Take it outside
In ‘Castle to Castle’ by Louis-Ferdinand Celine the author comments “Take the impressionists. They took their paintings out into the daylight, they painted out of doors; they saw people really eating lunch on the grass. The musicians worked in the same direction. It’s a long way from Bach to Debussy. They revolutionized sounds and colors.”
The real fallacy of the understanding of what laptops started to do, and what the iPhone did was that these were not just conveniences of portability. We have started to reach a plateau, a bridge, an access, an affordance, between the indoors and the outdoors. Like Maxwell’s demon; we are trying to selectively shuttle interesting bits in our favor against a kind of thermal ennui; electrifying our outdoors.
The problem is that we cannot decorate the real world with semantically rich meta-data in a way that we will actually ever care about. As we leak knowledge across this boundary we create a new kind of saturation, a kind of plastic ocean of meaninglessness.
By bringing our prosthetics into the outside world we are starting to consume that outside world. Digitizing our reality, digesting it into relational sets, indexing those sets, being able to query and do operations on those sets, somehow compressing away and making shallow that reality. There’s something happening with the rate and quality of information; that as it exceeds our ability to comprehend it – it effectively becomes infinite… and in that infinity banal.
We are becoming as if characters gazing upon Borges Aleph One.
In The Aleph Borges paints an image of what an actual apprehension of all of reality might be like. The protaganist encounters a sphere containing all things ( Apologies for the extensive quote; but the words are so sweet I cannot find where to cut them ) :
“I saw the teeming sea; I saw daybreak and nightfall; I saw the multitudes of America; I saw a silvery cobweb in the center of a black pyramid; I saw a splintered labyrinth (it was London); I saw, close up, unending eyes watching themselves in me as in a mirror; I saw all the mirrors on earth and none of them reflected me; I saw in a backyard of Soler Street the same tiles that thirty years before I’d seen in the entrance of a house in Fray Bentos; I saw bunches of grapes, snow, tobacco, lodes of metal, steam; I saw convex equatorial deserts and each one of their grains of sand; I saw a woman in Inverness whom I shall never forget; I saw her tangled hair, her tall figure, I saw the cancer in her breast; I saw a ring of baked mud in a sidewalk, where before there had been a tree; I saw a summer house in Adrogué and a copy of the first English translation of Pliny — Philemon Holland’s — and all at the same time saw each letter on each page (as a boy, I used to marvel that the letters in a closed book did not get scrambled and lost overnight); I saw a sunset in Querétaro that seemed to reflect the colour of a rose in Bengal; I saw my empty bedroom; I saw in a closet in Alkmaar a terrestrial globe between two mirrors that multiplied it endlessly; I saw horses with flowing manes on a shore of the Caspian Sea at dawn; I saw the delicate bone structure of a hand; I saw the survivors of a battle sending out picture postcards; I saw in a showcase in Mirzapur a pack of Spanish playing cards; I saw the slanting shadows of ferns on a greenhouse floor; I saw tigers, pistons, bison, tides, and armies; I saw all the ants on the planet; I saw a Persian astrolabe; I saw in the drawer of a writing table (and the handwriting made me tremble) unbelievable, obscene, detailed letters, which Beatriz had written to Carlos Argentino; I saw a monument I worshipped in the Chacarita cemetery; I saw the rotted dust and bones that had once deliciously been Beatriz Viterbo; I saw the circulation of my own dark blood; I saw the coupling of love and the modification of death; I saw the Aleph from every point and angle, and in the Aleph I saw the earth and in the earth the Aleph and in the Aleph the earth; I saw my own face and my own bowels; I saw your face; and I felt dizzy and wept, for my eyes had seen that secret and conjectured object whose name is common to all men but which no man has looked upon — the unimaginable universe.”
We are like that – our lamented digital divide is becoming an even more horrifying digital aleph.
There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Consider the dizzying and fractal rate of increase of branches of science – from the humanities and the arts to materials science, bioinformatics, semiotics, critical art theory, newtonian physics, quantum physics, string theory, brane theory. Consider the requisite corps of fresh faced students studiously studying and inscribing and recording marching endlessly into divisions, and bunkers and offices, barracks, campuses, buildings and universities. Each of which being built at a stupendous rate; marshalling resources far and wide, forests falling underfoot to become grant submissions, proposals, libraries teeming and overflowing with paper, paper underfoot and falling, and being digitized, digitized so quickly that book-spine cutting machines are themselves a business. Entire mighty river diverted and dammed, salmon ladders installed, native populations placated with pretty beads, all to cool the colocation facilities, acre after endless acre of neon lighting and the roar of the monster that cannot be fed, compressing as if in a black hole from which no information escapes. What was once linear is seen to be be geometric, what was once geometric is seen to be exponetial. Even the naming of branches of science will exceed the velocity of our lips to mumble them.
There will be time
http://flickr.com had 4253 uploads one minute ago. That is a new image 4 times per millisecond. 2.3 million photos were geotagged last month – that is 10 images per second.
How fast is that?
You cannot actually cognitively comprehend each image entering flickr any longer.
The rate of each new moments love exceeds our capacity to grasp it: a childs face, a favorite pet, a sunset, a dog barking, a sweetly blossoming rose, a melancholy winters evening, a particularily complex fractal, a sheaf of papers strewn across a desk, a mandela rendered in spice upon a baked terracota piazza, an ocean’s wave, a lover languidly picking tasty bits out of a pomegrante.
