Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Mass Image and Anecdotal Evidence

Pressures of work have kept me away from social media and this blog. Summer provides a moment or two of respite. I am working up a book expanding the ideas in a paper from a couple of years back, Anecdotal Evidence, and doing a few papers leading towards the next big project on political aesthetics. A bridging piece is online at academia which posits the existence of (in a passage extracted from the paper)

The mass image – the huge composite picture of the world which is being assembled in databases at Microsoft, Instagram and Google – goes far beyond the single image even though it retains some of its defining qualities. The mass image employs humans to produce a universe of image-commodities that we and others exchange, reproduce and consume. In the era of industrial production, we made houses, tools and clothing because the artifice of comfort held a cruel world at bay. In the age of the mass image, we make and consume pictures because we ascribe to the mass image the ability to replace the unhappy world with happy pictures.

Each image taken negates the scene it captures and replaces it with an image. As the absolute number of images increases, negation produces the mass image which replaces the entirety of the world, not just the unique scene, with a mass of pictures. A culture of compulsorily happy pictures – the culture of Facebook and Instagram – necessarily negates happiness by replacing happiness with pictures. If there is one thing we know about happiness, it is that it isn't single. The aggregate, singular, mass image negates happiness a second time by re-imagining it as normative, coherent, stable and universal.

Flusser fans will not find it hard to see the great man's influence, revivified by the excellent translations (and beautiful books) coming out from Univocal Press. Some developments of these thoughts will be the matter of a keynote I'm doing in Potsdam at the NECS conference at the end of next week with the working title "Against Connectivity"