Guide to Future-Present Archetypes Part 3: The Cyborg-Historical

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Superflux headset to enable prosthetic vision.

The Future-Present is something that once one has begun to notice it, it becomes very difficult to not see. This visual pattern of our conception of the future has the occult symbolism of apophenia, an illusion of perception generated as glitching artifact by the same non-illusory means by which we perceive reality. The shape of history projected forward in time looms out in the shape of a monster from patterns of moss on our architecture, and as a prophet from coffee stains on news magazines. Our imagination builds reality both forward and backward in time, as our vision builds reality on both isomorphic sides of the mirror. Our speculative thought catalogs these alternate realities, and we attach them to ourselves like equipment strapped to the stomach of a soldier, and we drag them along with us as we crawl across the surface of the earth, dodging death. Or so we dream, as we let our eyes slowly unfocus, gazing at our liquid crystal screens.

The Future-Present hangs heavy with acquired schematization, grows thickly in the rhizomatics of our mental constructs, and with this decaying biomass, lubricates the sliding transmission of our worldviews. But while the implications of the Future-Present for philosophical theories that deploy such semiotic hardware are important, there is a complex material realm of the Future-Present that should not be ignored. Regardless of what sort of opaque, nebulous terms we develop for the clouds in our temporal vision, they have material form with which we will collide with if we don’t watch where we are going. The gears of the mechanisms are sharp, and the metabolized exertions to avoid injury on the cutting edge are chemically taxing.

This is not simply a matter of seeing correctly and avoiding illusion. The illusions have important meanings. Patterns are the visual boundaries of underlying systems. When a slime mold grows into nearly the exact same shape as the Tokyo rail system, this is not a random coincidence...

 

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Book Review: Programmed Visions: Software and Memory

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ENIAC programmers, late 1940s. (U.S. military photo, Redstone Arsenal Archives, Huntsville, Alabama), from Programmed Visions by Wendy Hui Kyong Chun.

After “getting fit” and whatever else people typically declare to be their new year’s resolutions, this year’s most popular goal is surprisingly nerdy: learning to code. Within the first week of 2012, over 250,000 people, including New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg, had signed up for weekly interactive programming lessons on a site called Code Year. The website promises to put its users “on the path to building great websites, games, and apps.” But as New Yorker web editor Blake Eskin writes, “The Code Year campaign also taps into deeper feelings of inadequacy... If you can code, the implicit promise is that you will not be wiped out by the enormous waves of digital change sweeping through our economy and society.” 

If the entrepreneurs behind Code Year (and the masses of users they’ve signed up for lessons) are all hoping to ride the wave of digital change, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, a professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, is the academic trying to pause for a moment to take stock of the present situation and see where software is actually headed. All the frenzy about apps and “the cloud,” Chun argues, is just another turn in the “cycles of obsolescence and renewal” that define new media. The real change, which Chun lays out in her book Programmed Visions: Software and Memory, is that “programmability,” the logic of computers, has come to reach beyond screens into both the systems of government and economics and the metaphors we use to make sense of the world ...

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