Written for the Catalogue "Data-trash@Trash-art"
of the festivals "Da-da-net" and "Trash-art"
* Amphiblestron (ancient Greek) - a net (fish-net, tenet, etc.) as well as everything which could be used for entangling, throwing on/over, etc.
Technogenic Noosphere. There's another frequently used metaphor which is not mentioned in the brilliant article by Roman Leibov (Language Draws the Internet). It is the Net as a supra-human reason, a planetary mind, technogenic Noosphere. The globe cobwebbed by communications resembles to the brain with its neurons and synapses. Torrents of bites and bits become similar to nervous impulses, to thoughts and senses. Information kept on endless servers is, of course, memory. And the Internet as a whole is a collective consciousness (dynamically connected with the collective unconsciousness). The Net, as well as consciousness, is not located and is not a personal property. It's more likely to be an interpersonal phenomenon: not a 'place', not a 'structure', not a 'personality' - but a kind of energetic field; an abstract medium pregnant with meanings; a metaphysical sphere (in the ethimological sense of the word) with multiple conditions and pseudolocal structures welcoming an individum "inside". On the one hand, this sphere exists by itself, while, on the other hand, it is defined by that which is loaded. It is permanently developing and changing due to the combined activity of the 'Netizens' not taking into account whether they are 'content providers' or 'just users'. It's obvious that we jointly 'create the Net', and its future depends on us.
Projections. The Net is much larger than any ideas about it. It can hardly be 'taken as a whole'; moreover, the majority of users do not need that. (The Net aspires to become the image of infinity. Although, is it possible at all to perceive infinity? Or is it the realm of mystic experience? Perhaps, it's the death that might help to beat the target.) Everyone cuts out the Net 'to fit' him(her)self, his(her) needs, interests, desires. One can say that there's no Net at all - nothing but individual or collective projections. According to the wide spread metaphor (thoroughly studied by Leibov), the Net is a mirror which reflects the person looking into it. As Andrei Levkin asserted (in an article typically titled as Tattoos on the Brain), the bookmarks a person made within his or her browser surfing the Net could describe 'human subconsciousness more adequately than any psychological tests, interviews or interrogation'. As for the power of collective projections, it can easily be measured by the site traffic and the results of various ratings.
Ego surfing. I can hardly give a Russian equivalent to this American pastime (the Russian sledge driving might match as an analogue). The definition sounds like this: "Scanning the net, databases, print media, etc. looking for references to one's own name".
Ii is not a total wastetime as it might seem. In a while you discover that you're torn to pieces as Dionysus, and your name (as incarnation of your essence) is spread here and there in the Net. Thus, ego surfing is a search of one's dismemberment, and home page creation (the practice which, as a rule, is closely connected with ego surfing) may be considered a sort of 'summoning one's self', the practice of (hyper)text self-integration. (See more in: Mirza Babayev. Home page apology).
Searching for our 'selves' (both on- and off-line), we first and foremost look for evidence of self-existence. The motivation for such a search must be hidden in a kind of a fundamental doubt (knowledge?) meaning that actually there's no ego or 'self' at all. Nevertheless, both the Net and the mirror (as well as many other things) give way to prove to ourselves again and again that this truth is wrong.
Persons bearing the same name. A Pole named Slavomir Gorny created a page with links to home pages of people bearing the same family name. (What for? What was his aim? - He gives no answer. Perhaps he believed the very idea was fun.) The page hasn't been updated since 1997, and it still contains my old and non-existing Tartu home page address. How could this phenomenon be designated? As a track or memory? Or perhaps evidence? What startles me most is the useless reference's independence of my own will. I can't delete or correct it (I sent a message to Slavomir but got no answer). I can't see any other alternative but either to ignore it or to wait until it vanishes somehow.
There's another thing that seems interesting. Beyond my will (i.e. "objectively") I occurred to be included in a list (circle) of people totally unknown to me though the only thing that unites us is (at least at first sight) the family name.
There are other examples. For instance, there's a site containing links to home pages of people bearing the name of Stephen King. And there're plenty of such since this is quite an ordinary name.
Take the site 'Serguei Melnikovs of Russia'. The author (whose name can be easily figured out) writes: "As you've already guessed this page is dedicated to people bearing the same name, and they could make acquaintance through the FidoNet. Having noticed each other in various groups we started emailing. As soon as we had found much in common we understood that we were not people just bearing the same name but nearly doubles. We've never seen each other nor heard each other's voices; nevertheless, we exist, we are not virtual. Except the name, we have one and the same hobby which is the computer. Each of us is more or less engaged in programming, and four of us are students whose future profession will be directly connected with computers." A touch of irony which decorates Serguei Melnikov's project seems to be trying to disguise the feeling of essentiality and non-randomness of 'simple coincidence of names'.
