Ever since things were displaced by “non-things,” the world has become more spectral. While there are few reasons to mourn the epoch of things, with its craving for the production and possession of commodities, it was, in its way, a pleasant historical phase. So at the dawn of the 1980s, as the changes were becoming impossible to ignore, Vilém Flusser asked whether “non-things” would provide people with the stability they had previously found in things.
“Non-things” were “nonmaterial information” (undingliche Informationen): television images, holograms, computer data and programs, as well as photographs and information on microfilm. They changed trade and the economy, scholarship, culture, and entertainment. “Producer of non-things” began to describe the majority of workers – managers, specialists in administration and the stock market, and programmers. Equipped with information, they formed a new ruling class, without understanding that they themselves were merely interchangeable variables in the programs of the apparatuses. Doubts that humanity would ever be capable of comprehending what it could no longer touch with its hands have been fostered, in no small measure, by their behavior.
“Non-things” embodied three promises: to turn homo faber into homo ludens at play on computer keyboards; to transform the greed for possessions into a lust for experience; and to give humanity a memory which, thanks to “nonmaterial” (undinglich) data storage media, would never again forget anything.
All translations of the German word Unding erase its ambiguity. It is Flusser who first turned the Unding into a “non-thing” (Nichtding). Up to then it had been “an absurdity,” something that “went against common sense.” And it was also in this sense of the word that Flusser asked whether death might, perhaps, be an Unding as well.
Original article by Margit Rosen