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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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8 Lessons from the Garden: Ameliorating the Big Tension




“ ‘Green fingers’ are a fact, and a mystery only to the unpracticed. But green fingers are an extension of a verdant heart. A good garden cannot be made by somebody who has not developed the capacity to know and love growing things.”

—Russell Page1

Another way to conceptualize the big tension is to imagine someone asking why our political environment today feels so intense, so heated. Some people answer it has to be social media. Others say it is because of the massive extent of our problems, issues like corporate oligarchy, a disrupted climate, and the depth of racism and sexism still plaquing the world. The big tension contends that the answer is both—the staggering scope of our problems confronts us in a rapid, cursory, ever-shifting way that makes truly understanding and addressing the problems increasingly difficult. Instead, we block, filter, screen, vent, premediate. We adopt immeditative and attentional modes because both the epochal, global scale of our problems and the unceasing rate at which they wave onto our screens strains our affective capacities and beckons modes of response promising some temporary, immediate relief. We become increasingly attentional and immeditative because this big tension makes meditative and tending modes feel like they take too much time and space that we no longer can afford. After all, everything feels so immediate, so tense, so urgent.

Surfing the Anthropocene tried to depict this big tension, but I repeatedly felt like it came up...

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