The Digital Condition

Felix Stalder

Published by
Polity Press
ISBN 9781509519606
RRP £15.99
Reviewed by Dr Mick Phythian MBCS CITP Research Associate

8 out of 10

Stalder, Professor of Digital Culture and Network Theory at Zurich University of the Arts, in this book puts together a history and analysis of recent times when all things digital have come together to alter the human perspective of life and work. Describing itself as a “post-structuralist perspective” the reader ideally needs a little background in the world view of that and critical theory to make the most of the earlier pages but in the digital world they can always look to Google or Wikipedia, at their potential peril.

I might challenge the accuracy of references to Hollerith and David D. Clark but in a post-structuralist, post-democratic and post-truth world what are a few minor facts? The important part comes towards the end when having observed how technology has impinged upon all aspects of the world, Stalder draws together the threads and weaves a potentially pre-apocalyptic vision. All is not lost though, as the author has recognised an alternative in the “commons,” once a historical English concept but more recently popularised by ecologist Garrett Hardin in the 1960’s, then transposed into the realm of technology in this millennium. However, it is yet to be seen if cloud and the sharing economy will overcome the benefits of the commons.

Given the recent media outrage with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the author has been somewhat prescient in foretelling the events and discusses it in the chapter on politics, along with a chapter on what he calls the three forms of the digital condition. Whether the commons will defeat the authoritarian tendencies with the post-democratic world is yet to be seen, or will we spin off in an as yet unseen trajectory?

The book is timely in its provision of a contemporary world view and where it appears to be leading but with a potential alternative scenario. Not a speed read but one to ponder as one slowly digests. The absence of an index is a slight nuisance if one wished to refer back unless one makes copious notes whilst reading, as I did.

Further information: Polity Press

June 2018