Derrick de Kerckhove: Digital Natives (and immigrants) and the potential pathologies

Research seminar by UOC visiting professor Derrick de Kerckhove entitled Digital Natives (and immigrants) and the potential pathologies. Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Barcelona, Spain, February 16th, 2009.

The Body Electric: e-lag, Penelope Complex and other e-pathologies
Derrick de Kerckhove

The digital mode

Derrick de KerckhoveDerrick de Kerckhove

Three stages of humankind, coincident with three representations of the body:

  • the oral era: integration with nature
  • the electric era: mechanization. The body is a separate object, the division between body and mind, etc.
  • the electronic era: the telegraph marries language and electricity. The self, the body and the world relationships are once more transformated. The tecnobiology of electricity: electricity is both within and without the human body, an extension of ourselves. A transition from using electricity to emulate muscular functions of the body (the analogue mode) to emulate cognition (the digital mode), to amplify our senses (cyborgs: Steve Mann, Sterlarc, Kevin Warwick).

Wireless brings even one step further the digital mode: not only enhances cognition, but makes is permanent.

Cyborgs make it possible to stablish connections between cognitive systems, between central nervous systems (CNS).

The body electric

  • An augmented body
  • Fuzzy boundaries
  • Total interconnectivity (by means of wireless)
  • Sensory life restructured, just like the Baroque was a total restructuring of life because of the alphabet (the press).
  • Changing our use of time ans space
  • A bionic condition

Symptoms of Internet addiction

  1. Using the online services everyday without any skipping
  2. Loosing track of time after making a connection
  3. Going out less and less
  4. Spending less and less time on meals at home or at work, and eats in front of the monitor
  5. Denying spending too much time on the Net
  6. Others complaining of your spending too much time in front of the monitor
  7. Checking on your mailbox too many times a day
  8. Thinking you have got the greatest web site in the world and dying to give people your URL
  9. Logging onto the Net while already busy at work
  10. Sneaking online when spouse or family members not at home, with a sense of relief

Anxieties, depressions, phobias

  • E-lag: guilt of not having answered tons of e-mail
  • Fear of virus attack
  • Passworditis
  • Fear of giving out card numbers
  • Broadband anxiety
  • Control of bandwidth
  • Weathering down-time and…
  • Lack of connectivity
  • Loss of self-confidence to decreasing e-mail
  • Information-overload from increasing e-mail
  • Losing unsaved content to unpredictable crashes
  • Cyberphobia, technophobia, fear of the Matrix (surveillance)

“Screenology”: (a “science” — made up by Derrick de Kerckhove, adopted by noone — that studies the) emigration of mind from head to screen, we spend more time in front of screens than thinking on our own. We’re becoming Quixotes that read too much and thought too little.

Out of the Fishbowl (2005, video), Len Choptiany. How many mental disorders come form literate, visual people and cultures? But if the written word enables fixing knowledge and working with it, it also puts binds on it: the press mechanizes and segments and fragments knowledge creation and transmission. If the written word eases analysis and rationality, the press leaves aside mysticism, transcendence. Electronic images bring in loss of meaning, of self-conscience, are simulacra — something already stated about the novel when it appeared.

Health in the Digital Era

Change of self-image, due to total, ubiquitous, broadband, always on, mobile access. In the electric age, we wear all mankind as our skin (Marshall McLuhan).

Personal Thoughts

Is it the dichotomy between self-consciousnesses and loss of self-consciousnesses, our between we-consciousness and being part of the herd? Aren’t we now maybe more community oriented but much more self-aware of our own selves and our role in this collective being?

The increase of mental diseases, is it due to visual literacy and mass production, or because we’re really more complex, more clever, more reflective, more evolved as a species?

Is humankind an emergent system? Do we tend towards a unified collective that produces things that individuals cannot do on their own?

In the end, what’s wrong with it? What’s wrong with these changes? What is really wrong (dangerous, loss of crucial human aspects, etc.) and what is just resistance to change?


Derrick de Kerckhove e-mails the attendants of the seminar a choice of websites of especial interest to him. As part of this list has already been published at the Observatoire International du Numérique, I reproduce it here:

Here is a tentative list of sites that over the years have attracted my attention. I am putting them all together to save them from terminal loss. The trouble with great web sites is that they appear in your life like excellent jokes, you hear them, you love them, you swear to yourself and to anybody who cares to listen that you will remember that one and tell it to everybody in sight, and you forget them immediately.

