Time and the Digital Universe
Thinking Together – conference, part 1 | part 2
No Time Is There: The Digital Universe, and Why Things Appear to be Speeding Up
Our entire digital universe can be traced back to a single 32-by-32-by-40-bit matrix that was given form in 1946. „Decisions between elementary alternatives are initiated not with reference to time as an independent variable but rather according to sequence“. Julian Bigelow, the architect of this 5-kilobyte matrix, explained in 1949, before it was customary to refer to these alternatives as bits. “Time, therefore, does not serve as an index for the location of information,” he added, “but instead counter readings are used.” Because these counters have come to be known as clocks, it is easy to believe that time in the digital universe corresponds to time in our universe. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Blindness and Power of Algorithmic Prediction
The real power of algorithms seems to rely on their ability to predict the future - or at least this is the appeal of a series of buzzwords in the digital world: big data, machine learning and predictive analytics. We cannot know the future, but (that's the claim) algorithms can, because they are able to derive from the mass of data we all produce (often unconsciously) information that no human being could reconstruct nor understand.
But which future is it? Algorithms only allow us to know the future that results from a forward projection of today's uncertainty, not the open future producing a present that will be different from the one we are facing today. Digital prediction is about the present future, not the future present. The application of algorithmic techniques in finance shows it: one can know the future without knowing what will happen.
Dynamic stabilization is a defining feature of modern societies. This term refers to the fact that such a society requires (material) growth, (technological) augmentation and high rates of (cultural) innovation in order to reproduce its structure and to preserve its socioeconomic and political status quo. This feature has two decisive social consequences: it leads to a progressive logic of escalation in the realms of production, speed and social change, which can be grasped under the single concept of „social acceleration“. Information and communication technologies are at the core of the latest wave of acceleration in the 21st century. However, not all spheres of social life are equally „speedable“, or equally fit for „dynamization”. Hence, the problem of „de-synchronization“ moves to the forefront of our contemporary society. Thus, I will argue, the four most pressing crises of the late-modern age are crises of „de-synchronization“: 1) The ecological crisis can be read as a crisis of de-synchronization between the speed of material turnover and economic production on the one hand and environmental reproduction on the other; 2) The ongoing financial crisis since 2008 can be understood as a consequence of the de-synchronization between the turnover-rates of the financial markets and those in the „real economy“ of material production and consumption; 3) The crisis of democracy signals a de-synchronization between the intrinsic speed of democratic will-formation and decision-making on the one hand and the speed of markets, of the media and of technological progress on the other; 4) The „psycho-crisis“ which can be observed in the sharp increase in burnout and depression rates results from a possible de-synchronization between the „speedability“ of the human psyche and the speed of social change, as Alain Ehrenberg has it.
Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism [Pressed for Time: Everyday Life in the Digital Age]
There is a widespread assumption that digital devices make us live too fast, a sense that time is scarce and that the pace of everyday life is accelerating beyond our control. The iconic image that abounds is that of the frenetic, technologically tethered, iPhone-addicted citizen. So what is the relationship between technology and time? Does technological acceleration inexorably hasten the pace of work and everyday life? This talk presents a sociological understanding of the paradoxes of time in a digital age. I will argue that there is no temporal logic inherent in technologies. As opposed to the technologically determinist approach, I will argue that it is our concrete social practices that generate those qualities of technologies that we usually consider as intrinsic and permanent. Technologies do play a central role in the constitution of time regimes, as our very experience of human action and the material world is mediated by technology. But, we make the world together with technology and so it is with time.
consists of two parts:
SAT 12 & SUN 13 March, 12:00–18:00
Conference “Time and the Digital Universe”
MON 14 to FRI 18 March, 10:00–18:00
Workshops, seminars, projects
Registration for the work groups is kindly requested:
Curated by Berno Odo Polzer
“Thinking Together” – the discourse format is dedicated to exploring the phenomenon of time in its socio-political, philosophical and artistic dimensions. Consisting of lectures, workshops, public talks and experimental settings, the project provides time and space to reflect current time-related issues together with international guests from the fields of philosophy, political and social science, cultural studies, computer and neuroscience as well as music, dance, performance and visual art.
The opening conference under the title “Time and the Digital Universe” investigates new forms of digital time, their structures and ramifications, followed by a host of different projects between 14 and 18 March. Amongst the topics are current politico-philosophical imaginations of temporality, non-linear concepts of time, the notion of rhythm as an analytical tool, as well as the differing time practices of the arts, philosophy and science.