We love our lovers, our children, we love our friends, what if you had not one child but ten billion million? What if you had not just one lover who wanted to pay attention to you but ten, a hundred, a thousand, a million, a hundred million? All clamoring ceaselessly. Would you still love them? Would you still love even one of them? Would you come to hate them as you hate the vermin that plague you? A single mosquito we shoo out the window, a single ant we step onto the margin of our books such that they can follow their mysterious mission in a place where more room permits. 10 mosquitos and we start to kill. 100 ants and we start to mop them like dirt. 10,000 mosquitos and we run, a million ants and they are the dominant creature not us.
Ben Johnson – who was at one time, with the aid of drugs, the worlds fastest man – can respond to the report of a starting pistol within 20 milliseconds. He was used as a benchmark for human response time. Sprinters who shot off the block in a period of time less than 20 milliseconds were assumed to have leapt-the-gun and the race was restarted.
Movies are at 24 frames per second, television at 30, video games aim for 60 frames per second. 60 frames per second fits well with the goal of a video game to create an “infernal machine” – a machine that you can never step off of. A machine that is so addictive that you are compelled to keep playing just one more round. 60 frames or higher is the key to create that hypnotic perfect smoothness that sweeps aside reason, love, caring, human frailties and passions and speaks straight to the lizard brain inside us all. At refresh rates more frequent that 16 milliseconds per frame reality starts to appear continuous; like a window – not a surface. It is said that a cat can apparently see the beam of the monitor crawl across the screen; it may have an entirely different perception of time. But at some refresh rate we could entrance cats as well if there was a market demand for it. 60 frames a second is 16 milliseconds per frame.
Humans like to talk to each other with a latency of less than 70 milliseconds. At 70 milliseconds or more we start to interrupt each other – it becomes like a long distance skype conversation where one is not sure if the other person has stopped talking yet. It becomes like bad foley in a movie. We start to have to announce our periods in our sentences. Above 200 milliseconds we start to allow conversational overlaps; just speaking and digesting the other conversation in real time and replying in a loose way; as if on IRC or on a NASA space mission where the speed of the electromagnetic spectrum we are soaking in becomes a temporal barrier itself.
We think 50,000 thoughts per day.
Twitter thinks 125,000 thoughts per hour.
Here are 10,000 IPhone apps : http://www.flickr.com/photos/tap-tap-tap/3074199062/
Clearly of course we filter aggressively. But as the volume increases so does our need to filter. At some point we are starting to shut down. The real world of course has infinity in a blade of grass. It is infinite in all directions, and the totality of that information is embedded exactly where it is; situated with the gross geometry and artifacts that we perceive. As we are of this world we float in the information sea that is the world – and somehow by being a part of it we feel at home in it. It is somehow evenly distributed wonder.
Into this analog reality comes an intrusive digital infinity. By being projected into the real world there is a sense of the world itself being raped of value; all things becoming equal and arbitrary. Soon we will have exceedingly rich exactly appropriate metadata attached to all things. The world will become a barrage of infinite recursion, any object becoming the subject of a mesmerizing gaze. We’ll walk down the street and see people frozen, gasping at the unbelievable complexity of the label on an ice-cream bar; everything will become an Aleph One object.
Praxis and Parfait
Is there an antidote to facts and figures? It is said that you can do more by using what you know than by learning something new. The fallacy of knowledge is that it is framed as empowerment – when in reality power doesn’t exist unless exercised. A colocation facility can contain all knowledge but that knowledge isn’t action. The Library of Congress contains knowledge but again it doesn’t do anything. Wikipedia, Wiser Earth, Encyclopedia of Life all contain knowledge, and are framed as a gift to humankind, but even to read them and to know them can inform action but isn’t action itself. Even in the pursuit of wanting to know what the best decision is, this itself is an act that takes away from other actions. Consider the curious case of Elliot as reported by RadioLab . Elliot was an accountant who had a brain tumor removed and who afterwards started to see the world through a purely rational lens, stripped of emotional value. We forget that our choice to use reason as as weapon, or our choice to pursue knowledge, is itself driven by an emotional center that is entirely outside of the learning structures our civilization has built.
Formal knowledge is the domain of reason. It is a weapon used to awe and frighten, to win debate, to win arguement. But it contains its own limit. The best way to destroy an idea is to add to it, to add new features, to let a million new aspects and aspirations blossom within it – to bog the entire endeavor so deeply in wonder that action becomes impossible. Like God you become all powerful yet completely inactive. If you can truly apprehend the infinite then in each choice there is a counter choice – there is a web between all things that you dare not tear at.
There is no conclusion here because there is no end. There is just the next article that you will read – and forget – and read – and forget. You’ll take your scissors to abstruse texts on art theory, semiotics, philosophy, physics – and cut out collages. You will paste these collages together with your friends, in an endless ocean of tree-forts, millions of them, row after row, billions of them, uncountable like stars, exactly like you did when you were a kid. You will color them, and you will paint on them, and you will call them your own and you will admire at how they strike at your heart. And meanwhile you will grow old, old, and some day you shall no longer hear the mermaids singing.