Monday, May 05, 2008

New Model Army

One of the strangest experiences one can have in the 21st century is to talk to someone who distinctly hates the Internet. I've just had that experience and still stand amazed. They speak of implementing subversive anti-cultural actions and yet hate the Internet. They have a DIY modeling site and yet hate the Internet. And they have a MySpace page yet still hate the Internet. I'm genuinely confused.
It's not that in this day and age everyone should use the intertubes. It's not that there's some cultural stigma for being interweb unfriendly. It's that properly subversive action must use disruptive technologies. I'm not here to defend the internet as it is commonly used. I'm here to state unequivocally that the internet is a massively disruptive technology whose true impact has yet come. Politicians from Howard Dean to Sen. Obama have shown us that the internet can bring about true public financing of political campaigns. Banksy and other artists have shown us how memes can spread in viral campaigns. Writers from William Gibson to Warren Ellis have shown us worlds where your internet persona is as real as your physical one.
The disruptive nature of the internet has been discussed well before the internet was about. Hyperrealism and the discussions of spatial relations during the 1950s and 60s argued that we are creating simulated realities built around ideologies of how space is managed and consumed. Supermodernism has taken this discussion even further by detailing how international architecture has shifted to the recreation of other, authentic spaces and the reproduction of the same spaces everywhere we go. The business man who flies from London to Hong Kong will find the same airline food, the same news kiosks in the airports, the same hotels and even the same landmarks. We travel through spaces but no longer create spaces to linger at.
The point is that simulated realities have already been predicted, have already arrived and have already ingrained themselves into our everyday lives. That the internet makes such simulations obvious does nothing to negate the fakery of reality as it is right now. We do not live in the real world. We live in a world whose meaning and shape is determined by the ideologies that inform our perceptions. Soon the division between our physical persona and our online persona will merge and already has for some people.
More than that though, rejection of mainstream culture does not free you from the shackles of modern ideologies. Modernism, postmodernism and supermodernism each show how tied we are to our perceptions and in turn how our perceptions are tied to how we define our world. The problem is, even if we attempt to radically redefine how we perceive and move through reality we are still trapped within the confines of a genre, subculture or some other form of ideology that stems from the original trunk of culture. Moreover, consumerism has already placed itself ahead of such thinking and caters to the desires of even the most radical of subcultures.
You cannot escape culture and ideology. The human mind is not capable of creating a new culture and ideology in a vaccuum. It will always draw from existing culture. Even the most schzophrenic patients have a framework of perceptions limited by exisitng culture. It's as Wittgenstein said in the Tractatus, that which exists outside of this universe might as well not exist at all because we cannot step outside of this universe. No radical break in culture has ever occurred, only radical disruptions.
The internet is a radical disruption. But like most radical disruptions that have come before, its full impact is not felt for decades after the event. The most radcial of disruptions in history all relate to the speed of informaiton. When information makes a dramatic jump in speed the culture around it typcially undergoes a dramatic jump as well. Unlike information though, you cannot expect millions or billions of people to make that jump at the same speed. It must happen generationally as perceptions and ideology shift to catch up.
The last such jump in informational speed happened during the middle of the 19th century. What came out of that was a quickening of technology and a coalescence of the masses that produced virulant nationalism and a contradictory desire to reproduce a 'purer' past of the nation. Two world wars and the desolation of an entire race of people later we finally caught up to the speed that information was traveling at. Now the internet has come and its jump in speed will require an even more radical shift in perception and ideology.
For this person who hates the internet, I'm sorry to say that the perceptual shift will leave them behind. They will be like the scientist still looking for the æther well after Bohr, Maxwell, and Einstein have come and gone. In essence, they will become an outlier, a space far removed from any nodal point. Their defense that they would rather live in the real world is pointless in the face of the cultural shift. They never were in the real world to begin with. I don't consider this person stupid though. Just someone trying to stake out a cultural position that cannot hold.

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