Ray Bradbury:






by TIM DRUCKREY Many decades ago Martin Heidegger wrote "Die Wissenschaft denkt nicht." (Science does not think). Many years ago Norbert Weiner suggested that "every instrument in the repertoire of the scientific instrument maker is a possible sense organ." Many months ago, Marvin Minsky remarked "Culture is just bad science." Several weeks ago the subway was plastered the glaring yellow and black platitudes like "Scientists say we use 10% of our brain cells -- that's way too much." Several weeks ago Robert Pittman (CEO of AOL) said "What is and will continue to drive this industry is simplicity, not complexity." This descent, from metaphysics into marketing, strains against the trajectory of culture. Engulfed in tidal waves of innovation, it's easy to comprehend how deeply the ideologies of technology affect the increasingly uneasy sense of being in the arbitrary end of a century (no less a millennium) propelled by an almost irresistible urge to link processes and systems.

Electronic Culture Indeed, the "triumphs" of rationality that have extended and/or penetrated the "boundaries" of the matter, light, biology, the senses, the body, consciousness, or the imagination, stand as stark reminders that much work needs to be done to insure that technoscience's grip on the performativity and reception are not mistaken as unquestionably "rational" or as the groundwork for an algorithmic social epistemology. Yet the disturbing signifiers of the assimilation of systems-think emerge from sources as broad as one can imagine. "In being digital," writes Nicholas Negroponte, "I am me." Ok, hardly more than a ridiculous cartesianism couched in Mcluhanesque iridescence, but not much more than Mark Pesce's "At some point in the recent past - I would place it sometime in 1993 but certainly no later than mid-1994, the noosphere began a irreversible process of self-organization. The first of its emergent properties was none other than the World Wide Web, for it first needed to make itself comprehensible - that is, indexible - to itself. " But it is this boundary, between dopey electronic ontology and sweeping ersatz immutability that characterizes so much of the discourse of electronic culture.

And while virtual philosophizing and artificial embodiment of the system of technology continues, a storm rages between the fields of cultural studies and the sciences. The so-called "science wars," the "flight from science and reason" (as is so well documented in the book of the same title edited by Gross and Levitt), articulates a further sense of crisis dividing the border between disciplines as a kind of cyber-modernity, a retrenchment in which a deeply troubling hierarchy is sustained by almost cultish arrogance against a perceived failure of expertise.

It is against this backdrop that the history and significance of representation must stand. Intricately woven into the fabric of modern culture, the image, the text, the sound, have crossed from modernity into postmodernity with impunity. Over and under theorized, deconstructed, politicized, psychoanalyzed, digitized, or even virtualized, the pervasive salience of representation saturates the cultures of media and computing. Often outdistancing the metaphors of linguistic, semiotic or scientific theories, the experience of representation is, in many ways, compounded by technology.

Indeed, the transformation of culture over the past century has been fueled by both radical theories of representation and by technological challenges that have reshaped both its meanings and its methods - for better and worse! And though there are attempts to find workable ways to approach immersive, interactive, and networked media, the majority fall into linear, developmental, or theoretical approaches that either rework literary or cinematic models (whose effectiveness seems problematic) or that leap into overindulgent rhizomatic cartographies attempting to reconcile not so much fragmented as much as disjunctive experience. Rather than situating distributed cultures in something more than a spatialized electronic flatland, the botched attempt to "map" non-locality found its adherents touting slippery notions of haptic navigation that failed to legitimate much more than disorganization as a form of faux creativity. Nor, it must be said, do most theories of dispersal and electronic communication realize that there is a crucial theoretical difference between political, anecdotal, and essentialized notions of identity as slightly more than theorized versions of the self. Thus come the cyber-sociologists like Sherry Turkle, the cyber-philosophers like Michael Heim, the cyber-self-helpists like Esther Dyson, or the cyber-theologicians like Pierre Levy. But in the end an approach to the implications of electronic media cannot be sustained against the flaccid writing of cultural theory without a critical assessment of media and its histories. The demand to rethink theories of reception will necessarily require some serious work concerning the dynamic relationships between philosophy and experience, cultural theory and social politics, and cognition and technology. A history of the reciprocity between technology and representation surely forms the core of any contemporary discourse of media art, simulation, the cybersphere, or cyborg-identity.

