An identity shattering prescription for heavy weather nights

Posted by on May 25th, 2013

A complementary, double-shot prescription for those heavy weather nights, as the Earth seems too hot or too cold almost everywhere, slipping outta the Goldilock Zone and well into the Anthropocene Age.

Take one-hour of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and the Lady Jaye:

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(Here’s some longread material for later that captures her world-view.)

Then follow it with Shane Carruth’s follow up to Primer, Upstream Color:

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(Here’s an interview, of sorts, with him over on TWITCH.)


Grinders wanted for Transhuman Religion Study

Posted by on April 24th, 2013

Venetia Robertson, shown below practicing catching cyborg flies, is seeking Grinders for a survey as part of her thesis. She says:

Hi all, I am looking for people who would like to answer a brief survey regarding the intersection of transhumanism and identity, with a focus on notions of the spiritual, religious, sacred etc. I am a PhD student from the University of Sydney, Australia, and my thesis explores ideas of identity, particularly identity that is beyond that which is ‘purely human’. Any data I can get from people who are interested in or actively engaging with grinding, body-hacking, wet-ware, transhumanism and/or becoming ‘cyborgs’ would be greatly appreciated! Hit me up at to be sent the survey and a participant information statement detailing my ethics clearance, or if you simply have questions. You can also check out my academic profile page at Looking forward to hearing from you soon!

I took it myself on the weekend, and am keen to see what she comes up with.

Rushkoff on Narrative Collapse: we are the storytellers now

Posted by on December 23rd, 2012

Interesting comments here in this article on Douglas Rushkoff’s new book, Present Shock, over on Forbes:

Indeed, one of Toffler’s tenets is that “change is non-linear and can go backwards, forwards and sideways.” Rushkoff takes this notion a step further an describes a present in which “there is no temporal backdrop against which to measure our progress, no narrative through which to make sense of our actions, no future toward which we may strive, and seemingly no time to figure any of this out.

Rushkoff toes the line between apocalypse and ascension. He diagnoses the cultural problems engendered by our disorientation from traditional concepts of time and attempts to propose concrete steps we can take to recover some sense of control and purpose.

Narrative Collapse: Rushkoff identifies both the sensationalism of reality TV and the meta-stories of The Simpsons and Family Guy as examples of how we no longer have the time or patience for linear stories. From entertainment to financial investment, the payoff has to be virtually instantaneous in order to justify our attention. Politically, he shows how these impulses play out both in the Tea Party and the Occupy movement. A news cycle divested of linear time, pushes politicians into present tense reactions with unsustainable results. Rushkoff’s sympathies are clearly more with Occupy who confounded conservatives and the mainstream press by having a large impact without an easily identifiable goal. In remix culture and contemporary activism, he sees the potential for us to seize the narrative frame and use them in new ways to invent innovative story forms and flexible agendas.

To the problem of narrative collapse, Rushkoff suggests that young people have reacted to the loss of storytellers by realizing they have to become the storyteller. The gamer can write his own next level. We can be fragmented by allowing ourselves to operate on the (non-temporal) time scale of computers or we can program our computers to keep us in sync with our own goals and our own lives.

PLURALITY [short film]

Posted by on October 6th, 2012
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via @leashless | falkvinge

The Lizardman (or the origin story of a proto neo human) [VID]

Posted by on October 2nd, 2012

Tim Flannery on humanity’s future as a super organism

Posted by on May 4th, 2011

From the Guardian, where it appears Flannery is updating the Gaia hypothesis:

Tim Flannery argues that humankind is evolving into a ‘super-organism’ where interdependence has profound consequences for the individual.

Look for an expansion of this in his Long Now seminar.

Elf Ears, Facial Horns & Complete Freedom of Expression

Posted by on April 19th, 2011

Via BoingBoing we have this piece on one of ABC’s programs, a “Look at the Freaks” story on the ‘sudden rising trend of Elf Ears‘, the new body-mod “fad.”‘ Blamed for this are Lord of the Rings and Avatar (and we’ll leave aside for now the separate issue of the rise of Na’vi as a hyper-real faith & freedom of religion). The story begins, as such fine pieces of journalism usually do, with a lighthearted quip:

Why would anybody want to do this?

So sayeth the gym-broadened, bottle-blonde’d, make-up wearing, probable result of plastic surgery, carefully constructed media personage. Oh, you meant why would they do stuff that isn’t socially accepted within the enforced/repeated framing of the Mainstream Media?

There’s an old quote I always like to bust out in situations like these, that I once read in a cartoon in a tattoo magazine:

Q. What’s the difference between a person with tattoos and a person without tattoos?

A. The person with tattoos doesn’t care if you don’t have any.

We’ve featured the work of Steve Haworth before, and the best thing about this story was that I immediately sought out a body-mod artist that visits my own shores on occasion, for friends seeking just such enhancements.

Now our old friend Ötzi the Iceman has tattoos, making this a most timeless, Human act. So what is the deal here? Are we in a new Victorian Age of Prudes?

Well, before I go any further, let me wedge in the recent contribution on this issue made by Lady Gaga: “‘I think promoting insecurity in the form of plastic surgery is infinitely more harmful than an artistic expression related to body modification”, continuing “I am an artist, and I have the ability and the free will to choose the way the world will envision me.” Speaking after appearing on the Jay Leno show thusly:

Honestly, I’m a bit disappointed that these Facial Horns are only cosmetic.. that she didn’t go all the way. Maybe she will soon? Maybe she won’t? Maybe it’s perfectly cool for her to play around with her own Identity?!

