Walden3.0, or “why can’t we be citizens of the internet?”

Paul Raven @ 10-12-2010

Yeah, I know the versioning-suffix gag went stale in 2008, but I think it fits here. Two posts where people think aloud about post-geographical communities; the first is from Ian “Cat” Vincent, who wants to be considered a citizen of the internet (emphases mine):

I do not trust the government of the country of my birth. I do not feel any loyalty to them, or any other country, whatsoever. At best, I see them as an especially powerful mafia I have to kowtow to and buy services from. The closest thing to patriotism I have ever felt is to the Internet.

So, why can’t I take Internet as my nationality?

[…]

My own country’s government – run by a weak coalition government which is acting like they have a landslide mandate – is cutting vital services to the poor and disadvantaged to pay for deficits caused by their banking pals’ having been caught running the largest Ponzi scheme in human history… and their representatives have the gall to blame those poor and disadvantaged for the financial mess. Students are taking to the streets in protest. They are not my rulers, except by virtue of monopoly of violence and general habit.

When we’re at the point where The Economist refers to Anonymous as “a 24-hour Athenian democracy” I think it’s time to at least consider the idea.

[…]

Citizenship implies abiding by, and contributing to, a social contract. Doing Your Bit. I have to tell you I’m far happier doing that for the internet than for any state. It’s rules, customs and rituals make more intuitive sense to me than any state I have ever heard of. And yes, I would cheerfully give up my right to vote in the UK and EU for the rights and responsibilities of Internet Citizenship. (Dear David Cameron – that’s what a Big Society really fucking means.)

I am completely with Vincent on pretty much everything in that post… which will come as no surprise to regular readers, I suppose. But I’m sure we’re not alone, even if the urge to join a community where one feels one truly belongs may express itself a little differently. Jeremiah Tolbert:

I never seem to have much trou­ble find­ing com­mu­nity online.  This year, my com­mu­nity online seems to be cen­tered around Twitter.  I have some qualms about hav­ing my major sense of belong­ing tied to some­thing that is lim­ited to 130 char­ac­ters at a time, but it does work.  And when you work from home alone day in, day out, hav­ing some way of feel­ing like you’re not alone is help­ful.   Twitter fills that role for me now.  In the long run, I would like a “real world” com­mu­nity to belong to—something Rockwellian, only full of artists and cre­atives maybe. John Joseph Adams and I have talked sev­eral times about his notion of Geektopia—a com­mu­nity pop­u­lated entirely by geeks who relo­cate to cre­ate a com­mu­nity of their own.   If such a place existed—I would seri­ously con­sider mov­ing there.  We’ve been eye­balling the parts of the coun­try where you can get free land.   Problem is, build­ing an entire town from scratch costs mil­lions.  So until we get some mil­lion­aire back­ing the idea, it will remain a pipe dream.  But it’s one that I would love to see become a real­ity.  Some day.

Until then, the inter­net is my com­mu­nity, for bet­ter and worse.

I suspect Jeremy’s not alone in feeling that way… and think about it: if an increasing number of people dissatisfied with the meatspace communities available to them all flock to the internet – which is, as if we needed reminding, a non-dimensional space largely defined by its proliferation of tools for community-building and its corrosive effect on geography – they’re in the best possible position to start building and planning a world that runs on their own terms.

And I suspect that’s exactly why the deep implications of the Wikiwars are so terrifying to authoritarians and nation-states; it’s the same reason the beech tree fears the ivy.


NEW FICTION: WORLD IN PROGRESS by Lori Ann White

Paul Raven @ 01-12-2010

Well, here we are: the last piece of Futurismic fiction for a while. But talk about ending on a high note! When Chris sent across Lori Ann White‘s “World In Progress” for me to look at, it felt as if she’d been carefully following the stuff I blog about here day after day, picking out some of my favourite riffs, memes and ideas, and rendering them down into one wonderful – and very human – story. It’s a super piece, and I’m proud to be publishing it; scroll down, read on, and find out why. 🙂

World In Progress

by Lori Ann White

And in The Far Corner, Wearing a
Too-Tight Jock Strap and a Crown of Thorns–

CLOSE UP on a face.  Calm, pale, waves of black hair brushed back from a broad forehead.  Retro Guy.  Grade A, 100% Pure Professional Athlete.  No drugs, no mods, no tweaks, no prods.  Just like the old farts ordered.

He’s staring at the wall above the mirror through eyes blue as an Artic bay.  Pan to the wall, to the framed honest-to-god newsprint, photo of a thick-necked thug in too-tight jacket.  He’s small, like Retro Guy, like they all used to be, but the smug grin and his squinty eyes radiate “big guy” waves.  He’s got one arm around a sad brunette.

The caption: “Bruisin’ Brawler Gene O’Connor: ‘No God-Damned Upgrades!  My Boy Will be a Real Boxer, Just Like His Old Man.'”

The camera pans back to Retro Guy’s face.

