Haunted by the future

Note to Andrew: Hi Andrew! I know this entry is long and I apologise, but it is a topic that resonated quite strongly with me and I wanted to be able to tell my story. I hope you’ll find it as interesting as I did.


Now that we’ve finally done it and come to the end of yet another semester and this course, I find the final questions asked in the course reader a little daunting: “What is the future of media, cultural and social change? How can we know, if we can?”


The fact that I literally cannot wrap my head around the idea of knowing where I may be in the next five years let alone a single year, makes me agree with much of Rushkoff’s (2012) ‘present shock’ argument that “we no longer have a sense of a future… We have a completely new relationship to time; we live in an always-on “now”, where the priorities of this moment seem to be everything”. My enthusiastic nodding along with Walter Isaacson’s comment on Rushkoff.com where he says “the digital age… has caused a focus on the immediate moment that can be both disorienting or energizing”, caused me to reflect on why I felt so drained and felt that I could relate to what Rushkoff calls ‘narrative collapse’, ‘digiphrenia’, ‘overwinding’ and ‘fractalnoia’; and my own thought process and attribution of this reasoning surprised even myself (yet again showing how we always live in the “now”; I hadn’t even thought to link my past to my future).

When the ubiquitous nature of new, wireless and networked media – especially that of our personal social media channels – is programmed so that one is expected to continuously ‘keep up’ with their social peers 24/7 even if only lightly dipping their toes every few hours into the waters that lap up toward the sandy banks of Twitter; enthusiastically geo-tag themselves at events or places with friends (what I would call social-tagging if I were to coin the term); as well as ride the waves of  what Easterling (2011) calls “a fire hose blast” of information, I’d agree with Easterling (2011) when he says “the most consequential architecture in the world has already become information”. I may exist in the physical dimensions of this world by attending a classroom in Kensington, sleeping in my own bed in my home in Chatswood and socialising with friends in a bar in Surry Hills, but ultimately my social construct is built and based in another world of its own – a world which is constructed by data, information and those darn red pin dots on maps across multiple websites and continents – and this, I attest, can definitely be disorientating or energising, depending on my mood and capability to process these whole blasts of information.

But more interestingly coming back to why I felt so connected to the precise themes of disengagement that Rushkoff calls ‘narrative collapse’, ‘digiphrenia’, ‘overwinding’ and ‘fractalnoia’: after careful thought, I realised that there were almost identical conjunctions between ‘present shock’ and of common disorientated themes experienced by diasporic communities – that is, of immigrants like myself.

While you may not guess it, my social and physical construct of self until I immigrated to this big, brown land down-under at the age of 8 was based on my little community of family and friends in Seoul, South Korea. Provided that I couldn’t even write my name let alone converse with others in the language that I now find myself writing this very blog entry in, I now look back to the ages of 8 to around 12 as my ‘lost years’ (though not in a negative way at all; it is just simply what it was). While fellow ’90s kids’ were enjoying the likes of Cheese TV, playing OzTag with family friends at various beach houses dotted alongside the east coast of this beautiful country and watching movies that they would be quoting with their peers in 10 years time as an exercise of nostalgia, I was trying desperately to assimilate myself by learning a foreign tongue. When I finally did get to a stage where those around me could understand me and we could build up social interactions to form friendships, puberty hit and I finally realised that I would forever prick myself if I attempted to jump fences between these the duo-nationalities and that a lifetime of frustrating disorientation lay ahead of me if I were to restrict and bind my sense of self to physical places. I had already returned to South Korea for family trips and had become all too aware that I no longer belonged, that I was viewed as a ‘foreigner’. So instead, I set about erasing that fence altogether and based my sense of existence on experiences and ideas, regardless of their geographical location.

'Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.' Seoul, Korea || Flickr Creative Commons || Photo credit: Park Jongwoo

‘Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.’
Seoul, Korea || Flickr Creative Commons || Photo credit: Park Jongwoo

In this journey that I took to become who I identify myself as today, I experienced ‘narrative collapse’ in its purest sense. I tried to revert my cultural losses by watching Korean dramas, listening to Korean music, reading the Korean news – an example of ‘digiphrenia’ and ‘overwinding’ – though I found this exhausting when I realised this too, was forced and not really within my present interests, living in the “now”; I was exercising ‘fractalnoia’ with a history that was no longer mine.

But this is far from a sob story. Working in the non-for-profit sector co-ordinating humanitarian aid in my job outside of university, I am only too aware of how much of the above could easily be considered a ‘first world problem’, leading me to concur with Christiane Paul’s note that there is a “dark irony in the term ubiquity in a world where… access to clean drinking water is [still] effectively a privilege of the accident of birth” (Paul in Fuller 2013, pp.xix). Still, living in the Anthropocene, I wouldn’t be so foolish as to completely ignore the ubiquitous, networked society of today and the effect it has already had/the potential it holds with the advent of new media and communications techniques to drive a change to our world; whether that be the likes of advocating against climate change, or truly innovative, like use of mobile phones in Rwanda to deliver healthcare to remote villages (a personal favourite story of mine).

The fact is, technology will always echo Derrida’s (1994) notion of ‘hauntology’ as we adapt to their infinite capabilities – and as we learn to adapt even further than where we are now by building cultures that exceed beyond the everyday life to that of a ubiquitous, networked society, we’ll most likely ride along, not knowing that our position within society had yet again changed until we are made to uncover the layers of social construct that build up with our use of such technologies.


Anthropocene, n.d. ‘Anthropocene’, accessed 20 May 2013, <http://www.anthropocene.info/en/anthropocene>

Derrida, J. 1994, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning & the New International, Routledge, London, UK.

Easterling, K. 2011, ‘An Internet of Things’, e-flux journal, issue 1, accessed 20 May 2013, <http://www.e-flux.com/journal/an-internet-of-things>

Muller, M. 2013, ‘Forward’ in Throughout: Arts and Culture Emerging with Ubiquitous Computing, eds. U. Ekman, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. xi-xxxi.

Rushkoff, D. 2012, ‘Present Shock’, accessed 20 May 2013, <http://www.rushkoff.com/present-shock>

UNICEF 2010, ‘How an SMS can save a life’, UNICEF, NY, accessed 20 May 2013, <http://www.unicef.org/rwanda/reallives_8393.html>


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