Review of James Brook and Iain A. Boal, Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information, San Francisco: City Lights, 1995.
Information technology and its accompanying databases, programs, and communications infrastructure are vital to business, government, and the military. The internet, video games, and virtual entertainment have become available to the public as new sources of information and entertainment. The computer is hailed as the source of knowledge, security, pleasure, personal liberation, and new communities. The offshoots of this new technology promise new ways of solving old problems, including home shopping, video conferencing, email, online banking, video entertainment on demand, instant messaging and chat, access to virtual libraries and museums, distance learning, and telecommuting. The question is whether access to cyberspace really is liberating or whether new technologies have hidden drawbacks.
Cyberspace offers the potential of a new public space at a time when actual public spaces are disappearing or being abandoned. The big computer companies have advertised their products as opening new avenues of creativity and community. Al Gore has also been a chief spokesman for government support for the information superhighway. In 1994 Gore gave a famous speech in Buenos Aires in which he called for the creation of a Global Information Infrastructure. Gore promised better health care, improved education, solution to environmental problems, the spread of democracy, and a global information marketplace. Gore also promised that each person would become empowered in a flowering of global democracy that would then empower nations to cooperate with each other in a “new age of Athenian democracy.” Was Gore right, or was he leading the masses down another blind socialist alley?
Iain A. Boal, A Flow of Monsters: Luddism and Virtual Technologies, 3-15
The death of John Kennedy was not videotaped but was on Super-8 and then transferred to videotape. Boal believes that images of death and monsters will populate cyberspace and give rise to paranoia because the cinema is the new mythic space. Monster dinosaurs, King Kong, and other products of the subconscious will overwhelm viewers in cyberspace and provide a fertile ground for Fascism. Different media produce different modifications of the body and create different subjects. The subject in cyberspace will not be a social being or Jefferson’s problematic concept of a people with a will, instead cyberspace will be segmented by age, income, and other variables that benefit capitalism. Boal notes that technologies enclose spaces and form out-groups who do not participate.
Boal subscribes to the Marxist view that commodities are concealed ideology and the computer can only carry the command structure of a “hierarchical society.” He suggests resistance but is vague about its form.
Herbert I. Schiller, The Global Information Highway: Project for an Ungovernable World, 17-33
The idea of a free flow of information is attractive, but it was put forth in the context of the global spread of U.S. culture corporations. The spread of U.S. culture around the world paralleled the spread of the global airline industry. Most airplanes are manufactured by the United States, and the tourist industry abroad copied the U.S. model of chain hotels, packaged tours, constructed spectacles, etc. The growth of U.S. corporations abroad has been accompanied by national programs of privatization that have decreased the power of governments at the same time the power of a few corporations was growing tremendously. In just a few decades the cable and telephone business has grown to over $200 billion annually, and home shopping grew to over $80 billion. Videos, movies theaters, videogames, online gambling, and similar forms of entertainment are over $340 billion per year. The rollout and expansion of these corporate entities belies any promise of democracy or empowerment.
These new industries have created super-rich elites in every nation, with the gap between the richest and the poorest widening everywhere. AT&T, Microsoft, Apple, and Time Warner are not concerned with income inequality. Schiller wonders whether the poor will revolt. How are the global elite able to shield themselves from protest or sabotage? First, Schiller points out that the subject is not discussed in the media. Second, those who have access to information have increased power over those who do not. Drawing from Saskia Sassen’s The Global City, Schiller believes that a few global cities will become the centers of support services such as advertising, design, security, and personnel recruitment. Other niche economies linked to the global corporations may try to become islands of security walled off from poorer neighbors. The U.S. military is in the process of transforming itself from separate military branches into a unified education, training, espionage, and propaganda structure and developing strategies for local and particular kinds of control. CNN and the BBC will serve as population control mechanisms by filtering news.
Oscar H. Gandy, Jr., It’s Discrimination, Stupid!, 35-47
Despite concerns about vanishing privacy, privacy is vanishing. The American worker is subject to intense surveillance in the workplace. Computers today can remote-capture keystrokes, email, and internet use from any worker’s computer. Voice software can recognize tone of voice. Private habits are increasingly monitored to assess whether they influence health. Background checks are a routine part of hiring practices.
Personal databases are not private, despite claims that they are. A multi-billion-dollar industry supports telemarketing by combing databases for likely customers. Lists are constructed around every possible personal characteristic, filtered by software programs, and sold as “consumer intelligence.” No one can escape being categorized and contacted by this industry. It is easier for large companies that make more than one product to bear the cost of generating and maintaining these customer lists. Everyone in the United States is categorized by age, gender, income, credit rating, zip code, charitable giving, political affiliation, and previous purchases. Both politicians and corporations use these databases. Most people are not aware of which lists they are on. This new technology trumps the historical discussion of “society” in terms of class or race. People are unknowingly assigned to categories by automated programs, usually with some option to “opt-out” that legitimizes the process without fully informing the subject of what use the database will be put to. Automated programs regularly screen telephone calls from particular geographical areas or particular subpopulations and direct calls accordingly. Marketing research (and social science generally) does not inform subjects of the uses to which their information will be put. Really what goes on in marketing focus groups is a process of information extraction that is then used to manipulate the groups that the focus group represents. People who participate in marketing surveys or focus groups are willing dupes of the controllers.
Laura Miller: Women and Children First: Gender and the Settling of the Electronic Frontier, 49-58
Miller points out that cyberspace is not a space at all, it is merely a metaphor (coined by William Gibson). Cyberspace is characterized as a frontier (implying freedom), but the Western frontier required law and order for the safety of women and children. Miller expects women to bring law and order (increased regulation) to cyberspace as they react to unwanted sexual advances and complain about masculine rudeness in general. Women spoil cyberspace just as they spoiled the promise of freedom on the frontier by requiring protection from threats of rape and abuse. The inability of women to participate in debate leads them to prefer women-only forums. Women have actually responded to online conversation with charges of rape even though their bodies are sitting safely at home. They seem to have difficulty responding to and coping with flames (hate speech). They harbor grudges, exhibit fragility, etc. Miller wants women online to become “saloon girls” able to handle aggressive talk so that the weaker flowers won’t ruin the online experience for everybody.
Howard Besser, From Internet to Information Superhighway, 59-70
A survey of computer users by Macworld (October 1994) found that, of the services computer users desired, video on demand rated only tenth. More users wanted access to reference materials, distance learning, and information about government, and most were willing to pay a fee for these services. Yet most of the corporate focus is about online shopping and video. The same thing happened to television, which was touted as an educational medium but has careened to new lows of vulgarity.
The idea of community standards with regard to pornography has been abandoned. The standards of taste are set by corporations, which often refuse to carry particular movies and always prefer large audiences to small audiences. We can expect that, as museum and library collections become digitized and available to the public, the institutions themselves will have fewer visitors. It will be easy to alter images, pull them into collages, and otherwise change the original. Virtual reality erases historical context and erases property rights.
Jesse Drew, Media Activism and Radical Democracy, 71-83
Drew points out that the expansion of new technology is not an expansion of the market system driven by entrepreneurs. Like the fax machine, which was developed in the 1930s but not released because it might affect the profits of the dominant telephone companies; FM radio, which was opposed by AM stations; and the marginalization of the UHF television band, corporate interests restrict new technologies when it is perceived to be in their interest. New technologies will not pacify the tensions of the society.
Drew believes that the postindustrial revolution has not meant any great shift for the better in class, race, or gender relations; it has not made people happier or more equal. Drew equates deregulation with monopolization and notes that 21 corporations control the media (from Ben Bagdikian, The Media Monopoly, 1992). Drew believes radio has the possibility of promoting a diversity of viewpoints but has become instead a consumer marketing medium. Quoting Hans Magnus Enzensberer, The Consciousness Industry, Drew maintains that TV does not serve communication but prevents it because there is no feedback. The promise of increased choice will devolve to consumer choice, the one-way flow of the sale. Drew believes that media activists (low-budget producers) using camcorders have shown the value of democratic expression but can’t get distributed because of a corporate stranglehold.
Actually this situation has been somewhat ameliorated by the You-Tube phenomenon. The problem with most amateur camcorder projects is that they suffer from a poor artistic sense and confused point of view. One can view thousands of examples online and have the feeling only that you have sampled a very lowbrow culture. Drew believes political activist collectives can drive social change if the products can only get airtime. Actually the problem with these efforts is their Marxist perspective, which is boring and childish. PBS does a good job of representing Marxism, and in fact most television commentary is Marxism disguised as “liberalism.” Corporations do not oppose Marxist policies, they adopt them without a fight. There really isn’t any difference between a top-down model of communication from corporate sources and the top-down communication model of Marxism. Marxism does not tolerate democratic elements.
