Third lecture Cyberspace Salvations

Yesterday evening I went to a Cyberspace Salvations lecture at the Waag Society for the second time. I was with my collegue Jeroen Timmermans, Yuwei Lin, a researcher from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Mylene, my girlfriend. To my surpise, there was no Mark Pesce in the flesh, but only a projection of him on a piece of cardboard and his voice through the PA speakers. However ‘high-tech’, it wasn’t as good as the real thing, a bit hard to follow sometimes due to bad sound quality.

Read full notes below

Waag lecture: hackers & Utopia # 3

Mark Pesce (title to be announced)
Moderator: Jan Simons (University of Amsterdam)
Introduction by Stef Aupers
Waag Society for Old and New Media, Nieuwmarkt 4, Amsterdam, 20.00-22.00 hrs.
Pesce developed ‘Virtual Reality Modelling Language’ (VRML) in the
1990s and authored various books, like The Playful World. How
Technology is Changing our Imagination (2000). As a self-proclaimed
‘technopagan’, Pesce wrote and lectured extensively on the affinity
between the ontological claims of magicians and virtual reality. With
Terrence McKenna he lectured on Technopagans at the end of history
(Essalen, 1998) and speculated on the future of humans in his film
Becoming Transhuman 2001 (a narrative of what-we-are-becoming).

Since October 2003 he began teaching at the Australian Film Television
and Radio school in Sydney.

050928 Waag Society – Cyberspace Salvations 3

Mark Pesce –

This is the third lecture organised by the research project Cyberspace Salvations.

// introduction – Stef Aupers
First 2 speakers: better world through better worlds; secular, not utopian in a religious sense.
Pesce: Cyberspace consists of nothing: we need to create our worlds there, as gods.

// Mark Pesce – LIVE stream from Sidney by webcam, projection on a piece of cardboard at the table
Many writing about new technology have a dystopian drive, Mark’s is a utopian. Partly as a strategy: we make our future. Mark wanted to write Utopia, leave a paper trail of writings.
“Virtual is not television of future, but telephone”. It’s a means of communication, not information. Characteristics of VR:
– there’s nothing in it intrinsically. It requires visitor to clear their minds and create an own imagined world. Close to Buddhism: mystical perception that world is created by us ourselves. Isomorphism in philosophy of Self. “no atheists in cyberspace”: everyone was a believer in the potential of the medium.
Hacker culture: how well can you turn your will into code. Exteriorise your imagination > mysticism.
Today’s VW’s are balancing between your own authentic experience, and the produced & sold ‘ready made’ world.

Cyberspace opened up human ontology: ‘medical..’, humans are made more pliable to information streams. Extensions of body. ‘Technological incorporations’: your ontology is modified by interaction with device. E.g. iPod: changes our interaction with space (what is in your head) & place (were you are, what is “in the eye”).
VW example1: breath-balance machine, derived from experience of scuba-diving. Body is fundamental locus in VW: re-embodying. Body: from gnostic view of “dragging you down” to new view of “keeping you up”.
VW example2: view of earth; mystical state of viewing the earth from ‘above’. Standard image of world as passive. Google earth does this now. Can help people to understand relationships between self and others. “deep ecology” (cf. Arne Naess ?). Neo-pagan movements are ‘in touch with’ earth. With development new mobile technologies, ambient intelligence, what changes does this bring to perception of earth and place?

Social networks: exteriorisation of morals (cf. Mead). Maximum size (Dunbar number) is about 150. Seems to be hard-coded into humans. “Understanding is embodied”, information can be exterior. Blogging is exteriorisation of understanding of groups. New technologies are devised to exteriorise human knowledge “social technology”.

New cooperations between people: “convents” with common ideals?

// Q&A – panel
Q: body vs. virtuality: in 1990’s cyberspace was a mirror for ourselves to augment understanding, partly by process of disembodiment. World like a “system of systems” (Gaia, Fritjof Capra). Before, with formal technologies, there was the ideal of transgressing old identity categories (gender, age, race etc.). Now, how do old categories return with new social technologies?
A: old distinction between real-virtual is getting more complex. Mark’s ‘virtual presence’ at this lecture is example. New technologies are not only used to reach out to others, but also to segregate ourselves from others (iPods, mobile phone, etc.).
Q: ‘cyberspace as feature-less space’: is it changing due to “overcrowding”, commercialisation, etc.? And what is the role of online games – MMORPG’s? What happens to agency?
A: Only humans live in cyberspace. Cyberspace often gets character of ‘new frontier’: let’s get to new lands! Moving on largely done by anthropologists/researchers.. Recent WOW virus: it’s not a controllable environment. It’s magic!
Q: There seems to be a culture of magic, with LOTR, etc. New notion of ‘life’ imposed on apparatuses. Does the world become animistic? Does this lead to better understanding? And who is responsible?
A: Responsive technologies, interactivity have invaded our world. We expect things be interactive. …

// Q&A – audience
Q: In context of development of new technologies and new relations with it: Anxiom in playing with magic: “do not call up what you cannot put down”.
A: Example of privacy infringements and databases as “pan-opticons”. It shouldn’t be seen only by someone from above, but by everyone. We need to be careful with prisoning people in new cells.
Q: Why do you propose such a technological determinism? What can we do about it?
A: I am a determinist: people change under influence of technologies. But to what extent is contented. We need to study technologies and teach children to be suspicious. Technologies develop logarithmically: we are obsessed by this development.
Q: some people are affected, other not at all.
A: people who are adaptive will outperform those people who are not.
Q: tension between utopianism, technoogy that is ‘there’ <> developing your own world?
A: Internet was very seductive. New technologies give people a vision of their possibilities. So it is not fixed in itself.

Pesce is caled a “Techno-pagan” in Wired. He has considered writing a book about techno-paganism, but withheld because he didn’t wanted to lay down the rules, but let people play and create their own projects.

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