Delving into the re-real of cyber space
Man is an artifact designed
for space travel.
He is not designed to remain in his
present biologic state any more
than a tadpole is
designed to remain a tadpole.
– William S Burroughs
Cyber space is primarily an electronically mediated ecology. The threshold through which to enter this virtual world subjects viewers to a performative engagement with the designated device – it may be a computer or currently even a mobile/cell phone. To access the virtual space offered by World Wide Web one must also pay a fee to purchase limited or unlimited bandwidth. Once that has been taken care of, the entry point would be one of many virtual portals, the architecture built to amass preferred information – this in the end might prove to be a step towards a journey which is unending.
It is not merely an image known as meta-information; cyber space is the dynamic form based on its own model, and exists as an extension to actual space. Hence, it creates the condition which abstracts other realities out of actual images or information . In the real world, image is static. But in the cyber world, image or the platform is dynamic, which remains active in its material form. The reason lies in its structure. Cyber space is structurally vertical and its direction flows downwards. New information or new image pushes the old aside and fills it up. When a new image emerges it creates an absence of the old image. The absence does not mean that the image ceases to exist, rather it implies the lack of permanence of the object. All objects go downwards in cyber space while they also remain in their definite static phase; they find their place in a half-hidden, half-revealed 'void'. The reason the idea of 'void' is invoked here is that the matter that seems definable in the visible world becomes elusive and indefinable in the cyber space. Then the object has to be searched out from the hidden sphere with the help of a search engine. Interestingly, two things are important in the cyber space: 'enter' and 'out/exit'. So, how can one define the space which is not real but comes with all the implications of a real space and more – where one can reside for as long as one wants depending on one's capacity to expend both time and money?
Firstly, the user finds himself/herself before a screen which is optical – a mirror that does not contain the material or physical presence of a person or a matter, rather it embodies them as 'other' objects. The newly built relation with the 'other reality' is such that it negates the physical presence of the actual matter. The 'other' creates a mirror image of the actual. How does it happen? Having merely a computer and an internet connection is not good enough as one's identity becomes a significant component of the relation between the body and the device. In fact, navigation is made possible through a new, virtual identity – accordingly individualized.
There are many subjective and objective reasons for this. Firstly, one must have a legitimate password to access one's email, social media sites and other web spaces, which in turn determines what kind of information we could search or not . Thus, the 'password' creates a new identity for the user, turning him/ her into a 'subjective truth'. This transformation does not involve an user's physical form but rather his/her specular form. It is not unreal, but a 're-real' identity. Information and image lends the subject a construct/configuration. In the cyber space the subject and his/her other remain distant. It is because cyber space creates three-dimensional forms. It forges a nexus of machine, body and space. These three, when combined, create a distinct material reality. For example, cyber space chat rooms offer a spatial arrangement where mutual relations and spaces develop when 'sender', 'text', 'recipient' and 'connection channel' are aligned in a correlative process. Other than 'sender' and 'recipient' of the text, all the remaining invisible phases of actual words can be abstract. Mutual relation is actually a sign of confidentiality embedded within words/texts. Sign here is the epicenter [logocentric] of information or image. It could sometimes be positive and sometimes negative. It is positive in the sense that confidentiality keeps negativity away from chat rooms. On the other hand, it is negative in the sense that due to spatial relation of mutuality, chat rooms could potentially turn into undemocratic compartments. However, in some cases the subject may remain in the open space and then password will not be required. That is also a restricted world. In the open space, re-real identity sometimes split into multiple identities. Some notable examples are photo, television, video art or YouTube. One link of information or image is linked with another. Even if the user does not look for any particular subject, they are nonetheless found there. This creates the polemical condition for data collection. People live in the worlds between information and more information. Even the 'being/spirit' does not attain its full meaning without information. When information attains totality/ fulfillment, it turns into image. Image is a construct of innumerable dots. It becomes clear when information is perceived as dots. This is why the political precondition for meaning is dependent on the idealistic/spiritual aspect of information.
Secondly, the basis of objective identity in the cyber space is cultural. Culture brings people closer and offers a connection. But in cyber space this relationship is not between near and near, rather between near and distant. Here near is spatial [or located] and distant is non-spatial [or dislocated]. Sometimes the non-spatial [or dislocation] facilitates the spatial [or location]. It is because information and image cause cultural hybridization in the mind of the user, a process which results in the hyper-real culture. Actually, a new cultural hybridity emerges when local culture mixes with distant cultures. So, the labour culture in the cyber space takes the shape of 'universal labor'. This has changed the traditional material cultural form of labor. Search engines are now determining the new direction of labor by bringing out hidden/absent information and image from unknown territories – emerging out of the void that is the cyber space. Through dislocating culture of the periphery emerges a new form. The location where information/image forms a relation with the user is the sign that signifies the new scientific, creative activities. Sign here is the culture of identity; it does not bring forth any other aspect than identity. It is, however, not possible to measure this cultural labor without mechanical discovery. Actually the very (co)operative force in the cyber space is 'universal labor'. Karl Marx once said, 'Universal labor is all scientific work, all discovery and invention. It is brought about partly by the co-operation of men now living, but partly also by building on earlier work.'
