Digital Lethargy: Dispatches from an Age of Disconnection (Hardcover)
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The exhaustion, disappointment, and listlessness experienced under digital capitalism, explored through works by contemporary artists, writers, and performers.
Sometimes, interacting with digital platforms, we want to be passive—in those moments of dissociation when we scroll mindlessly rather than connecting with anyone, for example, or when our only response is a shrugging “lol.” Despite encouragement by these platforms to “be yourself,” we want to be anyone but ourselves. Tung-Hui Hu calls this state of exhaustion, disappointment, and listlessness digital lethargy. This condition permeates our lives under digital capitalism, whether we are “users,” who are what they click, or racialized workers in Asia and the Global South. Far from being a state of apathy, however, lethargy may hold the potential for social change.
Hu explores digital lethargy through a series of works by contemporary artists, writers, and performers. These dispatches from the bleeding edge of digital culture include a fictional dystopia where low-wage Mexican workers laugh and emote for white audiences; a group that invites lazy viewers to strap their Fitbits to a swinging metronome, faking fitness and earning a discount on their health insurance premiums; and a memoir of burnout in an Amazon warehouse. These works dwell within the ordinariness and even banality of digital life, redirecting our attention toward moments of thwarted agency, waiting and passing time. Lethargy, writes Hu, is a drag: it weighs down our ability to rush to solutions, and forces us to talk about the unresolved present.
About the Author
Tung-Hui Hu is Associate Professor of English at the University of Michigan. A former network engineer and a published poet, he is the author of A Prehistory of the Cloud (MIT Press), praised by the New Yorker as “mesmerizing” and by the Guardian as “witty, sharp and theoretically aware.” He was awarded the Rome Prize in Literature in 2022.
“The acclaimed professor outlines his concept of digital lethargy — a state of exhaustion and listlessness under digital capitalism — through a collection of works by contemporary artists.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“In Digital Lethargy, the academic and poet Tung-Hui Hu quotes from the scholar Anne Anlin Cheng when discussing the German writer Heike Geissler’s novel, Seasonal Associate, set in an Amazon sorting facility: “How do we take seriously the life of a subject who lives as an object?” Hu’s point, essentially, is to ask how art can best approach the flattening, depersonalizing effects of the internet. It’s a good question, one that I’m unsure if many novels have yet answered.”