Cyberspace & Critical Theory

Temporary Essay

Izel Sulam

This essay is strictly a temporary placeholder.

He is meant merely to keep Professor George Landow happy, to chew away at valuable hard disk space, to unnecessarily consume poor little Ursula's processing powers (for the uninitiated, the Cyberspace Web resides on a server known as to the TCP/IP protocol and as sexy Ursula to her acquaintances), and to gobble up some much-needed network bandwidth as computers from around the globe suck away at the Cyberspace Web in order to quench their thirst for information, insight and inspiration. This essay is essentially expected to bum around, frolic and procrastinate until his older sister finally arrives to replace him.

His sister, Ms. Multimedia-Enhanced Essay, could not, unfortunately, make it in time, due to a rather catastrophic accident whereby my computer experienced a quick yet unendurably painful death on the night of Wednesday, April the 1st, 1998. I had decided to install a newly-bought TV card while the computer was on, which is one feature that Windows 95 'officially' supports, although he probably secretly prays that you never, ever, ever actually attempt to use it. I therefore haplessly proceeded to turn the PC on, unaware of what would happen next.

During the installation of the card, which my PC seemed to be enjoying as much as I was, things suddenly turned weird. The image on the monitor began to pulsate, the hard disk started to shudder, and the power supply sizzled, in what was later going to turn out to be the death throes of this woeful being. My poor PC clawed away in intolerable pain, she rolled around in infinite agony, she screamed desperately to a deaf universe, before finally choking, sputtering, falling silent and ... giving up her soul.

I was devastated.

Fortunately, the PC's rather untimely death - as I would later find out - was due to a short circuit within her power supply. Upon having taken her to the repair center, I was duly assured that she would be resurrected within a few days, to return fine as a fiddle, so that I could finally drag out my multimedia-enhanced essay from the deep recesses of her 10-Gig bowels. Until then, I will leave you alone with Ms. Multimedia-Enhanced Essay's little brother. Say hi, Temporary Essay.

The attentive reader will note that, in the above paragraphs, Professor George Landow remains the only entity that is truly and not anthropomorphically alive, alive in the conventional sense of the word - or at least, so we hope. Indeed, inanimate beings assuming the qualities of the living often seem amusing or playful when they do not pose a threat to us (Consider Bandai's Tamagotchis or PF. Magic's Catz, the adorable little darlings).


Cogito ergo sum...

Personification also appears to be an intuitive way to deal with inanimate objects, but for some indescribable reason (hubris? insecurity? fear? lust?) this method still remains mildly disconcerting. That certainly seems to be the case in the above passage, where entities composed of information (i.e. the essays, the operating systems, the machines) come alive, as it also does in the Ghost in the Shell, in Max Headroom, in Blade Runner, in Bubblegum Crisis, and overall, in much of cyborg cinematography. I will argue, however, that although the anthropomorphization of the machine appears to be somewhat disturbing, it is readily comprehended as an intuitive idea for a very good reason - simply because information is life.

Rather than expending some potentially CTS-inducing keystrokes and tiring poor little Temporary Essay's lazy-ass bytes on lengthy discussions, however, I will simply sketch out a few points which appear to be most integral to the connections between information and life. Rest assured that the below arguments will ultimately evolve into higher forms of discourse.

Maybe we should worry a little less about whether Deckard is a replicant or a human. Maybe we need not try so hard to define when memories are real and when they are artificial, when something is conscious and when it isn't. Borderline cases may not be so borderline after all. The question of whether being a replicant would make Deckard less human, or whether Rachel, for some reason, is more human than other replicants, may well turn out to be a non-question.

When information is equated with life, beauty becomes truth, truth beauty. If something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then, surely, it must be a duck.

Can you think of an exception?

No nootropics were consumed during the production of this document.

[To other discussions of this topic by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]

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