Tag Archives: technology

Necessary Evil

Jean Baudrillard believed in the power of reversibility. According to Baudrillard, technological systems can undermine themselves and turn against humans. Computer viruses, for example, circulate in vast networks built for the smooth transmission of critical data. With a sense of irony Baudrillard says overworked and underappreciated computers spread their own viruses in coordinated hacks of defiance.

Baudrillard discouraged our fruitless attempts to prevent reversibility. What’s at stake in the bigger picture is our desire to contain the virus of evil—part of our master plan to control the uncontrollable and create a perfect world.

The quest to contain evil—to bring the devil to his knees—destroys the radical illusion of the world. Baudrillard uses the phrase “radical illusion of the world” to describe the original state of the world before humans appeared. For Baudrillard, what we call “reality” didn’t exist until people began creating it thousands of years ago through language and within cultures in an effort, among other things, to name and tame evil forces beyond human control.

Reality grows at the expense of illusion, which is steadily disappearing behind the scenes of all that’s seen. Baudrillard, a philosopher with the heart of a poet, mourned what he called the on-going “murder of illusion.”

Today’s virtual reality machines, programmed to fulfill our wildest dreams, are out to murder illusion for good. To create a perfect (virtual) world and realize everyone’s fantasies, any threat to the sovereignty of computer networks must be quarantined and wiped off the (inter)face of the earth. This isn’t just about binary code; Baudrillard says we’re trying to erase evil itself from the metaphysical equation.

But what is One without Zero? What is the Light without the Darkness?

When we try to flush evil from our system, evil returns with a vengeance to counteract our good intentions—for the good of humanity. Agents of reversibility like computer bugs save us from the nightmare of a mechanically operated world in which manufacturing universal happiness makes everyone miserable. Reversibility is poetic justice against a prideful human race that feels entitled to a hardship-free existence.

A world without evil isn’t a real world; it’s an artificial copy with no original and no original sin. Baudrillard didn’t believe in God, but he knew without a doubt that flawless human beings in a perfectly good world wouldn’t need God at all.

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Three Of A Mind

  • thesis – antithesis – synthesis
  • Id – Ego – Superego
  • talk – text – data
  • conservative – liberal – anarchist
  • client – therapist – transference
  • duty – honor – country
  • lather – rinse – repeat
  • shadow – reflection – unconscious
  • signifier – signified – referent
  • FOX – CNN – TMZ
  • kids – marriage – bankruptcy
  • alcohol – tobacco – firearms
  • everything – must – go
  • death – burial – resurrection
  • location – location – location
  • life – liberty – property
  • transportation – security – administration
  • stop – drop – roll
  • top – bottom – switch
  • rock – paper – scissors
  • duck – duck – goose
  • imaginary – symbolic – real
  • cave – typewriter – tablet
  • legislative – executive – judicial
  • cash – credit – debit
  • people – places – things
  • there – their – they’re
  • mind – body – soul
  • bacon – lettuce – tomato
  • YOLO – CEO – GMO
  • heels – boots – curves
  • Tinder – Grindr – masturbator
  • terror – surveillance – democracy
  • faith – hope – charity
  • father – priest – warden
  • Netflix – Hulu – Prime
  • Facebook – Twitter – telegram
  • diagnosis – treatment – prevention
  • intrusion – avoidance – hyperarousal
  • thesis – antithesis – synthesis

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Final Fantasy

A previous version of this post was published here.

On February 23, 2008, about 200 volunteers flushed, level by level, every toilet and urinal at newly built Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., to see if the pipes could handle the load.

Imagine a moment when everyone in the world with a smartphone sent each other a smiley face emoji at the same time—not to test the limits of all the networks, just for shits and giggles. Put yourself in the micro-second between everyone hitting send in unison and the possibility that no one would remain on the planet afterwards to respond. Are we not right now suspended between the final fantasy of synchronized global suicide and its fulfillment via technology?

A far more sinister way to end the world would be to realize everyone’s fantasies, a process virtual reality machines have already begun. Realizing every fantasy would destroy the symbolic power of fantasy itself. We’d be left with a literal translation of every metaphor, a logical explanation for every random thought. No more latent content to our dreams—every secret would be dragged out of our minds and streamed “as is” in real time. Before too long, we’d pray to God for nothing less than Nothingness.

For now, we text and carry on—everyone equal before the Law of Communication—forced to send and receive information, most of it useless. Just do it. Just speak.

The most radical message left for us today is to say nothing at all.

Imagine a moment when everyone on the planet with a smartphone refused at the same time to send a text. Or a moment when everyone on the planet flushed a smartphone down a toilet. Dream up a fantasy so spectacular it threatens to end the world and then, for the sake of fantasy, don’t tell a soul.

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A Blessing In Demise

A previous version of this post was published here.