Richard E. Sclove, Making Technology Democratic, 85-143
Sclove has a wonderful story about the influence of introducing a new technology. During the 1970s, running water was installed in the houses of Ibieca, a village in northeastern Spain. Families began to buy washing machines, and so fewer women gathered to scrub laundry by hand at the village basin. The public space, which had been the center of gossip and social interaction, became deserted. Village men lost contact with the village children. As social ties weakened, so also did any possibility of cooperative political action. Sclove concludes that technological innovation provides convenience but also brings inequality, social alienation, community dissolution, and political disempowerment. Sclove overstates his conclusions, but the example sticks in the mind. Would you rather have running water or go down to the public square every day to get your water?
Sclove overstates the threat of indoor plumbing. Communities do not dissolve because of indoor plumbing, they can gather in other places, but they do lose public interactivity around the well. Sclove later backtracks and insists that technology is not the single most important factor influencing political life. Sclove seems committed to democracy as a supreme value, and he advocates local control over the introduction of technologies. Sclove doesn’t believe in progress, but he believes in democracy. Sclove is correct that technologies bring networks of opportunity in their trail, but these networks are not democratic, as Sclove suggests. They are Darwinian. Sclove is an idealist who believes that the democratization of technology would solve social problems, lead to fairness and empowerment, and restore face-to-face social relations. (Actually democracy undermines all social and tribal authority hierarchies and creates social chaos as it undermines authority. Historically democracy has been a short-lived form of government ending in tyranny. Democracy is more than local people voting on local issues, it involves courts, laws, police, armies, tax collectors, parties, campaigns, and links with financial institutions. Democracy is also corruptible in each of its institutions. Democracy does not really mean anything more than people voting for their leaders. It does not involve people taking power into their own hands, adopting technologies, or designing products.)
Sclove believes that people need to organize societies. His models are the New England town meeting, the Swiss canton, trial by jury, the American Farmers Alliance, the civil rights movements, and Polish Solidarity. None of these small movements has any relation to the big state socialist model that dominates the world. Sclove wants ordinary people to shape technology and technological decisions. Of course he adds ecological sustainability to the mix.
(Really Sclove is a small-scale socialist utopian. He should study the collapse of all such experiments in the first half of the eighteenth century, then he can rid himself of such idealism. His elevation of peace activists, labor unions, business leaders, and community groups cooperating in local decision making is pure leftwing lunacy. The peace movement of the twentieth century was entirely under the control of the Soviet Union and was designed to further the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. Labor unions are not democratic, they are controlled by Mafia and Communist bosses. Workers don’t have much to contribute to technology; if they did, they would be engineers, not workers.)
If you put indoor plumbing to a vote, people would undoubtedly vote for it around the world. The same is true of electrification, the internet, cable television, the telephone, TV, and any other technological improvement. Democratic vote for these systems would not change the effect of emptying the public square.
There is no such thing as artificial intelligence, an intelligent computer, or an intelligent program. All such programs are algorithms, and all algorithms come from Lord Bertrand Russell’s contribution to mathematics and logic. Russell and others assumed that such mathematical logic was a model of how the human mind reasons. Russell’s system is called recursive function theory or formal systems theory, but the human mind does not reason in terms of mathematical logical proofs.
The idea that reason can be disembodied, can be separated from a human brain and embodied in a pure formalism, underlies the quest for artificial intelligence. But humans think first in terms of image schemas which are based on spatial relations in terms of the body. Schemas can be described or listed, and human activities can be described in terms of basic schemas. Generally, the prepositions hold the key to schemas: in, out, from, to, above, below, with, without are keywords for our basic schemas. Computer programs are not based on human organizing schemas. Moreover, the schemas are not universal but are culture specific. Human thought is also largely metaphorical, as is human language. Humans think in terms of hierarchy, radiation, prototypes and ideal cases and stereotypes, not in terms of necessary and sufficient causes. Emotion is a key component of thought and of communication, and the disembodied computer program has no thought, and it has no experience or understanding. When one interacts with a computer program, one is interacting with a thing, not a person, no matter how user-friendly the interface is. The more time you spend on the computer, the less human you become. Interaction with a computer is always in terms of an adjustment to this nonhuman script.
