Markham, Tim. Digital life. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2020. 165 p. ISBN 978-1-509-54106-5. £17.99.
Tim Markham works as a professor of journalism and media at the University of London's Birbeck College. His research into public engagement, protest cultures, solidarity or citizen journalism through and with social media are conducted through a phenomenological perspective.
His latest book engages into a deep phenomenological exploration of the affinity of our daily lives as they are expressed and lived in digital environments. It is a detailed and serious investigation of our ethics and morality, experience and identity, emotions and indifference and everyday life in general. Digital media, which have become just one of the ways to live this life through, in, by, and with (or any other preposition that one can think of), make a significant impact on the expressions and features of this daily life. This influence can be both positive and negative and our reactions to these influences, affordances and perception of threats are as usually shaped, expressed, accepted or resisted collectively. According to the author self, identity or affective experiences are collective rather than individual, meaning that nothing makes sense outside our collectively developed habitual ways of communicating with each other and our cultures that also transcend into the digital sphere. Digital environments are not less threatening or beneficial than people make them. The actors shaping them, be they software engineers and creators of platforms or users of their production, are always constrained by technical or algorithmic limitations, social and political norms and beliefs or other factors, but they also exploit the affordances and make sense collectively of the means the use, events they participat in, exchanges they get involved in intellectually and/or affectively and social interactions in general.
The author does not remove the responsibility of the owners, creators and engineers or the political and social powers for social inequalities, damage, disinformation, financial fraud or other negative consequencies of digital media and technologies. However he examines the manifestation of digital life as the condition of existing amongst and through these manifestations, processes, mechanisms, environments and infrastructures. (p. 25).
Tim Markham's approach to the problem is revealed through the vast amount of philosophical, sociological, political and technological literature. His erudition is remarkable and the command of his research material is impressive. Markham employs Hegel and Hedegger, de Beauvoir and Butler, MacIntyre and Merleau-Ponty to demonstrate that digital media may change the expression, but do not affect the roots or our solidarity, care for others or political identities. There are many interesting and even novel concepts explaining the ideas of the author, but also interesting examples from the media that make the text closer to the everyday life that we are reading about.
The book consists of eight chapters. The first one introduces the main concepts and ideas that are further developed in the remaining ones. The collective nature of campassion, collective momentary experience of solidarity and mutual obligation, acceptance of the values of others, being social and ones own self acquire specific forms through our collective digital habitation. In fact each chapter can find its own reader who is interested in digital cultures or digital manifestations of identities, power of infrastructures and algorithms, indiference and engagement online.
The text is well written, though dense with phenomenological terminology. For those who are not used to it will have to invest time in digesting and making sense of such nouns as 'thrownness', 'feltness' or 'findingness'. Nevertheless, it is worth reading the book for its fresh and compelling ideas about this increasingly dominating sector of our everyday life - digital.
The book obviously targets an academic audience - researchers, lectures and students. It does not make any concessions to its readers, but it is not boringly academic at all.
University of Borås
How to cite this review
Maceviciute, E. (2021). Review of: Markham, Tim. Digital life. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2020. Information Research, 26(1), review no. R711 [Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs711.html]
Information Research is published four times a year by the University of Borås, Allégatan 1, 501 90 Borås, Sweden.