In the twentieth century, sociologists and marketers gave Tarde’s publics a variety of names: sub-cultures, worlds, demographics, constituents, etc.
However, the important thing is that the public and these publics form out of the same principle – the subordination of haptic space to another kind and degree of proximity, which is mediated by a social mode of temporality – simultaneity – that Tarde mentions in connection with the news. News, in French, is actualité. Between the English and the French word, an important movement is captured. Tarde speaks of the newspapers giving their readers a ‘sense of simultaneity.” He does not, unfortunately, disinter the phenomenon of simultaneity, instead vaguely pressing on the idea of “at the same time”. But ordinary simultaneousness is transformed in the social mode of simultaneity. We speaking of catching up with, keeping up with, or following the news, or fashions, or tv, or books, or sports. It is in this sense that we are not simply conscious of being simultaneous with, but as well, and more strongly, that the simultaneous is moving ahead of us even as we are part of it, like a front.
The anthropologist Johannes Fabian coined the term allochrony to speak of the peculiar way in which Europeans, starting in the seventeenth century, started to divide up the contemporary world into different cultural time zones. Europe, of course, appropriated the modern to itself. Other contemporary cultures were backward, savage, stone age, traditional – they were literally behind their own time. Modernity exists under that baptism and curse. But Fabian’s concern for cultures exogenous to Europe blinded him to the effect of modernity within Europe, and America, where we witness another allochronic effect having to do with the new. Simultaneity is the horizon for a temporal competition – one in which the new, the young, the latest compete against the old, the laggard, the out of touch.
When Lyotard, in the Postmodern condition, speaks of the collapse of the meta-narrative that has sustained modernity, the master narratives of the 19th and 20th centuries, he is really signaling the triumph of this particular social form of time – simultaneity – over other forms – notably, that of history and cyclical time. The news, one could say, destroyed history and the forms of memory associated with it. But far from being a new phenomenon, post-modernity has always been the threat inside modernity – it is a pole in the latter’s dialectic. Simultaneity, embodied in the effect of the sphere of circulation upon those of its agents that branched off to produce the media industry, has long been the construction principle that drives newspapers and magazines, and drives the internet and the social network.