Thursday, December 19, 2013

Amateur & Professional Assassins


1. Green Rain

An early fall evening, a gust of wind loosens leaves from the trees and sends them flying through the air.

New technology targets each scattered leaf with its own burst of air, coming from different directions and of different strengths. Within a few seconds, irregularity of shape compensated for, closed off from effect, each leaf is falling strait down and at the same rate, giving the appearance of green rain.

Taking into account your personal history, your doctor uses information collected from millions of personal histories to choose the drug safest and most effective for you.

Search engines use your and everyone's personal history to send you information of a kind interesting to you in the past.

Political campaigns, advised by the very experts who devised the search engine technology, send you personalized messages likely to get you to vote their way.

We consider receiving each our own messages a form of personalized medicine. We are curing ourselves of ignorance.

But each of us, receiving a world of personalized messages, is isolated from the others within our own world of personalized messages.

Within our isolation each of us is induced to go the same way, a great uniformity is created that is invisible to us isolated within our personalization. Vote the same way, buy the same products, search for information traveling along our guided paths, we live within a world of uniformity believing we each are different. We are confused: when we meet in public we see how we are like each other in our votes and purchases, yet unlike each other in receiving our own special treatment. When we try to talk about our votes and purchases, we find we don't understand each other; we have come to these decisions by completely different paths.

If only we were only bodies needing cures! Bodies don't need other bodies in order to get better. Minds do need other and different minds to develop, to get better.


2. Amateur & Professional Assassins

- I was looking through the donated books for sale at the library, saw Gibson's name, remembered I'd found his first novel, written in 1982, at a used books store in Budapest and taken it with me on the night train to Zurich. I was buying and selling watches in those days, around the year 2000. At the library I flipped through the pages of this later Gibson novel published in 1999, started reading. A character opens his shop on the Oakland to San Francisco bridge that, following an ecological catastrophe, has become an inhabited street like Ponte Vecchio, improvised structures made of scavenged materials extending both horizontally and vertically. The shop has old watches in the window. Its proprietor is a specialist dealer in old watches.
- Like you were.
- Yes. I keep reading. Everything, paragraph after paragraph about watches and watch dealing is dead right, I found one mistake, but by then assumed it most likely was typographical: 'chronometer' instead of 'chronograph'. I turned the book over, looked at the photograph of the author on the back cover. I'd just read how the dealer was able to read function from form, individual history by patterns of wear. I saw the author wearing a trench coat neither form fitting nor flowingly loose, same regarding high waisted pleated pants, saw a new smooth leather belt without character, on it a holster for what looked like a 1999 Erickson mobile phone, which, chance has it, I also owned at the time the photograph was taken. No wear, no story. No special form, no special function.
- If he was a watch, you wouldn't have bought him. But you did keep reading his book, since you have it in your hand.
- Gibson is famous for inventing the word 'cyberspace', describing in advance the internet and 'virtual reality' gaming, and associating this coming world with divergent economics, the hyper-modern corporate monopolists sharing the world with a lower class characterized by economically regressive scavenging and anarchist music, attitudes, drug use. 
- Cyberpunk. Like in the movie 'Blade runner'.
- Yes. I'm interested in the relation between economic class divisions and the internet. Whether existing political and economic trends are accelerated by the internet.
- How? Isn't the internet only a tool, used better and worse?
- We're using the internet mainly to communicate information.
- What else can we do with it?
- Arrange how to live together. Send people to each other to do things with each other, not simply pass information back and forth.
- Ok. We've talked about that.
- The internet works with knowledge, representations of the world. But we only really know the people we live with. It's possible to get to know anyone. That possibility is the basis of sympathy we feel even for strangers. When we live in a world of representations, we live in a world by definition without sympathy.
- Why?
- What we can say about a person is not the person. And then how can you sympathize with a representation? Representations give us at best a sense of beauty, things well done. Not sympathy.
- Ok. But was it ever any different in public life?
- We want to know how the internet may control real life, or how real life, through the internet, control itself. What is being called the internet of things*.
- Yeah. Walk into a room, lights come on. Door locks itself when we leave the house in the morning.
- We know that uniformity is a tool of monopoly. And that human beings, once they make a distinction between who is in their family and who isn't, who they are familiar with and who they are not, will try to create mafias or monopolies.
- How do we know that?
- Both theoretically and by history.
- What is the theory?
- The more people are alike, and sorting them into classes by representations makes them alike, the easier it is to tell them what they want and then sell it to them, and the easier to buy access to them, because the more alike they are the more they will be attracted to the same publication sites.
- The internet allows everyone to have a voice.
- Everyone always had a voice, to shout in the dark in the desert. They still with the internet have that voice.
- But because internet works with representations, you say, it plays into the existing systemic or institutional trends of monopoly and economic inequality.
- Yes.
- Monopolies, using search engines and social media, filter the world of representations that they present to each individual, straitening each in his track towards what serves their interests. That is the internet assimilating the world to representation. What about when the world uses the tool of the internet to modify the world? Automatic door openings, etc.
- The same straitening into one's own track and daily schedule. Deviations cause disruption, the door automatically opened when you are being followed by a dog you don't want to let in is not what you want.
- And an undeviating schedule is representable, whereas a real person's unscheduled life adapting to contingencies is not.
-  So on both sides of the internet of things we have people pressed to become representations of themselves. Let's go back to Gibson. Internet search led me to an article he wrote in 1999 about watch dealing, and a recent interview. He says he didn't even have a computer when he wrote his first novel, he composed it in fact on an old manual typewriter. When he was young he really was in the punk music movement, and he really had bought and sold watches to make a scavenger's living. But later, a million book selling science fiction writer, he discovered the internet social media auction site Ebay and set out to learn watch dealing as a pointless exercise in the mastery of knowledge. As a hobby. He says that it would be impossible to do what he did, acquire as much information in real life without constantly traveling the world meeting people like yourself. You'd have to be insane.
- And you were doing exactly that at the time?
- Yes. And not insane. Watch dealing did for me what martial arts does for the assassin named 'The Professor' in the novel: taught observation of self and world and self control and control of when to act and when not. The internet world, as a world only of representation, progressively taken into control of monopoly economics, is a world of endlessly producing things that can be represented. When you stop producing you stop representing. When you stop representing, you stop providing a product of interest to producers, who do nothing else but produce and represent. You are isolated economically and politically.** Follow?
- Yes.
- It happens I was called 'The Professor' by the other watch dealers.
- Did Gibson know about you?
- I have no idea. At the time he wrote his article I had my first try with the internet at my mother's house in Atlantic City. I typed my name in, clicked on a link and saw appear a post written in the first person about traveling Europe buying and selling old watches. The article was tagged with my name.
- So Gibson wrote it?
- I don't think so. There was this writer of super violent crime novels who was using my name as his pen name. I thought maybe he had discovered what I had recently discovered myself, that a short novel I wrote in the 80s was being bought and sold as a high priced collector's item, as his first unknown novel, and as a fitting response to my involuntary impersonation of him he impersonated me in the watch dealing article.
- He got the details from Gibson's interview.
- Yes. But maybe not. The world is full of coincidences. In the recent interview Gibson says he uses a 2005 Apple G4 notebook, exactly the old computer I use.
- You're alike. Counterculture people who like old things, surround yourself with them in an attempt to escape the totalitarian direction of the internet and monopoly economics.
- Well, no. Gibson has sold more than 10 million books. He isn't himself isolated economically and politically. He wrote about the internet when he wasn't using it, he wrote about watch dealing when he was only dealing on the internet. And he was wrong about everything.
- And you're right and are going to tell me why.
- I am. Gibson says the collector's impulse comes from wanting to take care of what needs our care, old mechanical fragile moving things, and that collection instances in many categories we impose order on a world of too much information.
- And that is wrong?
- Yes. It is a materialist's interpretation.*** Rather, watch dealers use the fragility of their objects as reason not to love them but to get rid of them, to sell them before they break and lose their value. Watch dealing is a discipline, not only of identification and classification of the thousands of different watches, but fundamentally, a way of making money. Dealers do love watches, all of them, but they love them not to take care of them but as ironies, little worlds of order and movement placed with a sense of ownership on our wrists. Wearing a watch mocks the way the social world wants to do the equivalent with us, incorporate us in its life.
- A watch is a slave.
- And a joke. A mockery.
- So you were 'The Professor' in real life, a zen assassin watch dealer carrying worlds on your wrist laughing at the world. And am I right, laughing at the world more by doing nothing than by doing? That was your counter culture move?
- By knowing and wanting to stop when there was no longer any purpose.
- When was that?
- When I had the 10 dollars a day I needed to rent a tourist apartment in Budapest, buy my train ticket to my next destination, Zurich, Nicosia maybe, and simple food.
- A real zen assassin watch dealer treats watches as slaves and knows when to stop dealing.
- Gibson treated watch dealing as acquisition of information, that is, representations. All of the dozen or so professional dealers between dealers in watches in Europe, Gibson had this number right, acquired their knowledge through personal contacts and practice. Their lives, how they thought and lived, changed along with the acquisition of knowledge.
- And now I see why you brought all this in. You guys, much more knowledgable than Gibson I suppose, weren't living in the world of representations.
- The difference between amateur and professional assassin.****


