L A I W A N
at the gym and you're doing your daily run on the treadmill.
you're sweating up a storm and your body is finally getting
a release high after a hard day's work at the office. as
you continue running, the tread of the mill is steadily
moving under your feet. your feet, one after the other,
make the motion of running, and the joy of it is, you don't
have to go anywhere. you stay in the same place. you're
running and you
can stay in the same place!!
front of you is a video monitor and you can choose anything
to accompany your run. as with a jukebox you choose selection
number thirty "the mojave desert" which provides
scenes you would experience were you to be running through
this exotic desert.
and all the while you can run through steadily without the
hassle of sinking into the sand, bumping into cactii, or
getting sunburnt. you on this treadmill, able to stay in
the same place, can choose this not-quite-simulation
of running through the mojave desert.
is not quite right with all this, but you don't think too
deeply about it. the aim was to release the body's tension,
to feel that high, to sweat it out. after your long day
at the office in front of two computers that link you to
international stock trading, you drive to the gym in your
six-cylinder recreational vehicle with its computerized
anti-theft device and five wheel drive, you quickly stuff
down an energizing snack bar...it's smaller than your cell
phone but it gives you energy for the day...or for variety
you might grab a burger at the fast-food outlet. it doesn't
matter which as both are designed to suit your life. the
energy bar has all the nutrients you think you need and
the burger has genetically perfected soy product that convinces
you it's beef.
designed to suit your life... we think we can have
it all, that we can know it all (and if we don't we can
look it up on the world wide web which does know it all...doesn't
it?!), and with all this information we think we can make
anything we would ever need...
told an informational society is one where information is
prioritized to become the currency of the culture, where
our survival is centered around its continual production
and exchange, where everything we do circulates more information.
information can be sold and bartered. with it extortion
can be committed. it can bring down a government. and yet
all it is are marks on paper or signals on a floppy disk.
thinkers like Paul Virilio have observed that we are in
a "critical transition"...one where we are
moving from being an analogue, tactile, industrial society
to becoming a digital, virtual (or non-tactile), informational
society. why would we be in a critical transition?
especially since we're all not thinking that deeply about
it nor are we being that critical. mostly we're bumbling
along doing what seems normal... and running on a treadmill
at the gym pretending you're in the mojave desert is normal...isn't
transition then must have something to do with what
we're not willing to give up
as we enter our new way of being.
my body is an analogue medium. if i break my leg i don't
go to some codes in my brain to fix it, and going to the
gym to sweat it out on a treadmill is not evidence of anything
new...let alone of a 'critical transition'. it's more like
an unwillingness to really go for the full gusto, the
total virtual. a treadmill
is archaic. it's pre-industrial. it's for hamsters. where's
the full body virtual exercise suit; or better yet who needs
exercise? with so much information about DNA we should just
re-engineer ourselves so that we would never have to exercise
and we'd never break another leg.
we can design everything else to suit our lives why keep
this design of the human body? it's old-fashioned, labour
intensive to keep in tune, a gas-guzzler, prone to wear,
tear, leaks and messes, and it's expensive to maintain.
this current design doesn't do well being sedentary. and
computers-- now our primary vehicle of production, consumption
and exchange-- require a good degree of being sedentary.
our lives are now designed for sedentariness (computers,
cars, tvs...) and we're struggling to adapt. obviously,
evolution needs our helping hand.
so let's move on with this critical transition! how much do
we need to drag it out for? we're a sentimental bunch, hanging
onto outmoded habits and bodies. unable to decide if we want
real food or to pop designer supplements, we settle for the
in-between of engineered food that doesn't taste very good.
we think two-week or two-month relationships developed in
cyberspace are worthy of obsessive / possessive behaviour
leading to marriage... forgetting what cyberspace is all about...virtuality!
freedom, independence, out of body experiences, no material
responsibilities, lyin', cheatin' behaviour... why else was
so what are we to give
up here? the analogue
body, the tactile body... physical sex; sensuality; lived
experiences in geographical locations in your communities
or in the world; varieties of foods and cultures; experiences
of spatial distances; experiences in varieties of types
of time (not governed by modem speed, dial-up time, cost
per minute); reminders of the varieties of bodies of race,
class, gender, sexuality....
"critical transition" keeps us in a place of neither-nor.
we're satisfied with not-quite-simulations
(the lack of an all-encapsulating virtual reality mojave
for running) and simulations
(soy product equals beef? not!) and like all the junk food,
electronic junk, and informational junk out there, we accept
it all while neither truly enjoying any of it. it's like
going camping and taking your tv with you. you forget the
joy garnered from the night sky or the person sitting next
to you. instead you're watching the hockey finals or melrose
running on the treadmill with the mojave on the monitor
in front of you is the same deal. you're not really running,
it's only a motion, a function
of running to stop
your body's atrophy, and you're not in the mojave either.
it's a raw deal because it's neither-nor.
not only are we forgetting
what cyberspace is all about, we're forgetting what running
is all about...freedom!
wind in the hair; the smell of meadows, of wild grass; pebbles,
sand, puddles at your feet; birds and clouds; bugs and beetles;
sun and rain... an endless variety everyday.
so as Donna Haraway says "bodies are not born, they
are made", we can add reality
is not natural...it is also made. and
to get out of this insistent transition which has become
like a bad funk, we have to become conscious of it, make
some choices, aim for quality (in life and being) and throw
out this neither-nor
Paul Virilio, "The Third Interval: A Critical Transition"
in the anthology ReThinking Technologies, edited by
Vereena Andermatt-Conley, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press. 1993. pg 9.
Donna Haraway, Simians,
Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, New York: Routledge. 1991. pg 208.