An Opaque Perspective on the 21st Century, or, Together in the Clouds
I’ve long thought that the development of art in the 20th century could be viewed as related to the development of film and the cinema. The techniques employed when dealing with film, principally cutting and rearranging, can be seen in all other disciplines. I’m mostly thinking of the jump-cut and juxtaposition; the collage.
By the middle of the 20th century William Burroughs laid out his depiction of human experience as that of a projected film; a visual story of madness that constituted and explained the mass delusion of the cinematic and television age. Much later this view, now digital, became widely accepted in The Matrix. In Burroughs’ 1960 world, unseen officials and bureaucrats, the hidden masters, ran the projectors. It was director, the editor and the projector that were most important, the cameras, not so much. The movie cameras of old tended to be large and semi-fixed. The screens were in public spaces and told a single story to a mass of recipients. The 35mm and 8mm cameras produced after WWII began a shift.
The 21st century seems to be heightening the importance of the camera itself. The main aspect of the modern camera is its size, portability and internet capability, allowing it to become the memory and projection device of our personal perspective – the very ‘substance’ of our selves.
It is this technology that drives my thinking – that the self is a point of perspective comprised of the information (images) received at the senses (lens), stored in the memory contained in the body of the device. It is given character by the nature and quality of its component parts; how fast is the chip, how sharp is the lens, how sophisticated the processor. What virtues do you possess?
It is the camera as the lens and projector of the individual self, interconnected to others via the internet, that is the weapon which is taking down governments – at least those governments armed only with guns. The governments armed also with a modern understanding of technology and human psychology seem to be coping quite well, so far. In the heavenly Earth of the future, we will have beaten our swords into cameras. The plowshares will be run by robots.
Every camera has a perspective, depending on where it is, when it is, and in what direction its sensors are pointing. So it is for individual beings. In this story, every person is a perspective, and the number of perspectives is more numerous than the grains of sand in the Ganges. Each grain in its own place, each angle slightly different. Every person is a viewpoint, every citizen a reporter.
In this model, no one perspective is ‘correct’. Each perspective is by its nature slightly or significantly different, as taken from a different vantage point. Each data-set (image, or viewpoint) from any and every perspective can be transmitted and received with relatively equal success, regardless of the quality of the content. Hence, one opinion is seen as being as valid as any other – again, regardless of its quality.
A good example is climate-change denial. What matters in this case is the number of transmissions and mirrored repetitions of the perspective, not whether it is ‘true’ or not. In this view, climate change denial is not a lie, it is merely a different perspective. In this world as Burroughs predicted, nothing is true and everything is permitted (to be a truth).
In what other way can I tell myself the story of what is, except with the information available to my place and time? With what other techniques can I employ to craft that story other than those favored by the current technology – that which is at hand?
So I suggest that the self is a perspective that changes with the movement of the sensors, its self-awareness is its memory, its duration is as long as the device holds out – until the device ‘dies’. Should a comprehensive data set survive as a coherent ‘body of work’, preserved as art or merely as a personal archive in the techno-cloud, some kind of immortality will have been achieved, not of the device, but of the perspective. (Neither Da Vinci or Shakespeare survive, but we ‘know’ them through their surviving perspective.)
The common term that has developed for on-line storage of our data is ‘the cloud’.
In an old story, God exists above the clouds, speaks from the clouds, and we, users and believers, shall be called up together in the clouds.
It is our latest technique for immortality.