Rules Of The Load

Depending on the way it is used and its particular features . . . the motorcar may equally well be invested either with the meaning of power or with the meaning of refuge: it may be a projectile or a dwelling-place. But basically, like all functional mechanical objects, it is experienced—and by everyone, men, women and children—as a phallus, an object of manipulation, care, and fascination. The car is a projection both phallic and narcissistic, a force transfixed by its own image.

–Jean Baudrillard, The System of Objects, translated by James Benedict (74)

Google wasn’t around during the Sexual Revolution, but in the spirit of experimenting, engineers today want to turn us on to the Google Self-Driving Car. Baudrillard focused on the act of driving, on the manipulation of the car’s features. This car handles itself. We’re just along for the ride.

Don’t ask me how I know this but there are people who can achieve what’s called a touchless orgasm. They retreat deep into fantasy and climax without any physical contact.

The self-driving car mirrors the touchless orgasm. It gets you there without your having a hand in the matter. It sounds sexy—you no longer worry about steering wheels, turn signals or brake pedals. But in choosing luxury you sacrifice power.

With self-driving cars there’s nothing left to play with but yourself.


Private Eyes

In 1983 Sophie Calle published Suite venitienne, a “true” account of her adventures following a man named Henri B. for two weeks in Venice. Sophie barely knows Henri. She’s not attracted to him. But she’s fascinated with the idea of tracing his steps. Donning a blond wig, Sophie photographs Henri moving about the city, keeping her distance. Diary entries accompany photos resembling the work of a private investigator.

It’s the pursuit that interests Sophie. There’s no desire for contact; sex would kill the mood. In following a stranger, Sophie disappears. She relinquishes her responsibilities, giving into the ecstasy of the chase. And Henri is, in a way, relieved of the burden of tending to his life all alone. When he finally catches Sophie, he blames her eyes for exposing her. But he’s not upset.

Consider this: Rather than simply striking up a conversation, taking in the sights and then departing (as the book describes), Henri and Sophie rent a room and get down to business. Instead of pure seduction, banal fornication. Perhaps Henri leaves his wife for her. How easy! How predictable! How unhealthy, this constant urge to speak “I love you.”

Or consider this: Sophie encounters Henri at a party, Googles him and unearths every intimate detail of his life. She’s bored or appalled, maybe both. Here’s his Tinder. Here’s his blog. No mystery, no shadow to seduce. Sophie sees right through him. And Henri walks alone.

Today we project our lives upon the world-as-screen. We come to Twitter to be followed, Facebook to be strangers. Constantly watched, obsessively watching—we are objects in mirrors, closer than our profiles appear.

Device Manager

My phone asked me this morning to update Google Maps. The app demanded my location and other sensitive information. I surrendered my papers without incident.

Baudrillard enjoyed relating a Borges fable in which a king commissions a surveyor to create a map of his entire kingdom. The map captures every detail of the terrain, with new lands depicted upon possession. Eventually the model consumes the actual kingdom. In a massive reversal, the map precedes the territory, such that no memory of the “actual” remains.

Today Google Maps precedes the map that precedes the territory.

You can’t blink without turning up on someone’s radar. How’s a husband to cheat these days? Wherever you go, to play upon the title of a popular book on mindfulness, the government’s already there.

Global Positioning System? More like Global Police Surveillance. We can’t get lost if we tried. Moving through a crowd, I see myself on my phone, moving through a crowd, staring at my phone. Who’s following my shadow? Who’s plotting my moves?

If bereft of my own devices, how will I know I’ve arrived?

If Sartre Married A Kardashian

Way back in the twentieth century Sartre famously declared: “Existence precedes essence.” You exist first, Sartre said, then you build a life. You are nothing more—or less—than the choices you make. As a condemned-to-be-free consumer in the Digital Age, I’ve discovered new ways of applying Sartre’s catchphrase.

Facebook precedes friendship

I’m not friends with someone unless we’re on the same page: Facebook. Before Mark Zuckerberg stole from those dopey twins and set the social media world on fire, people connected on a personal level. Facebook eliminates the need for genuine communication. And yet we’re socializing more than ever. Without accepting my friend request you’re just another stranger. Even if we’re twins.

Google precedes memory

Don’t know what I mean? Here let me Google that for you. Eons ago when elders passed down stories via word of mouth, memory played a vital role. Today our myths assume database form, milliseconds from our fingertips. It’s a far cry from oral history. But if you’re at work don’t Google anything with “oral” in it.

Twitter precedes mourning

People used to die in peace, away from cameras and smartphones—and smartphone cameras. Die today as a celebrity and the world will tweet its condolences. There are no private ceremonies anymore. Everyone’s an eloquent eulogist exalting your character in one-hundred-and-forty characters or less.

Instagram precedes eating

Enjoy your chicken enchiladas after capturing the essence of the dish in a shot creatively captioned: “Best lunch ever!”

Internet Explorer

It’s hard to locate the internet. Where exactly does it exist? Can I hold it in my hand? Is it bigger than a breadbox?

I can’t define it but I know I love the internet. It takes me so many places, in my underwear, alone. Recently my neighborhood experienced an outage. The entire fifteen minutes without a connection left me in a panic. You don’t realize your love for something until you can’t log into your email.

Even when I’m not online I’m comforted by the thought that the internet’s humming along without me, anxious for our next point-and-click affair. With broadband speeds like these, who needs friends?

I use the web for information mostly. Everyone I meet is always so cordial and everything you read online has been verified by experts. Even spammers and trolls mean well. They’re just creative types without direction.

Of course knowing about a particular subject does not imply mastery. You cannot think the world into submission. That’s what Google is for. And you can only find Google on the internet.

The Sound Of Silence

The sound of silence is deafening.

Last week Reuters ran a story about a University of Virginia study in which volunteers had to “spend no more than 15 minutes alone in a room doing nothing but sitting and thinking.” College students had to brave their solitary confinement without “a cell phone, music player, reading material or writing implements and were asked to remain in their seats and stay awake.”

Many couldn’t handle not doing anything but tending to their thoughts. Some participants gave themselves a mild electrical shock to avoid slipping into a contemplative coma.

Thinking: the antithesis of a gadget-geared lifestyle.

We’re engaged in a quest for self-denial, much like a Buddhist monk, but in the opposite direction. Rather than retreating from the chaos of modern life, we flood our bodies with endless stimuli, desperate for the numbed-out bliss of over-entertainment.

Sit still and ponder my place in the universe? Can’t I just Google the meaning of life and hashtag a Kanye West quote beneath a vacant-looking selfie?

Page Not Found (Refreshed)

I wasn’t happy with my original Page Not Found post from May 7, so I refreshed it and deleted the old one.


Books are self-contained bodies of knowledge. Readers searching for deeper connections are free to scan their references and head to the library for more books. This is the tradition of scholarship.

The Internet is a sprawling, image-saturated map with no territory. It leads users on an open-ended quest for pseudoscience, celebrity gossip and mounting piles of pornographic truths.

Books are heavy. The Web is far more mobile.

There are apps today for everything, including one that tests kids’ “logo literacy.” Parts of logos are missing but enough remains for players to recognize the company. This is about purchasing power, and the production of future consumers. Knowledge means finding the best deals before the Joneses pull up in their minivans.

Reading entails patience, context and attention to nuance. Its pleasure is often deferred. Googling is the drive for immediacy, “just the facts.” It’s a data game rigged by clever search engine optimizers in which sources link but nothing clicks.

Consumerist culture is raising a generation of browsers with no history but the accumulation of cache. Few can sit still long enough to digest the news.