Urs Stäheli

Disconnecting: New Forms of Privacy in the Network Society

A hitherto inconceivable amount and diversity of options for connectivity is now available through the digitalisation of practically all areas of cultural and social thought and life.  At the same time, this connectivity – in other words the production of linkages – is by no means limited to connections between individuals; instead we are also being linked with objects, ideas and even emotions. Urs Stäheli demonstrates how on the basis of these options a specific ethos of connectivity has emerged; an ethos in which connectivity has become an imperative. Connectivity increasingly has become self-referential: we link up in order to link up even more. For a long time the resultant excess of connectivity was scarcely noticed.  Going hand in hand with this imperative is the concept of an unlimited intensification of connectivity that is at the same time celebrated as a triumph over traditional and hierarchical ways of life.

However, in recent years complaints about the burden of connectivity have been increasing that range from burn-out discourse, and inefficiency to criticism of new forms of control. If it is correct that omnipresent connectivity is coming up against its limits, then the question of how to think about the counter-side of connectivity – disconnecting – becomes important. Whereas classical political theory still saw in the private sphere a context in which the individual could at least temporarily withdraw from the demands and impositions of the public sphere, in the network society this distinction itself has been thrown into crisis – not least because the sovereign private individual has long since evolved into a “networked self.” Romantic notions of returning to an analog “offline” world also underestimate the power of connectivity. 

Urs Stäheli investigates how under these conditions privacy can be rethought: a liquid, situative and permanently self-transforming privacy that only materialises through experimentation with new techniques and practices of temporary disconnection.