The Cybernetic Evolution:
From Military Base to the Human Mind
Internet As a Cyborg Technology
Ville Niemi 2013.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER #1 : FROM MILITARY, WITH LOVE
CHAPTER #2 : THE CYBERNETIC EVOLUTION
- Enter Transhuman
- Us Embedding Cybernetics, Cybernetics Embedding Us
CHAPTER #3 : THE REAL VIRTUALITY FOR THE MIND
- Internet and the New Form of Expressivity
- Visual/Aural Representations
- The Virtual Ever-Existence
Shortly, the dissertation will analyse the Internet’s relation to the homo sapiens, that increasingly becomes techno-digitally more capable and thus different from its earthly, nature-given ways.
The topic to me feels ever-so-relevant as the Moore’s Law has proven, technological development becomes faster and faster all the time. The global connectivity has revolutionised our social capabilities and civilisations of the Earth keep connecting themselves to the digital/graphic environment, the network of networks, the Internet. I believe the Internet as a digital space is taken quite much for granted (not to mention how future generations will adapt to it), and the virtual realities which it has to offer and which are so widely used (I learnt one third of the Earth’s population is online – tenth on Facebook!), are increasingly becoming more used to the idea someone is available through an online communication system, email at least. I chose to ponder the topic due to my everlasting wonder of people’s online behaviour; the developmental side of it as well as way it’s available for the normal users. What sparked me to analyse Facebook in the final chapter was the identity-side of cyber-existence; the question “who are you online?” provides no good answers, as our ultra-technological Western societies have highly embedded virtual life to the mundane, making the relationships far more complex than seems.
I am a rather naïve writer who tends to draw a citation and analyse it, quickly moving from point to another every so often jumping back and forth to previous points made, and give clues of further topics that I will not discuss before a chapter and a half later… I write creatively and tend to over-conceptualise matters, admittedly with potential to leave complex ideas as are, expecting the reader to analyse it over and over again; as a rather slow reader (and to be honest, a disinclined one if it is not through an illuminated screen), this is the way I approach written text.
Throughout the treatise, I will refer to sources primarily of written material. Especially Castells, Hayles and Mitchell have been great influences throughout the research. Castells writes with a clear-cut way about how the Internet originated, and in the first chapter I bring up much of his writing in the analysis of the roots of our modern axiom, the World Wide Web, a cybernetic technology which has had an immense impact on the human culture. Second chapter moves onto how we have adopted technologies as extensions of the bodies, using them as sensoria, Mitchell’s writing not necessarily been referred to or cited that much, but his text has been influential all in all as to the perspective of the dissertation. I call the adoption of technologies the Cybernetic Evolution; a popular topic of technologies’ proliferation. The chapter is written in context of an individual human being and I cite Hayles a lot as her writing on posthumanism is thrilling – how information has lost its physicality, and how she handles the transformation, or evolution, in a perspective that it has already happened… as it has!
Third chapter is called “The Real Virtuality for the Mind” and that is where the stuff gets deep. I cite a lot of Doel and Clarke and Terranova here, and have taken influence from my personal observations as to the social networking sites.
Much of my writing might be characterised by philosophical/anthropological/sociological aspects, which I have felt as the most natural ways to approach the topic – indeed, the subject in general in itself is completely “us and machines.”
One more thing. I would have had plentiful of opportunities (and was rather tempted) to write about the topic from a political/economical view, yet rather, my soul told me to do what I have done. My inner geek has been bursting from its seams researching the subject, and all in all I’m glad about what I have made. YOLO! – you only live online.
CHAPTER #1 : FROM MILITARY, WITH LOVE
The origins of the Free Internet
In order to create a foundation for the following chapters and to answer the question “does technology shape the society?” I will look into the Internet’s roots which are primarily concerned to be within the military-commissioned development of the ARPANET.
Technological determinism is the notion that technological development is autonomous of society; it shapes society, but is not reciprocally influenced. Rather, it exists outside society, but at the same time influences social change. (Hughie 1995:41)
Theory of technological determinism in the terms Hughie analyses it above as to technological innovations not being dependant on the whole of the society, applies in the case of ARPANET, that was an early computer networking project in the 1960s and 1970s by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), an agency that works within the United States Department of Defense and today is known as DARPA (for Defense).
