The reason social theorists that could be classified as postmodernists have failed to deal with the changes brought about by the newer trends in digital media usage is simple — these changes represent, materially, what they have been thinking about for close to 40 years.

Proclaiming the advent of postmodernism is no longer radical, but to acknowledge that it has actually come to pass means they’d have to get off their chairs and do some empirical research.

Detractors would say that the new uses of the web — known roughly as social media — are far from ubiquitous and so cannot be generalised across the global population. This argument, in itself, is a mistake based on the principles of modernity and enlightenment ideals. Thinkers like Lyotard, Deleuze and Guattari had long since focused energy on exploring the multiplicity of generalities, if that makes any sense. At the very least, the notion of one set of descriptors for all of society has, or should have become, utterly ludicrous.

The ideological polarisation brought about by the confrontation between US neocon policy and radical Islam threatens to rip us back into the dark ages and this is why the question of postmodernism is so crucial and contradictory — to explore it further requires a shift from abstract theorising to empirical research. This will sound like blasphemy to the initiates of the sliding signifier, I’m sure.

The problem with a vaguely liberal society, and we’ve seen this here in South Africa, is that sensitivities regarding political correctness are so high that the serious media become a constant drip of safe clichés and careful balancing acts. What we have also seen, in this climate, is the rise of the tabloid newspapers, Fox news and highly partisan political blogging, and those serious about being serious need to confront the following dilemma: what is popular is not what one would deem healthy for a democratic society according, at least, to Enlightenment principles.

Readers, listeners, viewers are gravitating towards media that give them an ideological limit experience. Either sensationalist media strongly reinforce their beliefs or strongly contradict them and, respectively, these represent a type of hate speech directed outward or inward.

But who can really reach a conclusion in this day and age, when media are so prolific and fragmented to such an extent that anyone with an internet connection now has a publishing platform, without undergoing some sort of limit experience? Skirmishing with the Other is a necessary process for forming one’s own identity, and piecing together identities from the scratch-patch of the media today is a worthwhile undertaking.

The time is also right, given the vast amount of data captured by web servers, to tie theories of postmodernism to the hard evidence of what people actually do with their media and how they construct themselves using it.


Vincent Maher

Vincent Maher

Vincent Maher was the Mail & Guardian Online's digital strategist. He has worked in the web industry for 12 years, was the head of the New Media Lab at the Rhodes University School of Journalism and...

3 replies on “There is no such thing as Truth, only degrees of culpability”