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I Haven't been feeling myself:
Art Articles at
Cyber- evolution:
Virtual Futures 95.

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Context
This article first appeared in issue 17 of everything magazine. In 1995 there was an explosion in interest in the implications of the convergence of the different forms of electronic media. Many of the contemporaneous texts took the form of a journalistic science fiction which contained as much inventive speculation as it did "hard fact". In this piece Articles seems to be taking the request by the conference organisers to participate in speculation literally.
Articles also seems to be treading an uneasy path between two modes of thought which were prevalent in those troubled times and which could be characterised by "the Luddite" and "the Evangelist".
"We require just a little order to protect us from the chaos. Nothing is more distressing than a thought that escapes itself, than ideas that fly off, that disappear hardly formed, already eroded by forgetfulness or precipitated into others that we no longer master. These are infinite variabilities, the appearing and disappearing of which coincide."
Deleuze and Guattari

So, I imagine myself as a waterboatman. My six thin legs stretched out on the membrane of the pond's surface, Looking down on the shadows and shades below.

Thursday
It's official. THEORY IS DEAD. I read it in Frieze. People just got hacked off with it. Susan Kandel goes to great lengths theorising as to why this is the case. The Barthes, Baudrillards, Foucaults, Lacans and the Lyotards have made their point(s) so why should we go on about it? I suppose there might be some enterprising research student out there who might do an audit of how artists used to use theory and in what quantities. Were they ever really deeply into it or was it something that got mixed up with the other colours on the palate? (That's not a theory incidentally - it's a question - because I can't theorise because theory is dead.)

Friday
You read it hear first. THEORY IS ALIVE. People are even writing manifestos again: Robert Peperall's post humanist document is in Mute magazine (see also interview with RP in e issue 16). Utopian editorials and the Electro Sphere sections in Wired are making proclamations as wild as any 1640's pamphleteer: "Everything is changing, every thought, every action and every institution formerly taken for granted". And as a proclamation try this for size: "The ultimate luxury is meaning and context".
It's difficult to know when the speculation will stop - I've just read that in a thousand years we'll all be glands in jars with micro chips attached, swimming through cyber-space having sex and laughing.

Saturday
Here at the Virtual Futures conference at Warwick University we've got theory coming out of our ears. We're high on it, it has taken on the consistency of an all pervading plasma, we can even taste it (but very few of us are sure what it actually tastes like). The programme's introduction sets the scene: "Any post-Nietzschean, post-Marxist or post-Wittgensteinian philosophy is based on experimentation, so we offer ourselves up to you as your laboratory for the weekend. And you are our lab rats..."
I go up to the Panorama Room where the main events occur, it has the feel of a club about it. On the stage Tim Burdsey is reading his paper, delivered machine gun style in hard-cred estuary English. Techno music plays under him and video images are projected onto the screen: "...Our thoughts are not our own - our minds temporary data banks, fertile territories to be parasitised by virulent meme complexes before they escape into the Infosphere. Our access to a new molecular scale of activity within the world corrupts our idea of knowledge as a result of human endeavour. Disembodied forms pose a significant threat to our ideas about having knowledge. We're dealing with poor data. Information, the stuff of dreams. The whole system to handle ownership is obsolete- there's no original blueprint only laterally replicating imprints". I leave the tape recorder running and go off to find the philosophers in the other rooms.
On my way I decide that I'm going to take the approach of a mesmerised and fuzzy thinking lab rat. I begin to jot down a lexicon of terms:

A: "Schizopolitics": a term used by readers of Deleuze & Guattari, two writers who are extremely influential at this conference and whose work forms the starting point for many of the lectures. Their approach, in this context, can be glibly summed up with the question: "Are we colonising cyberspace or is cyberspace colonising us?"....

B: "Infosphere": A self perpetuating cybernetic network which comprises the Net and telecommunications matrix and which follows its own evolutionary imperative. Although the human arena afforded its genesis and incubus it is becoming increasingly independent as information systems gain their own momentum, creating unforeseen repercussions on the non-cyber world. An example of how this comes about might be the development of a shared cognitive space within cyberspace which creates Hybrid Intelligence; essentially an information ecology which could be self comprehending, whereas the human participants would only ever see a small portion of the overall scheme. How humans relate to this state of affairs might cause a certain schizophrenia.

I sit down it the lecture theatre and add another couple of words to my lexicon.

