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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by transcript Verlag October 1, 2015

From Her (2013) To Viv The Global Brain

Becoming Material, Unfolding Experience through Radical Empiricism and Process Philosophy

  • Evelyn Wan
From the journal Digital Culture & Society


This paper reflects upon the methodological questions entailed by what digital media materiality could be, and how one could analytically approach it via theories of experience such as radical empiricism and process philosophy. I argue that for digital media, becoming material means to ‘enter into experience’. However, this notion of ‘experience’ is not defined in relation to the phenomenological, distinctly-human subject. I offer instead an expanded notion of experience that resides in non-human objects, networks and other physical entities like mobile phones and computers. Operating system (OS) and intelligent assistants such as Samantha in Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) and the next-generation Siri in development, Viv the Global Brain, can be seen as representations of what such a non-human experience could be like, as digital objects communicate with one another. William James, father of radical empiricism, argues that the definition of matter as something that lies behind physical phenomena is merely a postulate of thought. In his philosophy, the world is made up of only one primal material - that of experience. While James could not have anticipated our era of digital technologies at the time of writing in 1890, radical empiricism offers an interesting angle in approaching what digital materiality could be. Mark Hansen’s latest monograph, Feed Forward: On the Future of Twenty-First-Century Media (2015), turns to Alfred North Whitehead in an attempt to understand how 21st-century media operations feature in a world of objects where humans are implicated in, but not central to digital networks. Referring to Whitehead, he analyses how media operations (like those superalgorithms computing in OS systems) reconfigure the notion of perception in experience. In a similar theoretical move, I turn to William James’s radical empiricism to analyse how the digital may be material/ised in a world of beyond-human experience.

Published Online: 2015-10-1
Published in Print: 2015-9-1

© 2015 by transcript Verlag

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