I saw the light with Lightbeam

I am a huge fan of the show Catfish on MTV, where the hosts help people in online relationships cyber-stalk their potential lovers to try to piece together their identities. With that said, self-doxing was really entertaining – it was like cyber-stalking myself. I wasn’t as surprised as many others in class seemed to be. The things I found were my social media, old track and cross country running times, a few articles I’ve published, a scholarship I won, and a high school blog that I deactivated awhile back. Nothing I post is very revealing about my family, and I rarely post my specific location. I feel very secure that I know what is out there about me, and I think I have a good balance of general and specific details about myself online. I also learned that no one is using my pictures for catfishing purposes, and that quite a few people share my first and middle name (Kyleigh Rain).
Lightbeam was much more shocking. I always knew that theoretically, my information was sent to Google wizards who somehow plopped very relevant ads into my Facebook feed. I still don’t know how it works very well, but I am continually super baffled at the mass transport of information that gets passed when I visit even one website. YouTube, a few news sites, and SparkNotes led to the most additional websites. To be honest, I am not super tech-savvy and don’t really think about the inner workings of the Internet. Lightbeam has made me much more aware than I thought I’d ever be. But I’m still deciding if it’s really a bad thing or not for data to be spread around.

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Alienation and Creation

I immediately found the concept of species-being to be very relevant in Transmission, particularly when Dyer-Witheford writes about how private ownership of production “alienates” us. I couldn’t help but picture Arjun hunched over his computer alone in his bedroom, or the office full of tech-geeks who are all separated by cubicles. I thought of how Arjun rarely sat in the cafeteria at lunch and missed out on the news that many people were being fired. Alienated.

I stumbled upon a quote that says “estranged human labor estranges the species from the man.” This makes perfect sense in Arjun’s case. The work he does is not communal – he works alone. It can be argued that as a result of being alone so often beside his computer, especially in his formative years, he has become extremely literal and somewhat naive. Working in “estranged labor” for so long now makes it hard for him to think in abstract terms, process emotion in a normal way, or perform many other of the complex mental functions that differentiate humans from other species. His very species-being has been estranged.

I also agreed with the brilliance of the quote “money is the bond of all bonds” and that money and technological power have a very literal bond. This brought to mind the vision of Daly City that is portrayed in the book (and that I can attest is true in real life). Their entire landscape is shaped between the literal link of money and technology. People like Arjun, who had to walk from place to place, were pariahs who didn’t quite belong. This shows how type of system we run can change our social and environmental systems as a whole. On that note, I’ll end with my thoughts on this final quote: “‘Labour’ is humanity’s paradoxical anti-essence essence, it’s natural ability to change its nature.” We understand the ways that our choices can affect the world, and we make these choices anyway. The advancement of technology may alienate people and eventually alter the very characteristics of humanity, yet we continue to pursue it. Our urban-industry society can reap heavy environmental consequences (acidity of oceans, increase of greenhouse gases, etc.) but we choose to live this way. Through Arjun’s story, we are able to see the type of synthetic world we have created, and the ways it is now the new “natural.”

A new kind of nature

 

Neuromancer, for me, has proven to be a very uncomfortable read, and I think that stems from an innate understanding of this quote’s implications. Neil Easterbrook suggests that nature has been replaced with artificiality, making technology the new norm. I couldn’t agree with Easterbrook more.

Gibson’s novel is quick to describe – in great detail – the synthetic and technological  components of the environments: the dingy bars, the drugs being taken, the types of devices used. He nonchalantly throws around the names of countless tech mechanisms used without flinching, which makes it seem like a very organic part of their lives. Very rarely do we, the readers, encounter descriptions of the natural environment. It has absolutely nothing to do with the plot.

I was struck by a particular scene in Chapter 10, when Case describes the Rue Jules Verne. He notes that there’s a “recorded blue of a Cannes sky. He knew that sunlight was pumped in with a Lado-Acheson system whose two-millimeter armature ran the length of the spindle, that they generated a rotating library of sky effects around it” (Gibson 123). Later, Gibson writes “The trees were small, gnarled, impossibly old, the result of genetic engineering and chemical manipulation. Case would have been hard pressed to distinguish a pine from an oak, but. . . these were too cute, too entirely and definitively treelike” (Gibson 128). The main character is completely out of touch with the most basic elements on Earth. Case knows more about the technology that projects an image of the sky than the sky itself. The trees around him are inorganic, but he cannot tell you for certain how a real tree might differ. Humanity in Neuromancer has been distorted in a way that makes the natural seem foreign and the synthetic seem default.

This is why I struggle to relate to the book. As the reader, I feel suffocated in a technological zoo. When I am overwhelmed with technology in real life, I can always turn my phone off or go outside. Here, it is so inundated in the characters’ lives and, frankly, their entire purpose, that I cannot escape. I do think Gibson’s removal of nature is a bit of satirical genius, though, and it certainly makes you think.Is our society heading this way? Do humans today really think they are powerful enough to destroy and manipulate nature to this extent? Will this addiction to technology leave behind the people who don’t have the means to keep up with it? Stay tuned.

Hacking and the hacker – a general model

Gibson’s character Case is a lot like my best friend – quietly enthusiastic, sassy, and extremely passionate, albeit a sad streak of bad luck that may have gotten in the way. If Himanen’s thought that these energies and an intrinsic motivation is what differentiate the hacker work ethic, then Case is surely an accurate representation of the type. I definitely agree that he is a modern cowboy, too; he was recruited to go after something, and he uses his technological maneuvering to get it. I think hacking is of particular interest to many people because it does not require an unattainable set of skills. It is not a superhuman set of features that one is born with that allow him or her to be so adroit; rather, it is acquired intelligence and practice that make it do-able. That means that, in theory, anyone could do it! The successful, clandestine hacker is attractive because we can be him. He represents a possibility that many admire but few imitate.
Hacking is generally associated with technology, but it certainly isn’t limited to it. I encounter it all the time in much broader areas. On Pinterest, for example, I often stumble across “life hacks,” which are essentially cool tricks or secrets of nature that help overcome the minute hurdles of our lives. Putting a lemon wedge in a pot of boiling eggs will help the shells come right off. Pressing a hot spoon on a mosquito bite will help it shrink and stop the itch. Throwing a wrinkly shirt in the dryer with a few ice cubes will quickly get rid of the wrinkles. These suggestions find creative solutions (the differentiating component) for common problems (the fixed component), which makes me support Wark’s hacking model. I also remember learning hacks in my middle school math classes. Learning tricks like the commutative and distributive properties allow you to do mental math much, much more efficiently. Now that I think about it, I experience hacking way more often in ways that are unrelated to computers.

Anyway, as a supporter of Wark’s model, I think that Gibson supports it well. Wark says that “To hack is to release the virtual into the actual.” While much of Case’s work is done in cyberspace, it has real-world effects. These two worlds of his seem to interact with each other greatly, and at times it is alost hard to differentiate between the two.