“[I]n non-literate tribal societies [without media, ed.] communication seems (…) to document belongingness, good will, peacefulness. The emphasis is on the self-characterization of the utterer (and this precisely because it does not become the content of utterance, does not become ‘text’).” Niklas Luhmann in The Reality of the Mass Media (2000:143)
“Put in Kantian terms: the mass media generate a transcendental illusion. According to this understanding, the activity of the mass media is regarded (…) as a sequence of (…) of observing operations.” ibid. (2000:4)
“[A]ll systems distinguish the information that interests them and in this respect generate an empty space of noninformation. But the system of the mass media alone reflects this difference in order to be able to recognize which operations belong to the system and which do not.” ibid. (2000:130)
In Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft (1998: 327) Luhmann explains how closeness slowly became the result of a choice to be friends, rather than the more traditional other way around: for whatever reason, you spent time with someone and became close friends as a result.
The system at hand clarifies that media and technology self-perpetuate at this point of sociability: media and technology have always and only been about the social. A person sounds nearer to you over the phone than face-to-face; eyeglasses pull someone’s face in focus while themselves becoming part of the necessarily invisible background; Hitler’s radio speeches could suddenly bring cohesion in the political attitude of an entire nation; TV made the world into a global village; the internet does all this at once.
It is through hearing, however, that individuals most decisively sense they belong. Through music, most notably, but through conversations to a perhaps equal degree. The heartbeat of a fetus unexpectedly cuts through what someone thought was real while ultrasound imaging has no such power. In a visual culture it is no wonder that a balance of more or less perpetual belonging sets in.
Which societal group individuals belong to, and whether elements within this group are friends or enenmies, has therefore become entirely unclear for 70 percent of the world: the percentage that lives in a city. It is the tracing of either political or financial power relations that may shed some light on the issue, but because sense-making inside these realms is poor, one is ultimately thrown back on oneself and one’s sense of beauty.
Throughout the Arab Spring of 2011, the Occupy movement, Syria and ISIS, all the way to the current time, a similar unclarity over where individuals belong and who is on what side that is is almost reminiscent of Stalinist times, which is the only factor that could possibly account for the insurmountable and fundamental political changes that are suddenly coming within reach.