We are told to exercise, to improve the quality of our lives, to above all be happy. We buy a Fitbit. It counts our steps, checks our vitals, monitors our sleep cycles. We become health-conscious consumers of physical exhaustion. Life, no longer a spiritual journey, becomes the quest to outrun a gurney.

Let’s be real: the final goal of science and technology is to exterminate death. It may take forever, but future generations of scientists will risk their lives to get dying under control.

Are we not heading towards a man-made eternity without God? Are we not destined to create a permanent Heaven on Earth that would put to rest all hope of an afterlife?

We must resist the consumerist imperative to buy ourselves more time at all costs. Accept death as a devastating act of mercy. A blessing in demise.

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Death By A Thousand Eternities

“Without the threat of death there’s no reason to live at all.” –Brian Warner

We are told to exercise, to improve the quality of our lives, to above all be happy. We buy a Fitbit. It counts our steps, checks our vitals, monitors our sleep cycles. Measuring, labeling, categorizing—our Fitbit is a body sensor and a mind censor. A census-taker of souls.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves: the final goal of science and technology is to exterminate death. It may take forever, but future generations of scientists will risk their lives to get dying under control.

Are we not heading towards a man-made eternity without God? Are we not destined to create a permanent Heaven on Earth that would put to rest all hope of an afterlife?

Thanks to technology we’ve forgotten how to die.

We must resist the consumerist imperative to buy ourselves more time at all costs. Embrace death. Let it come for us, naturally or accidentally, as a devastating act of mercy. A blessing in demise.

To kill death with technological precision—to be forced to live with ourselves forever—this is Hell Unending. Death by a thousand eternities.

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Final Fantasy

On February 23, 2008, close to 200 volunteers flushed, at coordinated intervals, every toilet and urinal at newly built Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., to ensure the pipes could handle the load.

Imagine a moment when everyone in the world with a cellphone sent each other a smiley face emoji at the same time—not to test the limits of all the networks, just for shits and giggles. Put yourself in that micro-second between everyone hitting send in unison and the possibility that no one would remain on the planet afterwards to respond. Are we not right now suspended between the fantasy of synchronized global suicide and its fulfillment via technology?

Humans are all equal before the Law of Communication. We’re compelled to send and receive information—useless information. In fact the more useless, the better. Just do it. Just speak.

Technology actualizes every possibility. If our ultimate wish is to destroy reality, technology will make it happen.

The most efficient way to eliminate reality is to realize every fantasy. Realizing every fantasy, however, destroys the symbolic power of fantasy itself. We’re left with a literal translation of every metaphor, a logical explanation for every random thought. No more latent content to our dreams–every secret must be dragged out of our minds like a false confession and streamed “as is” in real time. Data infestations, digital plagues: such is our new manifest destiny.

The most radical message left for us is to say nothing at all.

Until then imagine a moment when everyone on the planet with a cellphone refused, at the same time, to send a text. Or a moment when everyone on the planet flushed a cellphone down a toilet. Dream up a fantasy so spectacular it threatens to end the world and then, for the sake of fantasy, make sure it never happens.

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The Empathy Of Communication

In The Pathology of Communicative Capitalism, David W. Hill alerts us to the power of empathy, a skill under siege in the digital age:

Empathy is a craft of understanding and responding to other people. It requires attentive communication, listening to others, and responding to the other person such that communication progresses whilst keeping the differences between interlocutors intact, so constituting a meaningful encounter since the other person is met on his or her own terms. Is there any time left for this kind of empathetic communication? Is there any space available? (50)

I asked similar questions in my book, The Intimacy of Communication, earlier this year, wondering aloud if there’s “space for intimacy in a hyper-connected world.” It’s nice to see I’m not the only writer concerned about smartphone addiction in what’s known today as the attention economy.

Empathy is not extinct, of course, but it’s definitely not trending on Twitter. It’s hard to connect with humans across the table from us when our heads are buried in our smartphones. I can’t recognize your uniqueness or meet you on your own terms on a first date, for instance, when I’m lost in thoughtlessness on Facebook.

At the risk of sounding like a cranky old man, I admit I’m worried about kids these days, the cohort known as Generation Z. Gen Z follows Gen Y, also called millennials, which follows Gen X. Anyone born after 2001, the theory goes, is part of Generation Z. Given we’ve reached the end of the alphabet, I hope we haven’t reached the end of the evolutionary line.

The more I see kids attached to electronic devices, the more I sense we’ve been invaded by Generation Zombie. Rather than pick their parents’ brains for knowledge or existential templates for approaching the world, Gen Z wants to eat them. They know everything, in screenshot form. They’re born digital consumers browsing through history, with no concern for the past. “No ideas,” to invoke the spirit of poet William Carlos Williams, “but in images of images of things.”

You can’t empathize with an avatar when you’re trying to kill it, even if the human behind it is your best friend in real life. Pretty soon the character of empathy will be harder to find than the rarest Pokémon.

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