3. Google Wants FAX

I stopped by Google's office in Tel Aviv this afternoon to have a talk or see if that was possible. Turns out they want something on paper before you present yourself in person. The receptionist told me to send them a FAX. I said:

- Google? FAX? Are you serious?
- Yes.
- I don't have a FAX machine. I'll send you an email.
- No, we want something on paper.
- Nothing stops you from printing. Goggle has a printer, right?
- We'd like you to send a FAX. That's the way to get the best consideration of your idea.
- I'm in the right place? Offices of Google? The internet company? Listen, this is what I can do. I'll write down the address of a site where you can read something about what I came to talk about.
- What is this?
- A free Google site, and a story there. Type it all into Google Search. Google site, Google search. Should be easy.
- It would be better for consideration of your idea if you send a FAX.
- I'm not asking for consideration of my idea. I came by to have a talk. I guess this is it. Maybe I'll send a FAX.

Dear Google FAX,
I stopped by to talk to you about this: bring back Aardvark, this time not to answer and ask questions, not to get people to communicate with each other, but to get people to do things with each other. To set up businesses, to invent, research, form associations. The robot could be equipped with an ever increasing set of resources, lists and tools to help people do things. Integrated with Google+ the robot could make use of its increasing knowledge of what individuals are interested in doing with which kinds of people.
When people do things with each other, not just talk, they get out of the bubble of common interests which at present the internet tends to trap people within. People doing things live in a world open to their new creation, and they need different kinds of people to realize their ideas.
That’s my idea, Google FAX.
* The term Internet of Things was coined by the British technologist Kevin Ashton in 1999.
*** The material served by the spiritual, not, as it should be, vice versa. The Gibson novel read second hand, 'All Tomorrow's Parties', ends with an Artificial Intelligence, a pure self conscious representation with the ability to elicit love from all, being equipped with nanotechnology by a group of hackers hiding out in a walled corner of cyberspace. The Artificial Intelligence makes innumerable material bodies for itself and enters the real world, spreading love and, it is implied as the novel closes, saving the day, the material world magically saved by the spiritual. Fat chance.

further reading: