By Sean Carroll | January 29, 2010 10:06 am

Update: Totally snookered. Via Kieran Healy, the disappointing news that the Habermas account is fake. Yet more evidence that the internet is less than an ideal speech situation.


I’m not the only person to find it endlessly amusing that Jürgen Habermas, octogenarian theorist of communicative rationality, has taken to Twitter. (The account seems to be legit, but it’s hard to be sure.) This is so over-determined that just last year Lauren Fisher gave a presentation entitled “If Habermas could Twitter.” Well, now we know.

He’s still trying to master the 140-character limit, though. Here’s his latest set of tweets:


Well, yeah. The internet is (in some sense) an egalitarian public sphere, but it raises the danger of fragmentation into self-reinforcing interest groups. Remains to be seen how it will all ultimately play out.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Internet, Philosophy
  • http://scienceblogs.com/sunclipse/ Blake Stacey

    How do you quantify the fragmentation of an audience, and what data do we have to determine whether that fragmentation index has changed over time? Do ten million online discussion boards constitute a more fragmented audience than ten million barbershops and front porches? (Partitioning a graph to optimize a modularity metric is an NP-hard problem.) Even if each conversation is confined to a single blog comment thread, what about jargon, tropes, “memes” — the “ideas with attitude” which propagate across the small-world network? (We’ve all learned what Godwin’s Law is, somehow.)

  • Pieter Kok


  • Sili

    Who the hell is Habermas?

    But thanks for posting. It reminded me to look up if “haversack” is a real word (“Bag shark lost in cave” for those curious).

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    Habermas is quite famous.

    Haversack sounds real; related to the German word for oats (presumably such bags were once used to carry oats).

    Even if the internet is as fragmented as all the barber shops and front porches in Norman Rockwell paintings, the difference is that one can hop quickly from one fragment to the next, often from the sublime to the ridiculous.

  • Ian

    At last: Twitter finds its raison d’être; it was surely made for postmodern philosophers!

  • Greg

    He is hardly a post modernist. He is also unlikely to be aware of how much the internet is dominated by computer programmers… see comment 1 above. He would probably add something about the effect of the ever-presence of technocratic rationality.

  • gopher65

    Phillip Helbig Says:
    Even if the internet is as fragmented as all the barber shops and front porches in Norman Rockwell paintings, the difference is that one can hop quickly from one fragment to the next, often from the sublime to the ridiculous.

    Exactly. Even if the internet is as fragmented as this guy says that it is, it isn’t any more fragmented than the real world already was.

    Before the internet, I couldn’t listen in on the conversation of some guy playing a Star Trek game while his wife rolled her eyes and went about her business. But just last week I was watching a feed of some guy playing the last day of the beta for Star Trek Online, while he talked to his wife about inane things and made the occasional negative/positive comment about some aspect of the game that was appearing on his screen that we might find interesting.

    Nothing like that was previously possible. That guy and his wife are probably halfway around the world from me. I don’t even know their names. I’ll probably never see or hear of them again.

    Also, while the internet does indeed offer the possibility of everyone jumping into little intellectual jerk-fests with people who think just like they do, in practise that was already happening on a large scale (religion, duh), and we don’t see it happening on the internet to any greater extent than it did in the real world. The only difference is that now *unpopular* groups can also get together and have “clubs”, wereas in the real world only the most popular groups could get together for their intellectual jerk-fests due to their numbers.

  • Tim van Beek

    Is it not nice that someone like him is still curious to learn about new communication technologies?
    He grew up in a time where the radio was discovered as a mass medium and used by the Nazis to manipulate the general public in a way never seen before – and he witnessed the rise of television, with first one, then two, then three channels. In Germany you would have essentially three channels run by the government up to the 1980ties. You have to keep that in mind if you want to understand his philosophy: With regard to the media we all grew up in a world entirely different from his.

    @Phillip Helbig: If you are looking for a German word that looks a bit like Habermas, that would be Hafersack (with ‘f’), but maybe they spelled it Haversack sometimes in the past.


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


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