemological realism, a longing for intensity without any direction.

Gumbrecht is a profiled critic of the digital reason and so it is usually interesting to read him. But sometimes he seems to be to much an Heidegerianer and to forget that we can only solve those problems, that we have created ourselves. As such we would have expected a little bit more, in his article, about the real world of digital culture, its possibilities and risks. Anyway, the Frankfurter Allgemeine wants to intensify the pulse to a thinking of the electronic world with a series of essays in the coming weeks. It wants to “avoid the self-restraint of the digital humanities”, but also cultural gloominess, joyful euphoria and short-term fun witty theses.

So we look forward to read texts of Terry Winograd, Peter Galison, Shusana Zuboff and others to the issue.


Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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