An idea recently occured to me which is both ingenious and extremely beneficient to myself, yet the more I think about it, the more I feel what I can only describe as a sense of great foreboding. The idea, in a nutshell, is as follows.
First a little background information - there is a motorcycle in my basement which does not function; it was given to me by a friend of mine whose mother would not let him keep it. Knowing a little bit about engines, maintenance and repair of small power equipment and such, I felt up to the task of restoring the motorcycle as a new project for myself.
The bike was given to me in a somewhat disassembled state. After a couple weeks of research I came to the conclusion that restoring the bike would require a great acquisition of knowledge on my part, along with the investment of a small amount of capital, and a large amount of time and effort, and thus I began the project.
By the end of the summer, I had made quite a bit of progress but the motorcycle is still pretty far from running, and is currently in a corner of the basement of my parents house in Massachusetts. For a variety of reasons, chief among them the small size of my room, the difficulty of transport, and my already full schedule, the motorcycle project has been put on hold. This is not to say that I do not sometimes think about this motorcycle.
My most recent thought concerning the motorcycle is this:
Suppose I were take a video camera and mount it on a robotic arm, and place this unit in my basement next to the motorcycle. Suppose I then put another robotic arm with access to mountable tools and such in the same location. I could then wire the controls of both arms to a computer and serve a webpage on the net allowing people access to a virtual broken motorcycle which they could work on, online. Maybe Sarah Lawrence could fund it and I’d even get a free motorcycle out of it. It would even solve certain registration problems I had been anticipating due to the peculiar way in which I came into possession of this machine. This was the initial idea which I posed, half seriously, to myself.
After some thought, however, the thought of this project began to also trouble me greatly. I fear that if this were successfully implemented, it would have mind-blowing repercussions, for I would have created a form of virtual slave labour. Granted, the scale of such an enterprise would be rather small, but what troubles me is that it need not be. The process I described above would create a procedure which can aptly be described as cyber-exploitation. This is deserving of careful consideration.
Invading the consciousness of the individual and depositing the idea of a virtual broken motorcycle is an action whose consequences we cannot yet divine but must anticipate with great consternation.
I introduced this idea to two friends, for example. I printed the first two paragraphs out as I was writing, and while one was reading it I explained it to the other. The first said I should make a bunch of websites and get people to do my laundry. The second said I should start smaller, getting people to butter bread. (Does this remind anybody of a certain historical coffeepot? If it does, or even if it doesn’t there will be a link here in the hypertext version of this to another website which explains what I’m talking about). I think the implications of such a technology are quite profound.
The possibility that for an initial investment of a few thousand dollars you could work in a factory in the comfort of your own home in copmfort and relative ease, rather than working there in person. You would simply have to monitor a couple desktop activities which would regulate remote robotic processes. This would be particularly adaptable to things like agribusiness where outdoor remote mechanized labor would have an advantage over indoor because of radio reception.
Another facet of this project which should also be considered is that all of the direct “value-adding” labor would be voluntary, donated by the recently born and often swindled “Internet Lobby,” suspending for a moment the convention of defining newly introduced terms, because as far as I can tell there is no organized idealogy or even accurate definition available of this entity, although it has “power.” The growth of the internet itself can be likened in many ways to the growth of the much fabled urban crocodile who grows into something whose adopted, cross-special family can no longer handle and must turn over to larger and more capable institutions who will now care for the difficult beast. While a crocodile would either die a tragic death or end up in a zoo, the internet is somewhat more ponderous. This is not to say it is an imponderable. Quite the opposite. As one begins to frame the necessary question: where are large-scale sensory object implantation/information gathering machinery in use and who controls them; the answer already seems nakedly clear. The government in a combination of media control (disputed but probably real, as evidenced by the removal of alcohol advertisements on television following govenmental pressure without an actulal legislative mandate demanding such action), organizations like the IRS, CIA, FBI, the postal system (with its regimen of information gathering through censuses polls, catalogues, questionaires, etc), the legal system (with its squads of police and ‘agents’); combined with industry with a its combination of advertising and introduction of “value added” products, and role of accessory to governmental information gathering are the obvious heirs to the new media. It cannot be any other way, unless another group can rise to the task of pragmatic qualification. It is obvious that idealistic qualification historically is not a determiner of heir-ship, or ownership of large media structures. It would seem that for the good of humanity, any structure which has the ability to control minds should be implemented in a “beneficial” way, or from another standpoint (Jerry Mander is a good example), not be implemented at all. In the former case, it is tacitly assumed that it is wrong to harm through mass hypnosis. In the latter case it is tacitly assumed that mass hypnosis itself is wrong because it is inherently exploitative. It is also important to remember that I myself am tacitly assuming that mass hypnosis is the same thing as artificial sensory implantation which is the goal of nearly all new media developed in the late twentieth century. Perhaps a theory of media ethics could be developed and enforced regarding the issue of hypnosis, and exploitation through media. The only problem would be finding an institution large enough to enforce such a policy which could be trusted to do so.
