MISC> Essays on the Anthropology of Cyberspace: Introductio

Thu, 17 Nov 1994 14:28:38 +0200

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 14 Jun 94 22:13:44 EDT
From: Micheal Strangelove <mstrange@fonorola.net>
Subject: Essays on the Anthropology of Cyberspace: Introduction

The following is part of a collection of essays I
am writing on the anthropology of cyberspace. The
essays explore the emergence of a new type of
self I have called the *uncensored self* and
looks into the possible social dynamics that will
arise from the convergence of this new type of
self with the approaching new millennium.

The Internet, Electric Gaia and the Rise of the
Uncensored Self.
Essays on the Anthropology of Cyberspace

Introduction (draft)

Why, I do not know but it is only in the past few
years that I realized I was to stand witness to a
most remarkable event. An event that only the
tiniest fraction of humanity has ever
experienced. An event that will certainly shape
cultures for hundreds of years to come. An event
that will be a catalyst for ten thousand
simultaneous events, small and large, ricocheting
off of each other, shaping assumed
improbabilities into massive undeniable social
facts. What is most remarkable about this coming
event is that it is merely a point of time to be
shared by all who identify with the Gregorian
calendar. This moment in time that will define my
shapeless generation is the end of this second
millennium and the beginning of the third.

I am thirty-one now and by the year 1999 I will
be thirty-six, on January 1st, year 2000, I will
be thirty-seven. I can recall thinking how old I
once thought thirty-seven was. Now it seems to me
that my life is only just beginning and I am
destined to be part of a collective midwife and
offspring to a new millennium.

This passing of the second and dawning of the
third millennium will be quite unlike any other
chronomatic celebration. What distinguishes this
coming benchmark in history is the degree to
which it will be shared by so many. Admittedly,
the Western "Judeo-Christian" calendar means
little to one billion Chinese, hundreds of
millions of Muslims, hundreds of millions of
Buddhists, and so forth. But the Gregorian
calendar is shared by the so-called
industrialized nations -- the nations that are
responsible for consuming the vast majority of
global resources.

The year 2000 does have shared significance to
the world of technology, global commerce,
industry, multinational corporations and their
obscene power, the English and its main dialect;
money. All are inexorably bound by the same heart
beat, the same chronotype, the same obsession
with time. Never before have so many held in
common the same method of measuring how time is
both "spent" and "saved". At no other time in
history have so many been subjected to the
precise measuring of "when" and "where".

So it can be said without hesitation that no
event in history will be so widely shared and
signified as the end of the second millennium.
Other factors that will make this event so unique
is the degree to which it will be anticipated,
recorded and communicated. That a culture of
eschatology such as ours will eagerly anticipate
the occurrence of significant events at this end
time is unquestionable. This anticipation will
manifest itself as a growing obsession with the
end-event. The anticipation will turn the West
into a society of watchers -- observers armed
with all the tools of mass communication and
prepared to transform the end-event into the most
recorded moment in history. Needless to say, this
very anticipation will be self fulfilling and
ensure that massive collective social phenomenon
does indeed occur.

The end-event will be characterized by a
heightened degree of self-awareness in Western
culture -- individuals will share an overwhelming
sense of participation in signification -- these
are the days that will be remembered for a
thousand years to come. For a moment, the West
will see itself as actor/historian/archivist, the
defined and defining self.

This collective anticipation and recording will
give rise to a priesthood of interpreters. Gurus
of end time meaning will give voice to the
collective mind. An industry of interpretation
will flourish in the years preceding and
following the end-event. The narcissistic "Who am
I" will be answered with the collective, "Who are
we becoming?"

So What?

So what can we say for certain about the coming
of the year 2000? In the history of meaning, it
will stand out as unique due to the unprecedented
number of human animals that will participate in
the event. It will be the largest collective
human event . It will be the most anticipated
event. It will be the most recorded event. It
will be the most interpreted event. All of this
ensures that the years immediately preceding and
following the birth of the third millennium will
be long remembered as the crazy years.

When Ideas Collide

This idealogue, the thought excursion, this book
of time and times to come is an exploration of
one aspect of the birthing process of a new
millennium. Our focus is on a parallel
phenomenon. This phenomenon is in many ways
equally unique and significant.

