Digital Proletariats

Those of my readers who can recall back to around May or June will remember my waxing lyrical about Ones and Zeros… Our virtual personalities on the web. 6 months later (considering therapy for my MySpace addictions) I think this subject needs a revisit.

For those who have not read that piece, in précis I discussed the ideas presented by the likes of Giddens, Baudrillard, and Castells concerning the way that our digital existence shrinks the world as we communicate and in some ways, even replace travel through the use of the net: “I was computer code, I was ones and zeros” (this being a sample from a psy-trance tune by the way, Ketamine influenced I suspect…)

And it’s great. Through the marvels of the Network Society I have had guys in LA complimenting my tunes. Talked to people in Illinois (and on a side point, experienced the pain of loss at the death of someone I’ve never met). Through DSI I keep in touch with people from Glade from whom I’d never have bothered to get a number, and of course get to see what antics I got up to t the West Indian Centre when I’ve been too fucked to remember. MySpace has done wonders, I think, for solidifying the Cabbage and Riff Raff scenes, as people now talk, sometimes even sense during the week. I have built some amazing friendships that have contrary to remaining Simulacra, gone back into the real world.

But there is, as ever, a problem. How much does the net bring you together when you are a poor single mother, a substance farmer, one of those for whom society has no place or no employment it has found a reason to imprison?

A new (even basic) PC suitable for digital communication costs around 3 months unemployment benefit in the UK, or the annual income of a schoolteacher in Calcutta, or about 50 times the approximate subsistence income in the same place.

Now of course I am lucky. I can afford a PC – I’m sat at it now. Though I too at time struggle to keep up with the new and exciting developments in technology – this old chunterer runs Win98 on 700MHz 196mB machine that used to belong to my mum. That’s a pretty impressive amount of processing power in real terms. But not by todays terms. A little under 20 years ago my Grandfather took me the see the pride and joy of Reading University, an Ardent Computer Corporation Titan Minicomputer, a beast of a machine taking up a room the size of my living room, with a staggering 8mB of memory running at (I believe) 75MHz. At home we had a paltry 48kB of RAM and a 3.5MHz processor in our spectrum.

10 years later something similar to the Titan in power was sat on my desk, having just bought it for £100 of off some student lad (though the stingy bugger deleted all his porn before selling it to me, as me and Derek discovered when we trawled the hard drive with undelete). Maybe this was ‘cos he was pissed off ‘cos it cost him a grand 2 years before.

A grand, incidentally, is what I paid for my music PC 3 years later. Running over 16 times as fast with 32 times the memory. A top of the range desktop PC now will have two processors running over twice as fast again and perhaps another 16fold memory increase.

But why do we need all this power? Fortunately the rush seems to have died down, and low-end PCs are in the shops (about the spec of my better one).

The answer is, we don’t. They do.

Don’t worry, this isn’t some conspiracy theory about world governments hijacking your machine to further their nefarious plans. I’m talking about the people who make money from PCs. The software houses. By bull-shitting us that they are writing software that takes advantage of the latest technological developments, they can then cut support for the legacy products. And then of course you need a new PC so that the electronics corps can get fat whilst paying fuck all to the sweatshop workers dragged in from their villages in South-East Asia to sit in a sea of arsenic, selenium and cadmium making the chips and switches. And so it cycles.

This is bollocks. OK, I’ll confess that the MySpace pages of the likes of Nesbitt that are full of random flashing crap do chock up the memory on my baby computer occasionally. But then I only go there to insult him and tell him to lay off my ass. 99.% of what I want to do on this PC I could do on my old one. Except now the software is just not there.

And I may also simply not want to use it. I use Open Office. This manages Microsoft Office files like a dream – in fact it’s more stable than Word. Will Microsoft ever support .odt files. Doubt it.

And Internet Explorer. Possibly the most buggy, insecure and dangerous piece of consumer software out there. I DONT FUCKING WANT IT! Since running Firefox under Win98 I have never had a problem with viruses, spyware and trojans. MSN messenger has handled webcams for years, but could I even receive a cam connection to watch J making faces at me last night. Nope. ‘Cos the new MSN won’t install as I don’t have IE6. And of course, can I still download a legacy version of MSN. Like a squirrel’s chuff can I?

I could play mp3s fine on my old PC. Could I grab the astounding hours worth of Awesome metal off Pinky’s page. Narp. iTunes format. Dunno if iTunes runs on Win98, anyroad I don’t want it. And don’t even get me started on my quest to find a Win98 compatible hardware mp3 player or digicam.

Laydees and Gentleblokes… There is s request here. As far as you can, use free software. Loads of people write it, for the love of it. Much of it’s far better than the shite Microsoft put out. Lets take the cash and the power out of Gates’ hands. One day, just maybe, (said the tired old anarchist) all software will be free, written as cleanly as possible, and they we will be one more step away from cybercapitalism and there will be fewer information poor.

I was Computer Code, I was Ones and Zeroes

No, this isn’t some reference to bizarre experiences caused by strange chemicals and such like.

But been thinking… How much of our fucking lives do we spend in a total virtual state? How much of our reality and identity is just a total cyber-existence, a created personality only there at the end of a computer terminal? I mean: I have a website, then framed into there is my live journal. Ok – that’s largely musical promotion. And of course for that I have a different MySpace. So that’s two of those. And the list goes on.

Considering how much I disagree with the amount of information that the MegOrgs store about our lives I seem to be all too keen to pass on, post plaster and advertise half my life on the Net.

Of course it has bonuses: We can all flirt with people that we don’t know and probably wouldn’t really like. I guess on a sensible level it’s a good one to keep up with people we don’t see for real too often. It’s great to try and get some attention and company (of sorts) when we’re too hungover to get our arses out of the house of a morning.

And yeah… for that it’s fucking great…

But has the power of speech been lost to us now that out thoughts, emotions and lives are just a continual meta-existance whizzing down a fibre-optic at however many megabits per second?

Of course I’m now back to thinking sociology and the slightly dystopian feeling I get from this “‘scapes and flows” idea of Globalisation and how Giddens (I think) came up with some of these ideas on spacial distortion

(Note to self: when I’m finished doing this pick up some Manuel Castells from the library and have a good shuffle through the cyber culture bits of the shelves and check I do know what I’m on about).

An ex-client of mine (mad as a balloon, but more intelligent than I can ever dream to be) describes aeroplanes as a method of time travel, in that human beings are not supposed to be able to get to the other side of the globe in a day.

Maybe, you know, she has a point…