One of the great mistakes people made in reviewing my book was to say, “Wow, it’s great. Turner finally showed us how the hippies brought us computing.” Nothing could be further from the truth. What I think I did in the book was actually show how the research world that brought us computing also brought us the counterculture. In the ‘40s, we see military industrial research in and around MIT and around a variety of other centers being incredibly collaborative and open. It’s that style that actually migrates into and shapes countercultural practices. What the counterculture does for computing is it legitimates it. It makes it culturally cool. […]
A legacy from the communalist movement that I think is pernicious is a turning away from politics, a turning toward the self as the basis of political change, of social action. I think that’s something you see all through the Valley. The information technology industry feeds off it because information technologies can so easily be aimed at satisfying individual needs. You see that rhetoric leveraged when Google and other firms say, “Don’t regulate us. We need to be creative. We need to be free to pursue our satisfaction because that’s ultimately what will provide a satisfying society.”
That’s all a way of ignoring the systems that make the world possible. One example from the ‘60s that I think is pretty telling is all the road trips. The road trips are always about the heroic actions of people like Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady and their amazing automobiles, right? Never, never did it get told that those road trips were only made possible by Eisenhower’s completion of the highway system. The highway system is never in the story. It’s boring. What’s in the story is the heroic actions of bootstrapped individuals pursuing conscious change. What we see out here now is, again, those heroic stories. And there are real heroes. But the real heroes are operating with automobiles and roads and whole systems of support without which they couldn’t be heroic.
Will Willes on the world of creepypasta, a genre of storytelling quickly becoming the folklore of the internet:
Again, none of these games or shows is real, but stories about them exist in truly bewildering numbers. I had unwittingly stumbled into the world of ‘creepypasta’, a widely distributed and leaderless effort to make and share scary stories; in effect, a folk literature of the web. ‘[S]ometimes,’ wrote the American author H P Lovecraft in his essay ‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’ (1927), ‘a curious streak of fancy invades an obscure corner of the very hardest head, so that no amount of rationalisation, reform, or Freudian analysis can quite annul the thrill of the chimney-corner whisper or the lonely wood.’ These days, instead of the campfire, we are gathered around the flickering light of our computer monitors, and such is the internet’s hunger for creepy stories that the stock of ‘authentic’ urban legends was exhausted long ago; now they must be manufactured, in bulk. The uncanny has been crowdsourced.
The word ‘creepypasta’ derives from ‘copypasta’, a generic term for any short piece of writing, image or video clip that is widely copy-and-pasted across forums and message boards. In its sinister variant, it flourishes on sites such as 4chan.org and Reddit, and specialised venues such as creepypasta.com and the Creepypasta Wiki (creepypasta.wikia.com), which at the time of writing has nearly 15,000 entries (these sites are all to be avoided at work). Creepypasta resembles rumour: generally it is repeated without acknowledgement of the original creator, and is cumulatively modified by many hands, existing in many versions. Even its creators might claim they heard it from someone else or found it on another site, obscuring their authorship to aid the suspension of disbelief. In the internet’s labyrinth of dead links, unattributed reproduction and misattribution lends itself well to horror: creepypasta has an eerie air of having arisen from nowhere.
Vice interviews Gareth Branwyn, a writer for the late great Mondo 2000 magazine and author of the forthcoming Borg Like Me:
What are some of weirdest fringe scenes out there?
Well, the whole dark net world of Anyonmous, 4chan (the anonymous images/bbs where rebels, criminals, and crusaders hang out), anonymous P2P networks are pretty kooky. And things like Tor, which you can use to buy mailorder illegal drugs with bitcoin. It has been said that what you see on 4chan will melt your brain, and that’s no lie. You see things, you hear things, that you can’t unsee or unhear.
Then, of course, there’s the whole Jihadist net, but I’ve never checked that out. I’ve also been researching a feature article on sexcam sites and that’s this whole specific world and there’s very kooky stuff on there—naked yoga shows, sexual game shows, women who craft and run raffles and then masturbate when they’re done and send the craft item to the raffle winner. That’s a fascinating subculture that I don’t think anybody outside of it knows much about.
Ah yes, I’ve heard about the sexcam trend. So how do you go about researching something like that?
