Make The Tech Disappear!
Apr. 05, 2023. 6 min. read.
“We have been metamorphosed from a mad body dancing on hillsides to a pair of eyes staring in the dark”.Jim Morrison
During lectures in the 1990s, the psychedelic philosopher Terence McKenna offered what was perhaps a defining techno-primitivist vision of a utopian future: he envisioned the celebratory future man dancing around a fire in the forest in his penis sheath — meanwhile his health and well-being is watched over by nanobots, and all the intelligence, information and knowledge possessed by humanity (or posthumanity) is accessible via an implant behind his eyes. (I’m sure we can enclose all genders and not-genders into the model despite the initial penile reference).
As an imagined future, this seems to me more attractive and substantially less likely to result in Black Mirror dystopias than the dreams of the uploaded self or fully digitized minds. Also, working towards this vision, as likely as it is to fail, could be more fun and more humanizing than striving towards dematerialization or emphasizing the business-oriented lust for endlessly rising markets as a motivation for technical evolution. (The next emergence of a rumored “long boom” will probably be another short boom, given that crises of capital seem to be following the frequency curve of Moore’s Law.)
Fetishized Tech Toys in the 1990s
During the ’90s, the fetishization of material digital technology (hardware and software disks, CD-ROMs etc.) became pop culture. In San Francisco and elsewhere, clubbers came out to celebrate “virtual reality” — partying about an experience that didn’t really work very well yet. Eric Gullischsen of Sense8 or (occasionally) Jaron Lanier would show up at a celebration of “cyberculture” with giant rigs that required substantial muscle and set-up time and effort. A Bay Area counterculture that had been notably skeptical of technological enthusiasms and shiny commodities fairly well swallowed whole this new wrinkle in the possibilities for hallucinatory play. Crowds would roll up for these mediocre mystery tours. People wanted to experience mediated immersion because it was trippy and, largely, because some “influencers” were preaching its transformative powers.
There were also plenty of more easily purchasable objects to satisfy the lust for shiny new commodities that one could ogle, show off and use. Fat curvy brightly colored Macs brought some eye candy into lives and offices that might otherwise have been gray, although a live-in work-as-play programmer culture also splashed some (exploitable) edgy color across the scene. Techno-hipsters with pink hair flashing graffiti-covered skateboards carried the day.
When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, he opened the new phase in popular computer culture. It was the beginning of mobility. In a way, we now had in our pockets that data that McKenna had imagined behind the eyes.
The trend towards miniaturization and decentralized spatial relations took a giant leap. And while the mobile phone in theory might have offered opportunities to travel back into that mad body on a hillside Morrison rhapsodized about – we look around and still see people walking around in isolation with screens in their faces, ignoring the lovely environment and the other people there.
Even at raves, cultural events that were all about flowing into a mad body raptured by the rhythms, commentators have noted that people increasingly have become focused on using their cell phones to capture an image (or video) of their presence, subtracting from the experience of actually being present. Indeed, Douglas Rushkoff reported on nightlife trendies who would go to one club, record and post their presence there and then move on to the next club to do the same.
Web3: Further Away From the Desktrap
Now here comes Web3. With decentralization as the defining trope, it would seem like we could be stumbling… or dancing… towards that tech-enhanced hillside, with technological objects ephemeralized into “the cloud” (or system of clouds) for the data and the interactions we want or need to have in virtual space while carrying less on our person. Portable, intuitively accessible digital identities smooth the drag of passwords and allow us to glide through roadblocks and over paywalls – and with cross-platform access to everything, we begin to see a world in which we actually spend less time noticing, thinking about, and fetishizing the technology, and more time, perhaps, dancing or painting psychedelic penis sheaths or vaginal cones or creatively enjoying whatever our delirious selves can conjure.
The New Fetish is Mobile Capital
As the objects get small and slowly disappear, the new fetish has become the thorny arena of capital and valuation. The aspect of Web3 that has made the most impact has been a blockchain gold rush, with waves of opportunity for capital income, complicated questions of trust and anonymity, and scads of well-publicized scams grand enough to shake up an already fragile global economy. Humans are busier than ever trying to resolve the existential and social problems conjured by the legacy ritual that requires the getting and giving of tickets to earn the necessities of survival and enjoyment. And in a world in which paid jobs in physical labor are decreasing, and service work no longer covers living expenses for most, the desperate hustles for those tickets have conjured a democratization of the sorts of activities conducted in the formerly more exclusive financial markets — the tricky games involved in trying to make money make money.
The blockchain circus of minting and manipulating coins and increasing their value with frantic excitation and hype directly reflects the financialization and manipulations of casino capitalism that broke the global economy in 2008. Indeed, in some ways, elements of the NFT/crypto scene feel postapocalyptic – an anarchic and bratty culture that can embrace coins with Joker names and Riddler brandings like shitcoin or cumrocket. There appears to be a self-aware, if adolescent, understanding that we are scavenging among the shards of a radically decentered economy, not to mention civilization.
It seems to me that this fetishization of mobile capital — the multiplying of virtual money for some individuals via the blockchain (wherein scarcity is in actual effect) is a situation that needs to fall away if we are to get closer to the imagined techno-ecstatic future suggested by McKenna that I’ve built this column around.
In a future column, I want to more deeply explore the perversity of blockchain culture and ways to find both better ways to use that procedure and better ways to attain results expected from the blockchain through other means. I admit it. I’m not sure what I’ll come up with.