The Four-Dimensional Human by Laurence Scott

The fact that we have all moved at incredible speed into a ‘digital age’ is news to no-one. Laurence Scott, a critic and lecturer in English at King’s College London, is not so much interested in technology as the humans that use it – particularly our subtle transformation from analogue to digital beings. The author displays a broad frame of reference being equally at ease with 30 Rock as with Herodotus’s Histories. He wants to situate our modern online behaviour in historical context, comparing the silent marking of a death on social media with the mutes of Victorian London, paid to stand outside a house of mourning.

The internet, in part, has simply given us new ways of doing old things. He charts this movement into the ‘ever-new’ in detail.  We no longer ‘surf’ the web because we are the web, our selves parcelled out to a multiplicity of social-media platforms. Google reflects back our interests and activity through individually targeted adverts. We are fully, and inescapably, ‘mediated’. Anyone who has somehow withstood the temptation to self-broadcast is now seen as exotic and pure. The rest of us are trapped in a digital universe that contains infinite possibility and zero chance of escape. It is a universe that relentlessly promotes novelty over originality.

So what’s the point of it all and what are the costs? Scott’s answer is not all gloom, nor is he polemical. His project is more ambitious and philosophical than that, and is ultimately more an examination of modern life — what it is to be a citizen in a capitalist economy, on an overheating, over­populated planet, in an ultra-mediated age — than an assessment of what happens to people who spend too long on Facebook.

Scott offers us a layered and elegant assessment of humans in an online world. You are presumably in that world already if you’re reading this. Should you wish to reflect on the matter at all, enquire at your local library or consult  for full bibliographic detail.

272 pages in William Heinemann

First published 2015

ISBN 978-0434023110

Dr Laurence Scott

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