So far, I’ve just been watching A LOT of cams… for research. I’m establishing relationships with various models and will hopefully convince some of them to talk candidly to me about themselves and their work. This isn’t going to be a piece about the business of these sites, but rather, about the models themselves and their “shows,” who their fans are, the nature of these relationships. I think it’s rather unique and an interesting twist on DIY sex work and net-based intimacy here in the early 21st century.
Here’s an old Mondo 2000 interview from 1993 with both Genesis P-Orridge and Hakim Bey conducted by Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow:
JOHN: Right, Taoism has no truck with good and evil at all.
HAKIM: Taoism seems to be the one religion that doesn’t have the Gnostic trace.
JOHN: In our culture, the problem arose with the Romans.
HAKIM: I think it goes further back. It’s Babylon. It’s just like the Rastas say, “It happened in Babylon.” It’s Marduk and Tiamat. It’s Mr. Hard-on God up against Sloppy Mom. In China, chaos is a benevolent property. Huntun is the gourd or the egg out of which everything comes. He’s a wonton. Huntun and wonton are the same words. He’s like this little dumpling and everything good comes out of him. In Babylon, chaos is the disgusting monster vagina that has to be ripped up by Marduk into myriad blobs of shit and slime. And we are those globs of slime. That’s how the human race came into being. What is the purpose of the human race? To serve Marduk, to serve the masculine principle, to store up grain in the granary for the priests, to pay for the priests for their sacrifice so they get the free hamburgers. That’s the whole Western myth. It’s St. George and the Dragon. St. George pins the dragon down.
In China, the dragon is the free expression of creativity. He’s the mixture of Yin and Yang, the principle of power. But here’s evil, plain and simple. This is why chaos has kicked off, for me, for Ralph Abraham, and others, an interest in making a critique of this Western mythology, and saying, “Let’s put Humpty Dumpty back together.”
JOHN: There’s been an interesting co-evolution lately of a lot of apparently disconnected things, like chaos mathematics and neo-tribalism, a sudden interest in Taoism and what I perceive to be a deep feminization of Western culture.
GEN: Some philosophers feel that there’s a risk in absolute unconditional surrender of that male-God power, even though it’s obviously failed miserably. Should we seek out every possible male trait and subordinate it to a female principle?
HAKIM: I didn’t like the rule of Dad, but I don’t think I’m going to like the rule of Mom either.
This is an old interview with Genesis P. Orridge conducted by Phil Farber and published in Paradigm Magazine in 1996. Orridge talks about hir exit from the Temple ov Psychick Youth, the purpose of TOPI/The Process/Transmedia, and more. Lots of interesting stuff in this interview, which I surely must have read when I was 15 and hanging around The Process mailing list.
On sigils as a way of cutting up behavior:
One of my ideas was that if you did magickal ritual or sigils, in a way you were cutting up your normal behavior and expectations and programming, just as Burroughs and Gysin and people had done cut-ups with language. Just as Burroughs would say you cut up a book to see what’s really there, if you cut up your own social imprinting and take yourself into other dimensional realms, do you also see what’s really there inside yourself? Do you really learn the most detailed and scarily honest version of what you really are made up of, and can you then engineer your own character and behavior pattern from inside back out to become what you wish to be?
And I would say, yes, slowly. One of the basic things is that there is a cumulative effect of anything. Any ritual done with sincere commitment and repeated with honor and sincerity over any long period of time appears to have a cumulative effect. The orgasm appears to be a very powerful portal for transferring messages to areas of the consciousness or the DNA structure, which then continue to amplify the will. These things seem to happen. There seems to be a cumulative effect of a positive relationship with synchronicity.
On the Internet:
We’re going to invade the Internet and cyberspace as far as we can. One of the theories that we’re working with is that there are four brains. DNA, if you like, is the first brain, and we call that the Nanosphere. Then the individual human brain is the Neurosphere. The group consciousness, the social or tribal brain, is the Kaosphere. Then the Internet and all the computers which are, in a sense, at the moment a whole. Literally a whole brain is being built, it’s not a metaphor for a brain, it actually is a brain. We call that the Psychosphere. What we’re really thinking about is when you plug in and go online, you’re plugging into all the brains of all the other people who’ve been there, some of those people being psychotic and paranoid, some of them being into control, and some of them being very benign. But it is not implicitly benign. Taking that further — this is just a TOPI/Process/Transmedia interpretation — we suggest that when enough people believe in something, it becomes a deity. At a certain point it can separate from its source and have an agenda of its own. It can physically or psychically manifest separate from its source, which is originally the human brain. That’s what’s going to happen with cyberspace. We’re building a god, but we’re building a god with the flaws and the gifts of everyone on the planet almost, at this rate — millions of people — with no real unified agenda and no real dialogue about what the psychic and neurological and social and economic effect really will be of that acceleration and separation of this larger brain. It will be the first all-encompassing and contrived and constructed brain so far, that we know of.
