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FleshFactor: Grounding

A E C  F O R U M - "F L E S H F A C T O R"

*Perhaps the FLESHfactor should be a time to ground ourselves...
 even our electronics need that.*

I remember how excited I was when I first discovered the posted letters of
a migrant worker from the west coast of Canada.  "The web really is going
to change the world," I righteously muttered.  In this case, I saw a
perfect example of class barriers dissolving.  A couple researcher
technomads had lent her use of their laptops and satellite up-link.  She
took the opportunity to talk about getting high down in British Columbia,
buying incense, debating with herself openly whether or not she wanted
sign on to pick strawberries this season, and the failure of her last

I was touched by the human mundaneness about her stories.  Initially, I
took this as strong evidence of the coming utopia which many on university
campuses had been whispering about.  It took a couple days for me to begin
seeing the reality of the situation.  This was only one member of a
community representing (depending upon the positioning of the reader) 
either herself or that entire community.  By contrast, the
socio-economic-cultural sect I am a member of, has a much greater and, as
a result, diverse and thorough representation in all media, including the
net/web.  Disappointed, I sighed.  We are still pretty disconnected. 

As academics and intellectuals, whether part or full time, we are not only
campaigners for our ideals, causes, and theories; we also act as lawyers. 
The best intellectuals are very deft and creative as Lawyers of concept. 
They can take the smallest incident and use it to soundly fortify their
position against an ocean of contradicting evidence.  In the age of
information (overabundance/supersaturation?) we must be careful to check
ourselves.  Today we see so many "miscarriages of Justice."  Lets not
encourage miscarriages of reasoning as well.

Here, at the FleshFactor, there has been much written about electronic
networking changing who we are and how we think.  A majority of these
writings exist as permutations of lofty hybrid theories.  Many of these
writings read well in their own isolated existence.  But the ideas they
contain certainly do not speak to the reality of my surroundings. 

When I've looked for the on-line utopia, I've found drunken dialogue,
dirty talk, verbal harassment, confused yet curious novelty seeking
newbies, and conversation akin to that found at the parties of my earlier
college years... "so, like, what do you do for a job?"  "where u from?" 
"I'm listening to Midnight Oil now, u like them?"  "wow, thats sOOOooo
kewl."  It is not hard to imagine the apes at the other end of these
interfaces occasionally scratching and belching, picking their noses just
like me, as they hunt and peck their way across QWERTY.  (In the chat
rooms I find most enjoyable, I have heard on multiple occasions statements
like "I wish we could dance here...I'm too fleshy for this

I've yet to meet a really interesting cyber-beastie, and NONE of them in
any way qualify as a lifeform.  The Toy-Storyesqe aliens of segasoft's
title "Space Bar" are of the more seductive, yet limited breed.  They are
beautifully rendered and animated, but locked as video clips in the
extremely stagnant worlds of Director and QuickTime.  Like Michaelangelo's
David, "Space Bar's" Thud exists only as consciously human-modified
minerals that seem to breathe. 

I have not had the privilege of sitting across from Deep Blue, but have
butted head 'gainst processor with some of its lesser second cousins. 
Unfortunately, the AI opponents of even the hottest entertainment software
are designed to be challenging, but not unbeatable.  If they were
unbeatable, the game simply would not sell.  Additionally, none of these
AI's really learn.  If one plays a game against commercially available
computer AI's long enough, one is bound to find a huge strategy hole in
the programming.  (To get a perception of how many of these holes exist,
do a web search for --> games +cheats +spoilers.  I would bet about a
fifth of the tips you'd find on the tens of thousands of pages would
simply be pointing out oversights in the AI.) 

This is precisely why _Quake: Capture The Flag_ on-line is still one of
the hottest forms of electronic gaming.  For those unfamiliar with Quake:
Capture The Flag, this is a first person 3-D real-time shoot 'em up *human
player* only game.  A computer is no match for a human in this sort of
game.  In addition, Quake on-line has a high pleasure factor.  It is
loaded with body references and orientation.  The bantar is more
interesting than communicating with an AI.  And on the right kind of
night, a game can actually trigger biological responses.  Your heart
pounds and adrenaline squirts through your wrists.  (But you still lack
exercise!)  It's active sport for arm-chair potatoes. 

