The pschogeography of digital space, pixel land, cyberspace, non-space. The "fake" world that sits atop and beneath our wiggly, fleshy, bodied one.
The internet conditions our modern experience, so much so that the technologies themselves are symbols of a sort of thought, of experience. The "medium is the massage," and not merely purveyor of old ideas or hatreds. Although the Fukuyama-esque love affair with the "liberalising" force of the internet has by now died off, replaced by a sort of bland hand-wringing. Neoliberalism's lofty rhetoric and willingness to negate human history drowned now in the seas of corporate content. Who remembers how twitter was going to "save the Arab spring?" Or the belief that facebook's providing internet access (only to facebook owned pages) in parts of Southern Africa was going to "revolutionize" life for millions? Of course, historians, humanists, and the Left could tell you this was a pipe dream. Only D.C. think tanks profess to believe that providing access to a website can change the firmament of a nation's lived reality.
How can we write about the internet? How do we think about it, experience it, feel it in our lives? For all of us, the internet is slightly different even as it hurtles towards corporate singularity. My facebook is a different experience from yours, wholly different again from our aunts or uncles; but we are all on facebook (within those bordered grey rows).
Reddit only ever leads to reddit. Google and facebook keep watch over everything, and Amazon busies itself spidering along the cables.
I spend more time scrolling infinite pages than reading the infinite knowledge that was (is!) just at my fingertips. Clicking on links to open interesting articles, reading the headline then heading back to the PLATFORM for more. This is not engagement, this is not learning. This is not even really enjoyable. It feels, in the language of so many others who have expressed a vague sort of melancholy with the digital ecosystem, "co-opted." Like my choices weren't truly mine anymore, they were habits that I watched myself perform, an uncanny fascimile of me, as lived by my "interests."
If the cyborg was a model for liberation, what are we now?
A personal computer is a bit more "real" in some sense of the word, than other digital experiences available nowadays. Where MS wants you to login each time to your internet account, rather than a local machine account, which makes the device useless if you don't have internet. What's the point? I get that mostly everywhere is innundated with WiFi signal in the present, but sometimes we don't have it. To track our every login, keystroke, voice squeak?
Not that the average [American] consumer really cares. We are used to being surveilled, monitored, told what to think about "those people [over there/here that do that/these (awful) things]."
As Shoshana Zuboff argues in «Surveillance Capitalism» (which I am reading through, slowly) a great deal of problems with technology are not actual technical problems, but political ones. Why can our phones not load multiple operating systems? Why does Apple spend so much money and time fighting against small repair shops? Tech is not a "counterculture" no matter how successful the branding. A trillion-dollar company is the corporate world, and only ever a self-interested entity. But these issues have been framed as technical problems ("Oh, but think of the security!") when in reality they are issues of power. And power, though we in the US are trained not to see this, is political.
And, of course, people think of tech as a giant amorphous blob of complicated that they have no hope of understanding. "Could you say that in English?" when really, learning about tech (beyond a mere user-space education) is akin to a civic education. We don't just learn to fill in the voting bubble (well...er...not ideally at least), we learn WHY voting matters, that it matters, and other ways to participate in the communities that we are part of.
Technology, as a connective tissue increasingly present between the joints of our societies, must become part of this. And no, "learning to code" is NOT what I am talking about. That is just training people for a job, which of course benefits the aforementioned trillioned juggernauts. What is needed is a discussion of power and values, sprinkled with some technical nuance. Which, because there is no profit to be made from empowering others to your (relative) loss of power...the tech companies will never push for reforms of this sort.
Technology is a tool—they can be put to use under any set of political regimes, beliefs, and values. From the unimagination of Hollywood we already have visions of the technical future where the US: (1) collapses into some dystopic vision straight out of the mid 2010s or; (2) slowly withers away into senility, the twilight empire passing into dusk and extinction.
Life among the wolves. Among the desperate, fleeting shadows.
And while living any one way is not inherently "easier," there are most definitely ways of living more "difficultly." Choosing is difficult. It requires becoming informed, it requires thinking to do so in the first place.
I spend my days (luckily, by the ever-sinking standards of the American labor market) staring at a screen in the same room for hours. Little pixels, the horrific *ding!* of outlook notifications, the daily failings of a Windows laptop.
And then I get to stay home and stare into another [Linux] screen to work on applications and a personal essay and and and...there's a lot of work to do. Sometimes I feel like all I have energy for is to keep myself from falling ever further inward and downward. Part loneliness, part...something. I do not do well with nothing to do, with nothing to think about, without novelty.
Whether that novelty is in the milieu about me (travel) or in a sense of intellectual voyage makes no real difference. I am quite happy to gaze at NASA's APoD blog, wondering at the scale of the cosmos. Which leads me to realize that the internal force I am missing is a sense of wonder, of engagement. Maybe wonder for me is a form of connection, in the way history can ground one in place (even being a "foreign" history, as if geography but not time separates human lives).
So what can I do? Engage with a world, but through means of my choosing. Through the internet still, yes: it is where most information of various A/V formats now lives; but not through the same stagnant platforms whose only goal is their own entrenchment.
Books, for that reason, are a delight. The less controlled a medium is, the less likely it is to shuffle me down the same funnels. As H.G. Creel put it: "Intellectual freedom requires intellectual work." There is no pride in allowing power to wholly fabricate a self to inhabit.
I often recall of a line from «The Last Angel of History», a call-and-response line from Sun Ra's song:
"It's after the end of the world/ don't you know that yet?"
And yet here we are, still living as if the world is, rather than was. Missing the new day growing beneath us.
It's anyone's guess what today looks like. But at least it has the chance to grow. I think that's important.