Indulge me while I wax lyrical for a bit, because there are some Things that need to be Said:

We are The Strange Children of Change.. the Wild, Beautiful Freaks that half frighten, half excite. . It falls on us to lead the way across these waves of radical change, calling back the way forward.

We come from all the cultures across the world and all ages. From many subcultures too; from SF Fandom, Science, Goth, Steampunk, Otherkin, Cyberpunk, Biopunk, Biohackers, etc

Radical Inclusiveness & Revolutionary Optimism are the Tools of our Trade.

We are friends to all. But remember, good friends call you on your bullshit and help you grow. They encourage you to realize your full potential and be a better (post)human.

Those within the Hierarchy see everything with binary vision: us/them, friend/foe, good/bad..  immediately judging for Fitness within it’s internal categories of Correctness.

We natives of the Network see with multiplicitous eyes.  Not judging, but listening.. finding all the common ways we connect, sharing our stories, offering advice, hard won wisdom and invitations to explore new things based on our own past experience and knowledge.

The only thing we don’t tolerate is intolerance.

Where our fellow travelers are mocked. Where courageous explorers like Lepht Anonym are criticized and called “un-transhumanist” by the likes of Natasha Vita-Moore & other elements of the H+ society, we are saddened. This is the Transhumanism of the Hierarchy. Remember, it is the forces of Control that started this whole mess.

The answer isn’t to appear “more palatable to the mainstream” (the defense with which they mark such decrees), it’s to shatter the whole fiction of a Mainstream to begin with!

So much of Transhumanist literature and discussion reeks of body hatred, of a desire to leave the meat behind and live forever in electric dreams, in their idealized, distant Future. Maintaining their current existence purely through virtual avatars. Grinders challenge and extend their limits in the here-and-now, taking everything they can find from the realms of Diet, Psychology, Linguistics, Philosophy, Computer Science, Neuroscience, Engineering, Physical Fitness, Architecture, Industrial and Fashion Design, etc etc, to enhance, explore & express themselves however they choose.

Freedom to modify one’s body, and it’s cousin, cognitive liberties… are they harder to fight for when the previous victories of Freedom of Speech, Religion, Association and so on seem to be under threat at present by so many forces. I say no! We support them all. We demand the right of a person to live and act however they choose – so long as they don’t physically harm anyone or restrict anyone else from equally doing so.

These Cultural Norms we struggle against are forced on to us by the weight of history and the continued existence of a Society where Citizens still need permission to make choices. Where they are not trusted and must be nannied by the State. Where everything appears to exist purely to reinforce the Normal (a term who’s only true meaning is in Statistics); that Impossible Individual representing the complete average of the group. This impossibility makes everyone a Square Peg in a Round Hole.. forever trying to Fit In.

Which brings us to the First Corollary of There Is No They: There Is No Normal.

If necessary, think of it this way, from a purely economic rationalist, productive point of view: if everyone is free to express themselves however they choose, they’ll be happier, more motivated (and frankly, less likely to kill themselves), instead of spending so much energy squashing down their True Self. A richer Society could exist!

We need to Defend these Freedoms. All of them. To stand firmly and say these things are Correct. Let us evolve!

In the Industrial Age everything seemed to be measured with the Bell Curve, but now we are in the territory of Exponential Graphs, Asymmetry and Radical Multiplicity.

For now, let us look Forward! to a more rich, varied world. Let multi-humanism be the new multi-culturalism!  Because it’s all hands on deck time, people.

In conclusion, as catt avery tweeted recently, “the evolutionary strength of the human social colony is most certainly its diversity of expression.”

(And that’s why I think Elf Ears and Facial Horns are cool.)

“Edunia” the plantimal

Posted by on April 14th, 2011

This may look like an ordinary Petunia, but it’s just a little bit more than that. This photo is taken from WIRED UK’s image gallery of the works on display at Dublin’s Science Gallery’s Human+ exhibition, and the flower has been created by Biological artist Eduardo Kac combining his DNA with the flower’s, using genetic engineering.

It’s best explained on the artist’s website:

The central work in the “Natural History of the Enigma” series is a plantimal, a new life form Kac created and that he calls “Edunia”, a genetically-engineered flower that is a hybrid of Kac and Petunia. The Edunia expresses Kac’s DNA exclusively the red veins of the flower. The gene Kac selected is responsible for the identification of foreign bodies. In this work, it is precisely that which identifies and rejects the other that the artist integrates into the other, thus creating a new kind of self that is partially flower and partially human.

Art today, tomorrow yet another ‘perfect gift for the person that has everything’. In fact, I don’t think it’s too morbid to suggest this could also be a way to honour the passing of a loved one, letting a piece of them live on in a family garden.

LIFT 11: Radical transparency and opaque algorithms

Posted by on February 8th, 2011

The LIFT 11 conference just concluded in Geneva, Switzerland. I’ve picked the two most interesting talks to post here, but there’s many others of course, and please feel free to post your favourites in the comments.

Hasan Elahi: Giving away your privacy to escape the US terrorist watch list

Hasan will tell us his incredible story: he was suspected of terrorism by the FBI by mistake, and ended up living totally in public to protect himself from surveillance. His talk will show how forfeiting your privacy can in fact become a new form of protection of your identity.

liftconference on Broadcast Live Free

Hasan concludes his talk by saying that if we all did what he does the intelligence community would be overwhelmed with information. Wrong; the NSA and others like it already do this. How? Algorithms running on incredibly powerful computer systems. Arguably a new lifeform, perhaps evolving to become the dominant one, if we believe the Singularitarians. Or is that already the case and we just haven’t realised it yet?