ARPA was formed by the Department of Defense in order to make research resources more mobilised, and aim to make United States technologically more advanced as the Soviet Union, who had in 1957 made an impression by launching their first Sputnik (Castells 2001:45 and 2004:10). Creation of ARPANET was not the primary goal of the whole of ARPA, but a ‘minor program’ of IPTO (Information Processing Techniques Department) – a department aim of which as defined by its first director Joseph Licklider, ‘was to stimulate research in interactive computing.’ Original aim and a justification for the initiation was to build a way to ‘share computing time on-line between various computer centers and research groups working for the agency.’ (Castells 2004:10). ARPANET was to work as a network of/for networks, connecting fundamental institutions of research such as universities with the military’s, and allowing access to data and information stored on technically remote computers.
Castells (2004:22) states the following.
‘The Internet did not originate in the business world. It was too daring a technology, too expensive a project, and too risky an initiative to be assumed by profit-oriented organizations.”
The development of ARPANET happened within a closed organisation, a secure environment within the well-funded United States’ military. The development was not directly relative to the society of the time; it was allowed to happen uninfluenced by societal needs. Goals needed not be profitable, and the developers had considerably much freedom in the development – they had autonomous control over the product and were given excellent resources for the research. To contrast the technological development operated in a private environment to the ones of the entrepreneurial business world, Thomas (1995:91) writes: ‘IT developments are the product of capitalism. Their nature is shaped by what is expected to sell, not by what is expected to help produce a utopia or an egalitarian society.’ ARPANET’s development thus was allowed for a different approach – one of more freedom and less influenced innovation. There was room and resources for big thinking. Castells (2004:19) describes the instance as follows:
The story of the creation and development of the Internet is one of an extraordinary human adventure. It highlights people’s capacity to transcend institutional goals, overcome bureaucratic barriers, and subvert established values in the process of ushering in a new world. It also lends support to view that cooperation and freedom of information may be more conducive to innovation than competition and proprietary rights.
He mentions ‘big science, military research, and the culture of freedom’ fundamental for ARPANET to evolve into the successful system of networks it is today. I will now discuss the last, the open development of the software as a factor highly important – and relate the freedom of information in the early stages to the further spirit the Web carries.
The predecessor of the Internet was built by many computer scientists and designers/researchers from various institutions, not solely the staff of IPTO at ARPA. Castells (2001:48) underlines there were strong relations between scientific, institutional and personal networks. There were people from the United States Department of Defense, National Science Foundation, universities (MIT, UCLA, Stanford, University of Southern California and Harvard – amongst others), and ‘think-tanks’ , technologically visionary individuals from MIT, SRI, Rand Corporation and BBN (Bolt, Beranek and Newman). The engineers, remote from each other, would use Request for Comments memos (RFC’s) to share the process; information regarding the architecture would be freed throughout. This reflects an early implementation of the spirit of freedom, the close community-like quality of global networking (and not necessarily only developing) – Marshall McLuhan would coin such phenomenon as the Global Village. The developers realised the importance of the community. Castells (2004:12) writes: ‘the current shape of the Internet is also the outcome of a grassroots tradition of computer networking’, pointing out not only ARPANET in it architectural manner was significant, but also its collective development with regard to what makes the Internet the medium it is today. He moves onto the early web innovations that were sparked off from this communal mode of development, a fundamental feature the Web still harnesses, and one that – harshly put – the television lacks. Unlike the television or the French Minitel, the Internet is a technology most developed by its users; the openness of the software is inspirational, encouraging computer operators to participate in shaping and improving the medium. An example of this, developers’ freeness, could be UNIX, an open-source operating system was developed at Bell Laboratories and freely released to the universities in 1974, became a common language for many programmers (notably, Torvalds’s Linux).