It is perhaps not by coincidence that the
approach of the third millennium should be
heralded by a new form of human behavior. This
new form of human behavior is a technological
John-the-Baptist -- a voice, a chorus of millions
of voices crying out in the wilderness of these
present times, this wasteland of isolated selves
we call modernity. This parallel phenomenon is
the fastest growing technology of communication
in history. This voice coming to us from the
frontier of human experience is the largest
uncensored form of communication in history. This
voice was first heard by most individuals in 1993
and immediately entrenched itself in the
landscape of popular culture. This voice, this
prophet of the third millennium, this
technological John-the-Baptist has a name and its
name is the Internet.

The Internet is not about technology, it is not
about information, it is about communication,
people talking with each other, people exchanging
e-mail, people doing the low ASCII dance. The
Internet is mass participation in fully bi-
directional, uncensored mass communication.
Communication is the basis, the foundation, the
radical ground and root upon which all community
stands, grows, and thrives. The Internet is a
community of chronic communicators.

Significance in history is not the product of
isolated events but the result of convergence
among a multiplicity of forces. It is the thesis
of this work that two isolated events --- the end
and beginning of a millennium, and the rise of
mass participation in uncensored bi-directional
mass communication -- the Internet, will
conjugate in such a way to give birth to a new
form of human behavior and with novel behavior, a
new form of human consciousness -- the uncensored
self. The dynamics of this convergence, and the
characteristics of the next stage in the
development of the Western self, are the focus of
this work.

Sex, Drugs and E-Mail:
The Elements of a New Style of Consciousness

What do sex, drugs, and e-mail all have in
common? Sex is tightly controlled in our society
-- only one legitimate institution, only one
legitimate partner. The dominant paradigm that
defines North American sexuality is capitalism --
each body is owned, exclusively possessed by
another body. Free agents, the unowned self,
represent danger, a threat to another's sexual
property. Drugs, illicit drugs, induce expanded
consciousness, alternative selves, but a
monotheistic society demands one self to answer
to one god, one crown, one law. E-mail, as a
metaphor for networked, global, uncensored
communication, is already under attack by the
state (through the Clipper chip legislation -- an
attempt to provide wiretap capability for all
electronic communication). E-mail, Internet-based
communication, is clearly potentially subversive
as it allows bi-directional, unfiltered,
uncensored mass communication. Uncontrolled sex
(unowned bodies), illicit drugs (multiple or
distributed selves), and e-mail (uncensored
electronic mass communication) are all inherently
subversive. If there is a question behind this
book, it is this: "Are we witnessing the rise of
an alternative cyberculture that propagates an
uncensored self? (Not through alternative
sexuality or drug use, but through a new
geography of existence in uncensored cyberspace -
- change the geography of existence and you
change the nature of the self.)"

The Physics of the Tragic Self

The post-quantum mind is the most tragic of
sentient beings. What could be worse than being
confronted with the empirical infinity of the
universe, the distant promise of hyper-light
speed interstellar travel, and our own earth-
bound mortality? We are given awareness of the
infinite, tempted with the possibility of
randomly exploring the origins of the light which
beckons us each night, yet we stand naked before
our own death, deprived of this endless frontier.
On the very threshold of our dreams, awareness of
the extent of our possibilities is confronted by
severe technological and biological barriers.

This, though, is not the final word. Confronted
with the inaccessibility of our physical
frontiers, my generation has turned inward and
discovered two new immanent and infinite
frontiers. These new frontiers of the next
millennium are the uncensored, distributed self,
and cyberspace -- the location of the virtual
self/community -- Electric Gaia.

Michael Strangelove
January 1994

Publishers/editors please note: It is my
intention to make these essays freely available
to the Internet. I will consider republication as
a complete collection in hardcopy if the draft
version is maintained as freely accessible on the
Internet. Inquires to mstrange@fonorola.net.

Copyright (C) 1994, Michael Strangelove. All
rights reserved. This text may be freely
redistributed in any medium so long as it remains
unedited and appears with this notice. Any
commercial use requires the permission of the