Kevin Slavin: Those algorithms that govern our lives

Digital technologies and on-line platforms are essential to the way we work and live. Interestingly, they are defined by algorithms which are not neutral. Kevin will discuss how they define new social norms and how our culture is affected by the possibilities embedded in the software we use.

liftconference on Broadcast Live Free

The Obama Administration’s Internet ID Program

Posted by on January 9th, 2011

Friday, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt spoke at a Stanford Policy Institute conference regarding the development of the US’s proposed National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace project.  During the conference Schmidt confirmed that the US Commerce Department beat out the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to administer the initiative.

Schmidt claims that the program will be voluntary and will allow for anonymity, however, the exact format of the program is still in the drafting stages.  He was sure to emphasize, however, that he’s not talking about a National ID card.  At least, not a mandatory one:

“We are not talking about a national ID card,” Locke said at the Stanford event. “We are not talking about a government-controlled system. What we are talking about is enhancing online security and privacy, and reducing and perhaps even eliminating the need to memorize a dozen passwords, through creation and use of more trusted digital identities.”

However, it is clear from previously released documentation, that the plan, if it is initiated is to make moving on the internet as difficult as possible without Trusted ID.

In May of 2009, when President Obama announced the creation of the White House Cybersecurity Coordinator that Schmidt now holds, the “Cyberspace Policy Review” was released.  The document outlined a ten point near-term action list with number ten being:

10.  Build a cybersecurity-based identity management vision and strategy that addresses privacy and civil liberties interests, leveraging privacy-enhancing technologies for the Nation.

What that seems to mean is best summed by io9’s Annalee Newitz:

And here’s where my not-so-wild speculation about Facebook identities comes in. Many companies have turned to Facebook as an “identity management” system (including Gawker Media), allowing people to log into their services using their Facebook identity. The reason is simple: Most people only have one Facebook identity, and they stick with it. There’s a general notion that your Facebook identity is your authentic identity, or at least an identity that you keep over time, and that its characteristics can be traced back to who you are in real life. Therefore, having you log into every web service, from io9 comments to Digg to (possibly in the future) Paypal, is a way of managing your identities. Instead of having a separate identity for each of those services, you have one. Easy to manage, easy to trace.

Why shouldn’t Obama’s cyberczar just cut a deal with Facebook (and maybe a few other social networks like LinkedIn) and turn those profiles into your authentic identities? So you can send mail and buy things using your Facebook ID, and that’s how you’ll be tracked. Hey, you’re already on Facebook right? And you can set your profile to “private.” So it’s easy and “privacy enhancing.” (Never mind how easy it is to get around those privacy settings – pay no attention to that black hat behind the curtain.)

The scenario I’m describing is, in essence, how the Social Security Card became the twentieth century’s identity management system starting in the 1930s. These cards were not originally intended as ID cards, or as a way to authenticate your true identity. They were just a way to manage government assistance to those who needed it. But they became an ID card simply because everyone in the US had been issued one. When the government and businesses needed a way to track people’s identities, it became the easy choice. Showing your social security card meant that you couldn’t just come up with random new names for yourself every time you signed a form or took a job.

Though people in the US now think of the Social Security Card as the “obvious” form of ID, it took years for it to evolve from a simple social assistance card to an “identity management vision.”

This theory is borne out by some of the language in the current draft of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace proposal:

This Strategy is a call to action that begins with the Federal Government continuing its role as a primary enabler, first adopter and key supporter of the envisioned Identity Ecosystem.  The Federal Government must continually collaborate with the private sector, state, local, tribal, and international
governments and provide the leadership and incentives necessary to make the Identity Ecosystem a reality.  The private sector in turn is crucial to the execution of this Strategy.  Individuals will realize the benefits associated with the Identity Ecosystem through the conduct of their daily online transactions in cyberspace. National success will require a concerted effort from all parties, as well
as joint ownership and accountability for the activities identified

The key terminology there is: “Individuals will realize the benefits associated with the Identity Ecosystem through the conduct of their daily online transactions in cyberspace.”  In short: While it won’t be mandatory, expect to have to do more legwork to do business online. It is very much like using your Facebook account to long into other services on the net.  It is simple, quick, convenient, and even sometimes security enhancing.  (My policy of only logging into Gawker sites with Facebook meant that my data was totally safe during the Great Gawker Password Leak of 2010.)  The downside is that Facebook is now my point of contact with a lot of parts of the web and I’m still using their problematic service.

More from the proposal:

Voluntary participation is another critical element of this Strategy.  Engaging in online transactions should be voluntary to both organizations and individuals.  The Federal Government will not require organizations to adopt specific identity solutions or to provide online services, nor require individuals to obtain high-assurance digital credentials if they do not want to engage in high risk online
transactions with the government or otherwise.  The Identity Ecosystem should encompass a range of transactions from anonymous to high assurance.  Thus, the Identity Ecosystem should allow an individual to select the credential he or she deems most appropriate for the transaction, provided the credential meets the risk requirements of the relying party.

So you’d only need Trusted credentials if the places you’re interacting with require them – which, since there’s money in it for them, many private-sector entities will be gladly complying with.  Sure, you can still post here or 4chan or wherever with an anonymous ID, but if you want to do business with iTunes, Paypal, ebay or move goods and services via the net, you’ll need a Trusted ID.  You’ll likely see a stratification with social services as well with TwitterTrusted and FacebookTrusted accounts having their content prioritized over non-Trusted or anonymous users.  In addition, on Friday, Google announced it was testing email authentication with its Google Apps business clients.  Imagine not being able to send email that would make it past the spam filter if it wasn’t from a GoogleTrusted account.

