A Proliferation of Real-Time

29th December, 2007

Up up up up

I’ve been having some wrist and hand issues lately from spending a lot of time on the computer and in an attempt to feel better I started using a speech to text program. When I turn it on, it often provides me with a few random words prior to the words that I intend to enter (ex. The “Up up up up” at the start of this post). When I started to quote Caleb Waldorf from his work The Artificial Moon and The Post-Human the first things I saw on the page were these:

Too cool Caleb Waldorf (No kidding. What I said was “to quote”, but I couldn’t agree more…)

Anyway:

Waldorf writes: “as real time media took over at the turn of the 21st century, a paradigm shift occurred in which humanity realized that time had ceased to exist. With everything happening all at once and available to everyone, the idea of linear time lost hold. Time became a flat surface and history no longer existed. At this moment, what had long been seen as the paradox of time travel was no longer viewed up as illogical (speech to text wrote: a logical entity) and the concern with traveling back in time to change things in the future ceased to be of concern. Ultimately there was no longer a past or future for humanity.”

I love this idea, and the piece is rich with other concepts and I hope you check it out. In brief the idea is that post-humans went back in time to create the moon as a map for us to understand them, and ourselves. The piece uses some information on the physical relationship of the earth and moon I’ve seen before in, among other places, Who Built the Moon, by Christopher Knight and Alan Butler and is also infused with the concepts of Lacan.

When I read this quote I immediately thought of Tolstoy’s remarks about history and historians in the epilogues of War and Peace – these quotes are from the second epilogue, chapter 3:

The only conception that can explain the movement of the peoples is that of some force commensurate with the whole movement of the peoples.

So long as histories are written of separate individuals, whether Caesars, Alexanders, Luthers, or Voltaires, and not the histories of all, absolutely all those who take part in an event, it is quite impossible to describe the movement of humanity without the conception of a force compelling men to direct their activity toward a certain end. And the only such conception known to historians is that of power.

To me, this implies that our will to monumentalize individuals, to make super heroes out of selected people, exemplifies the critical fault at the root of historical perspective. The historian wrestles to, as Tolstoy writes several times in the epilogue, “answer the question no one asked” – the historian attempts to elucidate the cause and effects that drive events from his/her lone perspective – and the creation of a super human who galvanizes an entire population and induces them to follow him or her is an analogy to what the historian himself is trying to do. This story, this method of understanding the world, seems embedded in our culture as a dominant narrative form, and we repeat it in various media, at various scales, persistently. When we repeat it we re-learn it, and we tend to analyze our experiences along the lines of the dominant analytical model.

To me, this model relies not only on the idea of super heroes, but also on the understanding that most of us exist to essentially serve a single dominant power at every given moment. This form seems embodied in our sense of time as an arrow moving from past to future, where the past is understood in the historical terms described above, and the present is at the service (‘duty now for the future’) of a future whose goals are determined by, inevitably, a higher authority that we may never even speak with or meet. This temporal/historical form effectively destabilizes our individual connection to the present because the past and future are managed officially by other, ‘higher’ powers than ourselves. The people are essentially farming the present for the officers of the state (or whatever agency defines a given cultures past and aspirations [future]).

A proliferation of real-time media means the web would be alive with, predominantly, broadcasts of what is going on right now, constantly, from many, many people. “Webtime” would equal right now always, and each visit to this web would give one access to the complexity that comprises the present, and would, as Tolstoy’s idea implies, permit each (or at least many) of us to report on our experience while interacting with others engaged in the same effort. This participatory, collective, and simultaneous ‘history’ would belie the narrow, linear, remote historical/temporal lens that we tend to understand and analyze most events through. A highly available web of predominantly real-time, and, one assumes, interactive ‘broadcasts’ may indeed alter our current model of historical/temporal perspective so dramatically that it would become one available method of understanding, and not the sole option. Perhaps this is the direction we are evolving towards.

A highly available, real-time streaming, collaborative, interactive web would also reinvigorate the notion of the local, as more and more people would be broadcasting and interacting from their homes and are becoming more comfortable speaking for themselves as opposed to expressing themselves primarily through consuming someone else’s products. This would minimize the destabilizing effects of the ‘scalable’ economy – in other words, it would re-empower the local citizen as a local citizen, foster an appreciation of being authentic and local, and in so doing potentially ward off the wandering professional who, in our current model, has unseated so many locals (chain stores, movies, recorded music, mass produced, professional touring whatevers, etc.).

In any case, Caleb’s project got me thinking about the relationship of our sense of time, and how that sense is maintained by the technologies we develop and surround ourselves with. His piece also got me thinking about the evolution of things other than species – ideas, technology, etc. Rather than explore that further here I will take a moment and then post another entry.

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