Extending the metaphor, what does a zoo do to a crocodile, and what does a crocodile do for the zoo. The zoo “maintains” (feeds, keeps at the proper temperature) the crocodile, and “configures” it (puts it in a cage) to the proper usable form so that the zoo can provide a “value added” service, namely the “use” of a crocodile. Both the form of the crocodile is changed, as well as the form of its existence. It no loner “is” as a crocodile, but is rather “used” as a crocodile.
At the present time steps are already being taken to transform the current internet into a “use”-able service. The growing number of commercial sites, and the proliferation of online advertising (which grows increasingly sophisticated by the day) gives clear enough indication of the aim of industry and advertising structures regarding the internet - to develop effective “programming” for this new medium.
This trend is no different from previous new media. The birth of both radio and television were immediately followed by the development of marginal communities of experimenters who would construct their own “boxes” by which they could be hooked up to the new medium. They explored the possibilities of these mediums, developed practical theories for their use, and dreamed of the effects these technologies might have on society toward the betterment (or the detriment) of mankind. In both cases, this experimental period was followed by the development of what is aptly termed programming.
Jerry Mander, in his book Four Arguements for the Elimination of Television broaches this subject. He discusses how television is largely a content delivery system, implanting broadcast information into the mind of the individual viewer. This itself is an indication of the power of programming. With this in mind (pardon the pun), it is naive not to think that a great deal of thought, and capital, has been invested in what is broadcast for the explicit purpose of mind control. It is clear that broadcast content is not an arbitrarily selected collection of material which is interesting and/or edifying in content. Quite the contrary. As Mander states, both television and radio rely almost entirely on the sale of advertisement space for the capital it requires in order to exist. The advertising industry exists solely to sell products and thereby keep consumer oriented industry in business, and is therefore necessitated by and subservient to such business. Therefore, television and radio rely on the sale of consumer products for their existence. It would be ridiculous to think that broadcast content itself has as its sole aim anything but the sale of consumer products.
This much said, the aptness of the term ‘programming’ is quite clear. The development of media programming, as I have said previously, is the development of a mind control apparatus. Therefore much like the code which instructs a computer, broadcast content is designed to instruct the media user. Like a computer, we are being programmed to perform a specific function - to consume.
It is clear that the move is on by the advertising-industrial sector to develop effective programming for current new media. Bill Gates in his The Road Ahead gives numerous examples of possibilities, such as asynchrous television, “broadcast” over the network. The television-like capabilities of current new media are semi-obvious. However, the potential of the computer as an output device is far superior to that of a television set. A computer is not limited to audio-visual output, but rather any electrical event can be computer output. Here is a list of some potential output devices for your personal computer: a blender, a robotic arm, a video camera, a stereo system, a climate control system, a missile launching and guidance system (one of the first uses of what is now the “internet”), or motorcyclebot. All that is needed is some circuitry, and some software, and all of these could then be wired into the net and controlled from anywhere. All of these could be controlled centrally. All the electronics in the world could literally be “wired” and controlled by a single (corporate) entity, and be made to transmit effective programming.