One thing is clear from reading the supporting documentation and that’s that the US Government itself will not be the ones managing and implementing this program.  The plan is to create guidelines regarding what a Trusted Identity means and how it works and then have that system rolled out and implemented by private-sector partners.  In essence, it’s not the government controlling your identity on the internet, it’s the government selling your identity to corporations so they can control it.   Which, honestly, I think might be an even more frightening prospect.

There is a lot of information out there on this initiative, I encourage you to check it out for yourselves.

[io9: President Obama Welcomes the Cyber State]

[Grinding: What Does Obama’s Identity Management Vision Mean?]

[Grinding: The Grim Facebook Future]

[The Cyberspace Policy Review (pdf)]

[National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (pdf)]

The Thin Blue Line Between Super-Hero and Vigilante

Posted by on January 6th, 2011

This isn’t our normal sort of news, but I figured I’d showcase it anyway given my own recent spat of Autosuperheroic and Real Life Superheroes posts.

Over at Bleeding Cool, they have a fascinating tidbit about “The Punishers” – an alleged cadre of rogue police officers.

Shortly after the beating a Milwaukee Police Department commander investigated a suspected rogue group of officers known as “the Punishers,” who wore black gloves and caps embossed with skull emblems while on patrol, according to newly released documents.

Capt. James Galezewski wrote in 2007, “This is a group of rogue officers within our agency who I would characterize as brutal and abusive.. At least some of the officers involved in the Jude case were associated with this group, although there is reason to believe the membership extended beyond those who were convicted in the case.”

The piece goes on to describe how many of the alleged members had Punisher tats, and other assorted bits of Frank Castle paraphernalia that they often took with them on the job – not the least of which are the skull-emblazoned caps they wore on duty.  This, if it is true, is a good example of the dark side of the autosuperheroic urge. While cops playing vigilante isn’t new by any stretch of the imagination; cops playing The Punisher while playing vigilante is.

Yes, we can all be Batman but within that same current are the same kind of fascist undertones that superhero comics have always wrestled with, and nothing says that better than cops uniting under the flag of Frank Castle to bust a few heads.

[Via Bleeding Cool]

Open Source Superheroes, Idoru, and the Batman

Posted by on November 26th, 2010

(Continued from Brands, Prosthetic Identities and the Batman.)

What if you could opt-in to a prosthetic identity like Batman’s or Kanye West’s?

What if you could Be Batman?

Mentioned here (and everywhere else on the internet) this week, J-Pop star Hatsune Miku is a fictional android, a sex symbol, a popular product spokeswoman, and the output of a vocal software package.  As such, “she” is not just a saccharine-sweet corporate-operated pitchwoman but also a prosthetic identity that anyone with access to her software package can participate in the co-creation of.  It was arguably this open feature of “her” prosthetic identity that allowed her to become so popular.

However, I’d like to approach this notion a bit more directly – after all, this is a blog addressing self-upgrading culture, innit?

There’s been a lot of talk about Real Life Superheroes this week thanks to a recent incident in Seattle that returned the idea of the RLSH to web-consciousness after KICK-ASS vanished from the theaters.   Is the idea of putting on a costume and leaping into action on the streets of The City so strange?   Well, probably, but that hasn’t stopped a surprising number of people from doing it regularly over the past decade.  Existing long before KICK-ASS (in fact the book KICK-ASS’s first bit of viral promotion was a video that made the Myspace Real Life Superhero rounds before leaking into the internet mainstream) there was a loose network of folks in costumes in cites around the world.

With the World Superhero Registry serving as one of a handful of internet hubs, real life superheroes do everything from patrolling the streets and paying parking meter fines, to cutting the blocks off cars with an angle grinder.  Many do little more than visit hospitals to talk to kids and champion various causes.  Never let it be said that volunteering with kids at a hospital is a bad thing .

The problems with this approach are legion.  Even the crime-patrolling supes are doing little more than what citizen vigilante group the Guardian Angels has been doing for years – just in cooler gear.  On the other hand, Guardian Angels have died at the hands of police and criminals and they’ve suffered the problems that any vigilante organization does.   The only place I’ve actually seen the Guardian Angels in action personally is post-Katrina New Orleans where they were almost universally loathed by the residents I spoke to.    Replace the capes and tights fetishism with a desire to play soldier, and you’ve got the ideologically troubling Minutemen who patrol the United States’ border with Mexico – often armed.

The flip side of KICK-ASS’ “rocket launchers and jetpacks” fictional real-life superheroism is Brian Bendis’ SCARLET which tells the story of a Portland teen, who when her boyfriend is killed by corrupt police, begins killing cops and organizing a community of like-minded people to fight institutionalized corruption.  It’s a story that showcases how Real Life Superheroism could could veer into armed vigilantism:  What if I want to be the Punisher or the Boondock Saints instead of Batman?

Still, the current of what I call autosuperheroism has been running pretty strongly through media recently.  I love superheroes and a lot of folks do as well; there’s a reason the movies do well and the books are the life-support of a sick publishing industry.  Superheroes are awesome, especially when divorced from the fascist power fantasies and stripped to a core of “we can do extraordinary things if we try”.  (The “auto” part comes in from embracing the idea that nobody else is going to rescue us – we’re going to have to do it ourselves.)  It could be just a thing from my personal sample-group and the cross-section of the internet I live in – where activism, comics, social-justice, sustainability and futurism cross-over – but there really seems to be an autosuperheroic vibe out there right now.

