Nine Theses Regarding the Culture of Digital Media

1. The context of oral communication is one’s immediate audience characterized by precisely delineated embodied presence. The context of print is a discursively constituted individual interiority. The context of digital communication is disembodied immediacy characterized by distributed, algorithmically constituted presence. 

2. Communication in oral societies is agonistically toned, pugilistic. Print fosters cool, detached expression. Digital media encourages performative, ironic combativeness.

3. Oral societies privilege honor, print privileges civility, electronic media spontaneity and insouciance, digital media shamelessness. 

4. In oral society, repetition is remembrance. In cultures of print and mass media, the repeatability of content reigns. In digital culture, the repeatable form triumphs. 

5. Oral media subsumes the self in the traditions of local communities. Print, later supercharged by electronic media, lifts the self into the realm of romantic imagination and expressivist individualism. Digital media ultimately collapses the experience of romantically inflected individuation, subsuming the self into constantly generating and degenerating swarms of information.

6. In oral societies, freedom is conformity to communal standards. In the culture of print, to be free is to choose for oneself. In digital culture, freedom is relief from the obligation to choose.

7. Pre-digital rhetoric aimed at persuasion and expression. Digital media ultimately undermines the plausibility of persuasion and the desirability of expression.

8. Information scarcity encourages credulity. Information abundance encourages cynicism. Information superabundance encourages epistemic nihilism.

9. All information is now disinformation.


I write The Convivial Society, a newsletter about matters related to technology and society. You can subscribe here.

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