cover image The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World

The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World

Laurence Scott. Norton, $16.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-393-35307-5

Scott, an essayist and critic, offers a rich phenomenology of living in the digital age and its radical reshaping of fundamental human experiences. Based on the premise that “a culture reveals much about itself by the metaphors it uses,” Scott sees in the early Internet—conceptualized by denizens as a “mode of transportation” for anonymous, disembodied selves—a parallel to the late-Victorian fascination with “the fourth dimension,” popularly understood as “a space into which one might travel, a world that could be reached if only the right conduit or portal could be found.” But when the “civic and commercial conservatism” of late capitalism “fuses with the true radicalism of digital life,” the result is our current claustrophobia. Scott sketches the artistic, political, and environmental corollaries to show how “digital life is inherently suited to a language of the macabre and the monstrous.” His keen attention to our digital diction is at its best in a brilliant analysis of our tendency to tag variegated online browsing as kinds of porn. Unlike many literary grumps, Scott writes eruditely from an embedded perspective shared by anyone who has ever settled an argument with a quick search of IMDb. Greek mythology and Dorian Gray come into play, not as fearful salvos against imagined hordes of digital barbarians, but rather used alongside pop culture as living artifacts whose interpretive value is up to the task of better understanding our lives now. Scott’s sharp eye for irony and great wit make this debut a lively contribution to the conversation about the effects of the Internet on society. (Aug.)