acceleration, fragmentation, and absence

Our present experiences in time often draw us out and away from ourselves. Dividing our attention and creating gaps in our perception; we experience disruptions “between our presence in the world and the various levels of a certain anesthesia in our consciousness that, at every moment, inclines us to see-saw into more or less extensive absences.” 1  In his essay The Endless Structure of Recollection; On Chris Marker, David Levi Strauss writes “the first amnesia machine was writing” 2 rapidly followed and joined with other technological advances like photography, cinema, the Internet, computers, tablets, and smartphones. These image-capturing, making and storage devices have become memory vessels and are embodiments of acceleration and speed that moves faster than thought.

This acceleration is not unique to our current moment. As Jonathan Cray writes in the forward to Virilio’s  Aesthetics of Disappearance, every historical epoch “is understandable in terms of speeds, forms of motion and stasis, and their possibilities of modification.”  3 The thing that is significant however is that, over the last decade, we’ve seen an “intensified accumulation of overlapping technologies and networks.” 4 Through these systems and their multiple, external productions of speed, absences in human perception (gaps) are created, supplemented and distributed, multiplying their occurrence. 5 Both barriers to and catalyst for our perceptions, these technologies alter our interactions by becoming intermediaries. Their shallow spaces contain, create and distort time, further dividing our attention and sensations, creating a polychronic division of our consciousness. “Critics of acceleration maintain that accelerating patterns of life are the reason for a commonly voiced sense of unease— the feeling that one is not ‘really’ living. Everything is done all at once, faster and faster, yet no personal balance or meaning can be found. This implies the loss of contact with one’s own self. We also no longer feel ‘at home’ with ourselves and find it difficult to persist in any given activity because we are available at every moment.” 6

We find ourselves surrounded by a growing quantity of time containing devices and time flows each flow moving at its own speed and in its own direction. As our consciousness moves between these flows, lingering, briefly within them, we lose little bits of our memory. This phenomenon is neither inherently good nor inherently evil; as our consciousness connects to more and more time-fields its effects can foster a greater feeling of connection and inclusion in some cases while illuminating a divided, fragmented or disconnected experience of reality in others. Virilio refers to this experience as picnolepsy—“For the picnoleptic, nothing has really happened, the missing time never existed.” 7 In these gaps our external senses still function but don't receive or register any stimulus, in each of these episodes, without realizing it, little bits of our lives escape; disappearance has become part of our experience. I am not claiming this to be an entirely new phenomenon, like Virilio I believe that our experience of time has never truly been linear, has always been capable of being fractured 8 and has often been desynchronized with time’s external flow.