The Digital Crowd

Monday, February 3rd, 2014 by willm2

“At this time we urge people to never turn off their lights, and under no circumstances close their eyes for any extended period of time.”,35112/

Last week I read the Poe short story ‘A Man of the Crowd’ for a class on the psychic life of the city in the 19th century. In the story we see an average citizen swept up in the crowd as he gives pursuit to a stranger; he tracks the man all night, running roughshod over the hours normally reserved for sleep. The crowd of the metropolis, represented by the titular man in the story, represents unending stimulation of the senses. The crowd is without purpose or destination; they wander aimlessly, exposing their senses to the limitless possibilities of consumerism. Goods and advertisements reach out for them at every turn, illuminated by the never dimming gas-lights. If they cannot buy, they look as a mode of surrogate consumption. Alternately, they may be so overwhelmed with choice that they cannot make a decision. Around the next corner may be an even more dazzling product, an even more fulfilling transaction.

I think there are strong parallels to 24/7 here. The series of glowing screens which carry our attention from morning to night present unlimited possibilities for gratification. Because they persist non-stop, sleep loses its significance as a mode of solitude and introversion.  If we let ourselves be swept away in the digital currents, the possibility of finding that perfect product or that perfect distraction will keep us going. In both Poe’s short story and 24/7 we wander aimlessly. The concept of destination is impossible, for it would mean the end of stimulation. Even if we manage to disengage from the crowd, or unplug from our devices, we know that both continue without us, and that they will be waiting for us when we wake.




2 comments on “The Digital Crowd

  1. lola192 says:

    Onion article = bloody brilliant!

  2. Lori Emerson says:

    Will, thanks for this post and for pointing to how it’s possible to see our 24/7 world of digital stimulation as one that conveniently makes us believe that unplugging means disconnection, isolation, loneliness and, also conveniently, leaves us in a permanent state of distraction and so inability to see anything for what it is and inability to actually enact change. It’s a perfect storm! I’m curious to know whether Poe is prescient in how he tracks the effects of capitalism that we’re registering now in a totally different medium—?

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