Monday, September 24, 2012

Anxiety and Alienation

I am interested in the theme of anxiety and phobia that runs through both the Thrift and Appadurai pieces. Overall, both writers seem to suggest that the increasing connectivity and calculability of the world is leading to new anxieties and alienations. Appadurai argues, “the world we live in now seems rhizomic, even schizophrenic, calling for theories of rootlessness, alienation, and psychological distance between individuals and groups” (3). This sense of disorder is reflected in how Appudari writes about the need for an understanding of flow, uncertainty, and chaos to replace the traditional methods of order, stability and systematicity when considering the classic questions of  “causality, contingency and prediction (20).

Thrift’s excellent article on the increasing presence of numerical calculation in everyday life seems to echo some of Appudari’s arguments regarding anxiety, phobia, and chaos. Thrift, for example, agrees that calculated worlds give rise a “technological unconscious,” that “is able to make itself known again as various anxieties and phobias (595).” On the next page, however, Thrift puts a different spin on this riff of  alienation.

“Often it is assumed that [calculated] worlds would somehow become less human… But perhaps something quite different would happen: new qualities might become possible which assume this enhanced calculativity as a space time background through an array of new co-ordinate systems, different kinds of metric and new cardinal points… This background would enable new kinds of movement to occur, against which might in turn engender new senses, new intelligences, of the world and new forms of ‘human’” (596).

In light of all the talk about anxiety and rootlessness, this passage jumped out to me as novel and provocative. Are calculated and fluid worlds leading to alienation, or rather to new senses of ‘human’? Of course the answer is almost certainly a little of both, but where exactly that balance lies is a question I’m still trying to answer.

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