The 'family name' mode of gathering into an on-line community is not worse than any other. People do believe in the magic and mystery of names for ages, and every belief has its own grounds. The common name unites its bearers taking out the random in their personal histories and revealing their architypical essence. Formal coincidence turns into an essential identity creating the basis for reduction to unity.
Unions based on the name principle can be found outside the Internet. Not long ago one of the biggest Russian TV channels (NTV) reported on 'The Smirnovs Party' welcoming people bearing the corresponding family name (See also publication on the Net on this subject). The party's statute says that 20% of members may have a different family name though one of their closest relatives should bear the name of Smirnov. The interviewed party chairman told that there were many people of intellectual professions among Smirnovs (writers, journalists, teachers). He emphasized that, as a rule, all of them shared the same qualities such as peacefulness, discretion, mildness and humbleness (the route of the name Smirnov stands for the Russian word 'humble').
Twins. At first sight it might seem that the twins have nothing to do with the Internet. And that is not quite right. According to the statistic (CDC Monthly Vital Statistics Report, June 30, 1998), there're 125 mln. of twins all over the world (the general number of people making pairs, triplets, etc.). Twins are rather active users of the Internet. You can find a bunch of sites created by, for, and/or about twins. Here are some examples: Twins Magazine, Twins Life, Twinspace, Twins of the Net. The annual Twins Day is held in Twinsburg, Ohio gathering together twins, triplets, etc. from the USA and abroad. The site of this feast created by twin-brothers contains reports on annual celebrations and serves as a registration list of participants. There's also a web-ring uniting 'twin' Net resources which consists of more than one hundred sites.
The twin Net communication phenomenon makes us face with the mystery of identity and self-knowledge. What does it mean for a person to be genetically identical with another person? How does this influence his feelings? What is personality? To what extent is each of us unique? Isn't our feeling of self-inimitableness just an illusion? It might be the case that, at a certain level, we are all multiple-faced twins.
"The symbol of the Gemini is a rabbit with gilded ears which jumps out through the full Moon's hoop and runs along a mirrored labyrinth. According to Egyptian tradition, a mirrored passage is the place to be crossed in order to get rid of delusions. Only he who quits seeking to fruits of his actions for his own sake is able to find the way out. Be ready to sacrifice. The only way to get what you don't have is to quit what you have." (Julia Garimorth)
Towards the definition of Net culture. The cultural, or spiritual aspect of the Net is its being communication of minds. Technologies mediating this communication-communion are formal (they do not generate their own content) and are transient (they become obsolete, or upgraded and change one another). And the pivot winding on cultural content is formed by the values. Thus, Net culture is the life of the values in the global electronic medium (their interaction, contradiction, devaluation, etc.).
Two views on 'information society': Toffler and Gibson. Alvin Toffler in his 'The Third Wave' (1980) maintained that the basis of the new (postindustrial) civilization is the computer revolution and expansion of electronic communications. According to Toffler, the new technosphere ('electronic cottages' first of all, turning your home into the center of society, and 'distributed offices' enabling people to work at home) revolutionizes the infosphere which, in its turn, leads to the restruction of social life, that is the creation of the new sociosphere. The lion's share of the book is dedicated to a detailed description of future changes (incidentally, some of them were predicted very accurately).
At the same time when Toffler was engaged in his futurological research, William Gibson made a revolution in science fiction starting to depict the world in which electronic technologies became the basis of society. Settlements on Mars, star-crafs, aliens and robots moved from the future into the past: the symbols of new reality turned into the signs of obsolete literature.
Information as the prime value, prosthetic extension of the capability of the human body and mind, realization of virtuality and virtualization of reality, corporative wars for new technologies, concentration on data security and access methods, marginal tech-communities and lonely hakers, posthumous life of the intellect within the computer networks do not make a complete list of cyberpank standard motifs.
In contrast to Toffler who constructs a normal society which is able to solve its problems in a rational way, Gibson emphasizes deviation from the norm. Indeed, cyberpunk means ignoring the norms and laws of the 'information society' which is essentially abnormal. Breaking such socially adapted (or forcibly imposed) norms is naturally considered an exploit and virtue. No 'social agreement' is possible here - bella contra omnium.
On prognoses. The difference between a prognosis and a prognosis which comes true is only in the degree of its contrast with the actual reality (or the concept of reality, to out it more precise). Any prognosis is fantastic, for it describes the unreal as real. A realized prognosis is a tautology, for it describes the real as something not yet described. The former bewilders, the latter irritates or makes you laugh.
The difference between a prognosis and a prophecy is nearly the same as the difference between a business plan and a manifest. In the first case they appeal to the mind, in the other one, to the heart. A prognosis lays stress on pragmatics - a prophecy, on semantics. The true prophecy is never realized; and that is not its purpose. Its function is to give a vision and to show the way, and not describe something. It is a symbol, rather than a sign.
