Selling Sanctuary: One Nation Under iCloud

 

CLW THESIS

“The recent decision by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America to proclaim the decade beginning 1 January 1990 as the “Decade of the Brain” may be seen as a significant recognition of the importance of neuroscience in our time.”

(Federic Mayor)

“By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. The cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics.”

(Donna Haraway)

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        In a country founded upon the synthesis of religion and politics, how is technology culturally demarcated? Do American citizens define themselves as “Christians,” “Republicans,” or “Apple users?” In the post-information age, where do we place our faith—in God, bipartisanship, or the iCloud? Or are the consequences and conveniences of the disembodied digital diaspora reflected in an amalgamation of this rather unholy trinity?

        The innately human concept of faith, however, seems to have transcended its organic genesis: the Ethernet epoch renders the “self” as the digital absolute and therefore, demands an artificial rewriting of traditional convictions within the institution of the Internet. Beginning at the intersection of technology and individuality, this ‘leap of faith’ exposes not only the abstraction of belief in metaphysical salvation to cyberphysical preservation, but also a collective constitution that promotes an evolving devotion. In this remapping of reverence, omnipotent storage emerges as the secured locus of advanced faith: Apple’s iCloud, spearheaded by the mythicized technological deity, Steve Jobs, proves that piety is perennially profitable.

         Under the guise of generated freedom, this net-based cloud-capture storage appeals to the fear-mongering captive mass, existing as the ultimate socio-political (synthetic) simulacra: an ideological service ascribed to an Indulgence through the promise of salvation/sanctuary within the spectacle of an appropriated, ethereal concept of the heavens; a signifier that carries the same power structures that exist beneath its celestial glow. Access remains at its “core,” iCloud’s most problematic and most precious feature. The Holy Church of Cupertino isn’t far from The Vatican when it requires capital for your credence. Without the spatial and temporal limitations of a religious institution, the iCloud has become a desirable service: the choice for cyber faith.

         Without subscription-the initial and sole rite of passage-a user runs the risk of digital damnation via lose of “self,” thus, inevitably “compromising” their analog core, their “soul;” corrupted or not, “memory” as the corpus of (Virtual) identity and (Digital) information presents itself as a rewritten function of control--one now measured qualitatively and quantifiably by both human and by machine. How does the digital configuration of this complex function effect our ability and desirability to organically and digitally record events; are we expanding upon the definition, or of our understanding of the experience itself as defined by level of digital security? Is the iCloud storage service performing the ultimate cognitive disservice, or is it simply, a Capitalist reflection of our institutional inception? 

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         Coined in 1996, the term “cloud computing” gained widespread attention ten years later when Google CEO Eric Schmidt accurately predicted the future of the internet: “[it] should be in a “cloud” somewhere.”[1] Seven years later, Apple’s iCloud, a replacement service to its early data capture service, MobileMe, boasts 300 million users[2]; comparatively speaking, a number that exceeds the total amount of internet users in the United States alone and vastly exceeds the nearly half of reported church going citizens to the total population of the United States[3].

        This shift in branding focuses data from the itinerant self to an invisible infrastructure, thus repackaging the concept of storage and recovery: a fate to be left in Apple’s hands. As both the largest company based in America and the highest grossing in the world, we grant Apple the holy technology throne, adhering to the iCloud’s scheduled back-ups and warnings of anticipated limited space—we might even be blessed with an offering of a larger plan if we piously play into this instrument of offsite control. In this visceral virtual age, have we already created a digital religion and fallen into the same institutional constructs of that of our physical world?

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[1]Schmiddt, Eric. "Search Engine Strategies Conference."Search Engine Strategies Conference. Conversation with Eric Schmidt Hosted by Danny Sullivan, 9 Aug. 2006. Web. 4 Sept. 2012.

[2]Clover, Juli. "ICloud Boasts 300M Users and 20 Percent Growth in Q2 2013."ICloud Boasts 300M Users and 20 Percent Growth in Q2 2012. Mac Rumors, 23 Apr. 2012. Web. 18 Sept. 2012.

[3]Forum, Pew. "Summary of Key Findings."Statistics on Religion in America Report. Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 13 Aug. 2007. Web. 20 Sept. 2012.

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Parker, Robin. “A Different Kind of Memory: Examining the Effect of Technology through the Ages.”  Dalhousie Journal of Interdisciplinary Management  4 (2009): 2-13.