C: "Fractal Economics": A large company is split into subsections which operate autonomously. The aims and goals of one fractal company might contradict the interests and goals of another - this is good for the well-being of the evolution of the Infoshpere overall - even though it might be detrimental to particular cells within that organism.
A good instance of fractal economics in action might be the example of IBM who had a fractal R&D unit which developed a virus damaging the overall company - this is the evolutionary imperative: the organism within the Infosphere is blind and amoral and doesn't give two owl's hoots for the director of the company or its employees. It's just doing what it does best - finding an environment which best suits its continued adaptation.
We become freer but at the same time free only in relation to the demands ofthe Infosphere - these demands are unspoken and as the organism is ostensibly invisible it makes it doubly difficult to organise resistance against it. We're also unsure about where we end and it begins. The problem is that the cyber-spatial organism is an abstraction whilst at the same time being an actual thing. We are components in it whilst at the same time being separate from it. The fact that we are both reliant on it and complicit in its maintenance means that we lose the will and the ability to articulate an opposition to it. How to resolve the problem is one of the concerns of schizopolitics. The loss of will and the growing autonomy of the Infosphere might presage the rebirth of fascism and further marginalise the two thirds of the world which is of no interest to the Infosphere. The Italian Philosopher Franco Berardi made the point that the rise of Berlusconi in Italy was the first tele-virtual election and allowed Berlusconi to monopolise that country's communications industries. This occurred because of a combination of Berlusconi's Machiavellian instincts and also because the nature of the Infosphere allowed it to happen. In this sense the Proto Fascism of Berlusconi was a product of the evolutionary outworking of the Infosphere. The Infosphere doesn't give a monkey's dry toss one way or another who owns the newspapers or who subjects the Italian populace to diet of wet T-Shirt contests or dumb quiz shows on TV every day - it just adapts to exist in a viable environment. Before the deregulation of Italian TV Beradi entreated the government to set up what he calls "Points of annunciation" - localised communication stations which would stop the seemingly inevitable rise of information monopolies. They didn't listen and the result was Berlusconi. Similarly Beradi now advocates "Points of annunciation" which will save the Net from the Infobahn. The Infobahn might result in a greater concentration of power or strong information currents that become exclusive. The Infosphere is not essentially democratic, humanistic, post humanistic, fascistic, egalitarian or anarchistic - it's an information ecology but the fall-out from its activities have repercussions on people.

I pick up my tape recorder from the Panorama Room. I buy a pint of Guinness from the bar and sit down, adding a new word to my lexicon.

D: "Meme" (mimetic vectors): A meme is an idea virus which has previously used the incubus of the human consciousness as its host. The word first appeared in Richard Dawkin's book "The Selfish Gene" [Oxford University Press,1976] and is a Hybrid of the Greek "mimeme" (to imitate) the French "meme" (to remember) and also rhymes nicely with Gene.
For three hundred million years DNA has been the only show in town, those little double helixes have been busily threading themselves through every living organism of earth. But there is no reason for evolution to work only biologically. Cultural evolution, the replication and repetition of ideas and motifs, can develop its own life whilst using the biological organism (humans) as their hosts. If an idea can survive its originator, is repeated and passed through subsequent generations then it has proven itself to be an adaptable meme. Some won't survive (the chocolate flavoured suppository, for instance) and some will (the first four notes of Beethoven's fifth, life after death, the green man walking on the pelican crossing, the cross, the medalla &c). They survive like any organism in a manner which is advantageous to themselves - they might find it advantageous to congregate together to form Meme Complexes - a culture - in the form of ideological, religious and aesthetic constructs. From the base of that culture they can survive their human hosts and hitch-hike their way from one generation, one culture, to another. Again there is no will involved, memes are falling into the vacant, and fertile, belief spaces that best suit them.

The development of cyberspace allows for the evolution and development of memes distinct from there traditional context. The development of artificial intelligence (A.I.) might result in a diminishing reliance on humans. Computers don't sleep therefore memes might find more advantage in using A.I. systems as their hosts. Replicating themselves independently of any human involvement and feeding back ideas to us which were not incubated in the human hemisphere.

I fast forward and the press play. I had over-recorded a Leonard Cohen album and in the tones of Jeramiah, low and apocalyptic, I hear him singing "Give me back the Berlin wall / give me Stalin and Saint Paul / I've seen the future /........ and it's murder"

© Art Articles 1995.elogo

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