How is it that Dery is able to produce this uncanny feeling of identification? You get the sense that, while the rest of us were living the zeitgeist, Dery was holding a stethoscope to its heart. His essays are EKGs showing that our pulse goes haywire in the presence of extremes — perversion, violence, satanism. In an introduction, Dery declares that it is “the writer’s job” to “think bad thoughts”: “to wander footloose through the mind’s labyrinth, following the thread of any idea that reels you in, no matter how arcane or depraved, obscene or blasphemous, untouchably controversial, irreducibly complex, or preposterous on its face.” All of us take in these abominations as they play across our flatscreens and iPhones, but Dery’s distinction is to really think about them — reflect on them, contextualize them, pursue their logic to sometimes unpalatable consequences. “The writer’s job,” he means to say, “is to transform ‘bad thoughts’ into good ones — insights and observations — through a process of examination.”
“Are you a practicing occultist?” was the first question Douglas Rushkoff asked me when I met him at the Webvisions conference in Portland, OR. It’s not a typical question for a keynote speaker to ask a journalist he’s just met at a technology event. Then again, Rushkoff is not a typical keynote, and I’m not a typical journalist. After all, I’d just introduced myself as a writer for ReadWriteWeb and Technoccult.
“No, not anymore,” I told him.
“I’m thinking about starting up again. I feel like I’ve been fooled by all of this,” he said, gesturing around the room.
“All of what?” I asked him.
“Consensus reality,” he told me. He went on to talk about the vitality that practicing magicians like Phil Farber and Grant Morrison have. We chatted a bit longer about our common interests, and made an appointment to meet up for an interview. I talked to him about some of the themes of his new book, Program or Be Programmed, and the Contact Summit, which he’s co-organizing with Venessa Miemis and Michel Bauwens. You can find that portion of the interview at ReadWriteWeb. Then we got into stuff that fits better on this site.
Rushkoff is disappointed about how technology is being used today. He describes feeling of computer networks in 1991 as being like taking acid – there was a sense that anything was possible. In Cyberia he wrote that the only people that would be able to handle the new information reality would be psychedelic people and kids. He expanded upon the notion that kids would just inherently get cyberspace in Playing the Future.
It hasn’t worked out that way. Rushkoff admits he was wrong about kids just getting cyberculture. He says recent studies have found that younger Internet users are more likely to fall for hoaxes or believe incorrect things they read on the Internet. Young people are less critical, not more.
Meanwhile, technology has become more about control than about liberation from consensus reality.
“When Video Toaster for the Amiga came out everyone was really excited,” he Rushkoff said. “We believed that we could use it to create deeply alternative states of consciousness using lights and colors and things.”
“Today, those technologies are used by companies like Fox News to make you pay attention to what they want you to pay attention to, or to make your eye fall on a particular ad. Stuff like that.”
But he says if you know how the program works, you’re less likely to be hypnotized by it. “There’s two ways to experience magic,” he says. “And I don’t mean stage magic.” You can either experience it as a spectator, watching a priest or guru. Or you can participate. “Having a guru will only take you so far,” he said. “You have to become the guru.”
But it’s not easy. Rushkoff admits he’s been having trouble participating in magic these days. “My sense is that the suppositional conditioning that I’ve undergone – making a living, raising a kid, keeping a house in working order, paying a mortgage – I’ve expended a lot of energy in less efficient ways,” he said. “I’ve become less trusting of the more subtle ways of influencing the world around me.”
“Part of that is because the stakes are higher,” he said. “I’ve got a real kid, a real wife, a real house, a real bank account, a real mortgage. When it was just me, the stakes were lower. It was just ‘Will I get this book deal?’ and ‘Will I get with this girl?’ Not expending that energy in the conventional ways wouldn’t lead to catastrophic failures.”
