Updating to Remain the Same
Habitual New Media
What it means when media moves from the new to the habitual—when our bodies become archives of supposedly obsolescent media, streaming, updating, sharing, saving.
New media—we are told—exist at the bleeding edge of obsolescence. We thus forever try to catch up, updating to remain the same. Meanwhile, analytic, creative, and commercial efforts focus exclusively on the next big thing: figuring out what will spread and who will spread it the fastest. But what do we miss in this constant push to the future? In Updating to Remain the Same, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun suggests another approach, arguing that our media matter most when they seem not to matter at all—when they have moved from “new” to habitual. Smart phones, for example, no longer amaze, but they increasingly structure and monitor our lives. Through habits, Chun says, new media become embedded in our lives—indeed, we become our machines: we stream, update, capture, upload, link, save, trash, and troll.
Chun links habits to the rise of networks as the defining concept of our era. Networks have been central to the emergence of neoliberalism, replacing “society” with groupings of individuals and connectable “YOUS.” (For isn't “new media” actually “NYOU media”?) Habit is central to the inversion of privacy and publicity that drives neoliberalism and networks. Why do we view our networked devices as “personal” when they are so chatty and promiscuous? What would happen, Chun asks, if, rather than pushing for privacy that is no privacy, we demanded public rights—the right to be exposed, to take risks and to be in public and not be attacked?
Hardcover$32.00 S | £25.00 ISBN: 9780262034494 264 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 44 b&w illus.
Paperback$19.95 T | £14.99 ISBN: 9780262534727 264 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 44 b&w illus.
Just when we thought there was nothing new to say about the internet, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun arrives with a fresh new take on the paradoxical twinnings that define network operations and cultures. In lively accessible prose, she deftly shows that the seeming antinomies, habit and crisis, in fact mutually define each other, merging to create 'update,' the event defining the present that is always already the historical future in network society. Highly recommended for anyone interested in contemporary media theory, network culture, and contemporary cultural theory.
N. Katherine Hayles
James B. Duke Professor of Literature, Duke University
There is something pervasive and destructive about the fantasy that we, one by one, are the absolute center of a new digital world, that this world is customized for us like a perfect coat, tying us into 'networks.' Wendy Chun's remarkable Updating to Remain the Same takes on this saccharine fake-personalized 'YOU' and the superficially linked networks. Instead, she digs deep into the meaning of our digital habits, showing how the productive, generative everydayness of the habitual gets corroded in so much of new media into a pervasive sense of addictive updating to cope with threats—condensed in her formula habit + crisis = update. Critical of the slothful, casual way that friendship, networks, even the YOU-self functions, Chun pushes us to think about new ways of establishing online collectivities, novel forms of memory and archive, hoping we can learn new forms of inhabiting the new media: loitering in public, safely. This is a terrific book, sharply critical, cautiously hopeful.
Joseph Pellegrino University Professor in History of Science and of Physics at Harvard University
In Updating to Remain the Same Wendy Chun offers a provocative analysis of how the internet, once praised as an anonymous, utopian space of the mind, has by the late 2010s become a space of total surveillance and privatized social media. The key to this transformation is that we have become both habituated to and inhabitants of new media. The update, Chun argues, is central to creating new habits of dependency at the heart of neoliberal capitalism.
Distinguished Professor of Science & Technology Studies, Cinema and Digital Media, University of California, Davis