we are no longer dasein

From Henry Jenkins

Here we come closest to McLuhan’s core idea — “Here it is” is a function of Twitter; “Here I Am” may be its core “message” in so far as McLuhan saw the message as something that might not be articulated on any kind of conscious level but emerges from the ways that the medium impacts our experience of time and space.

“Here it is” became “Here I am” and more importantly “Here we are.”

“Here we are” is not only more important, it is also closer to the truth, since it hides whatever implicit subjectivity is present in “Here I am”.

But where? Twitter is nonspatial; the internet is everywhere and nowhere. Twitter is nontemporal, or at least asynchronous; ‘we’ do not share time.

Twitter is location without coordinates. “Being here” is the final reversal of the implicit subject-object distinction in dasein itself, setting context without any reference to the other.

we are no longer dasein.


  1. Since Dasein is the self-interpreting creature, even when our interpretations are in terms of “we”, we remain Dasein. Dasein is not a static category, but one that is supposed to capture the radical plasticity of humanity.

    Besides, it seems like Twitter remains fairly egotistical since it is based on individuals tweeting their individual thoughts.

  2. I was talking less about the distinction between “I” and “we”, and more about the distinction between “here” and “there”. A few points:

    On I/we:

    I agree that even when we are interpreting from a collective perspective, we are still interpreting, and thus that there is some room for an analysis of Dasein; in other words I don’t think collectivity changes Heidegger’s analysis very much.

    On here/there:

    What has changed is not the interpretive stance of individuals, but instead a more fundamental placement of ourselves in a world of objects. Not thrown ‘there’ among the objects, but rather an incorporation ‘here’ into the collective. For Heidegger, Dasein is not merely one object among many, but nevertheless is still an object out ‘there’ and for others. This ties any analysis of Dasein to an implicit subject/object distinction.

    If we trade out the ‘da’ in Dasein we might rid ourselves of this distinction. We [i]are[/i] merely one object among many, but we are here (at home, one might say in a Heideggerian spirit). And it is [i]being here[/i] that sets out the context for interpreting objects (including myself) and not any subjective (phenomenological) act on my part as a subject among those objects ‘out there’. This isn’t well worked out, and I am by no means a Heidegger scholar, but I think that’s the thrust of the idea.

    A better way to put it might be that we can localize what is ‘here’ without playing off a distinction between here and elsewhere. Especially in the context of the Internet, where ‘here’ doesn’t play nicely with traditional conceptions of space and time, it might be that ‘here’ is what we are really after with an analysis of Dasein.

    On Twitter:

    I think there is a superficial reading of Twitter where it is just individuals acting independently; this reading is just an instance of the more general idea that there is no genuinely collective action but only the sum of individual actions. Certainly posts about what someone ate for breakfast encourages this reading.

    But I’m not sure people experience or use Twitter in this way. Beyond just keeping up to date on the routine actions of individuals, Twitter is useful (especially to advertisers) for keeping up with large-scale trends, cultures, and communities. In other words, I think that many people read and use Twitter precisely to get a read on collective (and not just individual) behavior. Perhaps this isn’t universal among users, but I think its really where the power and success of the system lies, and it has seriously fueled its popular adoption by, among other things, corporations, niche producers, and news outlets.

  3. I think you are reading too much into the word Dasein. I see the “Da” of Dasein as being incredibly vague – a mere formal indication that can be filled in by a more detailed phenomenological analysis. Personally, I think the “da” of Dasein is meant to orient us towards a perceptual externalism wherein perception is not an achievement of internal representational consciousness, but rather, an orientation towards what is already “there” in our lives: the world as a whole itself. Thus, the “da” of Dasein is more closely related to the “es gibt” of later Heidegger, and I think this is supported by later Heidegger’s insistence that Dasein be rendered as “Da-sein”.

    Moreover, I don’t know why you are so scared of having *any* sort of subject/object distinction. I think going down this path of deconstruction is dangerous and unfruitful in that it does much to eliminate some positive conceptual achievements of Western history, namely, personal responsibility and the phenomenon of will or choice. By completely rejecting all forms of subject/object distinctions, we move into a dangerous territory wherein we eliminate the phenomenon of self-hood, or I-ness. Maybe you look forward to a future where there is no I-hood, but I see this as not only a potential moral disaster, but as extremely unlikely. The evolution of humanity will likely bring about a shift in self-interpretations, but *self*-interpretations they will remain.

    As for Twitter, I agree that my analysis was superficial and I was responding merely to the “what I had for breakfast” type tweets and not the more socially communicative function you mentioned, which I think is an acute analysis. However, I think a recent survey found out that something like 40% of all tweets are the “what I had for breakfast” type i.e. pointless babble.


