Structure and Dynamics of the Telematic Society – Reinventing Vilém Flusser's Communicology

Sell, Saskia


Vilém Flusser's main focus was on the crisis of the alphanumeric code and the related change of consciousness, identity and society. Communicative action alongside information and communications technology have always been at the centre of his research. His universal media ontology is based on a linear five-step model of human history: 1. primitive men who live in a four-dimensional environment of immediate experience; 2. men who become interested in items of matter, thus in a three-dimensional environment; 3. a two-dimensional environment becomes the formative concept of culture: traditional graphic images intervene between a man and his environment; 4. then, for about 4000 years, linear texts are the constitutive criteria for culture; with this way of passing on information, a one-dimensional environment emerges; 5. nowadays linear texts loose their functionality and society is on its way toward a post-alphabetic period of zero-dimensional 'technical images'. In Flusser's point of view, the coming dominance of the zero-dimension of technical images changes the perception of time and space, as linear thinking is only a matter of course for those who grew up within a text culture. From this background onwards, he draws a positive utopia of a 'Telematic Society' in his book Communicology, based on a structural differentiation of dialogues and discourses. It is a counterpoint to current new media criticism and the common European culture pessimism and also a suggestion of a way to counteract what Flusser regards as 'discursive totalitarianism', a communications structure that renders any kind of large scale democratic action impossible. Flusser sees above all the opportunities that come along with new media and IT developments, though he alerts to some problems as well. In general, he provides a balanced position within the field of speculative media theory. His philosophy delivers one part of the puzzle that contributed to the current definition of the processual character of informational patterns such as identity and subjectivity.

in: Taylor, Kimberley Jane (Hg.): Regeneration and Reinvention – Practices of ‘the New’. The European Studies Research Institute, University of Salford, 89-110.