He said he hasn’t reached a point where the stakes are lower. “I’ve just gotten to a point where this is no longer working for me. Too many of my day-to-day concerns are not consonant with the way I want to experience the world. It’s about maintaining security, avoiding death and getting things done.”
He says he’s not interested in performing rituals or ceremonies. Instead he said “I want to maintain a greater availability towards pattern recognition. A greater sensitivity to the subtle effects of my actions.”
He wants to spend more of his time and energy connecting with people and “Being and experiencing myself as part of the unfolding of reality.”
So what stands in the way?
“The cultural things in my life and how I relate to them are all fairly rigid – marriage, schools, etc.” he says. “But unless you find an intentional community, it’s hard to feel that balanced. But I feel it can be done.”
I mention that Grant Morrison seems to pull this off. “Yeah, but he’s childless,” Rushkoff replied. He explains that he’s worried that if he goes off the deep end, he’d end up with some fucked up kids. “I don’t know if that’s because of society or what,” he says, pointing out that society has certain expectations from parents and childhoods and your children can end up being the victims of your choices, even if it’s not fair.
I told him that I don’t have kids, but society still limits what I can do. “Right, money is a big limiting factor,” he says.
“It’s like Bill Hicks said,” I replied. “‘You think you’re free? Trying going anywhere without fucking money.'”
“Yeah, not everyone can move out to the woods, and have solar panels and all that. It’s just not sustainable.”
I told him about EsoZone, and how part of my intention for it was to create a sort of urban Burning Man – a semi-autonomous zone that people could bus or bike to, instead of something way out in the desert away from civilization.
“Yeah, and that’s great,” he said. “But it’s temporary. It’s like acid. When you come down, the question is always ‘how can I make this last forever?'”
And it’s at that point that someone from the event came over and told him it was time to get ready to go on stage and we had to part ways before I could get to the other questions on my list about localism, alternative currencies, etc.
But I’ve been thinking about this last point – how do we make these special experiences last forever? Part of the point, I think, of these sorts of shamanistic experiences – whether it’s Burning Man, or drugs, or fever or lucid dreaming or whatever – is that they are temporary but that you can take something of value away from them and apply it to normal, every day life.
I relate to Rushkoff’s experience, even though I’m childless. My day-to-day concerns are meeting my deadlines for work, making sure I have enough money in the bank for rent, my conference travel schedule, the best types of dish washer tablets and whether my wife and I need a new coffee maker. I’m considering buying a subscription to Consumer Reports, and what sort of retirement savings account is best for me.
Did we learn nothing from our experiences that we can bring back into our day-to-day lives? Are there really no options between being square or living on a commune?
I for one choose not to be believe that.
Since this interview, I made it a point to work less and to spend more time with friends. Even before the interview I’d been realizing that I didn’t do much actual socializing on social media. Twitter and Tumblr are participatory, but not particularly social. I use Facebook mostly as a way to send and receive invitations, and as a sort of back-up e-mail system. I want to spend more time connecting with people, and I’m doing my best to do that.
But there does seem to be something else that’s missing. As we parted ways, Rushkoff told me to feel free to e-mail him if I came across anything that I thought would help him in his situation. I chuckled, saying that it’s the exact same situation seemingly everyone is in.
The Paris Review has an interview with Gibson in which he explains how her arrived upon the idea of cyberspace. I knew the famous story about seeing the Apple ad at the bus stop, but in this he puts the whole process together:
I was walking around Vancouver, aware of that need, and I remember walking past a video arcade, which was a new sort of business at that time, and seeing kids playing those old-fashioned console-style plywood video games. The games had a very primitive graphic representation of space and perspective. Some of them didn’t even have perspective but were yearning toward perspective and dimensionality. Even in this very primitive form, the kids who were playing them were so physically involved, it seemed to me that what they wanted was to be inside the games, within the notional space of the machine. The real world had disappeared for them—it had completely lost its importance. They were in that notional space, and the machine in front of them was the brave new world.
The only computers I’d ever seen in those days were things the size of the side of a barn. And then one day, I walked by a bus stop and there was an Apple poster. The poster was a photograph of a businessman’s jacketed, neatly cuffed arm holding a life-size representation of a real-life computer that was not much bigger than a laptop is today. Everyone is going to have one of these, I thought, and everyone is going to want to live inside them. And somehow I knew that the notional space behind all of the computer screens would be one single universe.