Perhaps there are/or will be some very impressive AI's employed as control
systems in military and non-military machinery.  But I suspect that
regardless of their role, none of these will be given the instructions to
"survive" and "reproduce," without which, they will never qualify as life
according to our definition. 

[[Admittedly, I see some initial holes in this logic.  The potentials of
nanotech, fully automated offworld factories, and lab based experiments of
"living-AI-for-the-sake-of-living-AI" all offer instances where we may
actually lend to the creation of altogether new "lifeforms."  But this is
outside of my intentions for this writing.  Therefore I leave them for
another day...or anyone else who wants to bite into 'em first :^)  ]]

In any case, here at FleshFactor, we may learn more about our
relationships with these technologies by not being so self conscious of
them.  Use of this medium for the telling of stories that ground (put the
FLESH in FleshFactor) could blossom into much more interesting and
complicated human/machine relationships than those currently presented by
the existing content of FleshFactor.  These electronically mediated
experiences might even begin to service some of my psychological and
cultural needs for community, for connection.  Of course, we would be much
more suited to take advantage of the networks' potentials were we the sort
of people used to telling good campfire stories or members of a quilting
circle inclined to gossip.  But we're not.  We're functioning as
intellectuals here, feigning our varying perspectives of omniscience... 

But I will contribute, wait, and continue to read.  A part of me hopes
that at the end of this symposium I will weep a few tears of loss.  Then,
I will know and feel that this technology can become a resource and a
means to fulfill biologically presented needs: the first half of any
symbiotic relationship.  I may even begin to buy into some of what has
been stated and discussed at the beginning of this symposium. 

Currently though, like much technology at its advent, the web, the net,
etc. functions in my life as a very big, expensive, glitzy toy.  Rarely
does it's ability to collapse both distance (not unlike the telephone,
telegraph, or even a functioning mail network) and space serve any unique
functional purpose in my life.  For now, it is an arena for thoughtful
play and playful thought.  This high tech global network is a sci-fi wet
dream.  It has inspired a lot of theory, which at the outset was very
exciting and imaginative.  But after over a decade, the crusade for
wetware and the ponderings of posthuman existence have become a bit

The novelty of a glistening blue "cyberspace" is wearing off.  I watch as
countless ravers and zippies turn from glorious dreams of a techno-topia
to the rhythm of swing and the quirkiness of lounge.  Synthetic poly and
rubber slides out of style, replaced by stepping out in rugged wool tweed
and shiny 100% silk.  Some have even traded in keyboards and scratch
tables for the alto-sax and string bass.  Many twentysomethings have
temporarily given up the chase for tomorrows tech.  Instead of endlessly
reaching toward the year 3000, perhaps the time has come to adjust to what
has already come to be. 

(Perhaps the squeal and screech of the modem will simply be to the
nineties what the noise of a percolator was to the fifties.) 

Wetware does not exist yet.  Arguably, neither does post-humanity.  But
what does exist is this playground...these tools...these devices...and
still, very much so, our biology. 

Personally, these days, I don't have the time nor the desire to worry
about such lofty notions as "non-anthropocentric cultural perceptions."  I
worry about keeping my job.  My health care.  Enough food to eat.  Enough
money for rent, clothes, hygiene, art supplies, and a few leisure
activities.  I worry about not enough hours in the day to do all I need
with some leftover for what I want.  I worry about the health of my family
and loved ones.  I wonder if I will ever be settled and secure enough to
start a modest family.  And when I look backwards to the personal stories
of human existence collected from various cultures and ages, regardless of
this monitor in front of me and the advantages offered by temporarily
existing as a voice in time-collapsed-space,
I am very
         very much like the humans before me.

                        "-j."   <jleonard@cyberzone-inc.com>

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