[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

<eyebeam><blast> Cyberpower


1. Virtual lives cannot be avoided. Who can now live entirely on coin
and paper money? Virtual lives are experimental. If my body is not there
then I can type myself a new one. Virtual lives are part of virtual
societies whose stable forms are beginning to be seen. These virtual
social structures are constituted by the inter-relations between three
circuits of power in cyberspace. These circuits are the individual, the
social and the imaginary/collective imagination and each results from
certain assumptions about the nature of cyberspace.

2. Many begin their journey into cyberspace as individuals. In front of
the computer screen, reading the glowing words we confront our
singularity before building a sense of others in the electronic world.
There is a double sense of individuality here. First, people must simply
connect to cyberspace by logging in, almost certainly involving the
individual entering their online name and their secret, personal
password to be rewarded with their little home in cyberspace (usually
consisting of things like their email, list of favourite web-sites,
online documents and customised browser/interface). The first moment in
cyberspace is spent by nearly everyone in their own individualised
place. Second, moving from this little home to other virtual spaces
usually involves some moment of self-definition; choosing an online
name, choosing a self-description or outlining a biography. Through both
these continually recurrent moments cyberspace appears and re-appears as
a realm where we are individuals surrounded by other individuals.

3. If you assume or believe that cyberspace is the realm of the
individual, then cyberpower revolves around certain capacities
individuals gain in cyberspace. Politics and culture then result from
those capacities. Cyberspatial cultures based on the individual are
fundamentally structured by the three revolving powers of identity
fluidity, renovated hierarchies and informational space. Identity
fluidity is the process by which our offline identities can be
transformed/played with online, we can be different subjects online.
Renovated hierarchies refers to the reinvention of hierarchy online,
with many online resources undermining offline hierarchies (such as
access to expertise) while creating new hierarchies ('In compu-sex,
being able to type fast or write well is equivalent to having great legs
or a tight butt in the real world.' ) Both these resources rely on
cyberspace as an informational space; bodies can be rewritten and
hierarchies reinvented because cyberspace is constituted out of
information, both in the information users provide and the hardware and
software that creates cyberspace. When looking at the three axes of
cyberpower that result from this premise, all the various cultures the
virtual lands call peculiarly their own, emerge: the importance of
style, the peculiarities of cybersex, the wonders of MUDS, the vast
extent of Usenet and more. The visible or dominant politics of
cyberspace also emerge from these powers, placing access to cyberspace
and the maintenance of powers in cyberspace at the core of
cyberpolitical conflict. Cyberspace is the land of empowerment of
individuals, of reinventing identities out of thought. 

4. Many people report a transformation, often slow, in their perception
of online life. From an initial combination of bewilderment, glee and
scepticism (a sort of bemused intuition of how simultaneously ridiculous
and important online life is) many come to accept the world of avatars
as normal-from MUD dragons to email. With stable online identities, in
whatever forum they exist, people begin to have ongoing conversations,
to meet the same people and learn their peculiarities. The particular
rules of different corners of cyberspace become clear and normal. But
then the individual is no longer the bedrock or final cause of all life,
for communities have emerged. The transformation is not magical but
sociological. Even communities that begin by assuming the sovereign
individual is primary soon come to realise that collective
responsibilities and rules appear, created by many and over which no one
person has control. As Marx once remarked, the idea of one person
constituting a language or creating a society is strictly speaking
absurd. Anyone can invent a word but to have it understood means having
a community.

4. If you assume cyberspace is the realm of societies and collectives,
then a form of technopower becomes visible that increasingly offers
control of the fundamental fabric of cyberspace to an expertise-based
elite. Technopower in cyberspace is governed by the ever increasing
reliance by users on technological tools, that time after time appear as
neutrally pointing the way to greater control over information but time
after time result in different forms of information constituted by the
values inherent in the new tools. Information is endless in cyberspace
and creates an abstract need for control of information that will never
be satisfied. The direction of technopower in cyberspace is toward
greater elaboration of technological tools to more people who have less
ability to understand the nature of those tools. Control of the
possibilities for life in cyberspace is delivered, through this spiral,
to those with expertise in the increasingly complex software and
hardware needed to constitute the tools that allow individual users to
create lives and societies. 

5. The irony of technopower is that greater elaboration of technology is
demanded by individuals and appears to them as tools for increased
control of information. This demand produces tools that simultaneously
answer one problem of information control while producing new forms of
information out-of-control. There is no greater example of this than the
World-Wide Web, that made the Internet available to many but also made
them dependent on browsers, plug-ins, ISPs and the governments and
corporations behind these. The continual elaboration of technopower
delivers the fabric of life in cyberspace to an elite and is called for
by individuals seeking answers to problems of too much or too poorly
organised information. Individuals strive to free themselves in
cyberspace with the tools of an informational world. As a consequence,
we have become dedicated to the endless task of forcing information's
secrets from cyberspace, of exacting the truest confessions from a
shadow. The irony of this deployment is in having us believe that our
'liberation' is in the balance.

6. One of the characteristics of societies or collectives is that they
have collective imaginations or imaginaries; hopes and fears shared
among people who may never meet but are part of the same collective or
society. A recurrent characteristic of imaginaries is that they appear
to be on the verge of coming true, they are in a constant state of
almost-becoming real. Imaginaries offer hopes and fears that often do
not appear as hopes and fears, but as real projects just one or two
steps away from completion. Much of the urgency people draw from
imaginaries stems from this sense of being nearly but not quite
completed, meaning people feel a need to act quickly to either prevent
the imagined disaster or bring on the imagined benefit. 

7. Cyberspace's imaginary creates urgency because technological leaps
always appear to be almost completed. Cyberspace's imaginary is driven
by this compelling feeling that change is near (the future is in beta).
Cyberspace's imaginary is structured by a twinned utopia and dystopia
that both stem from the awed claim that everything is controlled by
information codes that can be manipulated, transmitted and recombined
through cyberspace. From Kevin Kelly's libertarian vision of Darwinian
'hive-minds' to Donna Haraway's revolutionary, difference-demanding
cyborgs, the radical hopes and fears in cyberspace result from a belief
that everything is now manipulable through information codes. Certain
particular visions are collectively imagined from this realisation and
provide some of the unifying thoughts that allow individuals in
cyberspace to recognise each other as members of the same community. The
sudden thought that all these different things-computers, life,
surveillance, immortality and god-hood-are based on information codes
that are within the grasp of information manipulating humans, leads to
all sorts of passionately imagined possibilities.

8. Power is pre- and post-politics, pre- and post-culture and pre- and
post-authority. Power is the condition and limit of politics, culture
and authority. Power seeps through and around all forms of politics, at
times bringing opposites into conflict in a way that reinforces the
fundamental flow of power. Cyberpower aims not at the immediately
obvious forms of politics, culture and authority that course through
cyberspace but at the structures that condition and limit these three.
Cyberpower reveals the underlying workings of lives, societies and
dreams in cyberspace that can be expected to endure for some time. A
certain complex form of power that operates on the three levels of the
individual, the social and the imaginary can now be seen careering
through the virtual lands, directing conflict and consensus towards
certain distinctive issues and social structures.

a critical forum for artistic practice in the network
texts are the property of individual authors
to unsubscribe, send email to eyebeam@list.thing.net
with the following single line in the message body:
unsubscribe eyebeam-list
information and archive at http://www.eyebeam.org
Eyebeam Atelier/X Art Foundation http://www.blast.org