The Net as a Utopia. In the early days of the Internet, cyberculture was considered as a subculture of the young and defined through the concepts of marginality and lifestyle. In Andy Hawk's 'Manifest of the Future Culture' ('Manifest of Here-and-Now Tech-cultural (R)evolution', 1993), cyberculture is thought of as one of the 'bubbles' in the dynamic mixture of subcultures that all together will make the Future Culture. What other components of this cocktail (psychodelic, virtual, industrial, street cultures, post-modernism, 'fringe science' of the new age) had in common with the cyberculture was novelty and aspiration for the future opposing them to the conventional culture of their 'fathers'.
This vision is directly connected with the demography of the Internet of the time when it was rather a playground for 'children' - students passionately experimenting with their consciousness and paradigms of socialization, and concentrating on the creation of the new forms of life. Unwitnessed technology which gave way to every mind's transmission, destroyed distance and borders, which was independent of centralized control and opened a new world where everything was possible and could be constructed 'from scratch' with the help of imagination and wish, rather than the reality and need.
The traces of this vision are the metaphors that were used for the Internet description, namely: revolution, colonization, frontier. Their general meaning is rejection of the old, stuffy, reactionary, and the creation of the new, vivid, progressive. The idea, rather than the matter, and the creative spirit, rather than the stagnant tradition, were proclaimed the fundamentals of the new world.
A typical example of a Utopian approach is John Perry Barlow's 'Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace' (1996). The target of its teenager pathos - 'Leave us alone!' - are parents (and the state as an embodiment of the parental control) who live in lie and try to make their children accept this lie as the truth sealed by historic experience. The Net is constituted as an independent self-regulating system which doesn't need any wardship and stands up against any interference. Stylistically Barlow's 'Declaration' tracks back to Jefferson who proclaimed independence of the young United States from the old lady Britain, and even back to the Prophets of the Bible who heralded a new era when people would be able to might live by grace, rather than by law.
The work of habit. Becoming habitual, the novelty stops exciting people, attracting them, and even arising any emotions. Technology makes no exclusion here. Once, that is less then fifty years, miracles - the fridge, the phone, the TV-set, the computer - turned into banal 'home electronic devices'. Could you imagine the feelings of a 'homo pre-Internetus' who is told about e-mail or ICQ! And what did we come to? We just use these technologies in our every-day life and regard them as something rather usual. It's obvious that the same destiny is stored for virtuality, the home Internet via satellite, inevitable cyborgization, and any other technological achievement.
Most people consider the technological innovations which are available today as a fantastic potential, rather than a real fact. A very simple principle acts here, that is "Since it has nothing to do with me, it doesn't exist". We're fantastically trained to ignore the present. The force of habit automatically trashes out everything unknown. There're so many miracles around us, and nevertheless we go on 'watching TV' and 'waiting for the news'.
Geriborgs. Dion Dennis in the CTHEORY predicts that soon 'geriatric cyborgs' or 'geriborgs' will seize power over the world. "These virtual elites will become, over the first half of the 21st Century, geriatric cyborgs (geriborgs), deploying a remote and detailed net of technology to extend their bodily and informational privileges over an extended time-span."
Geriborgs will concentrate on self-monitoring and self-optimization whose objects might be their own bodies, or efficiency of prosthetic appliances, as well as defense of their cyber-fortresses. "Taken as a whole, geriborgs are obsessed, in fact, defined solely by their obsession with private bodily and information-based risk-management rituals. Most geriborgs inhabit a solipsistic, self-absorbed micro-universe, shorn of any sort of positive evaluation of the public sphere." The social sphere will be considered a dangerous zone permanently threatening their existence. Naturally, problems of defense-security on all levels (personal, social and financial) will be of prime vitality.
To look at this picture, it might seem a dismal cyberpank fantasy. Though, it's worth taking into account the fact that, in the modern society, information technology, money and power tend to stand as synonyms. Let's recall Bill Gate, or the last Duma election in Russia, to see that the winner is he who owns technology, no matter whether he sells or uses it. As any other elite, the cyber-elite seeks the methods to preserve and strengthen its privileged position. It protects its own interests by exclusion or absorption of competitors at the market, by establishing institutions enforcing its authority, charging all kinds of rivals. Getting older, representatives of the cyber-elite will naturally try to fix the established status quo and prolong their privileges beyond normal human life-span. Cyborgization of the body and virtualization of the mind might be a very logical solution for this problem. Evidently, such a decision does not make sense outside the value system oriented to support and conservation of the individual 'I'. Adherence to such systems is not rare nowadays.
Immateriality of electronic media. 'The world consists of atoms and emptiness', stated Democritus. From the point of view of physics there's no principal difference between the stone plates the Pyramids were made of, and bites and bits used as a building material for the Net. Both are nothing but a configuration of elementary particles.
© Евгений Горный / Eugene Gorny, 1999-2020.
© Сетевая Словесность, 2007-2020.