Antonin, Aurelio, Abel, Arkady, these were the 4 profiles he had just updated. And for 30 minutes he had cracked the ID Tracker and lived cautiously outside the gates to share the good news.
Mostly it was through Aurelio that he spoke to Asra in a mix of poetic code, cryptic references to shared memories, and sometimes through a convoluted cover of plans and arguments about caring for Ana Kiri, a daughter they would never really have. She was their collaborative persona, like a vessel of contraband ideas and secret passages in a re-routed world made efficient for flows of money and power and consumption, but less and less for people’s lives and passions.
Ever since they had constructed their communication ‘tunnels’ on the back of a persistent divorce lawyer firm’s spambot, they had much more time to share ideas about the 3/4-finished Dome House in the Tatras, built from designs they had first read about from the Arcosanti Project back in 2010 and long before this eco movement had sprouted so many alternative architectural designs beyond its Arizona origins. And from their small plot of land on the Poprad River they would work on finalizing version 6 of the Praxis Festival.
Asra was born in Beirut before its succumbing to the Mediterranean Agreement, and wouldn’t have her visa to travel there for another 9 months. This fucked up quite alot of planning, but they compensated by skipping programs last summer and focusing on this year… together with their big move. Finally a place to keep, even though they would only live there less than half the year. But more importantly the collective would now have its working base.
The other night she found herself visualizing a president, a chancellor, a prime minister, a king and even the current net culture tzar all strapped down to a janky raft of oil barrels, plastic bottles, and car tires and sent out on the tide from the port of Al-jazā’ir, where as a little girl she once had etched in her memory a terrifying storm with images of the mad sea slamming against a breakwater barrier.
But she was disciplined and didn’t allow herself these indulgent fantasy loops for long. These days she was more pragmatically tuned, and guided by the heart made whole.
Aurelio was beaming as he clicked send: Abyszek ( one of their favorite cellists) had committed to playing a new composition for the opening night.
The sky above the garden was turning lavender and I could barely see the keys on my old fleamarket handy, which anyway I hated like the pest to do my writing on, and wondering how the hell I had lasted since lunch on it. Just as I was stretching my arms and squeezing fists over my head, finally detaching from all the telepresent headspace, the little clam bastard started vibrating.
“No way fucker” … It was Becker.
I loved Becker, always running on a 1000 words per minute, and unstoppable energy for community building. But he was bound to be asking about whether our band was going to play for the PiratinWelle radio benefit. NO no no, I can’t think about that now. Yes, probably, but i can’t arrange that right now. Call Sebastian or Olya dammit ! I’m just about to turn the corner on how to write a post-dystopian sci-fi tale embedded with tactical memes and instructional nuggets.
For the last several weeks I tortured myself with a new self-sabotaging thought strain: that fiction today, as a device for radical social + behavioral change, was as dead as a 2nd Life avatar.
Society’s drowning in media and viro-tainment, and maybe what it needed more was some kind of diagram for an escape hatch. Or some visceral exchange of fire and torque. And always some human embrace. Not another Youtube clip, not another album, another link, another program, another box, another time-leech, and certainly not another babbling know-it-all and know-nothing text shitter, pumping out his own brand of pulped trees smeared from end-to-end with a marketable style + personality, and more theory, more tales, more solitary headtrips.
Who the hell takes in a whole book now anyway? Who’s got time for novels? Plenty of genius perception + story-telling craft abounds, but even I’m still trying to finish, say, “54” by Wu Ming or “Welcome To Mars” by Ken Hollings … and another small stack by my bed … for months now!
But just because you can talk yourself out of a project with brutal, against-the-grain logic, doesn’t mean the stories ( and analysis ) stop exploding inside your head, nor do the paid and not-paid journal deadlines evaporate into thin air.
“There’s also an exploitative side to the Internet’s democratization of the media. When people post videos on YouTube or photos on Flickr, they’re essentially providing free content to a profit-making corporation. I’ve compared this to a sharecropping model, where a company like Yahoo! or Google gives you your own plot of virtual turf and some tools to work it, but they’re the only ones who make any money from your work.
