The idea of three catastrophes was first introduced by Vilém Flusser in 1990 at the International Kornhaus Seminars, which took place in Weiler, a village in Germany, organized in collaboration with Harry Pross. In his lecture “Nomadische Überlegungen” [NomadicThoughts] (in: Medienkultur, 1997), Flusser claims that humanity underwent three major catastrophes, three major changes and traumas, that shaped and are still shaping human beings.
The first catastrophe – becoming human – was when the decline of the forests forced the primates to descend from the trees and live on the ground – an unknown, dangerous environment. The primate was forced to walk – in German, fahren – which led to acquiring knowledge – erfahren [getting to know]. Thus the primate became a nomad and invented tools to hunt, to get food, to obtain clothes as protection against the cold, etc. – tools to appropriate and cope with the world. The primate became human.
According to Flusser, the second catastrophe – civilization – took place ten thousand years ago. Humans embraced a sedentary lifestyle, domesticated their prey, cultivated plants, and accumulated material goods. Flusser uses the German words sitzen [to be seated] and besitzen [to own] to explain the sedentary lifestyle. According to Norval Baitello, Jr., the same connection can be seen in Latin languages: sedere and possedere in Latin, sentar and poseer in Spanish, for example (Baitello, Jr., O Pensamento Sentado, 2012, p. 27). Sedentary and with possessions, humans ceased wandering and exploring the world. They settled down and created calculating systems (to count possessions, animals, etc.), along with sculptures, drawings, and script. These all aimed at replacing the world and its paths.
The third catastrophe is still taking place and as yet does not have a name. Photographs, movies, TV images, videos, computer screens, and cell phones – technical images, as Flusser puts it – today play the informative role performed by linear texts in the past. Technical images “inform” and shape in a different way than the phonetic alphabet. “When images supplant texts, we experience, perceive, and value the world and ourselves differently, no longer in a one-dimensional, linear, process-oriented, historical way but rather in a two-dimensional way, as surface, context, scene.” (Into the Universe of Technical Images, 2011, p. 5).
Immersed in the constant stream of technical images, humans are once again thrown back into the world. Buildings have become uninhabitable. The winds of media winds fed by electricity come in through the windows, the screens, and all openings of buildings. Houses no longer remind us of the treetops or the security of the womb. The walls no longer stop the world anymore. We are about to become nomads again. Just like the first catastrophe, we are wandering again, driven by the wind. The difference is that now the wind is from social networks, cell phones, websites, and blogs, leading our minds and thoughts to distant, virtual realities while leaving us, our bodies, sitting or standing. A new lifestyle emerges: a synthesis of the nomad and the sedentary lifestyles of previous catastrophes.
Original article by Fernando Ilharco