            “Memory contributes to the most basic mode of information transfer in human experience.”

         In comparing her use of memory to both her grandparents and to societies throughout the ages, Parker reveals a clear correlation between advancements in digital technologies (contemporary and otherwise) and their evolving effects on the brain, both individually and socially.

         Here, “the post-information age” (as both a temporal delineation and social/cultural movement), is a reflection of these ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) and the inexorably embedded value at which they are marketed. In this way, “memory” can be seen as quantifiable “information” or simply, merchandise (and not as an abstraction of a remembered moment) in need of insurance. Memory’s “tangible” elements-its data-is willingly, (digitally), placed into captivity as we come to accept the storage of our memories as an investment in Parker’s progressive world.

         By the same token, Parker’s claim that memory lends the most basic contribution to information transfer reveals a strange acknowledgement and pseudo de-basing of the complexities in this expansionist technology: is the iCloud/cloud capture in general our acceptance of the cyborg on the horizon, is this evidence of our desire to affirm the mechanized chimera Haraway speaks of? Is the iCloud a transitioning cyborg’s coping mechanism?

         In some way, this relates to:

Landau, Elizabeth. "So You're a Cyborg -- Now What?"CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 10 Oct. 2012. .

"We tend to really get so impressed with the latest gadget, the latest phone, the latest whatever it is," Nussbaum said, "and we forget that all of the technology that built it came from the human brain."

        In Landau’s article there is, for lack of a better word, a human element added to its conclusion, and therefore, is worth noting alongside its Parker-aligned viewpoint.

(At the end of the day ((if temporality exists in the digital landscape)), we’ve yet to reach the Uncanny Valley (see figure 1 below) and have to give credit to the advancements in question—without praise, a technology is categorically obsolete and therefore, an obsolete subject!)

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          “Our use of tools to accomplish complex activities is one thing that makes us innately human. The technology we use to help us think is no different. The dynamic relationship between tools, embodied in technology, and the human mind will help determine the nature of the humans that we are in the process of creating. In the context of both individual memory and the collective forms of cultural memory, technology will continue to shape and be shaped by how we manage our information needs. The value that is placed on various types of information, in the form of memories, will determine how concerned we are with the ways that we store, retrieve, and manage that information. The role that human memory will play in that process is currently being altered, and will continue to change as time progresses along with human civilization (Parker, 13).”

         Close to the conclusion of her article, Parker confirms the idea that technology (broadly “defined”) is a tool, a dynamic and extremely influential tool, nonetheless, but one we ultimately have the power to control-both effectively and affectively: a tool that can alter the course of a memory.

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         I disagree with her oversimplification slightly, and unfortunately, have to assume that age (as I hail from *tHe LaSt GenErAtIOn* of pre-and post-internet births), and predisposition to over-generalization, is the source of this difference; “technology” as a whole is now a vast utility, a “tool” no longer. Data itself is a device, a “tool,” yes, but one stored in an endless shed of technological apparatus by her traditional classification. This scientific stockpile houses not only the capabilities to ‘alter the course of a memory’ but also the mechanics behind “memory.” 

         Quantifying “memory”--as every definition of the concept merges within the space of a hard drive--revises the ways in which we measure experience, and thus, how we choose to archive these accounts. In our recently adjusted ability in recognition, mental, and mechanized capacity-- a total inclusion of technology reveals itself to Diana Taylor:

Taylor, Diana, "Save As... Knowledge and Transmission in the Age of Digital Technologies" (2010). Imagining America. Paper 7.

http://surface.syr.edu/ia/7

         “In turn, notions of historical accuracy, of authenticity, authorship, property (including copyright), specialized knowledge, expertise, cultural relevance, even “truth” are underwritten by faith in the object in the archive (Taylor, 5).”

         In her captivating article, appropriately named “Save As,” Diana Taylor explores the complex politics of both the physical and digital archive, revealing the anxieties and at times, obsessions, behind the mass analog exodus. In the aforementioned quote she touches upon a subject I find fascinating: the fetishization of objects, or as Parker would have it--tools, while also noting the inherently blurred lines of ownership in the digital world (institutional archive, or otherwise). 

        Exploring the object:

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Waggoner, Carey L and Bezanilla, Ana Marie. "/chapter: Aids3Dirl / The Digital Legacies of the Avant-Garde."Www.booki.cc. Tactical Media and Internet Art, 09 May 2012. Web. 10 Oct. 2012. .

       “Their provocative and yet, humorous content often questions the value of art vis-à-vis science, noted especially as AID-3D present a total material approach to their piece World Community Grid Water Features, 2010 (above).

       Consisting of a series of fountains housing built-in computers, the work seeks to end disease (such as their own namesake) as the running water simultaneously prompts medical research code. Daniel Keller, one of the two members, suggests that the placement of these computers within the fountain legitimizes their position in a gallery space and the induction of science/technology within the sculpture brings agency to an otherwise “useless art object,” once again toying with how we utilize and at time, disvalue contemporary 'tools.' 

         The amalgamation of aesthetic design, science, and technology seen in the aforementioned piece seem to perfectly showcase the stylistic integrity AIDS-3D has continued to maintain since their inception. The duo reveal in their social commentary a sense of awareness few others seemed to achieve in the “Younger Than Jesus” exhibition at the New Museum in 2009. As the youngest artists on display, AIDS-3D had no trouble making a name for themselves amongst the fifty other pieces shown, as their OMG Obelisk (2007) (below), was (and by the power of the Internet, is) simply seminal; a false idol appropriating two other signifiers: neon signage and the relevant language of text abbreviation.

          Perhaps their most digitally widespread piece, the obelisk bares AIDS’ common trademark: a circulatory commentary on the fetishization of objects. Reaching for the unknown cosmic landscape as an ancient symbol of power and conquest, the monument and our vernacular understanding of its meaning has shifted from an exclusive sphere to an inclusive multifaceted realm, merging the artist and viewer horizontally in the shift of power that was once vertically informed (Waggoner, Benazilla).”

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        As explained above, this false idol holds much more than simple semiotics can reveal: from object to relic, function to failure, and above all; analog to digital—technology consistently undermines what we previously assumed to be sacred, explicated above and confirmed in Taylor’s questioning of “faith.”

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        As we continue to de-contextualize icons (as in iconography) we are left with the very essence of the Obelisk, an appropriated ode to signifiers, and the crux of Taylor’s argument:

        “The anxiety about loss and forgetting, I believe, might explain our current obsession with archives and the nostalgia both for embodiment and for the object. Technologies code the affect in the constant mandate to Save and Save As and we experience the symptom—the need to preserve not just things (documents, bones, fossils) but ways of thinking and knowing—memory, sociability, affect, emotions, gestures, etc, and processes—i.e., the ways in which we work, select, transmit, access, and preserve (Taylor, 14)

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        Though Taylor concludes more specifically focused in the archival space, her digital sentiments resound regardless of location. Combated with such a steady influx of digital information, all that we find to be categorically “human,” suddenly seems that much more dangerous—as if vulnerability is a virtual value. Digital substance, or all that can be stored on a hard drive is now “read” as a precious commodity: a .jpeg is just as fragile as the moment captured within it. “Memory” is now object and experience, both of which need sanctuary. In the digital authentication (and amalgamation) of a human encounter, do we piously protect this possession? Do we submit to that “heavenly” faith, to that collective call to post-physical prayer, to the invisible immunity “in the sky?”

        Both Parker and Taylor consider this mass convergence to the cloud; likening “collective memory patterns” to “embodied cognition” in their similar examples of memory through a learned collective criterion. By enacting “memory of past usage” for “technologies of the future (Taylor, 12),” we begin to organize our collective positioning of memories from past tense to present constant, that is, if you’re granted access to the iCloud—if your memories are worth preservation.

        In retrospect, I think, however, there’s much more collectively involved in the “worry” Taylor speaks of than the habit of preservation or desire to perpetually possess. I see the ‘save as’ reflex is indicative of a culture deeply rooted in religious ritual, a culture that has for most part, replaced the vision of heaven, with the sanctity of storage. This function of faith markets machine over man, purporting a, therefore, mechanized guarantee of this sanctuary; a lucrative product, no-less:

Smelik, Anneke; Lykke, Nina (Editor). Bits of Life : Feminism at the Intersections of Media, Bioscience, and Technology.Seattle, WA, USA: University of Washington Press, 2008. p 114. http://site.ebrary.com/lib/newschool/Doc?id=10442207&ppg=135

          “To replace common analog forms, commercial enterprises are quick to offer such alternatives as family albums of digital photographs, or formatted weblogs (digital diaries, known as blogs) or scrapbooks, to facilitate storage and retrieval. Not surprisingly, these enterprises tend to focus on the products of memory, turning mediated expression into prefabricated exercises that are based on conventional analog genres. Software engineers and companies have recently started to address the question of storage by designing digital tools to accommodate the infinite expansion of our digital memories. Some projects simply promise to solve the urgent “shoebox problem”; others also purport to design completely new systems of memory storage and retrieval; yet others boast that their new software and hardware will revolutionize our very ability to remember (Smelik, 114).” 

