Bruce Sterling tweeted the link to this philosphical “documentary” essay – an exploration of identity in the digital age, the absorption of self within technology and the expression of being within an ethereal existence.
The digital settles in as background. We remember less and query more. Our identity play would be considered schizophrenic in the last century. We have more friends than ever before yet know new frontiers of isolation. The quantification of our experience haunts us in the form of a persistent history. And we are distracted more than we ever knew possible. These circumstances are paradoxically a description of the near future and a diagnosis of the current state of affairs. The truly timeless is redefined – it has transcended that which is classic; it has become that which is never finished.
On one level there’s a lot of playful bafflegab going on (hell, just read their About page for an example) but when the comments and ideas start layering upon themselves in your mind (or at least in my alleged mind) it takes on the construct of a larger perception of how we are mutating ourselves in this data soup we call the world today.
We may not (yet) be in that place described by Stewart Brand in the first publication of the Whole Earth Catalog when he said: “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.” but we are evolving ourselves with our technology and if we continue to do so with a modicum of wisdom and courage to change there may be hope for we silly monkeys.
As the introduction to Whole Earth continued:
So far, remotely done power and glory – as via government, big business, formal education, church – has succeeded to the point where gross defects obscure actual gains. In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, personal power is developing – power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested.
That was in 1968.
We are only now becoming aware as a larger community of what this means as the changes we have been investing our bodies and minds in start to take hold and change the world the world around us.
Are you ready to change? You should be because you already are in the process of self-evolvement. The big question is: how aware and self-directed will your personal evolution be? And how will you share that with the world at large?
And get me a beer while you’re at it.
P. S. Speaking of monkeys – here’s a little Elvis for ya:
All this week over at Gizmodo they’ve put their focus on enhancements to the human body in a series of posts under the heading This Cyborg Life.
I’ve written here before about some of these possible futures we are rapidly entering and how we have, through our technology, achieved a greater role in our own evolution. Our tech, our media and our culture are all extensions of ourselves. One of the guest writers at Gizmodo is Aimee Mullins, who’s also been featured in this blog, and her thoughts are both provocative and inspiring. If you don’t read anything else today you must> read her post How Abled Should We Be?
Today they posted a video about a man named Tony Quan, a grafitti artist who is paralyzed from Lou Gehrig’s disease and only able to move his eyes. As you’ll see in the video he is now able to continue his public works – from his hospital bed – using a low-cost open source DIY system called EyeWriter, which uses off the shelf gear to create a head mounted device that tracks his eyes allowing him to paint (via projectors) massive scale tags.
We’ll see more of this personalized innovation come to the fore as people in their maker workshops and garage labs create extensions of themselves in tech and media and share it with the rest of the world. What may at first have been seen as singular project for an individual will quickly and easily be shared and embraced by the rest of the world – often with people finding further unanticipated uses and applications that further drives the initial innovation forward – carrying all of us along with it.
I’ve been sharing emails with my friend Bryan during this past few busy weeks about a number of topics of common interest and human enhancement has been one of them. The pattern of rapidly emerging linkages between ourselves and our machines (with our limbs, our eyes, our minds, and the rapid expansion of not just our technical ability to achieve these things but also our developing cultural acceptance of it all) is impossible to ignore. Integrating technology and the human species is not the fearful Borgian dystopia of popular SF narrative – it’s our future. Yes, there are caveats and concerns to be heeded but the emerging generations of users will be integrating their democratized home brew inventions directly with their bodies, becoming one with the tech that used to be a mere extension of self.
Check out the Gizmodo posts and ponder how you would alter or upgrade your present existence.
The industry of cinema may be dying or reinventing itself but the Art of cinema will live on. One of the great things about the movies was not the recreation of reality but the creation of non-reality.
The techniques of manipulating light to create moving images is centuries old and has been absorbed into our psyche, our culture and our day-to-day vocabulary to such a degree we are no longer the same kind of human beings which existed before the dawn of cinema. I won’t get into arguments as to whether that’s good or bad – it just is.
Newer technologies are calling to us now and changing us further. It always helps to take a look back now and then to remind ourselves where we came from and how far we’ve travelled on this journey of augmented evolution. And it’s fun too!
I found this over at Gizmodo. It’s 100 years of visual effects crammed into 5 minutes.
