iPhone4 or iPhonophore?


It was not Steve Jobs and Apple who invented the iPhone4 – they only gave birth to what Ernst Jünger had intellectually conceived in 1949 in the novel Heliopolis and continued into Eumeswil (1977). By a nice coincidence, Ernst Jünger’s “universal communicator” has essentially the same name – the phonophore.

iPhone4 or iPhonophore?

Below is a rough translation of the most relevant passage from Heliopolis – only a brief commentary is useful, so obvious are the parallels. (See also my previous blog on the Phonophore.)

(Originaltext auf Deutsch ist unten …)

The one thing not anticipated in Jünger´s vision was the visual capacity of smart phones, iPads etc – the phonophore´s information streams seem to be mediated only via voice. But in terms of function, pretty much everything we know and love in the iPhone4 is there in the iPhonophore – even the status aspect is present in Heliopolis, albeit with more official status. And there are functions which may yet be coming, like voting.*

He also speculates that these technical developments foreshadow similar developments within humans – our technologically-mediated communication (indeed all our highest technology) is a mirror image of similar developments emerging in the human being. Technology transforms into magic, the phonophore anticipates new forms of telepathy.

If we consider future technological developments in the light of the almost miraculous rate of recent developments, who is to say what may not be coming? An airplane gains impressive speed on the runway – but everything changes when it suddenly lifts into the air. It enters a new medium, a new realm altogether, for which the acceleration on the runway was merely the preparation.

The passage continues beyond what I’ve translated with some philosophical speculations – I’ll get around to these later.

“So this is the famous universal communicators”, said Budur Peri. “Can I hold it?”

“Properly speaking, no”, said Lucius in response and put the little apparatus in her hand. “You know the models one can buy in the shops – the difference here is only one of capacity.”

Until recently, the Parsis (Ed: Budur is a Parsi) could avail themselves of the phonophores of the traders and business people – until the recent unrest had resulted in these rights being taken away from them. Hardly an adult in Heliopolis was to be seen without a communicator. The thin pod was carried in the left breast pocket, from which a finger’s width emerged. Its effective power was recognizable in each case by the differences in the metal; this resulted in a certain hierarchy, such as was indicated in earlier times by collar bands; this hierarchy expressed itself in questions of primacy, right of way or as identification for the authorities.

Serner had an excellent eye for the form worlds of late democracies and consequently a sharp grasp on the connections therein, which had become self-evident and were hardly still consciously perceived. In one of his small studies, this one under the title “The three levels of equality”, he had also occupied himself with the phonophore. According to him, the series of three great revolutions of the new times had progressed from the religious through the political to the technical. The first of these upheavals was directed against the priesthood; here the individual had won his right to stand without mediation before God. The second had been directed at the old aristocracies, overturning the privileges of the feudal orders to the benefit of bourgeois freedoms and commerce. Finally the worker appeared and transformed bourgeois rights into functions of the super-man. In the course of this metamorphosis, freedom had disappeared; it had been resolved itself into equality. People were as alike as molecules, different only in their degree of mobility. Serner called this state the kinetic or workers’ world.

In his investigation, he came to the conclusion that the phonophore had developed into an ideal medium for planetary democracy, one that invisibly connected each person to every other one. Attendance in the former people’s assemblies, markets and forums was enlarged here to an enormous space. The phonophore was principally a tremendous simplifier. Since its perfection, people’s referendums and opinion polls no longer presented technical difficulties; the will and votes of the vast masses could be instantaneously known and measured, almost through telepathy. One of those machines that mastered marvelous arithmetical operations had been installed in the Point Bureau (ed. Punktamt). The yeas, nays and undecideds of the multitudes were summated into wireless streams for immediate reading.

Naturally, as Serner explained, the right of interrogation remained restricted to the few. All could certainly listen and answer, but a hierarchy existed in the determination of the content and only the voice of the mightiest was absolute. A passive equality with broad differences of function reigned. The old fictions of universal franchise had returned in the automated style.

The phonophore also had emblematic character inasmuch as it validated its owner politically and commercially at first sight. The former civil disenfranchisement corresponded here to confiscation of the phonophore, deletion from the axis of abscissas.

Lucius took the golden machine and held it up to the light. As if reciting a text learned by heart, he indicated the illuminated number pad and connections to Budur Peri.

“The universal communicator. Execution by normal listening. Unpurchasable, unmarketable, non-transferable and only connected to the functions of the carrier, not to his person, with some honorary exceptions.

At every moment, provides local and astronomical time, latitude and longitude, weather conditions and predictions. Replaces the identity card, passport, clock, sundial and compass, as well as nautical and meteorological instruments. Automatically provides the bearer’s exact position to rescue services in case of land, sea and air emergencies. Provides directions to any place at all. Also indicates the bearer’s account balance in the Energeion and thus replaces the cheque book at all banks and post offices, as well as tickets for all means of transport. Serves as identification when the assistance of local authorities is needed. Confers power of command during unrest.

Delivers the programs of all media broadcasters and news agencies, academies and universities, as well as the continuous transmissions of the information bureau and the central archive. Connects to the knowledge, learning and entertainment streams of all radio stations, insofar as they are communicable by sound and word. Allows access to all books and manuscripts that have been acoustically recorded in the central archive, can be connected live to theater and concert performances, stock exchanges, lotteries, public assemblies, electoral procedures and conferences; can be used for reading the newspaper, as an ideal medium of information, and as a library and encyclopedia.

Provides connectivity to every other phonophore on the planet, with the exception of the secret numbers of the government, military staff and police. Calls can be blocked. Any number of simultaneous connections can also be effected, making possible conferences, lectures, elections and counsels. In this manner, the advantages of the telephone are added to those of the radio.”

“There is nothing special in all this”, Lucius continued. “These are all elements of the information services that have developed since electricity was understood. Its special character lies in the simplification, in the concentration of all this into one apparatus. One might say that with its crystalline matrices and radiating metals matter has acquired direct intelligence, and that a transition from technology to pure magic, such as the Council of the Mount is working on, has succeeded here,. The Council of the Mount views these things as crutches, by which man can learn to walk. He regards technology as a form of spiritual acceleration that will eventually lead to free flight and then to rest. It is an experiment of the spirit; when the results reach through to the last formulas, the equipment will become superfluous.”

* Postscript: Two weeks after originally writing this blog, Estonia was the first European country to run an election that allowed “SIM card voting“. The new prime minister apparently voted with his phone.

By SiFr



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