Kierkegaard on the Internet: Anonymity vs. Commitment in the Present Age

Hubert L. Dreyfus

Published: 1996

Type: Text

  • cyb3rsp4c3
  • society (and modernity)
  • Description:

    To understand why Kierkegaard would have hated the Internet we need to understand what he meant by the Public and why he was so opposed to the Press. The focus of his concern was what Habermas calls the Public Sphere which, in the middle of the nineteenth century, thanks to the recent democratization and expansion of the press, had become a serious problem for many intellectuals. But while thinkers like Mill and Tocqueville thought the problem was "the tyranny of the masses," Kierkegaard thought that the Public Sphere, as implemented in the Press, promoted risk-free anonymity and idle curiosity, both of which undermined responsibility and commitment. This, in turn, leveled all qualitative distinctions and led to nihilism, he held. Kierkegaard might well have denounced the Internet for the same reasons. Kierkegaard's likely objections are spelled out by considering how the Net promotes Kierkegaard's two nihilistic spheres of existence, the aesthetic and the ethical, while repelling the re- ligious sphere. In the aesthetic sphere, the aesthete avoids commitments and lives in the categories of the interesting and the boring and wants to see as many interesting sights (sites) as possible. People in the ethical sphere could use the Internet to make and keep track of commitments but would be brought to the "despair of possibility" by the ease of making and unmaking commitments on the Net. Only in the religious sphere is nihilism overcome by making a risky, unconditional commitment. The Internet, however, which offers a risk-free simulated world, would tend to undermine rather than support any such ultimate concern.

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