If you have any others to add go to the Gizmodo post and offer your comments – they’ve allowed for posting of video snips too.
UPDATE:- I added a relevant TED talk at the bottom of this post.
The past several days have seen great upheaval in Iranian society and this has drawn the attention of the world. There have already been many blogs, articles, cartoons and op-eds posted about the protests, the crackdowns and the innovative use of internet social media in response to the clumsy and blatant subversion of an already flawed democratic process in Iran. I was among those online, within the Twitter community, watching and commenting in real time as these events unfolded – astonished and inspired by the level of participation in helping people to continue to communicate their experiences of the situation in the streets of Iran, to travel safely and to find relative anonymity and escape from immediate persecution.
The major news media, complacent with their level of professionalism and their entrenched foreign bureaus remained blind and mute for an extraordinary length of time whilst the online community rallied to provide the means to evade censorship, pass along reports, photos & videos, facilitate communication amongst allied groups and demonstrate a disruptive solidarity by not only turning their Twitter avatars green (the emblematic colour of the protest movement) but by also altering their Twitter location & time-zone to create a mass of Twitter traffic from Tehran in an effort to dilute and confuse the efforts of the authorities to track down vocal dissidents.
Some of it was, admittedly, childish stuff. It was fun and it was thrilling for the most part – and downright scary and tragic from time to time as reports came in of beatings, shootings, arson and thuggery. The overall tone within the Twitter community was one of somber determination to keep the lines of communication open. Those efforts continue as I write these words.
Last night CBC television aired a report on the events and, as the major news media so often do, characterized the protests as a battle between candidates – carving out the tired icons of good guy and bad guy in their dramatic scenario that attempted to pass as news. In doing so they entirely missed the point of what the protests are fundamentally about.
Regardless of which candidate may be favoured by one group or another the major source of discontent within the protesting Iranian citizenry is how the results of their votes were ignored and a winner was decreed. The process of voting – regardless of how skewed it may have been by virtue of a ruling theocracy – was negated. Therein lies the justified fury of the public. It’s not one group getting snippy cuz they lost the election – it’s a pantload of people getting outraged because there was no fucking election at all.
We live in an age of ever increasing transparency. You can’t get away with shit anymore. Want to abuse your authority and taze someone to death? Okay – just be prepared to watch your sorry guilty ass doing it over and over again for all the world to see for all time on YouTube. You want to run a dictatorship? Go ahead – call it that and carry on about your business – lots of big companies will continue to invest in you – and eventually, inevitably, you’ll be eaten alive by those you oppress. You want to call it a democracy and get folks involved? Great! Just don’t be surprized at how pissed off they get when you dick with the results.
We must always remember that the internet isn’t about LOLCats and funny videos and porn and gossip and pirated music & movies – well, it is all that – and more. The internet is communication; the ability to see, hear, speak and act on a global scale instantaneously. The repercussions of that ability are only just now being felt in the way it is dissolving old media business models, triggering new economies, crafting new cultural works and entirely new cultures and, perhaps most importantly, forever altering how politics is conducted.
I’m under no illusions that Twitter or Google are some sort of progressive saving force for humanity. They’re not. They’re just part of a larger and growing process we are experiencing that is the direct result of increased communication amongst all people.
The idea of democracy is still relatively new to most of the world – hell, America is still trying to figure out how to make that one actually work. It isn’t something that can be imposed or imported from one country or culture to another. It is, at it’s most basic level, the will of the people. When people have the ability to communicate freely, democracy – true democracy – flourishes. When people have the ability to communicate and act freely, imposed authority will be challenged.
Many wags will refer to this time as being The Twitter Revolution. Believe me, this is just the tip of the iceberg. While revolutions may occur around this world as our abilities to listen, speak and move as one continues to increase, a more important singular event is emerging and we will come to recognize this slim period of time not as a revolution but as part of our evolution.
All part of the process of growing up.
Growing pains will, without doubt, be experienced. The child cannot be commanded to stay a child and once youth finds a voice it will speak and demand to be heard. And then we will put away our childish things.
And that’s when the process really gets interesting.
UPDATE: Have a listen to Clay Shirky speaking at TED just this past May on how Facebook, Twitter and TXTs help citizens in repressive regimes to report on real news, bypassing censors (however briefly). The end of top-down control of news is changing the nature of politics.
