Dispatches from an Age of Disconnection
288 pp., 6 x 9 in, 22 b&w illus.
- Published: October 4, 2022
- Published: October 4, 2022
The exhaustion, disappointment, and listlessness experienced under digital capitalism, explored through works by contemporary artists, writers, and performers.
Sometimes, interacting with digital platforms, we want to be passive—in those moments of dissociation when we scroll mindlessly rather than connecting with anyone, for example, or when our only response is a shrugging “lol.” Despite encouragement by these platforms to “be yourself,” we want to be anyone but ourselves. Tung-Hui Hu calls this state of exhaustion, disappointment, and listlessness digital lethargy. This condition permeates our lives under digital capitalism, whether we are “users,” who are what they click, or racialized workers in Asia and the Global South. Far from being a state of apathy, however, lethargy may hold the potential for social change.
Hu explores digital lethargy through a series of works by contemporary artists, writers, and performers. These dispatches from the bleeding edge of digital culture include a fictional dystopia where low-wage Mexican workers laugh and emote for white audiences; a group that invites lazy viewers to strap their Fitbits to a swinging metronome, faking fitness and earning a discount on their health insurance premiums; and a memoir of burnout in an Amazon warehouse. These works dwell within the ordinariness and even banality of digital life, redirecting our attention toward moments of thwarted agency. Lethargy, writes Hu, is a drag: it weighs down our ability to rush to solutions and forces us to talk about the unresolved present.
“An engrossing account of lethargy not as stasis but as potential and power. Through his thoughtful and generous analysis of art and everyday life, Hu reveals an original map of digital life, and a new lexicon for digital politics.”
James Bridle, author of New Dark Age and Ways of Being
“Tung-Hui Hu presents a compelling case to reclaim “lethargy” from the criticism of cultural apathy, characterizing it instead as a mirror to the dysfunctional dynamics in society.”
Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Artist and Visiting Assistant Professor of Interactive Media at New York University Abu Dhabi
“Tung-Hui Hu provides deep insight into the mechanisms of the digital age while avoiding any hint of feel-good criticism. Poetic and incisive, Digital Lethargy masterfully diagnoses a disease of our time.”
Christiane Paul, Professor of Media Studies, The New School and Adjunct Curator of Digital Art, Whitney Museum of American Art
“The acclaimed professor outlines his concept of digital lethargy — a state of exhaustion and listlessness under digital capitalism — through a collection of works by contemporary artists.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“In Digital Lethargy, the academic and poet Tung-Hui Hu quotes from the scholar Anne Anlin Cheng when discussing the German writer Heike Geissler's novel, Seasonal Associate, set in an Amazon sorting facility: “How do we take seriously the life of a subject who lives as an object?” Hu's point, essentially, is to ask how art can best approach the flattening, depersonalizing effects of the internet. It's a good question, one that I'm unsure if many novels have yet answered.”