“Something is going on there, a strange collapse. Like you said, more and more people want to become superheroes, even as comic-book writers and filmmakers have spent the last 10 years trying to make superheroes much more real, relatable and convincing.”

We can all be Batman?

As I said elsewhere, the transformation of Batman into Batman, Inc allowed the Batman brand to act where Batman was not present.  I compared it to MEND in its ability to self-organize and be embraced by previously unaffiliated entities.  There’s a core to that mobility and the ethos that a “Batman, Inc” would propagate that I believe can be adopted in a very real and practical way that is strangely far more literal than dressing up as a bat.

While traditionally visible mostly to marginalized subcultures and groups, the collapse of infrastructure in the Western World (especially America) has been increasingly visible over the last few years.  Here in the US, we got to watch a city drown while the government watched and did almost nothing to intervene as well as other glaring examples of the people “we” were told would “save us” not being there when needed.  In the medwest, cities like Gary and Detroit start to wither on the vine as “we” watch.  So many people I know suddenly had the idea, even if it was one that didn’t blow their minds, that in the event of an emergency there may not be anyone to save them.

Meanwhile, everyone’s 15 minutes of fame continues to be parceled in 10-second bursts and the participatory panopticon becomes the norm of the interconnected world, offering media prosthetics in exchange for perpetually being in a low-watt spotlight.    It’s a confluence of media influences and environmental stresses that could just make taking pages from the four-colour playbook look like a good idea.

In a world where prosthetic identities are commonplace, we can all be rockstars – and superheroes are rockstars that help people.  Being something bigger than ourselves isn’t a superhuman feat in a world where Twitter lets you crowdsource solutions in seconds behind an @-handle that may be more recognizable than your birth name.

Geek culture helps birth Maker culture.  Suddenly “makerspaces” are viable community resources.  Highly-networked organizations like Burners without Borders, Geeks Without Bounds and various Worldchanging spin-offs can leverage that networking to react quickly to problems and use local resources to help solve problems when infrastructure, for whatever reason  fails.   People who couldn’t give two tugs about Bruce Wayne are able to use their media footprint and digital prosthetics to organize in a way that stands to have real lasting impact on actual human lives.  The lesson from Batman, Inc becomes:  The ability to mobilize along the lines of 4th Generational Warfare – even, or especially in non-combat circumstances - is a superpower.

I have friends who are Street Medics; tossing on colorful tough clothes to go out into violent situations and help the wounded.    Wikileaks, love them or hate them, is a team of people (many with secret identities) that manages to keep whole governments on their toes using volunteers, donations and support from the crowd milling about the internet.  (Sadly, that description fits terrorist networks such as Al-Quadea, as well.  The same technologies and social structures that allow a previously unthinkable ability to leverage distributed resources – often in spite of geography – are also the things that allow wide-scale disruption and crime.)

The same current that gives us real life superheroes trying to help others spawns variants when it hits other spheres of interest.   Zombie lovers teach preparedness  in the US while the LARPers at a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. event in Russia get lessons on firearms handling and wilderness survival. (And those very real people who make their living within the real Chernobyl Exclusion Zone take on the name “Stalkers” co-opting the parlance of the movie and the video games.)   Tactical fashion slides into mainstream consciousness via William Gibson’s Zero History.  I can’t be the only one who sees in the “gear queer” fetishism an acknowledgement that the normal trappings of military lifestyle are associated with a machine that is ill-prepared for the world around it.  And if the military is losing its legitimacy – then we should do it ourselves, right? (Or at least look like we could.)

In the end, stripped of the technical language and self-upgrading futurist posturing, the idea that we can all be Batman if we want to is a valid one.   Batman is a man who took the darkest thing in his life and turned it into a superpower – who here doesn’t have a loss or tragedy that they wouldn’t like to weaponize or utilize to improve the environment?   Superheroes are a secular pantheon that instead of sitting above us unattainably, move through our lives as stories and challenge us to emulate them and join them.  They are an artistic transmission vector for the program of a finer world.  Batman will be punching things long after we’re all dead or uploaded; Batman, Incorporated or no Batman, Inc.  A brand is a story – a story that is often used to disenfranchise humans and  make the world a little less than it could be, sadly.  The idea of Batman as a brand is the idea of the narrative of Batman being able to help others in the absence of a Physical Batman.  Just like the prosthetic identities and micro-brands we use and generate ourselves are stories.   Just as I hope the story I tell in order to feel out the interconnected world is one that might help someone, somehow – the story of Batman is that of someone using their broken heart to help the person standing next to them.

We’ve all got broken hearts, and we’re all standing next to people who could use help.

We can all be Batman.

You can even wear the cape, if you want.

Brands, Prosthetic Identities and the Batman

Posted by on November 24th, 2010

I’m going to start with the Batman – since he’s close to the beginning of the alphabet and as an entry-point into any topic, he’s near and dear to my heart.   Recently in the pages of DC/Warner’s Batman titles, Bruce Wayne (recently returned from a prolonged absence)  publicly announced that he and Wayne Enterprises had been the bankroll behind Batman and that he was going to expand the scope of this operation, globally.   In doing so, he was not only embracing the idea of Batman as a brand but also setting up the basis for a whole group of crimefighters and super-heroes under the Batman roof – multiple Batmen, specialized Batmen, opt-in superheroism.

I’m going to leave the fictional fallout, predecessors, and implications of this idea to the comics blogs and stick to what it means to you and I in the here-and-now in the non-four colour world.   I use Batman because I speak superheroes, and because for me he provides a window into a few concepts I want to explore.

Batman, Inc. is the idea that we can all be Batman, if we want to.