There is a community, a shared culture, of expert programmes and networking wizards that traces its history back through decades to the first time-sharing minicomputers and the earliest Arpanet experiments. (Raymond, 1999:231)
Inasmuch as the technological development became liberal/communal, so did its products. For very narrow exemplification; early inventions such as the Bulletin Board System (BBS), a platform that enabled data and text-based exchange of information between computer users, work as evidential creations of first virtual communality. As to the accessibility to these communities, we may thank Tim Berners-Lee for HTTP, HTML and URI, protocols and software which allow for simpler navigation within today’s World Wide Web. Alike to ARPANET, the development of these technologies neither sought for profit, but for the communal good.
Lessons learnt from the history of the Internet and its development communicate an outlook on the society more libertarian, thus freedom of information and its potential uses can be understood as an essential part of the Net itself. As Thomas earlier suggested, profit-minded innovations of technology are not produced in order to create an egalitarian society, this exactly making the Internet such a phenomenal system, its unique characteristics of a medium exceptionally liberal and communal, to which it aims – and has aimed for since the ARPANET creators it first realised. The designers did not need, or want to aim to make money, but to unite computer users by creating a possibility for extended human capability – cybernetic contact mediated by machines. This technology and a capability have certainly transformed the society and accelerated the formation of what we may consider as the Information Age – culture in which the Net and the Web are an essential part of our living.
To conclude, Castells (2004: 9) outlines:
So, ARPANET, the main source of what ultimately became the internet, was not an unintended consequence of a research program going sideways. it was envisioned, deliberately designed, and subsequently managed by a determined group of computer scientists with a shared mission that had little to do with military strategy. It was rooted in a scientific dream to change the world through computer communication, although some of the participants in the group were content with just fostering good computer science.
CHAPTER #2 : THE CYBERNETIC EVOLUTION
The synthesis of the man and the machine
The cybernetic evolution means the integration of the man and the machine. The proliferation of computing devices has made room for technological extension of human capabilities, improvement of the mundane homo sapiens potentiality. The evolution reaches towards the posthuman condition via a transhumanist cyborg form. It is the digitalisation of the modern World and especially one of the human entity within it. In this chapter I will analyse the implications of the computers and cybernetic technologies making their way into our homes and pockets, allowing for access points to the previously discussed globally spanning network.
Western civilisations today are full of technological inventions – tools, machines – that process data much quicker than us. Being more capable, we rely on them in functions whilst living our everyday life. With these weird windows we interact – we may go through a point-and-touch procedure pressing an array of buttons with texts or images on them when we are paying for a service, a permission to enter this strange worm on rails, an element of an old version of a physical network, which will take our bodily being from an area to another.
Urban cities are completely dependent on digital technologies that are faster and more efficient in specific roles than a single human could be. Consider the screens at train stations that logically arrange and display the information about arriving trains – no human is needed here – the digits give us, to our thinking, an exact idea of when ‘our train’ will physically be where we are, communicating the required information just as a person would. With functions like this, interaction between humans is deemed unnecessary and a machine may as well replace the man. However, what – in depth – is already lost here, is the understanding of concrete space-time and appreciation of physicality, real and experienceable conditions.
… what accompanies the discourses of … latest technologies and the new articulations of space-time that they express – – – is an impoverished understanding of the real and the virtual; that is to say, an impoverished understanding of space-time. (Doel and Clarke, 1999:261)
We think about the immaterial, not the material; in the sense that we do not actually wait for the train to come (bodily), we wait for the minutes to pass (intellectual). We do not keep an eye on the real and perceivable – the tracks as far as we can see them – looking forward to the future we may experience, rather, we look at the digital, the logical. From these numbers we gain the required and proposed awareness – and even better, these number most often are correct and manage in predicting the future. This is the cybernetic evolution – the way our technologies are increasingly becoming our senses, or at least tools, for understanding. Mitchell (2003:31) writes:
‘My experience of places and events depends decreasingly upon positioning my eyeballs at a precisely chosen locations … and increasingly upon electronic access to a globally dispersed, multimodal sensing and reporting system.’
Modern day technologies have earned a place as sensory extensions of our bodies. From the train schedule screens, these stable cybernetic systems, to the access points to virtual realms in our pockets, the capability-enhancing technologies are widely available and massively popular. Be the talk about traditional mobile phones or cybernetically more advanced ones, say digital tablets or mini-laptops, electronic and digital technologies are proliferating as a part of the Western society’s consumerist culture. We invest in these tools in order to become more efficient and able. Terranova (2000:152) states the following: ‘our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert’, expressing well the impact the electronic systems have on us. The comparative slowness of space-time, in contrast with how quick and easy our technologies are, may make a human being a tad ashamed, this in turn making room for willingness to partake in this evolution. What matters so much are the functions the devices can perform – they do what we do, but ‘better’ – thus they extend, even overtake our natural capabilities. The change seems natural and being able to execute these functions is increasingly becoming an ‘essential’ part of the civilised human today – not to mention how they might be expectancies. This evolution is one of cybernetic eugenics – a playful yet serious race of becoming as capable as the peers around you by developing the self by technological means. This transformation is a concept labelled transhumanism, a notion which carries values of cybernetic synthesis of the animate and inanimate, the human and its tools. It is about the evolution of the human race into the next version: the posthuman, that by use of digital and electronic devices becomes attributed by enhanced human capabilities – as well as an enhanced notion of the human being.
Us Embedding Cybernetics, Cybernetics Embedding Us
In the posthuman, there are no essential differences or absolute demarcations between … cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot teleology and human goals. (Hayles 2010:3)
The directness and usability of our everyday instruments carries utmost importance to us – by having these tools we want to be able. Casual surfing online embodies a wide range of functions that are hidden behind the interfaces the operator uses – meaning there is more happening than meets the eye. From the protocols that enable the connection between the user and the server, to the languages that translate the pages of code into visually effective compositions to ensure easy accessibility, there is not much left for the user to actually do. With the Internet, few users care what actually happens when they type ‘google.com’ in the address bar and press the enter-key. Such delicate design results in more fluid technologies, that in turn, have higher potential to become more integrated parts of our ways of living.
The posthuman uses numerous cybernetic mechanisms to carry out whatever functions the biological self is as much able to, yet the efficiency and immediacy tempt and have gained preference to date. On one hand, the common argument that we have due to our digital technologies become lazy is truthful as it refers to actions of the bodily self, yet on the other, this laziness is all approved and we are not bothered by it, since we use and see our tools only as alternative methods for doing things – one with more efficiency indeed, yet with outcomes reasonably similar. Talking to someone on the phone is perceived inasmuch as a social interaction as talking face-to-face; the lack of physicality is not an issue or an inconvenience for the transhuman. Our technologies are able to recreate the immediacy of space-time (the directness of the actuality in which real conversations take place), thus the bodily being can be considered obsolete as to the meaning of such enterprises – in communication, the content, the factor of information, is essential and not the bodies that deliver it. Like Hayles put it, there is ‘no essential difference’ between biological and the cybernetic.
‘The body is obsolete‘, proclaims Stelarc (2013) with his performance art, and this ideology is the transhumanists’ fundamental approach regarding the future. When the role of the physical entity is lessened, surely something is highlighted – what is to replace the body’s importance in human contact/communication?
Postman (1987:13) writes about how the clock, once, not only extended us with the ability to ‘bind time’ but also how that ability caused a transformation in our thinking, ‘and of course, our culture’. In context of the modern day technologies that give us such abilities as immediate communication regardless our physical location, our thinking surely has changed radically. Immediacy has resulted into disregard of the bodily, and emphasis on the content of the message.
Eugene Thacker defines immediacy as follows: it “involves the use of new media to the extent that the media themselves … disappear, bringing forth a kind of direct experience where technology is transparent and unnoticed by the subject.” (Nakamura 2007:95-96)
Inasmuch as the use of technologies has become essential and expected of the transhuman, so has it become native – transparent and unnoticeable as Nakamura defines above. The outcome of the process is what counts – regardless of what is lost. Electronic communications technologies have given place to an alternative way of thinking in which not the factories, but the factors matter. By factories I mean the processes and products utilised in order to accomplish a function, but which are not a fundamental part of the interaction itself. To exemplify my point, in a telecommunicated conversation (such as a phone call) the user may ignore the actual technologies (factories) that enable the factors to take place – the communications networks. The factors in telephony, in turn, are the talk – the primary enterprise itself – and who/what the function is performed by – the operators and the participants. The subject matters (factors) carry more relevance in use of the technology than the way it is carried out. Thus, technologies of the cyborg put emphasis on the meaning and the outcome of the function than how it is operated – again, there is no difference between cybernetic mechanisms and biological organisms, nor robot teleology and human goals; it all runs smoothly as one coherent system aiming for an effective execution.
Biological organisms have become biotic systems, communications devices like others. There is no fundamental, ontological separation in our formal knowledge of machine and organism, of technical and organic. (Haraway 1991:178)
Mackay (1995:43) states how it is argued that technological systems are built by drawing together both the physical and social actors into networks. This is known as the actor-network theory, which rejects the primacy of human elements but rather emphasises the relationships between heterogeneous human and non-human elements; creating ‘actor networks’, also, the connections between the material and the semiotic. This type of technological development outlines and highlights only the essential features of persons as to the system. When the deep relations of the being and the meaning are identified, the relevance of all present agents may be rethought. Through a sense of cybernetic de-construction, specific aspects of the human being may be treated as components of the mechanism just as much as its non-human counterparts – the living entity is viewed as a system itself, whole of which may not be necessary (or even useful) towards the functions the technology seeks – thus the transhumanist disregard of the body (that is always bound to its physical environment), and the emphasis on the meanings that the mind is to intake/extract. When liberated, the meanings (information) may roam free within the cybernetic systems independent from physical reality.
I will shortly elaborate the previous point through telephoning again; the communication technology allows for temporary inhabitation of not the whole human being, but only their most essential components with regard to sufficient practice of information transmission – their voices, and as to receiving it, the devices that allow such cybernetic practice often feature an ‘electronic mouth’ – a speaker – that turns the inhabited voices into sounds again. With our telephony technologies of today the body is already mostly obsolete (apart from its vocal attributes), and the mind – the faculty of abstraction and understanding of information – is primary.
Technical artifacts help to make an information theoretic view a part of everyday life. From ATMs to the Internet … information is increasingly perceived as interpenetrating material forms. … From here it is a small step to perceiving information as more mobile, more important, more essential than material forms. When this impression becomes part of your cultural mindset, you have entered the condition of virtuality. (Hayles 2010:19)
CHAPTER #3 : THE REAL VIRTUALITY FOR THE MIND
The Liberation and Construction of Information in the Age of Internet
As discussed in the previous chapter, our technologies emphasise not the physical existence of matter but their meanings. Hayles (2010:26) states how ‘the user’s sensory system’ is put ‘into a direct feedback loop with a computer’ within a virtual reality – the Net is a playground for our intelligences, featuring broad freedom and openness, which fully fits the transhumanist viewpoint of the liberated human being. With our digital technologies, our minds play an active role in the cybernetic processes undergone whilst surfing online, interpreting and comprehending the information we come across.
The technologically ultra-capable societies of today honour the immaterial currency of factual information and the immediate access to it. Hayles (2010:19) mentions Anglo-American ethnocentrism regarding ‘digital information as more important than more context-bound analog information’ due to the ‘decontextualized construction of information’, which modern technologies have indeed enabled. This is not a new idea of course. Visual signs and markings have been recording the minds’ ideas since day one – consider cave paintings et cetera. The creation of alphabet, however, revolutionised mankind – at least those human communities which have come to use it – by making this process much more organised and comprehensible. As written language is able to separate the spoken from the speaker, the text-based mediums have proven strong in the act of sharing information as they are less bound to the confinements of the time and space in which they are produced. By transforming into a visual form of text, speech becomes timeless and reproducible. Further, in this shape the information is more able to keep to its original structure than an orally shared story – italics due to the fictional connotations of the word. In verbal redistribution the message might easily, by human minds, become altered, influenced or exaggerated due to less capacity in memory and more in imagination – than in its fixed textual alternative. With more time as to the preparation for dissemination, texts, electronic or not, thus natively gain an aspect of factuality. Yet, albeit creditably accurate and truthful, the texts are always simulative of the reality which they seek to communicate and can never be the “real deal.” (Doel and Clarke, 1999:263)
Cyberspace is the most significant technological development of the late twentieth century. Yet it is inseparable from its cultural context. Hence the creation and continued evolution of cyberculture, developed through social interaction in the electronic environment of cyberspace. (Eid, 2009:69)
Doel and Clarke (1999:263) cite Robins (1991:61) in order to discuss the academic argumentation about how a user in virtual worlds is able to ‘explore and interact with graphical (virtual) objects in much the same way as one might in the real world.’ This implies how the environments of cyberspace seek to imitate the functions and interactions humans perform in real life. However, Doel and Clarke add how the virtual can at best be only a mere simulation. With our minds deeply integrated into the cybernetic systems of virtual realms within the Internet, the simulations are completely adopted in our thinking and make a massive part of our culture. The transhuman does not differentiate the real from the virtual. Emphasising what over how, the modern man consumes information regardless of its form, our intellects interpreting the feed as presences and facts.
To some analysts, CMC [computer mediated communication] … represents the revenge of the written medium, the return to the typographic mind, … For others, on the contrary, the informality, spontaneity, and anonymity of the medium stimulates what they call a new form of ‘orality’, expressed by an electronic text. (Castells, 2001:393)
Internet and the New Form of Expressivity
In the age of the Internet, the ‘netizens’ of cybercultures are able to socialise not only by use of language in form of text (as was the case back in BBS days), but also of wider graphic representations, including digital photographs and moving image, and sole audio as well. In the information age, the culture of the visual has even become primary to the experienced – this is the ‘condition of virtuality’ suggested above by Hayles (2010:19), and exactly the ‘Anglo-American ethnocentrism’ she mentioned. Our new form of ‘orality’ – or expressivity – is one completely of computerised means, and the simulative side of it can be considered problematic, as it is deemed (Doel and Clarke, 1999:263) to de-realise the actual reality, creating our culture into one of imitative representations, simulative spectacles, and not of real actuality, direct physicality. One can say “been there, done that” – but the sentence “seen that” may only continue by “thought this.” Our current information and communications technologies are visual and/or aural, and emphasise the meaning that is to be processed within our minds – creating awareness and emotions, not actual experiences. Castells (2001:356) quotes Postman to elaborate how reality is constructed by our languages [although Postman (1987) instead of ‘reality’ writes ‘nature or intelligence or human motivation or ideology’].
Communication decisively shapes culture, because, as Postman writes, ‘we do not see…reality…as ‘it’ is, but as our languages are. And our languages are our media. Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors create the content of our culture.’
With our technologies and within our cyberspace, as mentioned, our current CMC’s means are advanced – we can practice interaction with other humans far better than solely verbally. This makes our skills in real-life reproduction higher, and our representations stronger – more powerful, having more impact on our sensoria. With the instruments we have to date, selected pieces of human existence may be extracted into the cyberspace in form of digitised information – be it text, pictures, video or sound – essentially what we know as data.
Virilio (2005:60) writes about an American artist, June Houston, whose online project GhostWatcher was active in the mid-90s. In this installation she published live webcam footage from her apartment allowing for visitors, or ‘Watchers’, to keep an eye open for supposed ghosts, which she claimed to be afraid of.
Thanks to this ‘real-time’ illumination, the space-time of everyone’s apartment becomes potentially connected to all others, the fear of exposing one’s private life gives way to the desire to over-expose it to everyone, … It is, in fact, fair to say that this practice revolutionizes classical local television from top to bottom. It revolutionizes the broadcasting of information programmes by contributing to the total transformation of the transparency of sites and spaces of habitation, in the direction of a purely mediatic trans-appearance of the real space of living beings.
