The Poverty of Praxis and the Web
I’m jotting down some quick notes on what seems to have become an obsessive thought: the relationship between poiesis and praxis, as understood by Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition. In broad strokes: poiesis means fabrication, it is the activity of the homo faber, the craftman (be them an engineer or a sculptor); praxis means acting politically, taking initiative, while being seen by other human beings. Poiesis implies a shared world of things, praxis implies a public sphere.
The latter was originally considered the highest human activity but nowadays this is not the case anymore. And here I would like to argue, or at least to suggest, that praxis functions today as a surrogate for a poiesis that is hardly achievable by the most. In other words, people act politically (in a broad sense) because they are unable to make (design + fabricate) things or find gratification in this making.
In this regard, let us consider the recent evolution of the internet. Web became mainstream through users who would act like craftsmen: they would literally design and fabricate their personal webpages in relative isolation (a fundamental necessity of the homo faber according to Arendt). With the advent of the blogosphere first, the web 2.0, and later social media like Facebook, poietic activity became peripheral: from now on, only programmers would craft webpages. The relative isolation that characterized, for instance, the “webpages of one’s own” on GeoCities became as well a thing of the past. Facebook is in fact often compared to a piazza or an agorà. If web 1.0 was the laboratory of the homo faber, web 2.0 is the piazza of the zoon politikon.
Now we could say that most people’s praxis on social media is not as authentic as if was in presocratic Greece. Posting on Facebook is like giving an oration fully in the dark: one doesn’t know exactly who is out there and it maybe even be that nobody is hearing. But what other online activities can users dedicate themselves to? Now that the web has become professional, any attempt to design and decorate an autonomous space on the internet feels amateurish. In this respect, I believe that the nostalgia towards the vernacular internet and the apology of “brutalism” online are no coincidence. Most are left with political expression (again in a broad sense) that, however, doesn’t coincide with initiative, remaining on the mere level of opinion and reification of thoughts and passions.
Originally published at ENTREPRECARIAT.