Rosa & Acceleration

(I thought I might share some recent reading notes for my dissertation, I think there's something in here for everyone. Please excuse the awkwardness of the prose, this is first draft. Overall, Rosa's article is insightful and definately worth a read)

Rosa, Hartmut. "Social Acceleration: Ethical and Political Consequences of a Desynchronized High-Speed Society." Constellations 10.1 (2003) 3-33.

Rosa seeks to explore a fifth an often overlooked facet of late-modernism (which she resists calling postmodernism, seeing more of a connection than a break). In addition to differentation, rationalization, individuation, and domestication, she wishes to explore acceleration--the ways in which our pace of lives has increased. She notes that the four common concepts all come with a social paradox--for instance differentiation generates disintegration, rationalization generates Weber's "Iron Cage" (trapped by inflexible logic and unwavering faith in rationality), individuation generates mass culture, and domestication of nature, which leads to possible environmental disaster. Acceleration, too, comes with its own paradox: as our production and media speed up, one would think we are left with more time. However, Rosa explains that this speed up, along with a shift in metaphysical orientation from primarily the next world to this one, actually leaves with less time--feeling more overburdened and hurried. Time, which would seemingly become abundant, ends up becoming scarce.

Here's a passage for Casey and Brian:

The idea of the fulfilled life no longer supposes a "higher life" waiting for us after death, but rather consists in realizing as many options as possible from the vast possibilities the world has to offer. To taste life in all its heights and depths and in its full complexity becomes a central aspiration of modern man. But, as it turns out, the world always seems to have more to offer than can be experienced in a single lifetime[...] The eudaimonistic promise of modern acceleration thus appears to be a functional equivalent to religious ideas of eternity or "eternal life," and the acceleration of "the pace of life" represents the modern answer to the problem of finitude and death. (13)

Explication: so many video games, so little time. In seriousness, this is how Rosa explains the cultural phenomenon of "zapping" channels--as more options grow, so to grows the anxiety of what we're missing on the other channel. Hence we have "the paradoxical phenomenon of simultaneous technological acceleration and increasing time scarcity" (14). Very Smart

So much for the explication, let's move on to the meet. My first disagreement with Rosa concerns how technology affects space (and, by extension, place). She writes:

...in the age of globalization and the u-topicality of the Internet, time is increasingly conceived as compressing or annihilating space. Space, it seems, virtually 'contracts' and loses its significance for orientation in the late modern world. Processes and developments are no longer located and locations become 'non-liuex,' without history, identity, or relation. (6-7)

Although this topic is covered only briefly, I propose that Rosa is collapsing the distinction between space and place. Space is a non-topical description-- it is, rather, place that we think of in terms of strict geography and coordinates. And it is place that has largely dominated communication throughout time. The Modern (and postmodern) periods can be marked with the dissolution of place's control over communication and rhetorical encounter: the letter, the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, the motion picture, the television, and the internet all breakdown the necessity for sharing a place to communicate. But the spaces in which we communicate are equally as present, even if the others with which we once communicated are no absent (in their own spaces). Rather than losing significance in our accelerated world, the ambiguous sense of space (versus the iron cage sense of place) increases in importance. What is annihilated is the common and seemingly obvious security of shared places. Places are overwritten with the idiosyncracy and temporality of the digital. This is perhaps more apparent in places such as Singapore, where an emphasis on mobile technology has led to virtual signposts--street corners are packed with user messages that other users naturally encounter. On a more theoretical level, the non-place, non-topicality of the internet reminds us that the places we inhabit--the street corner, the office, the home-- are all largely socially constructed. Its is a reminder that we can no longer imagine one world (one place), but an infinite series of spaces, overlapping and shared. Here again, we see the need for a rhetoric that supports multiplicity and respects the view of others. [Rosa cites Paul Harvey here, p. 201f and 272f).

If I need someone to argue that technology greatly impacts life, she does so (12).

Second course:

The acceleration of rates of social change to an intra- rather than inter- generational pace is mirrored in a language which avoids identity predicates and uses temporary markers instead. People speak of working (for the time being) as a baker rather than being a baker, living with Mary rather than being Mary's husband, going to the Methodist Church rather than being a Methodist, voting Republican rather than being a Republican, and so on. This use of language indicates that the awareness of contingency has increased even where the actual rates of change have not yet done so: things (jobs, spouses, religious and political commitments, etc.) could be otherwise, they could change at any time because of either my own or other people's decisions. (19)

While I agree with Rosa that acceleration factors into this development, I think there is more at work here, something extra-egoitst. There is an increased expectation of otherness- the other to whom I speak might be a single, Jewish, Democratic person alergic to flour. Poor thing, cake is yummy. So, while I agree that we no longer as easily associate ourselves with the reverence of BEING, that we are far more aware of our contingent constitution, we are also more aware that such contingency is caused as much by others (their judgments as well as their actions) as acceleration.

In a line of argumentation that would make McLuhan proud, Rosa explains that the perspectives through which people organize their lives are changing drastically (19). She writes:

"Classical" modern identities were consequently long term projects supposed to evolve like a Bildungsroman. In late modernity, however, this pattern no longer holds: neither work- nor family-life can be foreseen or planned for a lifetime. Instead, people develop a new perspective that has been oddly termed the "temporalization of time": time-spans and the sequence of duration of activities or commitments are no longer planned ahead but left to evolve. Such a temporalization of time, however, is equivalent to the de-temporalization of life: life is no longer planned along a line that stretches from the past to the future; instead, decisions are taken from "time to time" according to situational and contextual needs and desires. (19)

The medium, then, is the message: no longer a linear form, now--hmm, what a word we could use here... something that relates to media technology but isn't linear in fashion... rather, it should suggest a series of choices, only a limited number of which can be selected.... Our dominant media practices come to influence our metaphysics. Rosa concludes:

However we evaluate this phenomenon, the incompatibility of "situational" identities with the modern ideal of individual ethical autonomy is apparent. For the ideal of the autonomous and reflective leading of a life requires adopting long-term commitments which bestow a sense of direction, priority, and 'narratability' to life. (20)

I agree with Rosa completely on this point, although I'm not sure we feel the same way about this development. I see this as a moment of liberation, a positive change, but I am suspect that autonomy leads to anything ethical. "Ethical autonomy" is something of an oxy moron. From a Levinasian perspective, the strict linearity of the novel equates to a form of tyranny--an isolated form at that. This is not to say that I don't enjoy being tyrannized every so often, but this is not the dominant model for a hyper-connected world, one in which our social contacts are vastly increased. I would also say that we do not need the strict plot of a novel to bestow a sense of direction, but we do need to face the risk and insecurity that can come from merely surfing. Whether, as a culture, we are willing to return to such a Hellenic metaphysic remains to be seen.

Rosa's article exposes the extent to which accerlation is impacting contemporary society, down to its core assumptions regarding subjectivity, ethics, and metaphysics. The contemporary subject is more aware of contigency and less likely to envision their live according to the rigidity of Being. From marriage, to career, to political and relgious affiliations, we see an increasing acceptance of "becoming." Rosa suggests that, without the drive of a linear plot, our lives are heading toward a kind of social inertia (20). We can ask if, alongside this sense of becoming, a more Hellenic / Sophistic ethic will emerge: one in which linear progression is more equated with tyranny, where individual autonomy gives way to group tolerance.

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