Killing death

Piotr Pietak

Nowadays we are dealing with some civilisational changes generated by the Internet. Unfortunately, many of them have or can have sad effects, especially for young people.

More and more journalists writing about – let us define this event at last – the ‘civilisation clash’ that is taking place in front of the Presidential Palace, claim that if the media devote so many lines to the excesses of Janusz Palikot from the Civic Platform we can expect ‘political palikotisation’, which is an innocent prelude to the expectable, political barbarity.
I agree that we can expect most likely a period of political barbarity. However, I would like to analyse the phenomenon, which in my opinion has nothing to do with Mr Palikot but is a result of the civilisational changes of the last 20 years in the world. Mr Palikot is in a way a sign of the times. Behind him there are thousands of ‘palikots’, i.e. representatives of the generation brought up in ‘society of communication’, whose main instrument is the Internet (we have just the 20th anniversary of its large-scale spread).

Generation without memory

At the beginning of the 1990s people thought that they could transmit cultural values through the technical means of communication. It turned out to be a complete utopia and we will pay a lot for this naive optimism. The technological tools conquer space more and more effectively and at the same time they put to death the historical time. The generation of the Internet is a generation without memory. The people of ‘time and memory’ have opposed the children of ‘space’ in the confrontation in front of the Presidential Palace.
It is only the beginning of the clash. This description may be accused of exaggeration but the fact is that specialists in media agree that the condition of people of ‘the web’ is changing radically – by the way, not only through the electronic media but also their pace of life, which condemns an individual to eternal nomadism.

Man is vacuum

Individuals live in the underground, buses, trains and no matter whether they go or wait for some vehicle they have no stable places; they are – to used the term popularised by Simone Weil – increasingly uprooted by the excess of pictures whirling around them and by eternal movement they are in. These lead them to lose all reference points not only to the future but also to their own environments.
I think that Adam Wazyk has characterised the children of the Internet best. 50 years ago he wrote, ‘I am vacuum through which waves run.’ The children of the Internet are vacuums though which waves run and they progressively more live in the world overwhelmed by screens, being ‘the police of memory’ whose dictatorship over minds is comparable to the horrifying vision of Orwell.
A screen is the main element of life for my son. When I used to play with a teddy bear he played the gameboy and eagerly prepared for life in which almost all relationships between people are the relationships between monitors. I look at my computer. He says that his computer looks at him.

Two generations of the Internet

The Internet is an obvious thing for children and young people. However, for their parents it was an invention, a product of human culture and science. Moreover, its monitor – contrary to television – conducts a dialogue with us and requires not only technical skills but also (only, unfortunately, allegedly) imagination.
In the 21st century two generations are living side by side. On the one hand, the generation (which is my generation) that saw a television set when they were in the middle of elementary school (and each of them remembered this moment very well) and on the other hand, the generation that has been strictly trained from their cradles, i.e. constant use of keyboards and monitors of gameboy, playstation or Nintendo, which is a period of preparation for contemporary ‘ritual haircut’, i.e. purchase of a computer and access to the Internet.

Regime of the www

The children of the Internet are living in the time of the dictatorship of the monitor, having thousands of invisible computer program, written in a series of billions of ones and zeroes, programs their economic, sexual and political tastes. They are its slaves. The clash in front of the Presidential Palace can be seen as the first struggle between the society of the monitor and the society of the print and book.
For Mr Palikot, MP, and the children of the Internet it is obvious that the political authorities do not control the course of events, that their efforts are to conceal before the society the simple fact that the government does not govern and the authority has not power. Such a thing as memory does not exist for them; they are living in ‘the tyranny of the moment’, being absolutely convinced that they are the avant-gardes of history. However, they are only expressions of contemporary barbarism whose ‘victims’ cannot read and write because thanks to the Wikipedia and two functions ‘copy’ and ‘insert’ they know and can do everything. They constantly copying and inserting, slowly changing themselves into thoughtless automats.

Culture of the Internet

If we do not start serious discussions about the Internet and its culture the effects of which we have seen in front of the Presidential Palace, if we still live in the myth of the society of communication, the phenomenon of the children of the Internet will be always mistaken with Mr Palikot.
In the West the negative effects of the Internet have been discussed. In Poland anyone that dares criticise the cultural effects of the ‘world web’ is ‘labelled’ as an enemy of progress. But it is the lack of discussion about the devastation that the Internet makes in culture that is an evidence of our civilisational backwardness. In the clash between the ‘children of the Internet’ and ‘the generation of print’ in front of the Presidential Palace both parties, accusing each other, prove that they do not completely understand the contemporary world.

Dematerialisation of death

The above-mentioned parties forget that the electronic civilisation – and let us repeat: the Internet is its symbol and foundation of functioning – dematerialises death which contemporary people have completely forgotten. What’s more, people do not speak about death but about the end of life. We can see, writes Régis Debray in the introduction to ‘What is Mediology’, dematerialisation of dead body, i.e. immediate removal of what undergoes biological degradation, and we can see deritualisation of event, i.e. blurring the signs of mourning, preparation, vigil and accompanying liturgy. The participants of the society of communication seldom go to cemeteries; the funeral rituals are banal and increasingly quick. Cremations are very often. Cremation makes all the dead equal; corpses become ordinary wastes to deal with.

Struggle for remembrance

The electronic civilisation is a destruction of death. Death is not passing away. It is only a while to forget at once. In such a civilisation – and it is its children that demonstrated in front of the Presidential Palace – monuments are not necessary. What are monuments? What have they been constructed for? Well, the etymology of this word shows that their function is to make a given community recollect or perhaps warn against doing (or not doing) something, or to predict or announce to do something in the future.
Victor Hugo wrote the wonderful words, ‘Architecture was the main chronicle of mankind; each idea, which appeared slightly more complicated, expressed itself in the construction; it has its own monument.’ Killing death the electronic civilisation liquidated the need to build monuments. For ‘the children of the Internet’ a monument is something needless. For them yesterday and tomorrow do not exist. What counts is today, now, at the moment.

"Niedziela" 38/2010

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: