34 – #DISGUISE

“Let’s hear it for the vague blur!”

In A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick’s dystopian science fiction novel of addiction and redemption, the protagonist – a drug enforcement agent – wears a disguise to prevent anyone from recognizing (and thereby betraying) him. The ‘scramble suit’ creates an everyman projection; in place of a single person, the whole population is represented:

As the computer looped through its banks, it projected every conceivable eye color, hair color, shape and type of nose, formation of teeth, configuration of facial bone structure – the entire shroudlike membrane took on whatever physical characteristics were projected at any nanosecond, then switched to the next…

Looking upon the scramble suit reveals nothing of the person within. Even the voice, transformed in real-time, splices together the words of people of every age and from every culture, resulting in speech full of meaning but lacking any identifiable characteristic.

Overloading ourselves with particulars, we represent nothing. Preference becomes impossible, a meaningless attempt to empty the oceans with a sieve. When everything about us is everything, we become invisible.

Therein lies our escape from the land of the shadow.

Everything that we share in common with others subtracts from our specificity. We connect and share and refine our sharing, to find our interior lives leaking away, expressed and examined and critiqued, but no longer ours. With the loss of privacy comes the loss of uniqueness. We are not defined by what we share, but rather, by what we withhold. It is the things we will not say which make us significant. Hard, secret, and often cruel, these secret stones are the making of us. Creatures of language, we are closest to that which we dare not utter.

If we are to have any of ourselves left in a hyperconnected world, we must learn to keep quiet, drawing lines around our lives, determining which parts we will choose to expose and have bleached to whiteness in the intense light cast by four and a half billion others, deciding which parts we will keep close, telling no one, not even our closest relations, lest these secrets find their way into their sharing and thereby undermine all our efforts.

The simple quiet of the Zen master provides inadequate defense against the mechanisms of the age of omniscience, where actions speak louder than words. Tirelessly watching, our machines faithfully construct their simulacra from a study of our movements; the only silence they could not penetrate would be the absolute stillness of the yogi who holds a single pose for years. Everything else points to a truth we dare not speak, but which speaks for us.

Thoroughly surrounded, we must find another passage to freedom, blinding the machines in a surfeit of light. We need to maintain connections not with a hundred and fifty others, nor even with ten thousand, but with ten million, sending messages to all of them as frequently as our channels allow, so that no pattern can be discerned within the overwhelming flood of connection. Where data can be abstracted, analyzed and applied to the simulacra, there it must be amplified, and shared as broadly as possible, without regard to recipient. Everything we say must be shouted from the rooftops, into as many ears as will hear.

This is our scramble suit: If we say everything to everyone, we say nothing of importance to anyone in particular. It must be this way. We can not simply dissemble, pretend to be other than what we are, because our actions expose our connections. We must be connected to everyone in order to move beyond the reach of the simulacrum. Hyperconnectivity is more than a condition; it is a necessity, stripping away our privacy even as it hands us the tool to restore it.

Each of us, receiving a continuous stream of communication from millions of others, would immediately lose all meaning and all contact, it being impossible to discern a whispered signal within a roar of noise. But within ourselves, in the never-revealed sanctum of the soul (and the soul’s little machines), we keep a list of those whom we choose to attend. These communications are the ones which we interpret and acknowledge. We assign importance, and so construct the screen to prevent the light we generate from dazzling us.

The filter between ourselves and our closest relations lies within ourselves, not out on Facebook or Google or Twitter or in any other system where it becomes fodder for our simulacra. It must lie within, part of our essential self, because who we know is who we are. When a simulacra faithfully models who we know, we have become simulations, programmable and easily controlled.

The joy of sharing is immediate, evident, and completely natural. Amplified across the entire planet sharing also becomes its shadow: hidden and artificial. The way down is the way forward, into an overwhelming and chaotic construction of connectivity which purposely surrenders any extrinsic meaning in order to preserve its occult intent.

Let us then embrace noise and randomness, seeing them not as problematic but as beneficial, the keys to our release. Noise resists analysis, and can not be used to fortify simulacra. Randomness confounds computers, providing no clear picture, only a Rorschach-like exploration of the interiority of the observer, not the observed.

Turning the tables on the observer, we will use our scramble suits as mirrors, turning them to face the shadow machinery of simulacra, which, lacking real data, will feedback upon their own inbuilt hypotheses, producing monstrous projections, a carnival funhouse utterly divorced from reality. What they look for they will find, but it will always be a phantom, the exteriorization of the observer’s own desires and fears, a hall of mirrors filled with hungry ghosts.

We must connect. We are compelled to share. We must no longer discriminate: Everything for everyone, everywhere. If they know us, they will listen; if not, they will thank us for the disguise.

33 – #SHADOW

Who are you? What do you want?

Everywhere we go, these questions come to us, surrounding us like a magnetic field, our hyperconnected movements creating lines of force, as the world aligns to our presence, like so many iron filings. It makes no matter how we answer either of these challenges, for our actions betray us completely. We make a dent in the world just by observing it. Presence alone is entirely enough.

Like finds like. You can lie about your name or age or race or nationality or political persuasion or sexual preference or culinary taste or fashion peccadillo, but incongruent with your actions, that falsehood will be ignored, thrown out as noise amongst the growing body of data. Queers know queers. Liberals know liberals. Foodies know foodies. Jews know Jews. Our network of relationships tells anyone who cares to look everything they would ever need to know about who we are. Things we would never willingly reveal to another human being resolve into unmistakable clarity, because our relations speak louder than our declarations.

This information, captured and recorded, becomes the foundation for a simulacrum of the self. Who we know is who we are, so relationship provides the key that answers all other questions. We can not help this, nor can we prevent it; wired to communicate, compelled to share, we define ourselves in greater detail with each act of sharing.

Those who watch – and they are watching – know more about us than we do about ourselves, for cool and dispassionate, they do not ignore the uncomfortable truths that our unconscious elbows aside. Warts and all, they see us as we are, in our relations and actions. Their simulacra, more honest than we ourselves can choose to be, takes on a life of its own, because it is more faithful to reality. Shadow overwhelms substance.

Who are you? What do you want? Someone else knows. Someone else cares because possession of your simulacrum turns you into a puppet of sorts. Where you are known, your actions can be predicted and your needs met. At the scale of the individual, this is basic social grace. Hyperconnected, this becomes a force in its own right, a sort of governance that is not outward directed, nor democratic, but seeks to envelop and control through a perfect knowledge of appetites and fears.

Everything that Edward Bernays began comes to its culmination in Facebook. Where crowd psychology gave birth to modern public relations, Facebook amplifies and inverts the process, disaggregating the crowd into individual simulacra, each such a faithful representation that responses can be known with perfect accuracy. Behavioral targeting isn’t a side-effect of the digitalization of our network of relations; it is the entire point.

Nor is there any escape in withdrawal. Delete your Facebook profile and leave other traces, just as distinct, in Twitter and text messages. All of our communication betrays us. All of it flows through Facebook and Google, either through search requests and the constant indexing of web pages, or the ubiquitous ‘like’ buttons, which serve as the smiling outposts of a global force of secret police.

The Stasi never had it so good.

Carefully tended, our simulacra, like hungry ghosts, have endless needs. They require food, clothing, shelter, the gadgets and accoutrements of hyperconnectivity, and endless entertainment. We act, and they express our needs to those who seek to satisfy them. We never get precisely what we want, but rather, what they care to offer. Caged, we are not allowed to see the world as it is, instead provided a narrow view that fulfills the commercial imperatives of those who have incarcerated our shadows. Nailed down and boxed in, we lose the freedom to move.

This is the paradox of cyberspace, the high price of sharing: the more we are known, the less free we become. This unbounded environment for human expression has become the perfect cudgel, a velvet glove covering an adamantine fist.

That shadow of our collective selves has many of the same qualities of our individual simulacra: it has both appetites and fears, centering on the same phantom: control. With a population of billions of hyperconnected simulacra, a type of practical psychohistory becomes possible, a dream beyond the grasp of Bernays, but well within reach of Zuckerberg. The masses can be driven to buy, driven to fear, driven to believe. It can all be done far more dependably – on an individual basis – simply by redecorating the bars on the cage.

Imagine a smoker who, under the influence of friends, decides to quit – then faces a deluge of images of attractive individuals, smoking? Or an obese person, confronted by an unending vision of delicious food? Consider the believer, losing faith, reminded constantly of the pain of hellfire? This is all possible, and this is all happening right now, if with less obvious maliciousness – the goal generally being to get people to consume something. When it acquires a political dimension – as it has in Syria and Iran – it becomes something more obviously repugnant, though no different in essential nature.

We must connect and share. It is who we are. Yet these profoundly human acts open us to dangers we find ourselves unprepared for. Not very long ago, our simulacra existed only in one another’s heads. Today they sit in databases, the private province of those driven to control, hungry ghosts tending feedlots of hungry ghosts. We can not withdraw without sacrificing our essential nature, but engagement inevitably leads to entrapment.

Gilmore’s Law points the way forward: no censor can withstand hyperconnectivity. But our hyperconnectivity itself creates the conditions for this censorship. To be connected is to be observed, and this feeds the simulacra. We appear to be trapped in a loop of our own making, products of a process of accelerated nature, dragged down to earth by our shadows.