In this chapter, the author acknowledges that philosophy is not a popular approach for thinking about technology and the social. The fast paced environment of social media studies especially makes philosophy look slow moving, sluggish, and out of touch. Philosophy, Marx famously wrote in his famous Theses on Feuerbach, has only ever interpreted the world - what counts is to change it. And social media have become almost synonymous with social change since the Arab Spring, which has widely been hailed as a ‘social media revolution’.
Martin Heidegger took on Marx’s complaint head-on, countering that in order to change the world, one would first needs to interpret it correctly. This chapter seeks to challenge the dominant narrative of social media as engines of social change, arguing that instead they pose acute examples of the extent to which not only social life, but the critical human mind, that faculty on which the Enlightenment built its hopes, are increasingly enframed by instrumentality. Martin Heidegger’s critique of technology is often misread as a Luddite attack on all technological modernity, and a passionate plea to return to pre-technological forms of life. As this chapter will show, however, Heidegger’s concept of the Gestell offers a critical perspective on the impacts of technological mediation that goes beyond the typical utopian/dystopian dichotomy. While social media have widely been hyped as ushering in a ‘communications revolution’, rupturing established hierarchies and creating democracies bottom-up, Heidegger’s conceptual framework allows us to see how the freedom promised by social media continues to be technologically enframed.
This chapter will consider Twitter as an example of technological enframement: I will problematize the ‘quick fix’ solution to democratic action that Twitter promises, and highlight how the 140 character Tweet encourages what Heidegger refers to as the ‘privileging of the correct over the true’. A number of instances will be discussed where it emerges how Twitter, while seemingly challenging established power hierarchies, in fact serves to reinforce these.
Thus, rather than being the ‘terrifying abstraction’, as which it has often been criticised, Heidegger’s Gestell offers a sophisticated mechanism for addressing how the digital matrix reduces the complexity of human being-in-the world to a technologized parody of itself. It is a strength, not a weakness, that it operates at the level of the abstract, as this allows us to address the unifying features of modern information & communication technologies, rather than being caught up in its specificities.