John Simmons, Sade and Cyberspace, 145-159
Horkheimer and Adorno wrote in Excursus II of The Dialectic of Enlightenment that the Marquis de Sade’s Juliette was a central text examining capitalism and the emergence of Fascism. Other Marxists have praised Sade as the most fundamental revolutionary philosopher. Sade was a materialist who admired La Mettries’s material definition of man, man as a machine. Horkheimer and Adorno believed that concept determines perception, and in this belief they are in agreement with the modern psychology of brain science. The question is, how does cyberspace change the conceptual orientation of the user?
Sade is the ultimate pornographic philosopher. In Juliette famous locations are “liberated” by Juliette’s presence and seduction, including the seduction of the pope at St. Peter’s Basilica. Sade is the describer of vice and the justifier of vice as superior to law. Juliette lectures the pope on the crimes of Christianity and provides a defense of a woman’s right to control her own body. Sade’s revolution is to put focus on the body, which philosophers have ignored from the origins of philosophy. Philosophy had become, with the Enlightenment, the inner freedom of thought of the subjective space, with the body imprisoned in a degraded earthly sphere.
With the development of cyberspace, fantasy occupies the imagination, particularly fantasies around the absence of consequences in a bodiless realm. But cyberspace lacks emotion, even though it may arouse excitement. It is a realm of individual solitude in which the intelligence and the perceptions remain engaged but the body and emotions fall away. Simmons believes this is a sadistic space and is naturally blasphemous.
Neomarxism denies that the worker can be liberated through technological innovation as liberation is a matter of social relations. However, Neomarxism also intends to destroy the family (destroy society) through feminism, so Neomarxism contains a fundamental contradiction. It wants to reorganize social relations, but so far all Marxist proposals for reorganization of the family have involved matriarchy, socialist schools, and daycare. We have had this situation for decades now, with disastrous results.
Technological progress is not autonomous but is a tool of power.
Rebecca Solnit, The Garden of Merging Paths, 221-
Solnit offers the labyrinth as the model of the internet, from Jorge Luis Borges’ The Garden of Forking Paths (1970).
Literacy has not resulted in an informed and engaged public. The masters can easily fool the literate by withholding information about their secret deals.
Oral cultures preserved knowledge as myth and fable, but also as conventions of the language indicating important metaphors and bits of wisdom.
The division of labor is also the fragmentation of consciousness and of knowledge. Complex tasks simply are not possible in primitive societies, and one of these is writing.
Interactive technology cannot solve the problem of education because it cannot tell us what we want our children to learn.
Is it the function of ideology to make people mistrust their own experience, suspect others’ motives, believe in the lies of the rulers, accept resignation, loneliness, and atomization so that these values are never questioned? Is capitalist or Communist ideology more successful in achieving this sort of internal control? Solnit answers, capitalism, because under Russian socialism everyone knew that no one believed in socialism. (But today many do believe in an innocent socialism.)
Closure is an important concept in describing the future, both of physical reality and virtual reality. Closure in virtual reality is a channel of information for which it appears there is no outside, no alternative. In this sense virtual reality is like scientific theories, which link (imperfectly, of course) all physical realms in a continuous reality and deny any other reality. Science closes out the option of the spiritual cause and the spiritual realm. Physical closure exhibits socially as enclaves of globalist elites surrounded by the policed poor. Global closure is the map of elite locations that have broken class ties with their surroundings, even though they depend on their products. These elite communities can be classified in terms of a deviancy index, for example, the availability of pornography, drugs, and prostitution services.
As nations become weaker under global trade treaties, new support communities for the elites must form. The internet provides one means of support. The cell phone reinforces these connections.
The myth of a golden age or a primitive Eden of matriarchy serves the capitalist consumer society, in which women and children move from pleasure to pleasure and complain when life doesn’t match consumer utopia. But it poorly serves Communism. Why did Communist ideology fail to exalt an ideal of rule by a Mother goddess (except under feminism and environmentalism)? Communist dictatorship is not based on the pleasure principle but the principle of sacrifice of and for the proletariat. Communism promoted cults of male personality rather than subjugation to a Mother goddess. This failure to insert their secret religion into culture may have been the great failure of Communism.
Liberation is poorly defined in theory. Presumably it involves some release from social or legal control. But that is not what happened under Communism.
One problem with continual appeals to equality is that, at a certain boundary the ability to judge what policy promotes more equality breaks down, but the family breaks down before this boundary is reached.
