Continuing to write about things for which I have no answer, I want to return briefly to the question of loss online. The question asked by loss-online, if loss online is possible, is really what is lost; or, put another way, what is being online? Many readers will recognize this as a form of the 20th century’s most significant question for philosophy, namely, the question of being, what is is? For obvious reasons, we will not attempt to answer it here. We will, however, start to turn the question toward the web, and ask: if loss online is distinct, that is, is being online distinct?
I wrote previously that the being of being online is concerned with the past, even if the recent past:
Real-time, although a favourite term of much modern communication technology, is a myth. I am always dealing with what you said, and never what you are saying. The present, at least online, is the experience of the past now.
The experience of the other online through the past, as memory, encourages nostalgia. And nostalgia, when it becomes the default mode of the present, leads to expectation, to the longing of arrival. Anil Dash provides us a perfect example:
The experience of the other online is tied up with waiting for their return, with clicking refresh, with following. It requires that I attend to, that I watch over, that I make myself available for what will come; that I adopt a stance of expectation, that I believe. The experience of the other online requires a kind of devotion.
While visiting the Bahamas recently, I happened upon a woman, kneeling in the grass beside the road. Her hands were cupped in her lap, her head bowed toward them. Her posture gave her away: with her back to the world, she held herself in devotion. But to what? Was she praying? Meditating? Or was she reading her iPhone? From my vantage further up the road, I could not determine. But are these different? Do we not already have a long tradition through which to understand her action? the expectation of @Beyonce’s tweet, the message from the oracle, the sign from the god, the answer to prayer–all demand that I attend, that I expect, that I orient myself toward the future by facing the past, that I wait for the return that will surely come.
Where the loss of the other online involves an admission that return will never come again, its opposite is also true: being online is a kind of devotion to, and anticipation of the other, who may always come again. It is a hope without guarantee, a personal hope.