top of page

Fast Journalism in the Digital Age of Fast Capitalism


Language has been continually changing at a slow velocity until now. Online literature and online social interactions through the written word have created massive accessibility to open media and information. Through the Digital Age, we have a new way of linear reading and contemplative thinking that have in turn created new modes of narrative presentation, description, and ultra-simplified grammatical categories. Language shapes the way we think (Sapir), and reading is a process of comprehension, a “silent production” (de Certeau) where reading is a form of resistance and non-conformity. In the Digital Age, readers have become passive pawns at the disposal of massive and invisible forces of neo-liberalism. Mediums that produce online literature profit and are responsible for the diversified field of digital media. Reading has been a mode of resistance (de Certeau) against the institutional disciplines (Foucault) that we are subscribed to and thus marginalized. How can we maintain modes of resistance if we are intrinsically bound to our language? The shallow consumption of reading in fast capitalism is creating a simplified use of language that is stupefying people's relationship to the world around them their ability to resist marginalization.

To support the aim of this argument, the paper will address Roland Barthes's theories published in Mythologies (1957). His theories on myth-making will explore neo-liberal motivated implications within the signifier, “millennial.” Gee et al.’s theories of “fast capitalism” from the journal  (1996) will support the identities created for a millennial consumer society within the production and distribution of literature. Through Dan Slobin’s research on “thought and language” from his book Linguistic Relativity (1996), the examination of how reading affects our grammatical categories and in turn our experiences of everyday life. Michel de Certeau’s theories on reading in The Practices of Everyday Life (1980) discuss the agency of individuals that counter Michel Foucault’s theories on the “disciplinary society” from his book, Discipline and Punish (1975). By examining literature online I will assess the nature of “fast literature” that measures the anticipated audiences' “time to read” that in turn has direct consequences on thinking for speaking. The associations that are generated to and of the world around us are filtered through a grammatical lens of relations. Speech communities are becoming interconnected and interdependent through the globalization of the Internet. Fast capitalism and neoliberalism have adopted infrastructural imperialism creating a shared knowledge that in turn reinforces the mythology of the “millennial.” The “millennial” is an identity manifested within the boundaries of neo-liberalism and fast capitalism that is continually produced on a spectrum. The access to the online sphere of information and literature liberates people from the disciplines of the institution but at the same time produces and reinforces the construct of the “millennial” myth. Reading has regressed from being a mode of resistance into a force of manipulation and marginalization.


George Orwell’s novel, 1984, discusses the fate of language through Science Fiction: “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end, we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten” (Orwell 1.5.23,). George Orwell is asking the question which we are faced with in the present-day: how much power can invisible forces of institutional power weld over users of language? What medium is being used to do this? The answer to this second question is complex, because language, meaning, and signs take form in various media, one namely being the written language.

Globalization has as Foucault puts it “liberated the peoples at the same time creating the disciplines.” People are liberated by access to information and to the access of reading. It is a source of tactfulness—you don’t have to have the backing of institutional power to be able to comprehend a body of writing, to form your opinions of the world, and to create your own distinct worldview. Another point that Orwell brings to light is the destruction of language: through resignifying the meaning of words through semiological chains (Barthes), you can create a world where resistance is impossible because you will no longer have the words to convey your feelings, sentiments, and emotions towards something. It is the process of repressive desublimation: because we are given certain freedoms we are oblivious to the freedoms that we are not given. Just as we are oblivious to the restraints of identities we are given and which we produce and recreate in everyday life.

Reading practices are being produced for an anticipated audience (de Certeau) whose attention spans are shortened. According to the new data from USC Annenberg on the MIT Technology Review, the average American spends 23.6 hours weekly online and 84% of Americans have a smartphone. With this much screen time, technology users expose themselves to various media outlets in the fast-paced world online. According to Paul Zelevansky in his journal, “Attention SPAM,” the “attention span has shortened not just because ebooks consist of a continuous, digital, searchable text, but because they are being read on devices we use for other things… A large percentage of people read ebooks on their cellphones—dipping into them in the coffee queue or on public transport, but then checking their work email or their online love life, thumb swipe away” (Zelevansky c 8). The oversaturated nature of the online world consequently affects how long we can become interested in one subject, and in turn, affects our comprehension of the written language. The literature from which we read and develop our knowledge is designed for a fast capitalistic society that creates social roles for people through readership. The smartphone has mostly fulfilled the consumer wants of plugging in and out of the digital sphere even though this want was not largely recognized until its development in the early 2000s. The accessibility to literature, news, email—all in one social platform creates a reality where people will grow to spend more time plugged into their online social universe within the real social world of everyday life. The time that is spent plugged in overwhelms the user with options that creates a paradox of choice. Literature online is being produced to be consumed fast: it is being produced for the myth of the “millennial” (Barthes).

