Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Internet and Counterculture (Acidexia Intro)

As all the chatter about the “2012 end of the world” dissolves back into the white noise from whence it came, we are still presented a unique vantage point. We can look at once backward and forward on cultural trends, cresting and falling so quickly that in mere decades we can see patterns emerging that may have taken hundreds of years to arise before the advent of digital communication.

Of course, there’s no way a thorough investigation of any trend is going to happen here in the length of an introduction, within the time it takes me to sip my way through a mocha. But that is telling of these times as well. As Palahniuk observed through the mouthpiece of Tyler Durden in his seminal book Fight Club, we are all “single serving size friends, here.” (And is it also a sign of counter cultural mentality that a reference to a book and movie just a decade out of the gates might be considered hackneyed or out of date?) Our observations must also be single serving size, crammed into a 140 character tweet, or a 350 word blog post.


Books, brief as they may be, challenge the attention span of times that constantly demand more, faster, shorter! We've challenged that expectation numerous times, but only by way of providing both short and long form of anything that seems worth saying.

So, in this hyper-accelerated state of mind, let’s look back, first. In the late 1990s, some of us may recall being a part of some loosely defined, loosely conceived proto- “counter-cultures” that were all held together by newly emerging technology. At first it was Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), and then very quickly it became web services. Many of these seem a little trite now, such as the fact that LiveJournal, a public journal system, helped form the basis of a cultural movement. Such an idea probably elicits eyerolls, but it is nevertheless true: it allowed for outliers to find one another.

 Personally, it allowed for me to hop around the US after New Falcon published my own countercultural travelogue Join My Cult!, (and later, Fallen Nation). It allowed bands to find couches that were not only empty -- as they can now through sites dedicated to just that purpose -- but also occupied by people with new opinions and ideas. In effect, these nascent social technologies allowed a bunch of introverts to play at extrovert, and thereby birthed an entire generation of collaborative art. Indeed, our web personas became more like a welcome mat to the world (even if sometimes littered with razorblades, psychedelics, and purple prose). Persona served as a lure to filter out and yet also attract “the Others,” those “on a similar wavelength,” and so many of us saw the beginning of the end just when the next generation cried “victory!” As web communication officially turned into “social media,” blogging became an independent exercise, and our little couch-surfing commune went global. Certainly when Trent Reznor won the Oscar for his soundtrack work on The Social Network, it seemed a clear indication that this was no longer a counter-cultural frontier.

Now, looking at the present, let’s not just assume a sour grapes attitude. This shift to the mainstream has been with incredible cultural ramifications that could not be so long as it remained a fringe network. Now political regimes that once depended on silence have been challenged at every turn, and the media landscape has been upended to such an extent that the nightly news frequently shows a live video of their twitter feed on national TV. Now it both is a political and personal statement to not have a Facebook account.

Indeed, if you don’t have a presence online you can expect to be ostracized in many ways, or even be denied a job -- as is pointed out in the Disinfo article "The Global Awakening," what a 180 degree turn from the “early days” of this frontier, which many of us remember quite clearly because it really wasn’t that long ago. The speed of the world has made old curmudgeons out of the not-so-old, it seems. One can only hope that it has at the same time decreased the price of wisdom, though that is probably unlikely and remains to be seen, in any event.

Books like Acidexia, (soon to be released in print), Fallen Nation, and many others are a look inside that brief moment in time, when this was a frontier of sorts. Now, like an ant stuck in amber, it might appear as a historical curiosity, but more importantly, it a cultural one. The implicit idea running beneath all I’ve said, and what you are about to read, is that the technology itself was not very important. The shift that the counterculture felt first was the way that technology affects culture, by changing the very feedback mechanisms inherent in social groups. The future will not be determined by the apps that we use, but rather by how we leverage devices and software to consciously contribute to or short-circuit the social networks we are a part of. The language of the outsider continues, even if it has been relegated again to being lost in the noise unless if you know what to look for.

Though the earliest stages of this process are behind us, and the internet has been overrun by monolithic corporations that all want to be our “Friends,” it still remains a conduit to the human consciousness of the planet, for better and worse. Kitty pictures and porn aside (not that they can’t also be instruments of change, somehow), the function and challenge of the web of the future is the same: filtering the noise, not only finding what we are searching for, but finding that which we didn’t even know how to look for yet. Of course, there is heuristic / machine language work being done in this direction as we speak, sentiment analysis as useful to the NSA as Not For Profits, there still remains at both ends of this process one of the best pattern recognition devices yet known: the human nervous system.

We are engineering our future, and play a role in that process. As we look forward we are in a profound sense also looking back, as it is the Promethean mythic structure which carried unconscious knowledge of the prehistoric mind into the light, and it is those stories with impact and import that carry us forward still -- cogent, self-organized -- little vessels arising from the teeming sea of white noise when we know how to find them. These myths are lost in a never-ending sea of garbage that threatens to overrun any meaningful narrative. But they are out there, and most curiously, they will be different for every one of us.

Whether this is good or bad depends on where you are standing, as does the question of which myths will serve you in your life now. For some this book will be meaningful and useful for where you are in life, and others may find it to be part of the noise. That’s how this works. It is for this reason that I turned all of my attention to myth in a modern framework, about a decade ago, ignoring people’s preconceptions that myths are archaic or untrue. Those myths that no longer resonate are “untrue,” those that still resonate, or have begun to, are “true.” This is their function.

I would propose that, like it or not, Acidexia presents us with another myth: that of the young frontier I’ve described, and of a girl, trying to make her way through it. We hope that it is helpful to you in your own voyage through chaos.
“Parts can rest for awhile, content in their partial existence, but when wholes are invoked they bring with them ‘the patterns that connect,’ the patterns of narrative, story, and myth.” -Imaginary Landscape, William Irwin Thompson.
--James Curcio Mythos Media 2012

Videos:


Party at the world's end.
 

Acidexia trailer.
 

[Where is the fucking counterculture? Mythos Media.]

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