Current new media differs signifigantly from previous new media (television) in its capacity for input. As illustrated by the above example (motorcyclebot) this capability is easily exploitable. It is true that such exploitation is highly reliant on the existance of what P.T. Barnum would term “suckers.” It is arguable that advertising itself is similarly dependant. Uses of novelty (bells and whistles and such) and subtlety aid in pulling the wool over the eyes of the individual media user.
Utilizing the input capacity of current new media would give those in control of it, most likely consumerist industry via advertising, the ability to not only feed information into people’s heads, but also to fish it out. Techniques have already been implemented for this purpose, largely in the form of polls (ie those on organizations like aol and cnet). However, a little bit of thought reveals that the latent potential of current new media to gather input from individuals is much greater; “motorcyclebot” gives a sense of the highly specialized, valuable input which could concievably be gathered. Because of the almost infinite combinations of devices which could possibly be interfaced via the Network (nearly any electrical device, from a walkman to a satellite) the types of potential input are legion, pregnant with unforeseeable implications.
How all of this is to be constructed into some sort of effective programming is difficult to say. Perhaps the new world order will consist of millions wired in to remote-bots via consoles equipped with elaborate bio-input/output apparati, providing comfortable labor for corporations while at the same time being fed a stream of advertisements and pro-corporate ideaologies. It is too early to say, for the computer is only beginning to shed its skin as a business machine, revealing the freeform input/output processor which lies beneath. The monitor-mouse-keyboard convention which reigns as status quo today need not restrict experimenters in new media, and I daresay it has not. Individuals were using Commodore 64’s to run climate control systems in the eighties(I read about it in a trade journal when I was about thirteen), possibly remotely, not to mention the computer controlled robotics kits marketed by Capsela(tm) for the same machine. The potential for more broad based input/output devices for computers, which access more human abilities has existed since the birth of the current new media, and indeed experimenters have brought forth a marginal vanguard of alternatives, from virtual reality to robotics to environment regulation.
It is both fascinating and terrifying to me the vision that motorcyclebot conjures, with its near ridiculous simplicity (in theory, at least; to actually implement such an idea would be far from simple, at least for me). While amusing on the surface, it speaks of a potential which threatens to change how humans live, work, and even think. Current new media has the potential to be much more powerful than it is at this stage in its development; it is prevented from realizing this potential at this time due to the current input and output devices used by the majority of users, or rather, the gap between what is currently “wired” into the network, and what could be wired in in the future.
Unlike television, which was a very closed medium, fit only to wire television sets, current new media is all about “wiring” wiring. A computer’s processor itself operates based on manipulating th flow of electrons within a system. It is not inconcievable that Bill Gates and his ilk will be very much in favor of wiring as much of the known world as possible, for the sake, they will say, of consumer convenience. Perhaps in a few generations it will be a matter of course that appliances no longer have on/off switches - these will be obselete in a wired world. Appliances will be controlled by pins given to individuals as they enter the house if Gates has his way (Bill Gates, The Road Ahead), or some such futuristic nonsense. It is also possible that it all will be controlled centrally. conceivably in the future all coffee makers, for example, will all brew their coffee in unison at seven a.m. prompted by a signal from the FCC, or something. I think this example rather benign (yet, in my opinion, frightening) gives some sense of what is possible. It is clear from previous trends in new media development that despite the need for a watchdog over industry-advertising-government regarding the use and implementation of new media, there isn’t one, and there really can’t be one. There is no entity powerful enough, except for the people. Unfortunately, by the time “effective programming” for new media is developed and its effects can be assessed, it is too late, because time and time again, the effect has been mind control. With the current wave of new media, there is some discussion about whether this technology too will end up relegated to the uses of previous new media. While current new media differs in many ways from previous new media, it is difficult to imagine that this will alter its fate. At this point in history, with state power dwindling relative to corporate power, and the masses largely subdued by force, subversion and media, the internet is too large and too powerful to be controlled by any but the most powerful institutions. While it is too early yet to see clearly what effects new media will have upon the face of society, culture, and industry, in that the final functional forms of new media and new media programming have yet to emerge (or even really, a prototype form), it is clear that a great change is coming, and it is this generation which will see these changes take place.
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