The word “millennial” originally means, “a person reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century” (Oxford dictionary). Through the forces of fast capitalism, “millennial” has transfigured from this meaning to: “We appear to be obsessed with figuring out what makes these young Americans — the first generation of “digital natives” — tick. Marketers want their dollars, media organizations want their attention and employers want to know how to make them happy and productive” (Cummings c 4). Sociolinguist, Vaidyanathan describes the relationship that generationally categorized peoples have to the millennial as, “I have been teaching at the university level for more than 20 years,” he said. “And ever since I started teaching, I’ve been told that I teach this strange creature called the Millennial. But nobody has been able to tell me when those Millennials arrived on Earth; no one has been able to tell me when those Millennials will be displaced and get out into the world so I am no longer teaching them; and every time I venture such a question I get a completely different set of answers, which is suspicious” (Cummings c 7). What is most troubling about this generational stereotyping of the millennial is that there exists an inexactitude of what a millennial is, but one thing is for certain, the powers of our social climate generate the myths of millennials which brews a sentiment of anxiety and a need for control. Myths distort meaning from a sign in a first semiological chain to create a [new] motivated meaning of something in the second-order chain. Massive media outlet corporations distort the literal meaning of millennials being a generational term for people into a myth to signify technology-driven and addicted people. The speech is stolen, meaning that it originates from a pre-existing first order of signification (M-I-L-L-E-N-I-A-L+ a generational term for a group of people). Myth comes from a first semiological chain and then gets restored (re-established) into a second-order semiological chain by which denotation leads to a chain of connotations. Myth uses the literal meaning (the denotative sign) as its signifier and attaches to it an additional signified to create the myth. The meaning of millennial gets reconstructed into a new signification through this process, in which technology obsessive and media influenced peoples to derive from the signifier of the denotative sign.

To provide a view at the paradoxical forces that manipulate and reproduce the myth of the millennial, the writings of Gee et al. further explicate the invisible forces of fast capitalism and neo-liberalism that produce these identities for the millennial:

“The new capitalism is based on the design, production, and marketing of ‘high quality’ goods and services for now saturated markets. In the developed world today, economic survival is contingent on selling newer and more perfected customized (individualized) goods and services to niche markets—that is, to groups of people who come to define their identities by the sorts of goods and services they consume. The emphasis now is on the (active) knowledge and flexible learning needed to design, market, perfect, and varied goods and services as symbols of identity, not on the actual product itself as a material good. And, thanks to technological and social changes, this sort of ‘quality’ competition is now fully globalized. The winner’s design customized products and services on time/on-demand fast and more perfectly than their global competition does or they go out of business” (Gee et al 26).

The intensified competition for the audience’s attention has created the customization of products and goods for the “niche” market. In turn, this has created a fabricated reality that empowers the myth of the millennial and creates a spectrum of the everyday practice of the identities. This is where ‘information’ and the liberation of it comes in: globalization has liberated the masses through accessibility that seamlessly defines and changes the identities of the online media user through the literature in which we consume. The ‘customization’ of online literature allows the companies who house the production and publication to weld an ample amount of power over the personalization of the identities of specific groups of people. As noted earlier by Gee, the forces of globalization, neoliberalism, has created an environment where competition exists in a fast-paced playing field and the competitors within the market for the millennials' attention must be mass produces at a fast speed. The manifestation of this “fast capitalism” has as a byproduct created fast literature. Under the motivated myth to sell more information and to be the first “click” on the first page of Alphabet’s Google search engine, literature and articles are being shortened to capture the attention of the user for a short period of time. The convenience of information is liberated through the accessibility of information: it is the democratization of making information accessible and organized. The multiplicities of information have created “fast literature,” and the disciplining of the liberty of reading[1]; the consequences self manifest into different verticals, namely, through the anticipation of the audience.

         In a 2011 case study on the marketing technical practices of the millennial, the psychologist Claude Messner and Mechaela Wanke investigated what, if anything, could alleviate the “paradox of choice”—a phenomenon that “the more options we have, the worst we feel. They concluded that…the faster we decide something, whether it’s what we’re going to eat or what we’re going to read, the happier we become. […] The more we know about something—including precisely how much time it will consume—the greater the chance we will commit to it” (Konnikova c 8). Every word is chosen in anticipation of the following word that will come in suit of the “abstract grammatical form:” the time and space envelopes the word. “Language is a dialogic process of making meaning” (de Certeau 283). Through the anticipation of the millennial audience, literature is fashioned for the said audience who embodies the “paradox of choice.” Within an environment that is oversaturated with mass media and large media outlets vying for the attention and success over the competition, the “time to read” or “length” of a piece of online literature, create a society where everything is measured: the consumer, the author, the language.

Through the lens of Foucault's theories on discipline, things are itemized and need to be measured and tested. They exist under an umbrella of observation. At the core of Foucault’s “disciplinary” society are the three primary techniques of control: hierarchical observation, normalizing judgment, and the examination. The control over people, the power, can be achieved by observation and through anticipation. De Certeau’s theories on anticipation and expectation from the receiver of the language can be applied to Foucault’s ideas of measurability. The measurability of online literature creates a signified anticipated audience that reinforces the neoliberal identity and myth of the “millennial” by subjugating and marginalizing people.

Online literature is changing the way we think from abstract thought into simple grammatical categories. The process of reading puts into practice the knowledge and organ of language. Slobin, in his 1996 writing, “From ‘Thought and Language’ To ‘Thinking for Speaking’” from Rethinking Linguistic Relativity, discusses how “languages differ from one another; thought and language are inseparable; therefore each speech community embodies a distinct world view” (Slobin 70).

To remove the idea of “other languages” and solely focus on the practice of English in reading, the language used in the mass production media outlets is oversimplified and reduced to a simple grammatical category.

Read on...

Fast Journalism: Thrive Global & UC Berkeley Science Journal: Text
bottom of page