Monday, February 5, 2007

them internets... part II

Before I forget: YT wears dentata. There are no children in "Snow Crash".

Anyways, back to the topics at hand, which were supposed to have been psychic fetishization and the ultra-ADHD that practical omniscience might bring.

What I was trying to get at, was the ability of "THEY" to sell your own identity back to you. If we move towards a future like any of those we have read about, the notion of constructing an identity will be at once absurd and potentially life-saving. Absurd because pretending to be an individual in something which is very clearly a society-organism such as a Metaverse is like being a skin cell in denial (at best you're a freckle or a mole, and still part of "skin"). The only things that make these "other realms" possible are connections, ie a multitude of users/avatars/what-have-yous acting in conjunction to uphold the facade of another plane of existence.

You're part of a host. And pretending to be an individual with real world cybernetic modifications to your body, or via your expression/rendering/projection on the net, seems a little batty. However, the net brings a potential omniscience, and individual distinctions might be all that keep users from schizophrenia or sensory overload (as in a stroke). Mr. Slippery is able to extend his consciousness out to envelope nearly the whole world, vast networks giving him an almost tactile sense of how many jets are backed up on the runway at LaGuardia. This is what reminded me of hammerhead sharks. They have a seventh sense, beyond simply being able to pick up on electric currents projected by schools of fish like most other sharks. Hammerheads can detect a charge as small as a half a billionth of a volt, which means that something like a single impulse jumping a synaptic gap (3/100 of a volt) will set off their radar many times over. So, from miles away, a comatose brain might seem like fireworks. And they are just as aware of every little bit of their surroundings for hundreds of miles (potentially) as they are of themselves.

So, if we jack our brains into computers, will our sense of space shrink or expand? Will we be conscious of ones and zeros? If our scope of vision carries a kinesthetic component, would this necessitate a kind of neo-post-individualism? How does one experience proximity in a non-dimensional realm, and likewise time given the ever-increasing speed of data (or is it data transfer...)? I mean, practically speaking, giving cyberspace a 3-D visual interface or format akin to that of the real world might solve some of these problems. But at the same time, wouldn't that be cheating ourselves? A virtual world with millions of users is just meta-real estate. The pessimist in me fears that if people give a sense of scale, or any kind of dimensional parameters, to the internet, that there will be those who quibble and fight over space. Some are already calling it a series of tubes. So, if your access is controlled, then your presence has a dollar amount attached. The more money you bleed, the better you would be able to project yourself, or whatever version of yourself, you want.

It's like the varying degrees of quality among the different brands of Clint & Brandy avatars. At this point, you are living Marx's worst nightmare. Your indentity, your ability to be an individual, is predetermined by your capital. You are only as distinct as you are rich. I mean, there is some ridiculously slippery logic here, and a lot of hyperbolic generalizations, but at least in the real world there is an inarguable, uniform amount reality/humanity in each person. A cool cell-phone and an expensive hair cut may make you more attractive, but no thousand dollar logo is going to make anyone more real. There may be degrees of finesse in hacking, finer subtleties that otherwise deserve mention, but as far as basic identity construction goes: all these stories show a future where your ability to be true to your own thoughts and freely express them, not just to be what you want but to be yourself, have an absolute financial minimum.

Alright, so I clearly enjoy a good rant, and I'm not exactly playing my cards very close. Also, I've barely scratched the surface; there are issues regarding identity that I'd like to discuss later, such as the growing tendency to view culture as code. Grant Morrison kinda talks about this in the video I posted, you know, proto-language as magic. But enough for now.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

them internets is too big for one man to handle

The internet is undoubtedly the greatest tool the world has yet seen in terms of communicative potential and networking and whatnot. Results are near instantaneous, and connectivity is near mandatory for civilized/industrialized societies. However, the internet might also pose the greatest threat to efficiency that modern man has faced. How many webcomics out there focus on people that practically live on the internet, slackers who do nothing but web-surf and consume mass quantities of coffee in order to facilitate this hobby.

The work in this class is slow going (for me at least) since so much of it requires internet activity. Without a wireless laptop, I'm bound to my desktop at my apartment and the labs on/off campus just to do this work. And at home in particular, I have to be ever vigilant to stay on blogger or and not shift my perspective over to the sites I frequent otherwise. The internet is procrastinations best friend.

I mention this because "The Veldt", "True Names", "Burning Chrome", and "NYC 2123" all focus on similar issues, some more indirectly than others (I'm looking at you "The Veldt"). The idea is that we are all moving towards a future where technology is even more ubiquitous than it is now. Today, it is literally impossible to be conscious in Los Angeles for more than 10 seconds without mentally consuming an advertisement. If not on billboards or tv or the radio, then in print and on the net, and even on the logos people brandish unconsciously. Most of my possessions have words printed on them somewhere, and nearly all of these words function to remind me of a brand or trend or lifestyle. So, unless you go out into the woods and wear animal skins, you have to deal with a constant assault of ads and information. But we all know this.

The stories we are reading are taking this idea further. Currently, everything is external to ourselves. "The Veldt" warns of the potential dangers in surrendering to technological ease. But I think we all know how dangerous synchronization with technology can be; some people's lives turn off nightly so that they can sit and watch their favorite programming blocks on tv, but this phenomenon is 30 years old at least. The more interesting problems come from the newer pieces.

What happens when synchronization, that being living on a technologically pre-determined schedule or routine, is not only obsolete but passe? Well, that's the situation we face today, though our assigned readings present it as science fiction. The net is just there; it's waiting for you. Though it may update with newer information, it's not going to just leave you behind. It's rather atemporal, and that's the problem. As a species, we are now symbiotic, no longer independent unto ourselves (lets just pretend that third world countries and the like would function as we do in America should they be suddenly catapulted to some sort of comparable-standing). Without a cell phone one becomes socially crippled, practically a pariah since people don't want to deal with someone if he/she can't be reached on a whim.

Ok, back to the readings. The only thing that keeps these pieces in the sci-fi and cyberpunk sections at the bookstore is that we can't quite interface with technology to the degree they describe. Though stem-cell research and nano-technology might circumvent a practical need for cybernetic implants/parts, the consumer market potential of "designer body mods" almost assures their creation down the line. At any rate, be it through a kind of headset in "True Names" or straight up implants in "NYC 2123", these people are experiencing the net in 3-D, a digital world for transcendental exploration. The net is no longer separate from the self. Avatars and the like take on insane significance since they are all that stand between you and identity rape.

I guess that's what all this reading might be getting at, a future where your IP is your psyche. A war between humans and machines, as in "Battlestar Galactica" or "The Terminator" or "The Matrix", seems increasingly ludicrous. More than likely, humans will become technologically enhanced across the board. Rather than a warehouse worker driving a forklift, a worker will more likely control the forklift with his thoughts or simply have detachable fork-lift arms that he puts on while working (or whatever bio-mehcanical integration seems more likely to you). Lets not kid ourselves in thinking that technology doesn't already play into our identities. A Ferrari says a lot about its driver. A Mac user is understood to be very different from a PC user. A blackberry carries a different image from a "chocolate" cell phone. Soon, the way you interface with the net will say a lot about who you are.

And that's the thing. How many of us can handle that? It seems crazy to my mind, the thought that I might have an infinite perspective on the net. The horizon is as far as the eye can see, but how far can your mind perceive on an infinite sea of information?

Christ, this is taking forever. More on this later...

Grant Morrison @ Disinformation Con

this is from 1999, i believe. the con was in NYC.