“In most places the Net is still, on balance, more of a liberating force than a controlling one, but there’s no guarantee that this will continue. A utopian view of the Net needs to be tempered by the realization that it provides a remarkable infrastructure for totalitarianism. We can only hope it never gets used that way.”
-Nicholas Carr, author of “Does Google Make Us Stupid? ”
interviewed in The Sun Magazine in 2009
Carr’s sober writings provoked intense discussions at our next meeting with the XLTerrestrials collective. One member hostilely pointed out that if you were writing from the “high fortresses” like Stanford or Manhattan you would have a very different opinion of the realtime technological “balance” than someone analyzing from the slums of Cairo, Gaza, Louisiana, Ogoni land, Columbia, Bagdhad, Kabul. Etc. Their assessments and their hopes will certainly not be the same as Silicon Valley’s nor the global net of investment banking.
The group decided that “web 2 + 3.0 as devolution”, “virtual migration” and “alternative economies” were still our 3 primary “psychomedia analysis” educational targets for now. I mentioned the article for Plotki and P. looked at me with a frown,
“Wasn’t that due awhile ago?”
I looked down at my shoes, and bit my lip.
The dates for a tour, a live + interactive cinema program, is now pushed back until the fall, with the exception of maybe a handful of Germany dates this summer. So we agreed: so long as the varying degrees of colonization of the mind/body/spirit are ubiquitous, deconstructions and culture jams in any media form will not exactly lose their value. Still, this kind of art just wasn’t going to gain any new ground.
Well, since texts from my end were the medium that flowed easiest, I was designated for a few outreach pieces. Shit, I hadn’t written anything new on piano since December anyway, and the band wasn’t rehearsing very often… so why not get some of these stories out now?
But, my brain festered: there’s got to be a way to turn the corner on passive documental approaches; It’s got to be like a map or maybe even an anti-simulations game.
And yet this recurring analogy ran thru my head: whenever I’m riding my bike through an unknown territory, a new city, a new neighborhood, an unexplored park, I hate pulling out a map. It ruins all the fun random surprise discoveries, of getting lost, of the magic of arriving at yur destination by some other means, something more alive than a visual aid, like the friends you make on your quest. “Info efficiency was becoming an experience killer” one of my teachers used to say.
Just maybe there’s a way to make a map transparent, intuition-driving, an in-motion engagement. And sure, maps are certainly not trivial nor a luxury when your destination is under duress … and urgent.
Aurelio returned from his meeting with the Dead Swappers, the offline P2P file-sharing community which eliminated Trackers entirely by exchanges outside the net domain and helped to re-animate buried files. He immediately started researching the archives collected from his D-swap.
One was a lecture by Lawrence Lessig from Berlin in 2009, a California lawyer and political activist who some years later had become so frustrated with corruption in congressional politics he had bludgeoned a health insurance lobbyist to death on Capital Hill. Since then his writings were banned in the NAFTA + EFTA regions.
The idea of deliberate and direct countermeasures, as opposed to working on (policy) change from the inside, was always a complex and messy topic. And here the archives revealed that perhaps prior to his astounding lapse in reason, Lessig’s assertion that the people’s “piracy” would not exactly take off in an ‘outlaw’ frame and context (in the U.S.) was itself a very questionable thread. And it proved a serious miscalculation regarding the levels of discontent.
Beside the fact that they tend to adapt only long after “the blood’s been spilled”, States + media conglomerates revealed to be either incapable of the new thinking or merely oblivious to their weak position in the battle, and as soon as they pushed further into filtering the gates and manipulating the information flows, the breaking point hit. Both overt and clandestine manifestations of disobedience were instantly everywhere. Defiance of borders in the media realms and in both physical + psycho-geographies was the new wild growing weed, sprouting in a 24/7 organic vengeance against the arrogant, systematic and impossible enclosures.
Piracy aesthetics + protest became so mainstream in the fragmented Empire State that 2 of the major networks had nearly identical streaming sitcoms based on hackers and autonomous social networks, which of course had a subtle spin that ‘crime don’t really pay’. At least not as as much as for those who buy into the corporate game. And so essentially it was feel-good humor for a ‘loser class’ at its best, and recruiting ads for white collar thieve-wannabees at its worst. XLterrestrial Analysis revealed it was meant to keep un-monitorable off-the-grid subversion psychologically within a certain tolerable container. Damage control as more Viro-tainment.
In any case Aurelio refused to watch either, refusing to download and share almost Any media from corporate channels, though he liked what he heard about the premise of “Keys”, with 3 musketeer-like squatters of the post-condo boom period living in an abandoned suburban enclave on the outskirts of the metropolis in unaccustomed luxury, but more often than not, without regular functioning utilities.
All of the 3 characters were of course unlikely jetset sexy, but Analee was another kind of mesmerizing; He had seen her spam’tar (spam-avatar) follow him into the Underground Railwaves shop as he was lifting a fresh track from a new band he discovered from Belarus, Serebryanaja Svad’ba ( Freak Cabaret ).
Aurelio wasn’t sure how he got on Analee’s list, but for awhile he thought it was like a funny flirtation routine in reverse to derail her at various gateways. Sometimes he even sort of missed her presence when he was Antonin or Abel, who of course had collected their own flock of spam’tars. Arkady had the worst of it cause Russian net had extremely talented but insane marketers with less erotic constraints. And it still retained connectivity to the ‘retro flesh markets’ as they were called in the West.
Colonizing sexual behaviors in the Netherwood Industry had gone entirely digital. It was hard to say, and even corporate executives speculated, that by some kind of collective memory backlash, the dominating disembodiment factor of 3.0 markets could trigger its own downfall with the new generation of users.
On that theme: “Transmigration of the Prosumer”, focusing on the effects of disembodied information overload and the virtual migration, was the title of one of the panels he and Asra had been working on for Praxis 6 when the Advert Authorities had intercepted/decrypted their texts.
Arkady was logging on from a conference in Istanbul when he realized Asra’s profile had been deleted from the network without a trace.
He laughed out loud, and everyone in the lecture hall looked at him rudely.
Asra had called for the switch to another advertiser tunnel and other profiles 2 weeks ago, and ‘Asra’ was kept running as a decoy persona to see which spam’tars were Trackers. And he was going to have a bit of fun with a final derailing tonight.
“Hi, Alima! Guess what ?!”
“Yeah, it’s the sitcomers ! I know already. Hope you won’t miss Analee.”
“Who needs Analee!?? See you on the Poprad next week! Last one in is a rotten egg ! “
Both of them were confident with all the extra precautions they had taken, but no one could say for sure that she would actually make it through the border controls.
Even before finishing the 2nd chapter, I had glanced at Skype, and was shocked to see the list of calls missed. And I won’t dare open up the XLt account til 2morrow.
Aaakkh, maybe it’s still the same ol’ dystopian shit for the most part. I’m definitely going to need more time to figure out embedding the story with a positive map.
And I’m wondering if someone less hip than Mr. Lessig could sue the collective for this kind of fiction?
The clam bastard vibrated.
Ohh, it’s Oriana! Before I could pick it up, I could tell it was just an sms.
One word: “Denied”
F**k, another summer without seeing Oriana? Her application was rejected. Tears were welling up. But before I lost control, I made myself laugh imagining how to inform the collective: “We’re all in deep shit… cause the only techie who knows anything about food and wine won’t be joining us on this project!”
The sky outside was inky black, and it was another day spent in the cubicle mode without making it out to the park. And it was turning into another summer in Ljubljana without some of the closest friends.
Note: As this XLterrestrial story was finalized the news arrived re: the Trial of Wiwa vs. Shell Oil in NYC. Corporate justice was served. 9 Ogoni pacifist resistors, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, were executed in 1995. Shell settles out of court to the tune of $15.5 million. That’s a bit less than $2million per human life. And meanwhile the rest of the population continue to live in Hell. Interesting legal math, and of course no one’s going to jail. This story is dedicated to the Ogoni struggle, and all who navigate beyond the borders!
Collage images by ( dj~vj ) Podinski taken from the films : La Antena, Mock Up On Mu, Waltz With Bashir, and Phantom of The Operator.