Now is the winter of our disconnect

purple pipes

We live in a connected world, ie everything is, or has the potential to be, connected to everything else. The Internet makes this connectivity palpable. But the web of all things is hardly a new view of the universe. Marcus Aurelius advanced such a proposition two thousand years ago.

Always think of the universe as one living organism, with a single substance and a single soul; and observe how all things are submitted to the single perceptivity of this one whole, all are moved by this single impulse, and all play their part in the causation of every event that happens. Remark the intricacy of the skein, the complexity of the web.

This is the ancient philosophy of the Stoics. Don’t be the discontent, complaining about your discomfort. If you only realised how interconnected your circumstances are to the rest then you would be content with your small place in the organic order of things.

Stoic philosophy is the unsung, scarcely acknowledged, substrate to much intellectual life, having an influence on thinkers as diverse as Roman architect Pollio Vitruvius, founder of modern economic theory Adam Smith, and radical philosopher Gilles Deleuze.

Dare I say a tacit receptivity to things Stoical has also prepared the way for the evolution of that network of networks, the Internet, especially as people contemplate the prospect of an “Internet of things.”

Tins of beans are tagged, inventoried and tracked, in the company of countless other products, components, and assemblies, with the potential to be linked to one another, places, events, and of course people’s profiles and bank accounts.

Some absent home owners can receive an email, text message or tweet from their domestic central heating system, or other sensor-enabled commodity services.

Some might say that modern communications technologies are at last realising what was seen only dimly by the ancients as a mythic dream of total connectivity.

I would rather say that we are heirs to legacies that predispose us to think it important to be so connected, the antidote for which is a counter-tendency in the practical world towards a network of disconnects, if not discontents.

pavement, temporary barriers, exposed pipes


Aurelius, M., Meditations, trans. M. Staniforth, London: Penguin, 1964, p.73.


  1. Zongping says:

    The first sentence of this article reminds me of a poem called Life written by Bei Dao who is the most notable representative of the Misty Poets (Misty Poets is “a group of Chinese poets who reacted against the restrictions of the Cultural Revolution”., which only consists of one word which is “web”. Rumor has it that poem was named the world’s shortest fiction by Time magazine. That amazing yet super short poem vividly describes an exact situation of our living world in which everything somehow inevitably connects or will connect with others: the web of family, of friends, of benefit, of sin, of hatred…
    Another thing that pops out of my head is the “small world experiment” that is often related to a phrase called “six degrees of separation”, stating that everyone is approximately on average six steps away from any other person in the world, which means to connect any two people we probably only need, on average, six steps of fewer.
    We live in a world that full of various webs/connections, and Internet as well as other communication tools and technologies are just a way magnifying the concept of connection, or we can say that they made the connections between things more real and sensible/noticeable. The things we do influence other things in a way that we may even do not notice. After writing down the former sentence, I immediately thought of chaos theory and butterfly effect, which, apparently, is also a connection.

  2. yujia dong says:

    Bei Dao is one of my favorite poets as well. yes, his peom showed the loneliness and the struggling humanity.

    I think there are some earthquakes in recent year which influenced the internet connection in Asia. in 2006, the earthquake at Taiwan cut down the internet between china and a lot of western countries.There is also once that a ship’s anchor cut the cable in a terrible weather and led to the slow data flow lasted for several days. when I looked at some reports on this accident, the major concern seems to be the stake market operating internationally. When the natural disasters happened, the first measure government would take is to restore the connect.

  3. Holly Warner says:

    In the age of wired technology the illusion of total connectivity appears to mask the reality of the situation Einstein predicted, wherein technology will alienate us from one another. This has lead to a jarring realisation that the fragmented nature of our current socio-cultural existence is not one that sits without unease on human heads. Einstein discussed the concept that when objects interact with one another, they are forever connected. This would appear to me as the natural order of things. The discovery of Non-Locality (the wave/particle duality), posits that everything is connected together. Space and time is thus theoretically composed of the same essence as matter. Bohm found this to be a conscious cosmic sea and extending out from this sub-atomic reality, all of material creation may also be said to be conscious (Bohm 1993). Since all matter and events interact with each other, time (past, present, future) along with space and distance, all is relative to the observer and operate as one under the law of Non-Locality. ‘A principle related to nonlocality is called Bell’s Theorem. This is a quantum physics law that says that once connected, objects affect one another forever no matter where they are. Following the principle of Bell’s Theorem…an invisible stream of energy will always connect any two objects that have been connected in any way in the past’ (Talbot 1996).
    Kodwo Eshun (1998) has argued that machines don’t distance us from our emotions, but this approach appears grounded in musical activity to me, where machines can be conceptualised as tools of extension for the creation of artistic materials and where time is afforded a different density than in everyday practice. Our technology has made it unnecessary to communicate face to face, and thereby has exceeded our humanity. I do believe it is possible for agents to circumvent this totality, without slipping into the extreme position of the rather juvenile motivations of anarchic primitivism. Technological advances taken that are based on monetary motivation rather than human progression appear as a threat to our humanity: ‘The technocrat is the natural friend of the dictator—computers and dictatorship; but the revolutionary lives in the gap which separates technical progress from social totality, and inscribed there his dream of permanent revolution. This dream, therefore, is itself action, reality, and an effective menace to all established order; it renders possible what it dreams about (Gilles Deleuze).

  4. I’m afraid that I can’t resist this.
    Seen many years ago, an advert put out by Tiso’s Outdoor Equipment Store in Edinburgh.

    “Now is the discount of our winter tents”

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