Susan Neiman about growing up in the digital age

In "TimeOut" Susan Neiman and Heinz Bude sketched the internet as modern equivalent of the Enlightment era - and praised the analogue book's significance for the modern world.

Growing up in the 21st century: by now the digital sphere self-evidently encompasses our daily routine. For a reason the colloquial term “digital native” arose – internet grown-ups, that especially refer to the newest generations. Did the way of growing up change because of digitisation, do cultural categories of adulthood become obsolete in World Wide Web’s playground?

Susan Neiman, American philosopher, Potsdam Einstein Forum’s director and author of “Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-up Idealists” and “Why Grow Up?addressed these questions during “Timeout” series’ second round. Again, German macro-sociologist Heinz Bude functioned as interlocutor and moderated the evening. Approximately 40 guests witnessed the dialogue in Berlin’s Soho House.

Susan Neiman bei AusZeit

Susan Neiman and Heinz Bude: How to grow up in the digital era? (Photo: Vodafone Institute)

Book or computer, analogue literature or cyberspace. It only took seconds before printed media as digital deniers’ possibly safe haven dominated the discussion. Although harbouring a huge amount of creativity, cognitive as well as cultural enrichment, the internet shouldn’t be solely considered the book’s antipode. The latter still embodies a priceless value for human existence, its historical origins and communicative resonance.

Neiman thereby stressed Immanuel Kant’s central thoughts multiple times. Kant’s finding “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage” more than ever shapes a time, that sees creativity and entrapment in the digital sphere in a diametrical but still close-nit opposition.

However, did a digital revolution enforce such a turnaround of the transition to adulthood that humans even tend to evolve fears and withdrawal reflexes instead of optimism? An over-optimised world, shaped by a normative constraint of activity, would certainly premise continuous commitment and permanent alertness – circumstances that could intimidate a whole lot of people.

Keeping the reasonable skepticism in mind, Neiman though used a metaphorical paraphrase of coming of age: Man could never fully grow up, keeps growing with the daily encounter of knowledge, experience and challenges instead. Thus, Neiman concluded, mastering the digital era is far from being an exception in this regard.

This was the second round of Vodafone Institute’s “TimeOut” series. The kick-off event welcomed renowned sociologist and feature writer Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht.