Web

I connected with a Lyft driver to San Francisco International Airport. After we struggled to locate each other, the conversation started amicably with the mutual lament of technology. She switched gears, and asked me where I was going – home in March 2020. She turned down the radio and began to divulge an intricate conspiracy about how the coronavirus originated as a bioweapon at a PLA research facility in Wuhan. It is hard to convey her meaning without adopting some of her language. This was warfare, part of an ongoing scheme cooked up by the new bloods, a biological clique of corporations and politicians, tied together by intercontinental trade treaties, to promote emasculating vegan and synthetic foods such as soy and direct the mainstream media to brainwash people into submitting like sheep – in my biblical rhetorical addition, silent before the shearers – to their plans for world domination. I don’t know how much deeper the theory goes, but this is what she told me. She was safe from coronavirus, for she was a free-thinking old blood, fortified by meat and organic foods such as grains and pulses. She made her own way in the world, poring over unsung scholarship on Neanderthal genetics and the cultural dominance of a creatively evil sociobiological cult. We think in context. Like this piece, whatever my Lift driver was reading was consumed and produced within the grammatical, epistemological, and material conditions of modern intersubjectivity. Since we must always proceed with simplification to render these relations penetrable, let us celebrate the phenomenon of metaphor with yet another. Our thought and speech is the iridescent spume of a delicate, lathered, and meaningful linguistic web.

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Human chemistry

Many concepts span a metaphorical plane across physical, social, and mental space, such as Lefebvre has interpreted space. Others are balance, order, and decay, which can purportedly be explained by another. Structure refers to the constitutive arrangement, relationships, and patterns between the objects, images, and devices present within in our physical, social, and mental space. The structure of molecules, the ways in which atoms are bonded together, can be represented by analytical chemists through molecular geometry, as in this model:

A profusion of molecular structures react. Bacteriologists and pharmacologists perceive in them an emergent structure – a biological organism, situated in a an ecology of interacting structures. The heuristic category of structure as a means to decode chemical, biological, and ecological space already seems capacious, before considering the structures of galaxies, stars, stellar remnants, interstellar gas, dust, and dark matter. But, despite its breadth, looking for ‘the arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of something complex’ is necessarily a phenomenologically restricted posture. The scientist measures, models, represents, and accords a level of unified coherence to their given conceptual object. The undifferentiated, acting human being on the other hand typically only determines to conceptualise an otherwise overwhelmingly subjective experience through the lens of structure when the encounter with a given phenomenal manifestation seems to necessitate the application of instrumental reason. Though chemical structure is perhaps the only way to think about a molecule, anatomy is just one way to think about an animal – which can also be seen as a cherished pet, a mortal threat, or for carnivores as meat. And there are many more ways than theoretical physics to think about the heavens. Just as solipsism can explain nothing, the higher apertures of the structural lens cannot capture the emotional and psychological immediacy of subjective experience. Chemistry contrives order only by deduction from sense, a slanted Faustian bargain – as if to climb the Apollonian tower of reason, without the journey of Dionysian transcendence. Humanism, however, must account for intersubjective modes of consciousness.

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Social media

When I was twelve, I already lived in the world of Web 2.0 – of user-generated content. I used basic social networks, video sharing websites, and spent time on online forums meeting other people who liked hacking Club Penguin. Later, I joined Facebook. By then, the social network had been growing for some time. But it was not yet an all-purpose platform to ‘connect’ everyone, collecting copious quantities of personal data, to process through obscure algorithms, ostensibly for their benefit, with the objective of securing advertising revenue by nurturing compulsive habits. Like most people, I gravitated towards these big social networks. They did and do consume most of the time and energy I spend online.

Over the past decade I have seen the Internet’s potential as a vehicle for meaningful interaction diminish, as digital networks were reworked by developers advancing commercial interests. Instead of fostering specialised and integrated communities, the most used social networks developed highly individuated user profiles and a feedback mechanism which encouraged people into uncomfortably close contact with their constellation of self-representing acquaintances. These features inevitably rendered digital sociality a theatre of vanity and cynicism, and in turn nurtured an industry to produces endless, banal streams of third-party content. As these platforms grew, popular attention focussed on echo-chambers and orchestrated data scouring for targeted political campaigning. I mourn for the time wasted over the last few years scrolling through feeds of misunderstanding strangers, dubious politics, advertising, and click-bait. Dopamine on tap. How to render digital media fit for a desirable social purpose can perhaps only be discovered by the germinating field of Internet studies, should a solution arise which can viably be implemented. Until then, we depend on social media, and are stuck in a purgatory of our own making.