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         In a society that champions commercial endeavors, is the market for infinite memory expansion proof of this post-physical positioning? If we are to concede defeat to digital capacity, what is left in our inadequate mainframe of blood and bone but the predisposition for faith-- placed, where else but in the very machines that continue to improve upon us? Why not reinforce theological hierarchy? Just replace your cardinal with a computer (both are intrinsically better than you, regardless) and keep your god high above you in those clouds—“it’s” practices are just as secretive as Apple’s!  

       So while we worship an invisible Elysium and commit to a blind faith in technology, we tend to forget (the loss of a #memory) that the exploration of this phenomenon is not entirely recent:

Karaflogka, Anastasia. E-Religion : A Critical Appraisal of Religious Discourse on the World Wide Web. London, GBR: Equinox Publishing Ltd, 2007. p 45. http://site.ebrary.com/lib/newschool/Doc?id=10342320&ppg=45

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         “Wertheim explores the space beyond the physical world, the “ultimate map of Christian soul-space” (43) as Dante describes it, and she perceives the Divine Comedy and the elegance of perspective in Renaissance painting as the virtual realities of their time, which communicate culturally meaningful encodings of earthly and heavenly space. Mentioned initially in fictional literature, the fourth dimension— hyperspace— became the focal point for philosophers and mystics, giving rise to idealistic and mystical philosophical systems known as “hyperspace philosophy” (Wertheim 1999, 192). The “higher-than-three-dimensional space”—hyperspace— discourse, according to Wertheim, which inspired notions such as “higher intellect” and “mystical wisdom” (194), was also enriched by artists and scientists, the former providing artistic interpretations while the latter offers scientific explanations of hyperspatial reality. Wertheim argues quite logically that cyberspace has displaced the concept of hyperspace to become a kind of “metaphysical gateway”, a threshold into an entirely new dimension (Karaflogka, 45).”

         Karaflogka’s “E-Religion” exposes the “hidden socio-economic and political aspects that govern the Web’s structure and operation,” while offering a “methodological apparatus for investigating the diverse religious phenomena as they appear on the World Wide Web, advancing thus the practical and theoretical understanding of the diverse cyberreligious landscapes (Karaflogka, iv).” This exploration of “cyberreligious” methodology is unparallel and provides much of the (esoteric) academic foundation necessary for any abstraction of faith as a digital function. 

From romance to reality: religion to RAM

human to cyborg

         The progression (or digression) from “hyperspace” to “cyberspace” as both a movement and moment in digital faith restoration is the single most important ideological shift in the demarcation of technology, as we not only came to terms with technology as creators, but as users—understanding this confluence of virtual  “reality,” while still attempting to maintain the romance of religion, especially through ritual. Digital ritual (runner-up title to this paper) connects object to idea, strengthening an organic understanding of faith through contemporary and computed modes of expression.  

        Esoteric/philosophical, theological, and scientific recognition of the emotional formation of, and from, the digital landscape, canonizes virtual vocation. In the twenty two years since day one in the “decade of the brain” we seem to have quietly accepted the inherently cyborg cognition of these metaphysical cyberspaces.

       In the dogma of that decade, the brain symbolized a cultural nucleus; in the current canon of cyberspace, however, the brain transcends this biological locus and instead symbolizes a cultural computer.

        The exploration of this core cognizance serves as my conclusion, the dénouement of this digital document:

Nusselder, André.Interface Fantasy : A Lacanian Cyborg Ontology. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press, 2009. Web.

           Since the fantasmatic capacity of the mind functions as a medium that takes us to a place other than where we actually (think we) are, telepresence— the sense of transportation to any space created by media (Biocca 1997, §5.3)—belongs to the human condition itself. The phenomenon of telepresence is thereby incorporated into new technological forms. The computer interface facilitates this sense of transportation and therefore also functions as an interspace: it binds the physical space and the virtual spaces that we already knew of (by means of texts, speaking, reading, imagination, films, etc.) to the new technological forms of virtual space. New interfaces open up new space-time systems (Nusselder, 88). 

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