The other day I was sitting in a sauna* looking at a led-candle. It was the only flickering light in the darkening evening. At first, I didn’t give it too much attention: it flickered and provided a relaxing atmosphere.
Then I started looking at the flickering, it was a bit random, not too much unlike the flickering of a real candle. Suddenly, I felt a slight breeze of cold air coming through the window and noticed that the led-candle did not react to it, but kept that same rhythm of random light flickering. At that point, it struck me. This very naïve, simple and obvious realisation that the candle is not a living thing. Or, if I try to avoid judging what is living and what is not, I could say that the led-candle is not affected by the forces of nature: Not with the breezes of wind, not with my movements; the light would continue flickering at the exact same pseudo-random** pace even if the whole house would collapse due to earthquake.
The led’s flickering is digital, and it is probably programmed and controlled by some cheap digital microchip. Because of that, it is of course not affected by the happenings in the real world. The candles flickering is due to some binary code, ones, and zeroes within it, that does not give a rats fanny about the world around it. From one perspective we could look at the led-candle as an in-between the digital and real.
However, the candle creates an atmosphere we can identify with: the ever-changing light of the live fire. And at the same time, it communicates about the digital world that changes only when it is programmed to do so. In our recent article, written together with Dr. Mikko Dufva, we discussed the idea of digi-grasping, a way to understand our current postdigital world, where digital processes are complexly intertwined with the real in a multitude of ways. Digi-grasping aims to catch such comprehensions of this in-between worlds that do not rely on technological knowledge, but rather the lived, embodied experience of the digital. Looking at the candle, I am reminded of how deeply our contemporary experiences are with the digital technologies and how they affect our whole lifeworld.
This holiday season, if you are sitting and looking at flickering lights, you too have an excellent opportunity to digi-grasp the postdigital world.
Also, relax, and enjoy the last breaths of 2018
and let’s hope for a bright 2019!
Photo by: Johanna Slotte
* Sauna, the best invention for academics. And for the cold, dark Finnish weather.
** Random is actually quite hard problem in digital tech, see for eg. https://www.random.org/randomness/