chapter  2
Umwelt and individuation
Digital signals and technical being
ByJonas Andersson Schwarz
Pages 20

By fusing Gilbert Simondon’s theory of technological being with Jakob von Uexküll’s biosemiotic concept of Umwelt, a more integrative, dynamic, vitalistic theory of media technology is sought in order to facilitate a scathing critique of the speculative, idealistic hyperbole around data and information that we see today. Simondon’s relational, evolutionary ontology is radically different from standard linear models of digital information, allowing us to understand embedded technological agency and the conceptual gap between that which is captured by surveillant data infrastructures and that which is lived phenomenological existence, without resorting to deterministic and philosophically untenable concepts. Likewise, as digital media platforms increasingly rely on algorithmically customized (i.e., personalized) modes of media dissemination, Umwelt theory offers a way to theorize these highly artificial “user experiences” fed back to users by the digital platform providers. Ultimately, by affirming technology as a symbiotic process, the chapter points towards a utopian potential for human co-habitation with digital infrastructure. This contrasts with much of the current, actual technocratic governance familiar to us (apps, platforms, interfaces), where the user is offered, at best, modes of co-creativity that are constrained and highly conditional and, at worst, only mere illusions of participation.