Where Virilio discusses the self-broadcasting in context of an art project, the citation however well points out the modern willingness of the transhuman to ‘over-expose’ their private lives ‘to everyone’. Our real existences may be – and are – projected onto the online in form of data. These recordings are an essential characteristic of the contemporary cyborg society. The cybernetic evolution of the humanity is leading exactly to this – the use of technology for advanced, virtual existence and capabilities, and this is an astonishing social change in consideration of human life.
The Virtual Ever-Existence
Brief Analysis of Facebook as a Cyborg Technology
It is fundamental to move beyond the notion that cyberspace is about escaping reality in order to understand how the reality of the Internet is deeply connected to the development of late postindustrial societies as a whole. (Terranova, 2000:2)
Web 2.0 is a term coined in 1999 to describe the increased role of the public users in building of the Internet. The Web as we know it today is interactive and lively, structure of which not merely dependent on designers with technical knowledge. As discussed in the first chapter, the early developers of the Net strove for an open structure with wide possibilities and this indeed characterises the World Wide Web today. Anyone with an access to the Internet can now – literally now – partake in creation of the global network, for example by setting up a website, content of which they are completely able to create and edit – and at best this is doable with no cost, only paying for the Internet Service Provider (be it a broadband company or a café etc.) for the access to the Net.
The proliferation of computing devices and the Net’s open structure with a variety of applications allow for a human entity to create a well-thought-out virtual version of oneself, which is constructed from the extracted information (data) that the user uploads to the Internet – more technically, by transferring files onto the server that works as a host computer for specific hypertext documents and is often up and running twenty-four hours a day. However, rather than discussing social web activities in context of an individual managing a website entirely of their own, I will focus on the globally connected cyborg with regard to the world’s most popular SNS, Facebook, a ‘cyberhome’ for 1.06 billion monthly active users, of which 618 million are active daily (Alexa Internet, 2013; Facebook, 2012). With over a tenth of the world’s population (Miniwatts, 2013), Facebook is the most inhabited online application for socialising through CMC and for virtual ever-existence.
The ability to create an online projection of the self onto Facebook is simple, relative to any use of the Web 2.0 in its interactive sense. I will briefly go through the fundamental features of the service in order to enlighten the capabilities the transhuman may gain from using this exemplary, extremely popular SNS and its products.
To participate, the user registers a profile by submitting their first name, surname, an email address, their date of birth, chooses a password and ticks a checkbox to tell which gender they represent. Such credentials are the only necessities for using Facebook and entering this virtual reality, main products of which are: ‘News Feed, Timeline, Messages, Photos and Video, Groups, Events and Pages’ (Facebook, 2013). The person has also to agree to the Terms and Conditions, which means there are some laws to abide by within this cyber environment.
The whole process of signing up to Facebook is doable immediately from the front page (‘facebook.com’), if the user is not already logged in to the service – in which case the user is directed to the News Feed. This page, in turn, instantly communicates reality-simulating content as a ‘list of stories from friends, pages, and other connections, like groups and events’ (Facebook, 2013), and features a box which asks “How are you doing, [name]?” This text field allows the user to type in a ‘status’ and straightaway broadcast the message to their ‘friends’ or to the public. This can be a photo or a video as well, to which metadata (a caption, date, location and links to other persons profiles – ‘tags’) can be added. Along with the uploaded content appearing on the user’s friends’ News Feeds in real-time, the information will be added to the their Timeline, a ‘profile that lets people organize and highlight the events and activities that matter most to them’ (Facebook, 2013). All users of Facebook have their own profile page on which appears the content mentioned above, along with ‘wall posts’ from other cyborgs and other content the user him/herself might have uploaded or has been ‘tagged’ in – this page is the most essential part of the cyborgised human beings of Facebook.
Virtual communities offer a dramatic new context in which to think about identity in the age of Internet. (Castells, 2001:387)
In the Web, profile pages are most often the key for communicating the transhuman’s virtual identity as a coherently arranged and categorised collection of information. The data that user uploads on Facebook is displayed on their unique Timeline, which function as an exhibition of nothing ‘real’, as in material, but rather selections of spectacles – visual/aural representations of the real. Terranova (2000:47) describes the scenario: ‘Hyperreality confirms the humanist nightmare of a society without humanity, the culmination of a progressive taking over of the realm of representation.’
