Matthew Hutson, English 111, Brown University (1998)
As digital culture shatters and redistributes our pictures of realty and central authority loses relevence, a new kind of authority arises. Infinite mutability of simulacra in the form of digital media dilutes any claims of absolute legitimacy, yet also gives people the tools to design and publicize new visions of authority. Baudrillard describes the development of simulacra, and we see that people can now appropriate and remold any available media into any kind of false exoskeleton that they desire. Digital photographs can be retouched to show people lifting buildings or breathing fire. Propoganda, urban legends, and commercial archetypes spread across the globe like wildfire. The easy construction and propogation of imagined personalities that lie within the layman's hands simply invite the invention of superheroes, and, by extension, deities.
As we find new ways of arranging and transfering bits, we must also create new metaphors for their use, new tools with which to manipulate and interact with them. The Macintosh graphic operating system creates a virtual deskop, with folders and a trashcan (and the Windows operating system give users a pseudo life-like virtual Macintosh.) We have information "superhighways," connecting a "global village," we "surf" an endless "stream" of information in the form of html "pages." Many of these technological metaphors provide intuitive tools for people to adjust to the digital realm, but Kai Krause has shown us that we can take this intuitive feel and stretch it beyond merely physical analogues.
In City of Bits, William Mitchell describes our new metaphors for the virtual communities and spaces we have built with digital technology. Steven Johnson also describes in his book, Interface Culture, the new environments we build with silicon:
Not only does authenticity become meaningless, but space and time become an ambiguity for which we only have vague metaphors such as "cyberspace." With the digital reproduction of art there may still be an "original" somewhere in the world that was scanned, sampled, or otherwise digitized, but the digital art form takes on a life of its own.