Two things become clear if we consider Marx's statement in this new context. If we replace Marx's 'human spirit' with 'mechanical spirit', then 'dynamics of mind' stands against 'dynamics of machine'. This is because, in the modern world, the idea of progress is linked with the advancement of science. Both 'dynamics of mind' and 'dynamics of machine' also create a cultural space through cultural cooperation percolating into what one may call the scientific imaginary. The relationship between technology-science and human nature is not independent of their relation to capital. Indeed, two things are fundamental for creating wealth: labor and time. Here the amount of labor is determined in relation to the time spent. 'Labor' is not considered production without any reference to 'time'. Thus, labor cost is determined by taking into consideration both production and time. This scientific, intellectual capital is not a visible capital. As a result, this type of capital is culturally new. It is primarily linked to a market of information and image. Thus, information and image of products remain in the cyber space as post-capital product. This technology-based culture is different from societal-natural culture. Natural culture is open and accessible where production is usually re-productive. The prevalent culture of cyber space is indeed a subculture of this natural culture – an extension, and therefore cannot exist outside of natural culture.
Contrarily, natural culture may exist visibly or invisibly independent of subculture. This is because actual/real product or image exists within the actual/real mode of production. Subculture is nothing but a 're-productive process' of reality. This process transforms the material or the meaning/spirit around this very re-productive culture. As a result, cyber space may seem like a labyrinth. Various activities of subculture are displayed here on the micro topic net. Thus it is a democratic utopia. There is no geographical country here, only the structure of a state. Human thoughts, dreams and rights take a universal shape in the cyber space; that is the mysterious world of meta-information. In plain sight, the idea of rights of human beings or objects seems to be inherent in 'freedom of expressions'. But the struggles for establishing rights are basically absent here. This is because expressions and the practical effects of expressions are not the same. In expressions only a part of the rights is revealed. It is not possible to realize the culture and rights of expressions without changing the status quo. Moreover, cyber space is dominated by global capital. It is protected by the semantic of capital and its sphere of influence. As a result, cyber space is not as independent as it seems from a linguistic perspective. Sometimes, cyber space culturally annuls localism. Wedded with other cultures, localism immerses into another subculture. This subculture, being a product of hybridization of local cultures, brings forth a meta-narrative of rights. Subjects do not exist in their real form in cyber space. Hence, cultural hybridization is the principal phenomenon. Due to this cultural hybridization, objective truth remains elusive here.
With reference to French philosopher Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation, it can be said that cyber space has 'no more subject, no more focal point, no more periphery.' This is because due to 'chain of reaction' causality -- what comes forth on the computer platform is nothing but information which has no centre. This is why it is information which is real in the cyber space. That is, information is the real domain for the supplier of information. This real lacks essence of truth. Hence, truth is elusive or non-existent. At this point, two questions arise. Firstly, does truth promise existence? [Is it possible for truth to exist?] Secondly, is the other form of nonexistence identified as truth? On the first question, if truth does not exist in cyber space, then 'subjective truth' of the user becomes nonexistent too. It seems this nonexistence is considered truth and existence becomes the 'other subject'. The other subject essentially experiences a rupture from truth. On the other hand, the only way to capture something nonexistent or elusive is in the form of a material/matter. In the actual world, the meaning of things finds their locus in language which is built around memories. The world is often forgotten in the process of producing meaning within a language and in the way that fills the matter [sentence] with spirits [idea]. Thus, cyber space is the existence of the nonexistent, which is a memory-based world outside the actual space. As soon as someone enters cyber space, the past becomes the present but as soon as that person leaves that space, the past returns to the world of the past. Thus, the future remains as an elusive truth.
- Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, translated by Eliot Ross Albert, Dialogues 11: the Actual and Virtual (London: Continuum Books, 2007)
- Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 3 (New York: Vintage Books,1981)
- Jean Baudrillard quoted in Haji Kenann, The Ethics of Visuality: Levinas and the Contemporary Gaze, translated by Batya Stein, (London: I.B. Tauris Books, 2013)
Translated by AHSAN HABIB