When I was 31, I read American Mythologies. It was one of the great intellectual moments in my life, an dit helped me to understand the power of what I can probably describe at length but will not. Let's just call it 'virtual truth'.
A great deal of what I experimented with in my early web writing days was a riff on this problem, which was that there was very little 'authentic' culture in American culture. There are signifiers built on top of symbols, which leverage metaphors that are bolstered by analogies all based on myth and urban legend - and this is what most Americans believe. Education is all trivia. You can't walk into a bar with physics degree and find a mate. You have to play the game and it is a mind-numbing game because everybody is hooked into American 'culture' and not much of it is real. This was my attitude towards that called the semiotic swamp. I followed Umberto Eco and Marshall Blonsky for a time and insisted that they knew what was up. Foucault's Pendulum was my favorite fiction just before reading Blonsky. But the invention of the Internet was about to happen, in the mainstream. So I invented Boohab, who was the perfect kind of character to inhabit such a realm, a post-modern racial essentialist. In a world where influentials like Howard Rheingold encouraged the reality of virtual life led by the guiding light of McLuhan who's mantra was 'the medium is the message', there needed to be a black trickster out there keeping it real.
A lot of people resented the idea of bringing racial realism to the new digital frontier, but the fact that I did so persistently was very useful. I sought to inform my experiment with a bit of philosophy which I found in a book called The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality. I excerpted something I thought was very important from that moment when there was still a question in the public mind about whether or not blackness belonged in cyberspace.
"According to Heidegger, we notice the eclipse of the truth of being occuring already in Plato's metaphysics. Once the truth of being becomes equated with the light of unchanging intelligibility, the nature of truth shifts to the ability of statements to reflect or refer reliably to entities. With the steadiness of propositional truth comes the tendency to relate to being as a type, a form, or an anticipated shape. With being as a steady form, entities gain their reality through their being typified. Already in Plato we see the seeds of the Western drive to standardize things, to find what is dependable and typical in them. Truth as the disclosure process, as the play of revealing/ concealing disappears behind the scene in which the conscious mind grasps bright objects apprehended as clear, unwavering, rational forms. As humans develop the ability to typify and apprehend formal realities, the loss of truth as emergent disclosure goes unnoticed. All is light and form. Nothing hides behind the truth of beings. But this "nothing" finally makes an appearance after the whole world has become a rigid grid of standardized forms and shapes conceived and engineered by humans. As the wasteland grows, we see the devastation of our fully explicit truths. We see that there is, must be, more. The hidden extra cannot be consciously produced. Only by seeing the limits of standardization can we begin to respond to it. We have to realize that each advance in typifying and standardizing things also implies a trade off. When we first reach forward and grasp things, we only see the benefits of our standardization, only the positive side of greater clarity and utility. it is difficult to accept the paradox that not matter how alluring, every gain in fixed intelligibility brings with it a corresponding loss of vivacity. Because we are finite, every gain we make also implies a lost possibility. The loss is especially devastating to those living in the technological world, for here they enjoy everything conveniently at their disposal -- everything that is, except the playful process of discovery itself."
It turned out that only applied to the static web. When the web became dynamic, and populated with jillions, emergent disclosure returned. As it became even larger and more distributed, and as it will be in the future, the only findable stuff will be more and more static. People will need larger narratives to deal with its interminable complexity. The web itself will sustain more and more of these narratives. Certifications will become more important and/but they will tend to be more localized. "Word is bond" will become more important.
But my point here is that for the most part, people will require more and more skill to make sense of all of this meta-literacy. I happen to think it raises the value of war. But during peacetime, the swamp is filling up and overflowing.
This morning it took me almost an hour to find Ms Dewey, and I had lost her before. Her real name is Janina Gavankar and as Ms Dewey she exemplified the sort of woman that is my perfect mate in look, attitude and all that. I used to worry for most of my life that the woman I married would suffer a heartbreaking fate if I were to find 'the perfect woman' sometime during the course of life - and I had this odd premonition that it would happen around when I turned 35. It never did happen with the exception of the fictional Ms Dewey with whom I promptly developed a completely nerdy crush. And so I was a bit extra frustrated when, this morning for some reason, I could not for the life of me remember her name and none of my usual methods could suss her out of the incredible shitpile that is the world wide web. I finally found her.
It turns out that Ms Dewey was the creation of a marketing outfit known as EVB, short for Evolution Bureau. They are also the creators of Serenading Unicorn
And so we are most definitely way, way down the long tail. At some point it must be asked whether or not large fictions are not more useful than small ones. But I'm going to leave that as an exercise, depending upon how many people respond to this particular essay.
I no longer have much of a cultural project out here in cyberspace. I went from the responsibility of Mellow Mike to put a black foot out here, to the provocations of Boohab to get all post-moderny and interactive, to whatever it was I was doing at Slate, Salon, & Utne, Brainstorms, The Well, Electric Minds and then finally to Meanderings, Vision Circle and now Cobb. I have come full circle to the sort of peeved skepticism about the quality of knowledge purveyed on the Web, now that there is so much and the cost is so low. I perceive that the big hunking narratives are larger and more false and that the smaller ones seem more infinitely clever. It's different but the effect is the same. Truth is hard to find. That's because it's so easy to get everything else, so much of which is layered like the Juicy Fruit advertisement, upon very little else but the simple longings of an individual. There's nothing universal in that at all, which is why we'll all end up killing each other. I know it's difficult to understand why that's my conclusion, but trust me on this one. I'll explain it all later.
In the meantime, I will continue to write here, while writing more software code, and attempt to keep my perspective on the world historical, and ignoring that which is right in front of my face.