  4. Whether or not issues of responsibility and choice are genuine conceptual achievements, I don’t have much faith in their ability to accurately describe and predict the behavior of individuals. They might serve as the basis for democracy and our (western) social organization, but they are in deep and probably irreconcilable tension with what we know about how brains work. I don’t look forward to any particular conceptual future, but if I had to put my money anywhere its with science, and science isn’t friendly to these concepts. Whether society and culture can keep up with science remains to be seen, and I seriously doubt we will have any conceptual overhaul in our lifetimes, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

    But to the core of your criticism: while I’m not looking to get rid of subjects entirely, I strongly believe that a subject-centered phenomenological approach will always fail to adequately describe the very real collective behavior of groups. To put the point slightly differently, I don’t think that ‘individuals’ are the proper unit of behavioral analysis. I think collective activity is fundamental, and that ‘individuals’ are born out of the dual illusion of consciousness and freedom.

    That doesn’t mean I think it all blurs together; there are distinctions to be drawn between different collectives that act independently (you might say autonomously). For instance, there is a quite straightforward sense in which the Judicial and Legislative branches of government operate independently, even while their behavior is closely linked and unified by a common framework. I think a similar analysis can be given of ‘individuals’ in a group setting, but I will be firm in insisting that a proper analysis requires that groups come first, and such analysis isn’t available to the phenomenological approach.

  5. “They might serve as the basis for democracy and our (western) social organization, but they are in deep and probably irreconcilable tension with what we know about how brains work.”

    I am not quite sure this statement is entirely accurate. We already know from brain science that the brain is incredibly plastic and that, following from Clark’s work, it readily utilizes cultural linguistic tools as scaffolds for more advanced forms of cognition and action. This approach goes hand in hand with the Heideggerian approach to phenomenology, which emphasizes the extent to which linguistic self-interpretations reflexively feed back in and shape our pragmatic behavior. This is straight up Clarksian. Thus, the concepts of choice and responsibility are not “just” conceptual, they are neurological to an extent, in an extended-mind sense. Neuroscience shows over and over that the human brain is incredibly plastic and can in fact radically re-wire itself in accordance with the types of external stimuli and information it encounters. Look at the “Man with no brain”. His socially acceptable behavior was largely caused by his development within a culture and society that had rigid norms and language-games because it was certainly not on account of the development of normal brain areas that he was able to carry a job or have a family. His pragmatic behavior was a result of an interaction between the slin sliver of neocortex in his skull and the structured culture of human civilization. This approach is inherently phenomenological given it explores the connection between the semantic world of meaning (culture, language, etc) and the hard world of behavior (coping).

    “I strongly believe that a subject-centered phenomenological approach will always fail to adequately describe the very real collective behavior of groups.”

    This is begging the question against what phenomenology is capable of describing because as I just pointed out, the Heideggerian “subject” is plastic and furthermore, has the being of Mitsein, being-with – social to the core. However, I think you might be confused on what Heideggerian phenomenology is actually about. Heideggerian phenomenology does not seek to describe all behavior, that is the job of an ontic science such as sociology or psychology. Heideggerian phenomenology is a philosophical project: fundamental ontology or phenomenological-ontology. It is about establishing, in a Kantian style analytic, the constitutive factors underlying what it is to have the type of cognition we do. This project will not be carried out in an ontic vocabulary of scientific description, but rather, will be carried out under a properly ontological vocabulary which acknowledges are subjective agency and the cultural/linguistic phenomena which make up our I-structure. You can’t discuss the I without recourse to I-language – thus – phenomenology is not a science of description, but rather, a re-orientation of our minds towards that which Western history has defined as humanity: our capacity for rational agency.

    In other words, phenomenology is simply one more theoretical toolkit to help us understand who we are in the literal sense of “who”, which can’t be reduced to pure physical scientific description without losing the who-ness. You have to “play the language game.”But I am convinced that these two types of vocabularies have a lot of learn from each other e.g. Clark is informed by Heidegger, and any Heideggerian worth his salt should be informed on the developments of cognitive science.

  6. We can use the words “responsibility” and “freedom” and “choice” profitably without there being any such thing as responsibility, freedom, or choice. Just because we have the words doesn’t mean they pick out some real feature of human creatures. See: the intentional stance.

  7. I would say that a profitable usage of words like “responsibility” and “choice” is in fact a “real feature” of average human creatures and could thus be said to constitute that humanity given they have an understanding of this usage. The use of the word implies an understanding of the word, and if we understand it, then it is a part of our self-reflexive constitution and thus, is a “real” feature of human creatures regardless of whether it points directly to any particular biological facet.

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