The easily decipherable collage of mind-extracted data and digitally captured moments, alongside the further virtual actions/activities that the system logs and displays, all essentially aim to symbolise who and what the users ‘are’ in actuality – Baym (1998:55) suggests that ‘reality seems to be that many, probably most social users of CMC create on-line selves consistent with their off-line identities.’ Brubaker and Gillian (2011) in their analysis result in the same conclusion. The virtual profiles can thus be considered as outlines of the physical actuality – yet one with high potential for editorial, and like discussed earlier – texts that mimic reality, can never communicate the reality as is, but are restricted to the means of instrumentation of our medias, our languages for metaphors.
Whilst other users, geographically near or distant to their ‘targets’, scan through Timelines, their minds summarise the ‘cyberspatialised’ information, creating an extensive understanding of the otherwise randomised and scattered reality of the individual, which has been recorded and stored into digital systems and presented as a reportage. The viewers do not read or get known to the physical and actual, the real person, but their reflection. They do not see the person as he/she is, but as his/her metaphors are. There indeed is lesser understanding of physical actuality within virtual realities, yet the real virtuality succeeds in simulation of the actuality by the stimulation of our senses. Mitchell (2003:33) states in reference to online computer gaming,
‘ I don’t have any idea where the physical boundaries are or how many active players there might currently be; I interact with the other players, avatar-to-avatar, in software-generated, software-ruled virtual terrain.’
The cyberspace of today is characterised by informality, spontaneity and anonymity (Castells, 2001:393), its built of completely representative data- setting aside experiences of real life, yet creditably offering ‘nothing less than the re-enchantment of our mundane existence’ (Robins, 1991:47). It offers a channel for wider connectivity and ‘broadens scope of communication over time’ (Castells, 2001:388) with other human beings, friends or ‘friended friends’, than ever – radically changing not only our ways of thinking, but clearly having a heavy impact on our culture too, our ways of living/socialising, by allowing such techniques for communication to take place.
To end this chapter, and finally the whole piece, I will quote Robins (1996:49) as he writes:
In the case of the virtual microworld, however, what is significant is that the user is removed from the fullness of ‘real’ human existence. As with video games, the machine ‘takes the player out of this world’; it encourages ‘disembodied activity’. It is possible to become immersed, even drowned in the simulated reality: ‘Like Narcissus and his reflection, people who work with computers can easily fall in love with the worlds they have constructed or with their performances in the worlds created for them by others.
As I have throughout the piece expressed, the condition of Cybernetic Evolution humanity is going through, thanks to the very intelligent technological developers and groups, is true. From what originally started as military research into interactive computing, turned into computer scientists’ fantasising operation about a bigger, globally human-interaction-changing computer networking system. The mindsets that the developers had, and design qualities they honoured resulted into an architecture which could be, and was, and still is, openly distributed in many spheres (as to web design and development). The great research resources and environment in which ARPANET was built, and with their wide contacts to the university world proved successful in creating a network with the most expert values – one that today is everywhere and to which Western societies greatly rely on. The reliance, however, has lead us to take the technologies for granted and make the mankind lazy as such; yet the features of immediacy and efficiency were purpose-built – that is the ontology of robots. The technology around us creates higher expectations within the society, resulting in a need to gain such superhuman – or solely transhuman – abilities for ourselves. As ICTs have become mass-produced and mass-distributed, we today can become a giant step more able, yet what happens within our minds is a subliminal transformation; we ourselves become part of the cybernetic systems – as that indeed is how the technologies are designed. By becoming elements within modern technologies, our mind’s intellectualities can be cybernetically transmitted, which the cybercultures of today clearly prove. Being offered limited means for the extraction, the Western public creates restricted representations online, losing out on the value of the human being – however, it all comes back to being more able and efficient, which we indeed have become, and increasingly, want to.
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