Restructuring the mission statement of Batman as the idea of Batman versus Evil, instead of a one-man war on crime creates a massive amount of operational freedom in how Batman can fight crime/injustice/evil and all of that.  Are you the best person for the job?  Are you on-site or able to do the right thing, when needed?  Congratulations, you’re Batman!  Warren Ellis did something similar and less corporatist with his Global Frequency – an organization that had 1000 experts and 1 rotating specialist slot and tried to diffuse disasters that traditional hierarchies didn’t have the resources or ability to deal with.  Do you have a specialty - no matter how obscure?  Then perhaps, in a crisis, the Global Frequency will call on you.

In doing this, Batman and the Global Frequency could respond to countless situations with expert knowledge and fast reactions.  Now this isn’t a new idea by any means – in either the realms of fiction or the real world.  Batman’s stated objective has long been to “become more than a man” except now he’s taken the logical step of following through on that.  In a way, Batman has become the tights and laser-gorillas version of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.  Just as the idea of MEND draws strength from the ability of non-related groups to take up its flag operationally, the idea of Batman as anti-Evil and fast-reacting draws power from the ability of Batman to operate in the absence of any previously acknowledged Batman presence.

I want to return to this – the ability of self-identified ideological groups to act as fast responders in the absence of pre-established infrastructure – in a bit.   But for now I want to talk about the potential empowerment of brands.

Bruce Wayne and the others under his banner are using Batman as a prosthetic.  Dick Grayson (former Robin, current Batman) + the Bat Symbol brings the weight of the Batman brand with it. The Batman is an interface for all sorts of fictional folks to interact with the world around them – it is an encapsulation of brand not just as a symbol of belonging or allegiance but also of interface with and exploring the environment.

You know, like Kanye West.

Robin Sloan’s brilliant piece on Kanye West: Media Cyborg explores the idea that West and other celebrities are media cyborgs – leveraging the media as prosthetics.

Media lets you clone pieces of yourself and send them out into the world to have conversations on your behalf. Even while you’re sleeping, your media —your books, your blog posts, your tweets—is on the march. It’s out there trying to making connections. Mostly it’s failing, but that’s okay: these days, copies are cheap. We’re all Jamie Madrox now.

Okay, let’s keep things in perspective. For most of us, even the blogotronic twitternauts of the Snarkmatrix, this platoon of posts is a relatively small part of who we are. But I’d argue that for an exceptional set of folks—the Kanyes, the Gagas, the Obamas—it is a crucial, even central, component.

Maybe that sounds dehumanizing, but I don’t think it ought to be. We’re already pretty sure that the mind is not a single coherent will but rather a crazy committee whose deliberations get smoothed out into the thing we call consciousness or identity or whatever. Use your imagination: what if some of that committee operates remotely? If 99.99% of the world will only ever encounter Kanye West through the bright arc of media that he produces—isn’t that media, in some important way, Kanye?

By becoming a transmedia brand, the Batman gains the ability to clone itself and sent out its conceptual mind-babies out into the world, doing the work of Batman even in the actual absence of Batman.   Many people “know” Kanye via his body of work and his carefully sculpted public persona – a persona so information rich and media saturated that it can spawn its own meta-narratives.  Kanye West is the puppet of the Illuminati, and we can prove it!  He’s brilliant!  He’s insane!  He’s…  He’s a story.  The Kanye that 99% of the people reading this know is a story about a man who makes music – a narrative crafted largely BY the man who makes that music.  Its is a story with granularity and richness enough to allow many points of entry and engagement, spin-offs, theories and supposition.    The Kanye West we “know” is a prosthetic identity – an interface program that uses media as its computational substrate that exists between “us” the audience and the “real” Kanye (and his PR team) who operate the prosthetic.

That’s all well and good, but we don’t have access to that particular interface.  You and I, reading this, can’t “jack in” to Kanye West in the same way that say, someone in the fictional DC Universe could jack into “Batman” right?  Yes and no.  Kanye’s media identity isn’t keyed in such a way as you and I could start producing ideologically-aligned art as “Kanye West” but that sort of closed system is not a universal trait of prosthetic identities.   There’s the film version of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta and the Anonymous movement/open source prosthetic identity that it inspired as well as other examples of open and accessible identities such as Luther Blissett, Buddha and even  Captain Swing – the open source figurehead of the Swing riots in rual England in the 1830′s.

But a lot of those historical open identities didn’t have the media saturation and complexity to really operate with the degree of pseudo-independence that contemporary prosthetic identities operate with.  Closer to the mark we have the Living God of Partying:  Andrew W.K. who may or may not be a persona-by-committee.  But you or I can’t just start being “Andrew W.K.” without soon having his lawyers carving out our chest cavities and making comfortable homes there.  Maybe, if the rumors are true that superstar street artist Banksy is actually the result of one or more art collectives, that’d be closer still.

Failing to find a high-profile, complex, media-enriched, identity prosthetic accessible to most of us,  we move to the things we DO have available – the prosthetic identities many of us have access to in the form of social media.  I hate writing about Facebook.  I really do.  But in this case it’s pretty applicable – being one of the most direct and efficient means I have at my disposal to create an identity prosthetic and use it to explore the environment semi-autonomously.

