Tagnathan jurgenson

Videodrome is the best movie ever made about Facebook

Videodrome VHS packaging

Cyborgologist Nathan Jurgenson on the 30th anniversary of Videodrome:

Over the course of the film, Max comes to know a “media prophet” named Professor Brian O’Blivion—an obvious homage to Marshall McLuhan. O’Blivion builds a “Cathode Ray Mission,” named after the television set component which shoots electrons and creates images. The Cathode Ray Mission gives the destitute a chance to watch television in order to “patch them back into the world’s mixing board,” akin to McLuhan’s notion of media creating a “global village,” premised on the idea that media and technology, together, form the social fabric. O’Blivion goes on to monologue,

“The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen appears as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality; and reality is less than television.”

This is Videodrome’s philosophy. It’s the opposite of The Matrix’s (1999) misreading of Baudrillard’s theories of simulation, and it goes completely against the common understanding of the Web as “virtual,” of the so-called “offline” as “real.” O’blivion would agree when I claim that “it is wrong to say ‘IRL’ to mean offline: Facebook is real life.”

This logic—that the Web is some other place we visit, a “cyber” space, something “virtual” and hence unreal—is what I call “digital dualism” and I think it’s dead wrong. Instead, we need a far more synthetic understanding of technology and society, media and bodies, physicality and information as perpetually enmeshed and co-determining. If The Matrix is the film of digital dualism, Videodrome is its synthetic and augmented opponent.

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Although I agree with Nathan’s rejection of digital dualism, I do find that the internet, or rather particular parts of the internet create a “place-like” experience — much the way reading a book or watching a movie does. Except other people are there. Place metaphors have been common since the beginning, besides cyberspace we have chat “rooms” web “sites.” Of course these spaces are real, and enmeshed with the physical, but they are also ethereal — they are unplaces. That’s part of their appeal. You can enter them from anywhere, your phone at a bus station, a cybercafe in Bangkok or your new apartment in a new city. And when you enter, you are someplace more than the place that you are physically.

(FWIW, both Neuromancer and Matrix include some concept of entanglement between meatspace and cyberspace: when you die in them, you die for real.)

See also:

Nathan on Mindful Cyborgs

David Cronenberg dossier

TV Ate Itself

Cyborgologist Nathan Jurgenson Interviewed On Mindful Cyborgs

Nathan Jurgenson This week cyborgologist Nathan Jurgenson joined Chris Dancy and me on Mindful Cyborgs. Nathan is the co-founder of the site Cyborgology, co-founder of the Theorizing the Web conference, a contributing editor at The New Inquiry and a sociology graduate student at the University of Maryland.

You can download or listen to it on Soundcloud or on iTunes, or just download it directly.

Here are a couple highlights from the transcript:

If you’ve taken a lot of photos, if you’re a photographer and you spend a lot of time with the camera in your hand or up your eye. You develop the thing that is called the “camera eye,” that is even when the camera is not at your eye you start to see the world through the logic of the camera mechanism. You see the world as a potential photo with a framing, lighting, the depth of field and so forth. And that’s called the camera eye and I think social media, especially Facebook, has given us the sort of documentary vision or the Facebook eye where you see the world as a potential Facebook post or tweet or Instagram photo.

That is you see the present as always this potential future past, this sort of nostalgic view of the present. I don’t think it takes us out of the moment. Some people say that, that you’re not experiencing life in the moment because you’re worried about posting it on Facebook. I think that’s just a different experience of the moment. But it’s worth debating whether that’s a better experience or worse experience.

What Eric Schmidt was getting at when he was talking about how using a smartphone is emasculating and you need to have this Google Glass that is somehow more masculine or something like that. It was really, I thought, offensive. And I think the correct reading of that was that the smartphone, now, everybody has a smartphone. How can you look like you’re a rich, powerful man if you have this thing that everybody has?

Well, there’s Google Glass now and again reinforces how what a cellphone used to do. When people see you wearing the Google Glass will say oh, well, you’re an important rich, powerful man. It’s really I think sad in sort of an offensive way to market that product. They’ve done a terrible job marketing Google Glass I think.

More show notes, plus the complete transcript, inside.

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