Almost apropos of something, every time I hear someone speak intelligently about the net I keep getting reminded of McLuhan and his observation that old media becomes the content of new media. Fascinating.
Ray Kurzweil spoke at TED earlier this year and announced the formation of Singularity University, an educational and research institution devoted to addressing the impending meeting of man and machine.
I’ve blogged about Kurzweil before – he’s a brilliant garden gnome of a philosopher scientist with a seemingly fantastical take on how our exponentially evolving technologies will eventually (ie. soon) meet and overtake us – but in a good way. He has been scoffed at for years despite the unimpeachable litany of statistics he presents to back up his claims. That was then – this is now.
People aren’t scoffing any more – they’re listening – and they’re participating in the creation of what could possibly be our best hope to stop acting like a bunch of fucking jerk-off stone-throwing chimps. The Singularity Univeristy is backed by NASA and Google. Not bad, Ray, not bad at all.
I don’t know if we’ll be able to meet Kurzweil’s prediction of the Singularity by 2020 and I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to upload ourselves into a technical construct and thereby live forever (or until the warranty expires) – what do I know, I’m just a drug addled puppeteer – but I do know our very near future is going to make our very near past look like the frickin’ dark ages. It won’t all be slick and shiny and happy – but it sure as shit won’t be boring.
Consider Kurzweil’s words when he says:
What used to take up a building now fits in our pockets; what now fits in our pockets will fit in a blood cell in 25 years.
Even if we can never crack that leap of wholly integrating ourselves into our machines, as Kurzweil predicts, we will still be fundamentally changed; changed in how we think, how we sense, how we feel, how we comunicate, and how our bodies grow and develop; we will have accomplished a major leap of evolution not through any process of natural selection but through the practical implementation of our own technology.
Don’t snooze while it happens – when you wake up you might not recognize anyone.
I found this video and a link to a site called Pachube over on Bruce Sterling‘s always mind-wrinkling blog Beyond The Beyond and was overwhelmed by yet another leap forward in the growth of the web as an extension of not just our mind but also our consciousness.
I’ve ranted abut this before but everytime I stumble across another piece in this unfolding evolution of ourselves and our technologies my mind can’t help but start shoot out the top of my skull with the inherent possibilities of it all.
Ray Kurzweil likes to focus on the Singularity, that point in the not so distant future when our technology and ourselves will meet as equals, and Kevin Kelly has spun off in his writing of The Technium to explore the seemingly inevitable rise of the web and its attendant technologies as a real world metaphorical mind. My friend Bryan and I trade related news stories we find on the web alternating between “This is so fucking bizarre and cool all at the same time!” and “OMFG it’s Skynet! We’re all gonna die!”.
The overview of this strange perspective on how the web is putting truth to Marshall McLuhan‘s assertion that our technologies are extensions of ourselves and that media, our communications technologies, are an extension of our senses and if we don’t treat them as such we’re in danger of letting ourselves be controlled – if not by the technology itself then most certainly by those who choose to assume the mantle of power over where we direct our gaze, what sounds we allow to reach our ears and even, ultimately, if Kurzweil is accurate in his predictions, the sensations of touch and taste – perhaps even our emotional responses themselves.
“Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit from taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don’t really have any rights left. Leasing our eyes and ears and nerves to commercial interests is like handing over the common speech to a private corporation, or like giving the earth’s atmosphere to a company as a monopoly.”
- Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964
Freaky flaky shit to be sure but when you see the rapid deployment and ubiquity of these emerging technologies – the web itself is now but a mere foundation for what is coming down the pipe – it’s difficult not to nod in assent that we are bearing witness to the growth and development of a massive, collective extension of our senses that dwarfs the telephone, radio, television, and the myriad of other forms of reaching out to see and speak to the world (and the universe) around us.
Dystopian science fiction parables warning of technology developing the capability to think like and then out-think humanity abound. The Terminator franchise, lifted from a couple of Harlan Ellison tales, is but the latest iteration; along with the Matrix trilogy, the completely fucked up version of I, Robot and the deliriously dated but still delightful Colossus: The Forbin Project. I love all those films and I understand how the zeitgeist of fear manifests itself in such stories. Ripping yarns of zombies are the current fashion just as alien dopplegangers, like Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, were the narrative fashion in the McCarthy era.
