by L A I W A N
[September, 1999]

you're 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!!

in 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.

something 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'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...

i'm 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"[1] 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 it?

the 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 a half-heartedness, 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.

if 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 cyberspace invented?

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....

this "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 place.

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.

and so as Donna Haraway says "bodies are not born, they are made"[2], we can add reality is not 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 junk.


[1] 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.
[2] Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, New York: Routledge. 1991. pg 208.