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Surfing the Anthropocene

The Big Tension and Digital Affect

Eric S. Jenkins

Surfing the Anthropocene shows how the "big tension" between the speed and scale of digital media characterizes affective life on the public screen today. An innovative look launched in the wake of the 2016 US presidential election, Eric S. Jenkins illustrates how the big tension is reflected in how we feel and talk about digital media. Exploring a variety of modes from following news on Twitter to discussion on Facebook, activism to witnessing police shooting videos, the book demonstrates how responses to the big tension make political activity more like videogames, with an "immeditative" temporality and "attentional" spatiality contrasted with meditative and tending modes such as gardening. As a near-monoculture of immeditative, attentional modes emerge, consumerism and affect privilege become reinforced in ways that make addressing the problems of the Anthropocene especially draining and difficult.

Original concepts throughout the book, including the big tension but also the affected subject, translucency, and homo modus, are sure to influence thinking about digital media. If you wonder why life today feels particularly urgent, heated, and intense, Surfing the Anthropocene offers a compelling answer—the big tension—as well as a way to reimagine digital experience with an eye towards surviving, rather than just surfing, the Anthropocene.

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1 Introduction

On Format and Approach



Surfing the Anthropocene could be called a period piece, in a couple different ways. First, the book stems from reflection on my online experiences before, during, and after the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. This period was particularly intense, evoking a wide range of emotions and feelings that this book seeks to explicate. In a bigger sense, Surfing the Anthropocene considers the intersection of two profound epochs signaled in the title: the digital age, frequently dated to the spread of personal computers in the 1980s and the public Internet in the early 1990s, and the Anthropocene, a concept popularized in the early 21st century by atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen that names the current geologic era in which human impact on the environment predominates due to plastic pollution, widespread mining, radioactive waste, climate disruption, rampant deforestation, and the Earth’s sixth mass species extinction, presently under way.1

From a geological perspective, these two eras are fundamentally intertwined. Critical geologists like Erich Hörl and Jussi Parikka illustrate how the Anthropocene as a concept responds to problems linked to the technological, and they diagram how the plastics, energy use, chemical waste, and rare-earth metals from the production of digital hardware and software contribute significantly to what Parikka calls the “Anthrobscene.”2 Take iPhones. Mined in Africa and Alaska, refined in Canada, shipped to China for assemblage, and distributed around the ←1 | 2→globe before being dumped elsewhere for disposal once their short lives reach the stage of planned obsolescence, iPhones...

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