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All and Nothing: A Digital Apocalypse

Martin Burckhardt and Dirk Höfer
MIT Press
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Amy Ackerberg-Hastings
, on

If you appreciate intellectual conversations late at night in a pub with a world-weary friend, it is likely this book will appeal to you. Burckhardt and Höfer idiosyncratically reflect on the implications of the digital age. Discussion ranges from the coarsening of discourse to the monopolistic economy of the web to the separation of data from its context to changing conceptions of physical and intellectual reality.

I was interested in the comments, but the volume read to me as long on complaints and short on solutions or even coping mechanisms. It never cohered into the “theology for the digital world” that the back cover says was the authors’ aim. The quality of Erik Butler’s translation seems to be sound and to appropriately preserve the authors’ style.

At some points, the authors use historical and literary references to trigger their musings. They begin and end the book with Boolean algebra, mainly as we use it now rather than in historical context, although Claude Shannon, Gottlob Frege, C. S. Peirce, Charles Babbage, and others are name-dropped. They also weave a philosophical analysis of the equation \(x=x^n\) throughout the book. Meanwhile, warnings to humanity from the Bible, Dante, and Milton are evoked by chapter titles such as “The New Jerusalem” and “Expulsion from Paradise.” All and Nothing appears to be the only contribution in MIT Press’s Untimely Meditations series of slim volumes by young German philosophers to make substantive use of mathematics, although at least two other books also deal with the implications of digital technology and social media.

Amy Ackerberg-Hastings is an independent scholar who researches the histories of American and Scottish mathematics education, among other things.

1. Revelation

2. The Apocalypse of Signs

3. The Engine Room of the Digital

4. Digital Plagues

5. The New Jerusalem

6. Genesis 2.0

7. Expulsion into Paradise

8. The World of Angels

9. A World with No Beyond