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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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2 Making Sense: New Materialism and Affect Theory

New Materialism and Affect Theory



This chapter provides the extended theoretical and methodological elucidation for the book, yet I attempt to apply this theory rather than make a new theoretical contribution, so those readers more interested in the case studies can skip ahead to the following chapters. I hope that the usefulness of my translation and application of affect theory and new materialism is in the pudding, so to speak, and I believe the chapters remain readable without the following explication. Nevertheless, in the interests of clarity and rigor, some key concepts and theoretical presumptions are detailed here.

Each chapter begins with a survey of the rhetoric about digital media found in blogs, journalistic accounts, and popular scholarly works. Whenever new media emerge, tons of ink gets spilled both commending and condemning the new experiences and sensations. I read this rhetoric as portrayals of how digital media affect bodies, as an index of the affections and emotions felt from digital media, in particular of the tensions generated by the big split. In this rhetoric people express what Spinoza calls “ideas of affection,” notions of how one body (say a smartphone) affects another body (users). Commentators attest, more or less explicitly, to how digital media have made them joyful or sorrowful, anxious or hopeful, fearful or loved, distracted or connected. For instance, the rhetoric about videogames portrays gaming as affecting bodies by, alternately, making them (inter)←19 | 20→active or addicted. Smartphones are portrayed as affecting bodies by connecting them or distracting...

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