While the prefix “tele-” may suggest bringing the distant near, or even allowing isolated individuals to engage in dialogue with others, the hope of crossing this sort of boundary has not been fulfilled by the medium of television. Television – which Vilém Flusser classifies as amphitheatrical discourse on account of its communicative architecture – isolates people more than it connects them, turning them into “mass hermits” (Anders, Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen, vol. 1, 2002, vol. 1, p. 102; translated from the German) and making them the endpoint of a circuit that intrinsically tends toward the totalitarian in its layout. It has a central transmitter that sends out its information unidirectionally (or “univocally”) – without substantial dialogical feedback – to receivers who are reduced to consumers, alienated and depoliticized or abandoned in an illusion of freedom.
By contrast, the other side of this dystopian model of TV discourse is the hope for a networked dialogue that leaves behind the “bundled” (and therefore inevitably fascist) information architecture of TVdiscourse, and links participants in a dialogical (or “biunivocal”) circuit. There, in a networked architecture – and from the perspective of a philosophy of dialogue that Flusser borrowed from Martin Buber – one would be free to go beyond “I” and “you” to discover a common “we”. Through dialogue instead of authoritarianism, and through open, egalitarian systems instead of closed ones, democracy would be possible. Whether such an open television network – a “cosmic agora” (Lob der Oberflächlichkeit, 1993, p. 199; translated from the German) in which a “networked intersubjectivity” (Nachgeschichte, 1993, p. 210; translated from the German) 1) is achievable – can be realized by today’s digital network, considering the effects of the renewed massification and homogenization that prevail there, remains doubtful – but possible nonetheless.
Original article by Thomas Steinmaurer