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The Power Of The Terminal Self In This Hypermodern Moment

Emailing, texting, tweeting - endless streams of information coming at us hour by hour, minute by minute through desktops, laptops, smartphones, smartwatches, Alexa and Google Home.

Technology is playing an ever-increasing role in our daily lives.

We can’t escape it. But should we?

Simon Gottschalk has something to say about technology in our lives in his new book, “Terminal Self: Everyday Life in Hypermodern Times."


You use the word “terminal.” The Terminal Self. Why that word?

“The terminal references to all those devices that we use to go online and to interact with other people and find information. I think from a sociological perspective since the self emerges out of the interactions we are having with other people the fact that an increasing number of interactions are occurring at the terminal may spell the end of the self as we know it.”

Are we slaves to those terminals?

“In order to conduct everyday life in our society in order to accomplish most activities, we have to access a terminal. There is no choice… In order to use the terminal efficiently we have to adjust our thinking to it and that adjustment I think is transforming how we think, how we view other people, how we interact with them. How we process information.”

Would we be better off without the internet?

“It is difficult to answer. The internet is very, very useful for a number of social functions. What I think is that we’ve lost control of over how we use the internet. I’m not saying it would have been better had the internet never been invented. What I am concerned about is how it is shaping an increasing number of aspects of our everyday life and how we’ve become completely dependent on the terminal in order to function.”

What about your own use of the internet?

“The people who surround me it seems to me they carry their cell phones around always on. So that whenever someone is calling them or sending them a message… and immediately they turn to it. So, they allow the terminal in their pocket to interrupt everyday life. They turn their attention whenever it beeps. What I’ve decided to do is my phone is always on mute. So, that I decide when I want to engage messages. I decide when I want to engage phone calls. I’m trying to control it much more.”

What does the term "hypermodern" mean?

"Hypermodern is a multi-disciplinary international project of social scientists of every stripe who suggest that we have entered a new era or a new moment in history… and the hypermodern moment is characterized above everything else by the irrational illogic of excess, exponential acceleration, and the requirement for constant visibility. All those activities, all those processes we experience probably first and foremost at the terminal."

Is it different than handwringing done in the past about the fast pace of modern life?

“I think so because I don’t think at any other point in history have individuals had the capacity to communicate immediately to hundreds if not thousands of other people every passing thought or emotion or desire… I don’t think we’ve adjusted to that particular power.”

On being connected but lonely:

“It’s true that the terminal enables us to communicate to whomever, whenever, from wherever but the communication it enables is so limited and limiting. That it is very difficult to develop authenticity, an authentic relationship with somebody else, over the terminal. So we communicate more but we’ve never felt so lonely”

Does technology change a person's personality?

“Yes. I think so. When individuals grow up interacting with a terminal and the terminal gives you an immediate answer to every one of your clicks… To what extent does that expectation carry over into everyday life? To me, it would be very surprising that this particular habituation does not migrate in our everyday interaction so that increasingly when we interact with other people we expect every one of our desires at every one of our needs be satisfied right away.”

Wouldn't it be difficult to be disconnected?

“I think 30 years ago we managed our lives very, very well without the expectation of constant and instant access. We managed our lives. We responded to emergencies. I don’t think we lived the life of deprivation and boredom because we didn’t have 24-hour access.”

Isn't this a fight that can't be won?

"It must be won. Because if the rationale for sending so many emails all of the time to people who should be off work is that things are moving too fast then really the rationale is irrational. Because then it means I’m going to bombard you with more emails because things are going so fast and I can’t stop it. Then who can stop it?”

Do you think Facebook is a necessity in modern life?

"Not at all. I joined Facebook because a number of students befriended me or wanted me to join. It was the first year of Facebook. So, it was way before it became what it is now… I was beginning to study the entire phenomenon of the internet and people were telling me it was the new thing for students. I was invited. I joined. For many years, I was completely inactive and then it kind of took off."

Are worried about the accumulation of data by Facebook and other companies?

"I think it is extremely worrisome. The idea that buying a plane ticket or reading a newspaper or accessing a website is leaving electronic traces would have been considered 20 years ago absolutely preposterous. It would have been considered a paranoid fear… 20 years ago there were many activities you could conduct that would never leave a trace, reading a newspaper, looking at particular pictures, booking a train ticket, going to a rock show you could engage in all those activities, you could pay cash for example and nobody would never know. Today, to accomplish all of those activities you have to access a terminal and whenever you do, you leave electronic traces that… in a nanosecond can be gathered and organized into a digital profile." 

From Desert Companion: Not Okay Computer



Simon Gottschalk, Professor of Sociology, UNLV,

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.