The Kevin Lovelace (not my birth name) on Facebook is the result of  my entering in lots of data – both in the form of straight data-entry as well as pictures, postings, updates, likes and dislikes and connections.  It’s not me, but a reflection of myself – an extension of the data cloud and strange loops that make up “me”.  However, after it acquired a certain mass of information it began to function with a shambling form of semi-autonomy.  I can walk away from my digital life for a week and come in to discover it has acquired more information, it has tried to find people I would like to talk to and things I would like to know about.  It has even – in its own way – started conversations for me.   I’ll log into Facebook and find that someone wants to talk to me about something and the conversation has already bypassed the introduction and setup because the mass of information available is complex enough and the algorithms that organize it are smart enough that in essence my Facebook profile has started the conversation for me.   For better or worse, my Facebook profile is an incredibly limited smart agent modeled after myself and sent out in the world to generate connections and have knowledge of them on my behalf.  Via Facebook, I have cloned myself… extremely imperfectly.

This is what social media does – it democratizes the process by which Kanye West becomes a cyborg at play in the fields of the media and gives it to anyone who has the time and computer access.  Social media platforms create a more engaging  agent than just blogging or writing or videoblogging or any single-method means of broadcasting the self because the image they create is jagged and full of holes and mini-narratives and angles of entry and engagement.  It’s complex and messy and that’s why its so frighteningly effective.  No, we can’t be “Kayne West”, but we can make our own hyper-complex media homunculi and send them out to make friends on our behalf.  Like attention-starved, developmentally-challenged Huginns and Muninns our Facebook profiles fly out into the media landscape and bring us back wisdom.  Or Farmville.  Or dating website ads.  It’s not a perfect system by any stretch of the imagination.

So, to bring things back to Batman – if Bruce Wayne has turned the identity of Batman into a Kanye West-ian prosthetic identity – something that can enact change in its media environment and engage others simply due to its narrative structure where does that leave us?  The statement that we can all “be” Batman is hyperbole, right?  We can’t “be” Kanye, we can’t “be” Gaga and we can’t “be” Batman.

But what if we could?

“I will become a bat.”

(To be continued…)

Saturday Morning Self-Surgery

Posted by on November 13th, 2010

This is a fascinating post-self-surgery wrap-up vid detailing the results of a botched self-orchiectomy.   In the video YouTube user Argiope, discusses the surgical usage of super-glue and the dangers of accidentally cutting an artery while performing surgery on yourself in an hotel room.

Assuming the video is authentic, her calm and professionalism is amazing.  Even though the procedure was a failure, she seems really together and focused.

(Obviously NSFW and please god don’t try this at home… though let us know if you do.)

The Internet, love it or leave it.

Posted by on November 10th, 2010

There is a piece by author Zadie Smith in The New York Review of Books that has been going around on the Internet the last few days.  It starts as a review of The Social Network and then becomes a critique of Facebook in general.  That it’s largely being spread by vocal quitters of the world’s most successful social networking system (SNS) gives you a clue to her conclusion.

It’s a very, very long piece (it’s taken me two days to wade through it) and while she frequently approaches some keen insights, she quickly gives in to hateful generationalism of GenYs instead.  It was my great fear that this would be the take Fincher and Sorkin would go with the film; instead they delivered a masterful origin tale.  So I was very surprised to find myself reading a piece like this.  Take this passage:

When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned.With Facebook, Zuckerberg seems to be trying to create something like a Noosphere, an Internet with one mind, a uniform environment in which it genuinely doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you make “choices” (which means, finally, purchases). If the aim is to be liked by more and more people, whatever is unusual about a person gets flattened out. One nation under a format. To ourselves, we are special people, documented in wonderful photos, and it also happens that we sometimes buy things. This latter fact is an incidental matter, to us. However, the advertising money that will rain down on Facebook—if and when Zuckerberg succeeds in encouraging 500 million people to take their Facebook identities onto the Internet at large—this money thinks of us the other way around. To the advertisers, we are our capacity to buy, attached to a few personal, irrelevant photos.

Is it possible that we have begun to think of ourselves that way? It seemed significant to me that on the way to the movie theater, while doing a small mental calculation (how old I was when at Harvard; how old I am now), I had a Person 1.0 panic attack. Soon I will be forty, then fifty, then soon after dead; I broke out in a Zuckerberg sweat, my heart went crazy, I had to stop and lean against a trashcan. Can you have that feeling, on Facebook? I’ve noticed—and been ashamed of noticing—that when a teenager is murdered, at least in Britain, her Facebook wall will often fill with messages that seem to not quite comprehend the gravity of what has occurred. You know the type of thing: Sorry babes! Missin’ you!!! Hopin’ u iz with the Angles. I remember the jokes we used to have LOL! PEACE XXXXX

When I read something like that, I have a little argument with myself: “It’s only poor education. They feel the same way as anyone would, they just don’t have the language to express it.” But another part of me has a darker, more frightening thought. Do they genuinely believe, because the girl’s wall is still up, that she is still, in some sense, alive? What’s the difference, after all, if all your contact was virtual?4

She identifies as a superior “Person 1.0″, where Facebookian’s are “People 2.0″, the online generation. (Sidenote – I am so over this use of versioning.)  Continuing in the long tradition of the elders wanting the kids to get off her lawn.  OK, let’s grant the versioning..  Facebook is just a stepping stone; a sure to be primitive version of life online (that great Transhumanist dream), adopted by the masses.  En masse; one giant Eternal September.  It’s far from perfect.

As Cory Doctorow has frequently said, contemporary SNSs function like Autistics – requiring every bit of personal data to be explicitly stated, impossible to infer because they lack the onboard social software that provides this.  As the film so accurately protrays, right from the beginning, Zuckerberg himself appears to be a high-functioning autistic.  That this is what it took for a widely successful SNS, an outsider divining the workings of inter-personal relationships and capturing that with software, perhaps speaks more about it’s users, than it’s developer(s).  Maybe we get the SNS we deserve.