The "revolution" generated by the shift from analogue to digital media has not come with a unified aesthetic theory. Rather, the accumulating effects of electronic media has transformed and dispersed many of our assumptions about the making of art and its relationship with communication, technology, media, and distribution. Over the past decade, a range of works have matured to the point where some serious re-evaluations are necessary. Computer animation, digital video/sound/imaging, electronic books, hypermedia, interactivity, cyberspace-the terms of a new discourse with the electronic-need to be integrated with a shifting aesthetic discourse reeling in the aftermath of critical theories of representation and postmodern experience. The merging of technology and art raises some key questions concerning the way in which experiences will be articulated. Encompassing literature, cinema, entertainment, and the arts, technology has become the driving force accelerating the emergence of what we might call telesthetics.

It is this situation, in which information, computation, networked exchanges, and a formidable change in the idea of creativity are bound together more formally than at any other time in history, that a statement concerned with the role of art, the autonomy of the artist, the responsibility of corporate culture and sponsorship seems most pertinent-indeed pivotal to sustaining an art increasingly dispersed and technologized. Nothing is so crucial as to mobilize artists to claim a stake in the long, long history of the relationship between history, representation, and technology. It is just a hard fact that at every point in the development of media technologies, from the illuminated manuscript and Gutenberg revolution, from the photographic image to the cinematic experiments of the late 19th century to the use of computer graphics and networks, that artists have either been central figures in their creation or vital figures in their implementation in the not so marginal world of the image, the text, the sound or, most importantly, in the expression of the meanings made possible through the use of technology.

Like it or not, the most cogent use of the media are made not by its consumers but by its practicioners. To deny this is to lead the way backward into the vacuities of the television industries who failed to open their technologies to the extended and spectuative imaginations of artists, filmakers, and a generation not willing to cut and paste banal concepts of theatre into a 5 inch black and white screens. This kind of mistake must be countered not just by the artists, but by the emerging industries as well. It comes, sadly, as little surprise that the trajectory of the web is increasingly driven by netcast thinking but rationalized by faltering ideas of push and, even worse, broadcast ideology. If you're making media that needs to be pushed onto peoples screens, you're making media that is either unwanted, unnecessary, or that has nothing to do with consensus.

Suffice it to say that the shift towards public access has fundamentally challenged a vast array of cultural practices and initiated the formation of a communicative network that often seems to verge on a kind of anarchy. Indeed, the technological imperative of western representation has found its newest metaphor in the not illogical bond between netcast media and democratic capitalism. This, along with decisive alterations in the fields of graphics, image processing, and animation have fueled what is undoubtedly the deepest transformation in the epistemology of western culture.

The conflation of the looming finale to the milennium and the endless crescendo of technologies, anxieties, and excesses of the past decade (let alone the past century), has opened the floodgates of everything from calculated rumination to desparate illusion, from neo-utopian theology to rhizomatic universality. Surely the seductions of cyber-culture, the emerging electronic crisis of dispersion, disavowal, the disappearance of the public sphere, the disembodiment of the self, are already contained in a deeply regulated system in which consensus, representation, and politics are happily abandoned in favor of tele-presence and fallacies of ubiquity.

"Over and under theorized, deconstructed, politicized, psychoanalyzed, digitized, or even virtualized, the pervasive salience of representation saturates the cultures of media and computing."

Reflex is an on-going series of reflections about the still nascent - yet persuasively poised - discourses of electronic media.
REFLEX is copyright 1997 by Tim Druckrey and äda 'web

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