“Hey, Old Man,” he whispers.  “This fight’s for you.” Continue reading “NEW FICTION: WORLD IN PROGRESS by Lori Ann White”


Batman Incorporated and Kanye West: media homunculi

Paul Raven @ 26-11-2010

Here’s a super bit of cyborg-media-culture-identity riffing from Kevin Lovelace at grinding.be about the power of brands and/or identities (the difference between the two is getting pretty fuzzy) as prosthetic cyborg extensions of our selves. A post that mashes up Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc., Kanye West and open-source umbrella identities like Anonymous – what’s not to love?

By becoming a transmedia brand, the Batman gains the ability to clone itself and sent out its conceptual mind-babies out into the world, doing the work of Batman even in the actual absence of Batman.   Many people “know” Kanye via his body of work and his carefully sculpted public persona – a persona so information rich and media saturated that it can spawn its own meta-narratives.  Kanye West is the puppet of the Illuminati, and we can prove it!  He’s brilliant!  He’s insane!  He’s…  He’s a story.  The Kanye that 99% of the people reading this know is a story about a man who makes music – a narrative crafted largely BY the man who makes that music.  Its is a story with granularity and richness enough to allow many points of entry and engagement, spin-offs, theories and supposition.    The Kanye West we “know” is a prosthetic identity – an interface program that uses media as its computational substrate that exists between “us” the audience and the “real” Kanye (and his PR team) who operate the prosthetic.

Lots of connections to our earlier discussions of the ubiquity of narrative in an altermodern culture… we are all the stories of ourselves, but we can change the plot whenever we like, or even let other people write their own versions. Go read it.


The metaverse won’t grow until we wear our own faces there

Paul Raven @ 02-11-2010

Interesting think-piece from Wagner James Au of New World Notes; he’s wondering if the drop-off of interest in virtual worlds is driven by the very human need to be able to see the real face of the person you’re interacting with. The riff originates from noting that folk in Halloween costumes that hid their faces experienced less engagement and roleplay with others than those in costumes where the face was uncovered:

Without the ability to peek at the person behind the costume, people were largely leery, and standoffish. Many of these face-obscuring costumes were incredibly creative and believable, which you might think would encourage more roleplay. But for the most part, if they couldn’t get a rough idea of the person inside the outfit, people would hold back.

I think we’re seeing a similar effect with virtual worlds, as compared to social games. Most of the biggest social games, like FarmVille, have customized avatars, but the avatar is connected to a real identity, and perhaps even more important, a real face. In effect, social game avatars act like Halloween costumes, where you can see the person inside the outfit. Most avatars in virtual worlds, by contrast, resemble a full body costume where the face is largely or totally obscured. This is probably a major reason why they’ve failed to gain mass adoption. In effect, most of the population is looking at virtual world avatars the same way people at Halloween parties look at costumes that have hidden faces — with interest and curiosity, maybe, but also with some apprehension or unease.

If I’m right, one good way to grow virtual worlds is to make avatars more like casual Halloween costumes, in which you’re able to know a little about the person controlling it. That doesn’t necessarily mean linking the avatar to the owner’s Facebook profile. (In fact I’d suggest linking avatar profiles to dating sites, like OKCupid, would be more productive than Facebook.) Halloween isn’t popular because people want to actually be Bat Man or Sarah Palin or even Pedobear — they want to express a part of their personality in a fun way, in a fun social context where others are doing the same. And above all, have this roleplay connect to the rest of their lives.

It’s a pretty loose thesis at this point, but it does chime with my own experiences in metaverse realities, namely that the anonymity and/or immersive never-out-of-character role-playing aspects that so engage the core demographics of such spaces are actively repellent to others.

I suspect business-sphere interest and investment in metaverse tech will be the necessary developmental catalyst for the sort of transparency Au is suggesting (a sort of video-conferencing on steroids, which might get popular very fast when oil prices start climbing again and flying overseas for meetings becomes an unsustainable overhead), but I also suspect that the heaviest metaverse users will always be those who find the wearing of masks to be a liberation from reality rather than a disconnect from it.


What exactly is a cyborg?

Paul Raven @ 06-09-2010

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The word cyborg makes for a great example of rapid semantic drift; in the fifty years since it was coined, its definition has both broadened and narrowed, depending on who is using it, and to what ends. As an early salvo in the 50 Posts about Cyborgs series (as mentioned a few days ago), Tim Maly takes it back to basics:

I want to present you with a different vision of cyborgs, one that derives in part from the work of feminist theorist Donna Haraway, author of A Cyborg Manifesto.

In it, she argues that we are all and have always been cyborgs, hybrid entities that combine biology, culture, and technology into a single blurry unit. Haraway wants to move away from the essentialist narratives of gender, race, and politics but in doing so, she ends up taking the rest of us along with her.

There has never been a moment when we did not integrate with tools.

(Rather reminiscent of of Timothy Taylor’s theory of the artificial ape, no?)

Our tools define and shape us, they tell us who we are. We use them to extend our literal selves out into the world. When you get into an accident, you say “she hit me” not “her car hit me” and not “her car hit my car”.

We are embraced and enveloped by the technosphere and even if we try to escape and smash the system, we find we are part of it.

50 Posts About Cyborgs is going to be a really interesting collection of work… things will be quiet(ish) here at Futurismic for the next week and a bit, so you might want to head on over there to bolster your daily diet of geeky brainfoods.

But why are things going to be quiet(ish) here? Fear not! The next post will explain it all… 🙂


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