Now, I’ve advised caution with online personas many times here.  Using an alias, for instance, is a great idea.  If Facebook is a virtual nation, then as citizens we can protest for great rights and improvements to our conditions.  And they do appear to listen, and get the hint eventually.  After all, though Zuckerberg is an on-paper bazillionaire, that will fade to nothing once a better SNS comes along and everyone immigrates to that superior nation.  And that will happen.  This is just an initial step.

Again, Smith approaches this in her review section:

Watching this movie, even though you know Sorkin wants your disapproval, you can’t help feel a little swell of pride in this 2.0 generation. They’ve spent a decade being berated for not making the right sorts of paintings or novels or music or politics. Turns out the brightest 2.0 kids have been doing something else extraordinary. They’ve been making a world.

Now I don’t agree that Sorkin wanted our disapproval.  The strength of this movie is (like Facebook) that they’ve distilled the subject matter down to it’s key elements.  She’s drawn her own conclusions and it putting this forth as the one-true-fact.  Everyone I’ve spoken to about the film seems to find sympathy with different characters.  (Personally, the only character I liked was the internet rockstar take on Sean Parker.)

Software may reduce humans, but there are degrees. Fiction reduces humans, too, but bad fiction does it more than good fiction, and we have the option to read good fiction. Jaron Lanier’s point is that Web 2.0 “lock-in” happens soon; is happening; has to some degree already happened. And what has been “locked in”? It feels important to remind ourselves, at this point, that Facebook, our new beloved interface with reality, was designed by a Harvard sophomore with a Harvard sophomore’s preoccupations. What is your relationship status? (Choose one. There can be only one answer. People need to know.) Do you have a “life”? (Prove it. Post pictures.) Do you like the right sort of things? (Make a list. Things to like will include: movies, music, books and television, but not architecture, ideas, or plants.)

Here we witness Smith cherry-picking from Jaron Lanier’s book, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, to bolster her arguments. Again, note the dismissive tone – GenY is stupid and does not like The Right Stuff, unlike superior Zadie.  Frankly, how fucking dare she. Now, I have Laniers book still on my to-read list so I can’t comment on that, but..  BUT.. if Zadie had better researched her piece she’d know that, just for starters, blaming the blue’n'white layout on Zuckerberg’s colorblindness is insulting to anyone with a CompSci degree, or a modicum of knowledge;  blue and white is infact the best colour scheme on the eyes – perfect from keeping the attention glued on the screen without distracting strain pain.  So yes, Facebook is kinda a little bit evil like that.  No physical nation-state we live in so is far perfect either.

You can give up and go live in a cave or fight to make it better.  Blanketly dismissing an entire generation is no way to do either.  Shame on you Zadie Smith!

Futurama and Orkut – mind-swapping and projected identities

Posted by on August 24th, 2010

I was very disappointed with the recent Futurama ep Lethal Inspection, in which Bender learnt he was created without the online backup unit that made all other robots immortal. To me, this would’ve been the perfect opportunity to rip on mind-uploading; have Professor Farnsworth mocking Ray Kurzweil’s head-in-a-jar, asking him what happened to that Singularity of his.

So when this most recent episode of Futurama, The Prisoner of Benda, did some genuine SF for once, exploring the relationship between body and identity, I thought it deserved props. Also, because it was hilarious, and peaked with this insane scene (SPOILER):

Futurama Thursdays 10pm / 9c
Leela and Fry’s Mutual Attraction
Futurama New Episodes Big Lake A New Comedy from Will Ferrell and Adam McKay

This is what I want from my SF; crazy human, alien, robot body-swapping action. (Versus lame iPhone/Twitter satire.) See io9 for a more in-depth review.

In other Identity news, Orkut (the SNS that we are constantly told is “huge in India and Brazil”) are now letting you split your personality; or more accurately easily control what aspects of your life you share to different groups of ‘friends’.

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Facebook have a clumsy implementation of this, but Orkut seems to be the first to tackle this big problem in Social Network design properly: do you want your boss, co-workers and friends getting the same information? More details over on Read Write Web.

Jamais Cascio presents the IFTF’s forecast for the coming decade

Posted by on August 9th, 2010

What follows is Jamais Cascio, who we’ve mentioned here a few times before, presenting a condensed, thirty-minute version of the Institute for the Future‘s forecast for the next ten years.

This is what Futurism looks like today; not rabid predictions of jetpacks and flying cars, but sane, measured statements that pick up recent trends and forecast their result.

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Amber Case: Cyborg Anthropologist

Posted by on March 20th, 2010

What exactly is a cyborg anthropologist? 

Let Amber herself tell you, in this video from late last year on ‘prosthetic culture’:

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Like to know more?  Our friends over at Technoccult just did a great interview with her.

Thanks for the YouTube link Vertigo Jones!

Facial recognition phone application

Posted by on March 3rd, 2010

Swedish software developer, The Astonishing Tribe, is testing a iPhone application called Reconiizr that will enable the user to find names and numbers of complete strangers.

The user simply has to take a picture of a person and hit the ‘Recognize’ button.

The photo is then compared to shots on social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter before personal information, which can include phone numbers, addresses and email addresses, is sent to the user.

The app works on phones with a camera of five or more megapixel resolution


4Chan founder speaks to CNN

Posted by on February 23rd, 2010

Chris Poole, founder of 4Chan, did a short interview with CNN.

He has some very interesting things to say about online identity and lifestreaming and, well, truth:

He also spoke at the TED 2010 conference. Can’t wait to check that out when it goes online.