The projection of the concept onto the data is the pitfall of all social science, but it becomes acutely obvious in psychoanalytic theory.
“I let my wife ridicule me, it’s therapeutic.” Wild Strawberries by Ingmar Bergman
If radical groups would announce their sponsors, these links would be clearer.
No democratic process operates to regulate technology. Protest groups form to combat technological innovations: pesticides, nuclear weapons, biological weapons, a turn-off-your-TV movement.
Social change is a false propaganda construction of the Left. It implies democracy and small-scale socialism when in fact the goals of the Left are destruction of the family and state control over the economy and the functions of the family.
If alienation is the gap between human potential and the conditions of industrial labor, the solution does not lie in importing foreign workers.
If America had been created by Communism rather than capitalism, the Left would consider modern America to be a utopia.
To what extent does technology carry with it its own justification, its own substitution of technological values for human values? For example, how does precision, ease of use, or improved competitiveness link with capitalism and Communism? Technological values can link with the pleasure principle at the basis of the Enlightenment, but they cannot link with the Communist values of collectivity and sacrifice for the collectivity. Thus the Marxists emerge as the critics of technology. The Marxists should criticize technology for promoting individualism, bourgeois values, and masking class conflict, but instead they criticize technology for closing perceptual systems, breaking social bonds, promoting fantasy escapism, etc.
Technology always creates inhuman relationships, and this inhumanity is extended to cyberspace.
The more labor you save using some machine, the more likely you are to have increased demands put upon you as a result. Labor saved does not translate into increased leisure.
Artificial intelligence isn’t intelligent.
One loses embodiment when one interacts with a computer or a computerized system.
The metaphors of materialism echo through our language and create ripples of false ideas. These metaphors settle over common discourse like a fog forming a kind of conceptual prison. These metaphors are purely language creations and do not constitute a real similarity. All product designs are metaphors.
An idiot takes everything literally. The computer is an idiot.
Socialism is enslavement. Whatever else you have to say about alienation, etc., socialism is satanic alienation.
The Marxists rejected the tribal form. They wanted all of the advantages of industrialization without the alienation and without the capitalist. But this was only in theory. In practice Stalin and Mao preserved capitalists and did deals with foreign capitalists. Stalin and Mao were the supreme capitalists of their nations. They owned everything and dictated what was done everywhere. The rhetoric about the proletariat meant nothing as everyone was enlisted in supporting the elites. The elites did not live modestly.
The attitude of the Neomarxists that “we know everything and can fix the problem if you would only drink from our fountain” is a false pose. Neomarxism has no solution to the industrial assembly line, no solution for alienation, no solution for suffering. There is no liberation that results from their analyses. They are not special people with special biographies, they are simply the conditioned products of a socialist school system. Individually they are narrow in their reading, particularly their reading of history, art, and religion.
Why don’t the Marxists have any cure for alienation? Because misery is worse under Communism than under capitalism.
The bodilessness of cyberspace is an advantage than can be commercialized. Video conferencing obviates the need for business travel. Email obviates the need for personal contact in the workplace. This connects with recent studies showing 25 percent of the population have no friend.
The disappearance of the outside in science is the equivalent of a centerless maze, and this centerless maze is the new suburban structure in the physical world.
Databases, libraries, movie and music collections accessed and controlled by a few corporations allows withdrawal from the public space, the disappearance of the technical elite class. Like the rapture. It leaves the streets to the gangs. The disappearance of the public space is the disappearance of moral authority and makes a mockery of any idealistic hopes for participatory democracy.
The goal of reconstituting reality as information eventually results in the reconfiguration of the physical world as a mental world. The problem will be to find any sort of natural life not influenced by a human concept.
The free speech the Berkeley radicals wanted to protect was the freedom to say “fuck.”
Feminists are Marxist terrorists programmed for social destruction. The desire of Marxism is to program as many people as possible for social destruction.
The Marxist control of the Negro also involves preservation of those superstitious elements in Negro culture that are anti-social.
Of interest: German minister warns of the power of big corporate media to gather personal data and cooperate with the police state.
Repeat: Putting kids on the internet rewires their brains and causes attention deficit disorder.
The Planetary Skin Project and the next generation of the internet.
In Australia, e-healthcare leads to chip implants.
Cell phones and wi fi are not safe technologies.