Viewing Deep Time as a Means of Technological Immortality

Cyberpunk, as an emerging genre in the late twentieth century, opened up a new side of humanity–a digital humanity the politics of which are still being hashed out today. Siegfried Zielinski frames cyberpunk genre and techno-romanticisim as ushering in a new lebensgefühl–a term which is tied to the vital feelings of the human body. Expanding humanity into the digital sector offers a new way of considering what it means to be human and also, as Zielinski points out in paring techno-romanticism with necro-romanticism, what it means to be alive. The cyberpunk genre offered an expansion of Heinrich Wolfflin’s work on the relationship between visibility and empathy (Saunders 2017). While Wolfflin portrays the visual as being able to incite feelings within the body as a form of lebensgefühl, Zielinski asserts that cyberpunk is able to challenge the way humans think about our vitality and the relationships that we have to our bodies, both physically and as a means of acting out our intangible thoughts.

The values espoused in the cyberpunk tradition prey on fears that humans in an increasingly digitized world faced in trying to maintain humanity while simultaneously integrate what has the potential to be beneficial to them. Technology, after all, is designed specifically to serve a function for humanity; it can be said to evolve only insofar as it becomes more useful. To that end, what is not useful is not perpetuated, a fact that Zielinski points out as the “immortality” of technological hard- and software.  That humans tend to romanticize death is a given, both their own deaths and also the deaths of what seems to be unkillable. Yet, the death of the machines means something in particular for the techno-obsessed, and it is not the least bit romantic. Digitizing the world could offer humanity a means of longevity that greatly expands the nature of our woefully short lives. If the machines have the possibility to die, then humans assuredly will.

Still, there is a difference between time as it passes in our world and in the digital sphere–a difference that Zielinski terms “deep time.” Zielinski promotes looking from the present to the past, rather than viewing the past as strictly leading to the future, looking for “something new in the old” (3). The most common view of time is a horizontal linear plane; yet Zielinski argues that, underneath that linear plane is a vertical pillar of “deep time” that is inherently connected to time as it functions digitally and for machines. Though explaining deep time of the media is served well by the history of the earth to a point, technological deep time differs in that it not genealogical in nature. In both cases, Zielinski posits that the study of deep time should be rooted in the study of variantology–of the greatest periods of diversity and the ways in which the branches of history separate themselves, some to flourish and some to wither and decay. 

Deep time skirts the problem of mortality, for technologies directly and for humanity by proxy. Zielinski’s theories point toward a way in which the past has relevance beyond the genealogical fodder it provides for the present and the future. By accessing diversity and locating the divergences in the historical timeline, what has been previously forgotten is no longer lost, but rather reinvigorated and put back in touch with the lebensgefühl–vitality.


Saunders, A. (2017, July). Baroque Topologies: Novel Approaches to Analysis and Representation of the Baroque Interior in the Era of Big Data. In INTBAU International Annual Event (pp. 381-391). Springer, Cham.

Zielinski, Siegfried. (2006). Introduction: The idea of deep time of the media. Deep Time of the Media. Cambridge: MIT UP, 1-11.

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