Good oldies (search engines)


A lot of imagination went into the hypertextual possibilities of links even before pageranking implemented by slashdot,com and later Google. I was very inspired to write my book on Connected Intelligence by Thinkmap, a site that is now an industry that began as a thesaurus using a hyperbolic tree connecting all the words that related in clusters around a central one that gave it the theme. I recommended them for the Ars Electronica prize back in 1996. Today, the New York based company offers a number of interesting services. <>

The Brain

Every one one knows about this good, clean design, for browsing one’s own content classification. I like the design, but I don’t use it, except occasionally as a substitute for Powerpoint when I have the time: <>


I loved this one at first sight, a French invention of ten years ago, that allowed one, much faster than even Google today, to locate exactly which John Smith you were looking for. They are still around with a clean design and fast interactivity. <>


Not humongously useful, considering how many city or name-based search engines exist today, but still thrills me for its design. <>

Smart Money Map-of-market

Martin Wattenberg who created this site is a master web designer. Again this oldie shows an artistic side (check many other sites by Wattenberg) that uses a Mondrian-like design to indicate variations in stock market. Intelligent, beautiful, alive and useful (for those who had money before the crisis!) <>

Last Fm

Everybody knows this one too, although more recent than the previous ones. The ancestor of this one got a Jury mention at Ars Electronica 1994. It was called and allowed people to rate music and obtain not only a list of other music they might enjoy based on their ratings, but also created an automatic community of people whose choices were similar to yours. Subsequently it changed names and then disappeared. LastFm is a kind of re-incarnation of the principle, but without the community creation, something that I dubbed, “electronic tastebud” .


Newer issues

There are tons of new things since web 2.0, social bookmarking and Google-everything (and specially umteen variations on googlmaps). I am including here the ones that come to mind spontaneously, but the list is FAR from exhaustive, and I welcome any suggestion on your part.


This is a very elegant and truly useful site to search, classify and store in a rapidly interactive way whatever you are looking for on YouTube, Flickr, E-Bay and whatnot. Check out the click and drag and set in folder function. Awesome. <>


Devonthink was recommended and demonstrated to me by Stephen Johnson, best-selling author of just about anything he cares to publish. He claims that he owes it all to this little-known but powerful search engines that probes the contents of your own computer (as GoogleDesk does, but much better) in a rational tag and keyword based fashion. The principle is simple but requires a minimum of discipline (which of course I do not possess!): you simply tag along the quotes and texts and references that you encounter in the course of your writing, surfing and storing, and five years later, you have another book that is almost self-written! If you think that is too ego-centric, just throw the theme of the book in <> and 24 hours later, the world will have given you stuff you can add to show that you are contemporary to the isssue! <>

NB: has a system very much like Devonthink, but dedicated to the web, that is outside content as well as stuff inside your hard disk. Try it, you will never leave it.

The following few sites tickle my global art fancy because they all take advantage of the limitless potential for worldwide participation in a common realization or real-time global information.

World clock

This is an all-time, anytime, winner that allows you to see the statistically correct numbers of specific worlwide events, birth, deaths, maladies, car sales, house starts, oil barrels, prices, etc. You can ask for any configuration of data in terms of the day, the week, the month, the year or the decade. Impressive because it generates instantly a global emotion, the like of which began for me when I saw Apollo’s landing on the moon in 1969…


Global emotional circulation

I am putting under this title a group of variations on the theme of global emotion by Maurice Benayoun, a French artist who has developed a strong global sensibility. You may need to dig a bit into this following URL to find stuff that suit your interest more specifically <>


AtauTanaka’s great shared musical composition and playback site



Like Wattenberg, Jonathan Harris is another Webmaster to keep track of. I am very moved by this attempt to provide the user with a real-time array of expressions of emotions around the globe. It paratkes of the same sensibility of the beautiful Listening post by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin, but instead of merely showing you text-based messages flying across neatly arrayed screens, it allows you to interact and select clusters of real-time messages on your screen



The other Jonathan Harris must see, this site offers a dozen different way of arranging and sorting data about news, events and people you need or want to know about immediately. Useful and super aesthetically.



Another stunningly beautiful browser, not quite global in intent, but created by developers working for Art Futura (a great refernce in itself) to allow people to browse pleasurably and rapidly all the videos posted on line by the world famous TED conference


Hyperlinking the Real World (courtesy of Eduard Vinyamata)

European researchers working on the MOBVIS project have developed a new system that will allow camera phone users to hyperlink the real world. After taking a picture of a streetscape in an urban area, the MOBVIS technology identifies objects like buildings, infrastructure, monuments, cars, and even logos and banners. It then renders relevant information on the screen using icons that deliver text-based details about the object when clicked.

My own site (in construction but already visitable) is an attempt to provide a background history and a large sampling of existing gloabl artistic installations, web sites and other projects. Only the first four little screens of the 33 that make up the global person – hommage to Nam June Paik – are active, but it gives you an idea. I will be working with Paolo Branigade to complete the site over the year. Help and suggestions are welcome.


See also the lovely site created by Franz Iandolo and his students on the same theme:


Some of my favorite Youtube videos: these are so well-known that they need no introduction. If you haven’t seen them, you simply owe to yourself to google them and check them out RIGHT NOW.

Battle at Kruger

Free Hugs

The machine is using us

The YouTube Symphony Orchestra,

Featuring the first-ever collaborative online orchestra, performing the “Internet Symphony No. 1 ‘Eroica'”, by Tan Dun.