The summer of 2016 has marked a new step in the rush towards annihilation. There is the string of suicidal terrorist acts in France and in Germany, as well as and the fragmentary wars in the Middle East. There is the wave of migration from the Mediterranean, and the unrelenting rejection of it from the governments of Europe, and even from the European population, which is becoming more and more xenophobic and fearful. There is also the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, and the transformation of Turkey into a nationalist dictatorship with Islamist undertones. There is the soft golpe in Brazil, and, last but not least, there is the breath taking ascent of Trump on the American scene. “Madamina il catalogo è questo”.
This is the reality that has been produced by forty years of worldwide Neoliberal Reformation. Competition and privatization have prevailed and now the result is impoverishment, inequality and global civil war.
All of a sudden, at the high point of the summer, the newspapers and television stations focused on the launch of Pokémon Go. People of all ages went around waving their smartphones in an attempt to capture metaphysical insects in the open air.
One may argue that the launch of Pokémon Go reveals that the process of infantilisation is taking the upper hand in the world psycho-scape. The refusal to attend this show of barbarisation may lead to a part of the population taking shelter in secluded and gated communities of simulation. I want to go beyond this first sight consideration, and I want to imagine a future (indeed many futures) of the new big thing that is emerging in the sphere of technology and cultural mutation: immersion.
Pokémon Go is a game that may be categorised as ‘Augmented Reality’: meaning that the simulation not only concerns the screen of your smartphone but the surrounding reality into which the simulated objects (Pokémon) are projected.
But this new ‘augmented reality’ is only one step in a long-lasting stream of technological invention.
At the end of the ’80s I read a text entitled ‘Communication without symbols’ written by Jaron Lanier, the visionary engineer who was building one of the first devices for Virtual Reality.
Following the visionary intuitions of the Californian psychedelic culture (Timothy Leary and his friends), Lanier translated psychedelia into engineering, and in doing so paved the way for the possibility of techno-stimulation of our nervous centres, and for the transmission and sharing of images, sounds, perceptions: simulated experience. Lanier’s post-symbolic communication fundamentally implies the total immersion of the human body within its computational matrix.
Language is made of symbols that one has to be able to decipher in order to comprehend, but the sharing of a cognitive experience can also happen without symbols, without language, so that emotion, sensuousness and fear (for example) can be raised through a direct stimulating simulation, a technical simulation that stimulates designed neural reactions of the organism. Data Gloves, Computer aided Virtual Environments (Caves) were the first applications that came out from the Lanier’s project.
Later on, at the dawn of the ‘90s, all the energy of the searchers and tech-innovators was directed towards the formation of the Internet, and the focus on immersive technology was abandoned. Up to a certain point, because the Internet can be viewed as an immense immersive space that we have learned to inhabit and to interact inside. Recently the mobile Internet has enabled the interfacing of the nervous system with the automatic machine of connection and the wiring of the social cognitive system.
Meanwhile, the technical features of the immersive machines have enormously improved, and the simulation of the surrounding environment is now almost perfect.
What direction is taking this trend?
A direction for the future might be the Virtual Gate Community: a mental space that disconnects from the real world and recreates a dimension of expanded second life in second planet. According to the 1999 movie of Larry Andy Wachowksi:
“Matrix is everywhere. It is what you see when you go to work, to the church and you pay your taxes. It’s the world that has been placed in front of your eyes in order to conceal the truth.”
Can we imagine small communities migrating to this space of shared imagination, then growing in number, and finally seceding from the post-apocalyptic planet?
As for now, the urgent question is: who is going to build myths, software and interfaces of this second planet and of this this expanded second life? Who will create this expanded dimension for experience?
I’ve seen the appalling picture of Mark Zuckerberg (Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona, February 2016), walking beside a seating army of zombies who are wearing oculus devices, blinded by the dazzling emotion of inhabiting the Eden of simulation while God is smiling beside and looking all along at his Creation.
According to Zuckerberg, immersive technology is the next step in the evolution of the Ultimate Automaton: headsets that provide “immersive 3-D experiences”—movies and television, naturally, but also games, lectures, and business meetings. These headsets would eventually scan our brains, before transmitting our thoughts to our friends in just the same way that we share baby pictures on Facebook today.
“Eventually we’re going to have technology where we can communicate our full sensory experience and emotions to someone through thought,” (Interview with Zuckerberg by Max Chafkin, Vanity Fair, Oct 2015).
Empathy and anaesthetisation play together in the dimension of Immersive technology. You are led to feel the experience of the others (I think of experiments of The Machine to be Another).
Facebook has marked a leap in the history of network evolution. Language and affection have been reduced to a formatted alphabet of icons replacing emotions and thoughts: emoticons, likes, formatted friendship, and so on. Now, as the world’s environment is decaying, are we heading towards the ultimate substitution? Will the newly simulated shared environment replace the experience that once upon a time we used to call: the world?
However, the evolution of technology is not linear, because those who create technology (programmers, designers, hackers and all the cognitarian workers of the world) have the power to change the direction of research and invention.
New pathways and new bifurcations can be invented in the process of construction of the technical line of escape.
We cannot say the future of the immersive technology.
Neuro-totalitarianism or lines of escape? May be both.
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