These stories reflect our doubts and fears; they show us allegories and metaphors so we may better come to understand the changes which surround and confront us. But they aren’t an accurate depiction of any real world truths. Yes, during the McCarthy era (and, to a lesser extent, during subsequent political shifts) there was the real threat of imposed conformity. We live in times of torture and try to acclimate ourselves to that reality with entertaining tales of sadism like the Saw franchise. So too do we craft stories that put our evolving technologies in the role of antagonist, that thing we do not understand and so we fear it and so we must defend ourselves by destroying it. An age old narrative as entrenched in our bones as any fairy tale or campfire yarn.
But here’s the thing: aside from the sometimes seemingly vicious wrath of nature our only real antagonist is ourselves. That’s what we’re really afraid of – who we are and who we may become. McLuhan sought to open our perceptions to this so we can move forward on our own evolutionary path alongside our technologies, comforted and confident that they are not some ‘enemy from the outside” but an extension of ourselves.
That is not the hand of another which lays before me ready to strike – it is mine own hand – and I have the means to direct its action for good or evil.
A whole bunch of fucking words to lay out a simple point with all this Pachube stuff: It is real time tracking of sensorial input for the web mind.
Huh? Say what?
Make the leap with me. The web – an extension of our mind – is learning how to sense – and through that evolution, it will learn how to feel.
What the fuck?!
Imagine these inputs expanding (and they will) and becoming more detailed and more varied. It won’t remain as an interesting set of data that is collected, collated and displayed in pretty pictures. It will react and feedback upon itself. What kind of pictures will be displayed when the heart rate, breath rate, body temperature and EEG signals of every person on the planet is displayed in such a way? Will that fantasmagoric display of swirling coloured data show us the planet can blush? Or turn blue with collective sorrow? And what happens when those sensorial inputs, feeding back upon themselves, do more than just make pretty pictures but also trigger real world responses, to help or to hurt, to react. Whether it is by prompting people to act themselves to fix or exacerbate a problem – or providing an automated response with robotic intervention that outpaces our collective ability to say: “Wait a second, maybe we should think about this first.”
Good and bad can come from this.
The thing itself is neither good nor bad – because it is us. We will be very much like the image of the foetus hovering space at the end of Clarke & Kubrick‘s film2001: A Space Odyssey, playing with the world, McLuhan’s global theatre. A collective mind capable of collective thought, independent of each person and at the same time an extension of each person, and capable of real world action. It’s going to happen, folks; and in arriving at that point we would do well to make sure our collective young self has the smarts not to fuck everything up.
P. S. This is the kind of meandering shite I dwell on when I give myself a day off. – “Keep the boy busy, Martha, he’s starting to worry me.”
I’ve been having a series of email discussions with my friend Bryan that has become a wide-ranging exploration of how humanity is likely to evolve alongside our rapid technological advancements. I do intend to distill those emails into a one big fat ass blog post but I’m a bit too busy at the moment to get that done for you.
Instead, I found this fascinating talk by Juan Enriquez at this year’s TED conference where he touches on some of the same territory Bryan and I have been treading; and I thought I’d share it with you.
This kind of stuff has been consuming me lately because I think it is really fucking cool and pant peeingly scary. I’m not a technophobe by any stretch of the imagination and have no problems envisioning a future where we and our machines are one. The idea of the Borg makes for good storytelling but it’s not a frightening future in my eyes.
Bryan and I are not profound scholars when it comes to this shit – we just like to think up the most fucked up possibilities and then extrapolate them further to see if we can glean a sense of where the human race is heading – or maybe just scare ourselves like kids telling ghost stories around the campfire. Each time a new article or news report is published we start kicking it around like a big blob of silly putty just to see if it’ll bounce off the walls or leave dents in the ceiling – metaphorically, of course. I do have large quantities of silly putty – I know where to buy it in bulk – and when you drop five pounds of that shit you better protect your kidneys ‘cuz it comes hurtling back at you like a motherfucker.
But I digress.
I’ll come back some other day with all our notes and pimp it up with pretty pictures and links to all the crap that was inspiring us. In the meantime, enjoy Enriques and don’t be afraid of the future. Just keep your eyes on the assholes in charge right now.
I'm going to be slowly making some changes to the website both in format and content - and I'm pretty sure even the URL will change.
It's going to be more of a personal news aggregator with a featured video blog from yours truly. We'll see how long that lasts. So bear with me - thanks.