Timo Laine’s Journal

Taking life philosophically.

Unless it is digital it is not real

22 May 2012

We now think that for something to be real to us its existence has to be verified digitally. Unless you are moving the cursor or typing text on the screen, you are not really working. Unless you take a picture of it with your phone, it did not really happen. Unless you “share your location” on Facebook, you did not really go to that bar with your friends. Unless it is digital it is not real.

This is understandable. When an event is documented, it becomes more real. Digital means of reproduction and verification are more persuasive than mere words. And because such means are now available to everyone, we have to use them if we expect others to believe that we are talking about something real. Thus, unless it is digital it is not real.

Unless it is digital it is not real. But even if it is digital, it is not necessarily real. I think this is where we trip up. Being digital may be a necessary condition for reality, but it is not a sufficient condition.

How many hours each day are spent on digital procrastination because having a computer on your lap makes it seem as if you are working? Did you even really go to that bar if you spent the whole night posting about it on Facebook—while not busy taking photos of yourself with your friends? Does the fact that you can tweet about your boredom really make it a topic for meaningful conversation?

The observations and the reasoning behind these ideas are nothing new. Go ask Plato. But the situation is new. Although digitalization has proceeded through various stages, I think mobile networking was required really to make the illusion convincing.

To be able to think that the computer is not just a gateway to reality but a source of reality you have to carry the computer with you physically at all times and know that everyone else is doing the same thing. Digitalizing your thoughts or experiences cannot be more laborious than using your mouth to talk about them. And in fact it is now less laborious.

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The journal of Timo Laine (contact information). Cultural commentary from the perspective of a philosophy student in Helsinki.

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