Screens of fire: surviving the end of the world

Fernando Ilharco*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review



The growing of complexity inevitably leads to catastrophe; this is evident enough. Human beings have for long adapted to a chaotic world: language, culture, science and technology are developments appropriately described under this perspective. Either by simplification or by understanding, the complexity of a world already there is reduced. The path of digital screens, however, might embody a new strategy for surviving: substitution, protection, that is, screening. Human life nowadays happens behind the screens. All philosophies and social theories fundamentally, explicitly or implicitly, deal with the question of death, referred Schopenhauer; and digital screens too. TV, computer, mobile phone screens are focal points of human attention. In the semiotic contemporary culture of abundance, the complexity of the world is back as a message. Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, warned us in the 1980’s: “The CNN will broadcast live the end of the world.” The dominant red color of the CNN logo and indeed of TV images is an attractor that captures attention, an evocation of the epical fires that wrote History. For long red means attention, fire, change, accident. The deeper message of TV, of live TV and Internet, is the final catastrophe that complexity leads to. The digital screen is a showcase of catastrophes. Staring at the images, watching the screens, the viewers are outside the real world. Living in screened cultural landscape, watching the catastrophes, viewers are separated, protected, excluded by the screens. The screen is the distinction that draws contemporary times. This side of screens (where we talk and write papers), men experience the feeling of the survivor, living while others are dying. Immersed in a hiper-real world, a reality made of images, immateriality and change, the screen-watcher is drawn into the final paradoxical show: the end of the world, and surviving it.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHazardous future
Subtitle of host publicationdisaster, representation and the assessment of risk
EditorsIsabel Capeloa Gil, Christoph Wulf
PublisherWalter de Gruyter GmbH
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9783110406610
ISBN (Print)9783110406528
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


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