FleshFactor: Goodbye FleshFactor
A E C F O R U M - "F L E S H F A C T O R"
Dear FleshFactor readers and contributors:
The day has come to curtail the FleshFactor net-symposium. We started
this collective muse and discussion some five months ago, back in April,
with Gerfried Stocker's opening FleshFactor text. Since opening this
on-line forum we have received over 200 messages responding to, probing,
reforming and expanding the territory mapped out in Stocker's initial
This massive world-wide exploration of the human condition in 1 9 9 7--a
snapshot of our evolving human nature at the raw edge of its relationship
with digital technologies--now remains as a database of real concerns,
fears and relative, guarded promise. The FleshFactor net-symposium has
been a reality check.
As the FleshFactor-thread snaked its way through a winding corridor
flanked by collapsing utopian and anti-utopian futures, we saw a flesh and
blood creature emerge from underneath the smoke-and-mirrors spectacle of
the cyber-hyped millennial shift. To me the organic, vulnerable beauty
of this forum has been its honesty, its collective matter-of-factness.
Sure this journey has been flush with noise and tortuously circuitous at
times. But now that its life has been suspended, at least in this
network-imaging device (a net-symposium is an instrument for revealing and
amplifying collective social intelligence), what conclusions can we draw?
As the nature of the hundreds of messages to FleshFactor oscillated
between broad philosophical issues, such as mind/body,
biological/artificial natures, the differences and similarities between
humans and the machines we create and the more concrete, although no less
complex, ideas about language and physical interfaces between people and
the machines we have grown to depend on, love and fear, IT BECAME VERY
CLEAR THAT OUR IDENTITIES AS INDIVIDUALS AND COLLECTIVE IDENTITY AS A
SPECIES ARE CHANGING DUE TO THE RAPIDLY DEVELOPING, EXTENSIVELY NETWORKED,
SCIENCE-DOMINATED CULTURES WE ARE LIVING IN.
In our relationships with advancing technologies we experience stress,
exhilaration and profound evidence of who we are and where we have come
from as a species. As inevitable, significant change becomes so very real
with increasing speed, we naturally call upon our most fundamental beliefs
for stability and security.
The FleshFactor net-symposium, and the live FleshFactor symposium which
embodied and personified this discussion on September 9th and 10th in
Linz, provided the intellectual space for us to think and exchange
views about the position, status and condition of the individual human
in a world dominated by digital network technologies and challenging
scientific advances. The goal was to describe the present reality
accurately, not to cast another misguided, glitzy searchlight into the
future. The end of a century is a particularly good time for reflection.
A sense of direction will emerge and a window on the future will open only
if and when there is clarity of the moment at hand.
If there is one thing these symposia have demonstrated, it is that we will
need to develop new points of view if we are going to be capable of
recognizing changes in our human condition. I think we have witnessed the
emergence of such new points of view through the social intellectual
processes of these symposia. To begin with, from the somewhat alien
vantage point of post-human networks and vast fields of hyper-mediated
memory, we may be recognized as, and thus be called, the FleshFactor.
This is perhaps too subtle a shift from human-as-God at the centre of the
universe (try as we might to get out of our skins), but if you look back
over the terrain we have examined...there are now many new, precisely
articulated, versions of humanness.
To be critical for a moment, the discussion(s) were dominated by
Americans, Canadians, Australians and Europeans (from 9 countries in
Europe) and ultimately shaped by the English language. While
contributions were received from Mexico and Brazil, we were reminded many
times that we are a privileged elite affluent enough to be cyborgian in
our communicative behaviour. And no matter how elastic the English
language actually is, it does of course restrict the development and
expression of other points of view. With this said, I must say that
I was pleased that so many fine contributions were made by people using
English as their second, third, fourth or fifth or whatever language.
There is a lot of beautiful prose in the text body of the
FleshFactor--much of its richness is due to its translation of other
It was also wonderful and important to have so many women participating
actively in both the net- and live forums. So many discussions based on
technology and its effects simply exclude women. This one did not. And
what a privilege it is to witness a range of contributions from so many
different perspectives...from artists, philosophers, technologists,
writers, scientists, sociologists, musicians, composers,
archaeologists...and we also saw young people and students in debates with
seasoned professionals..... At a time when over-specialization is
continually and tragically blocking or fragmenting any productive,
satisfying discourse, let this experience contribute to our understanding
of the merits, power, necessity and rewards of such an interdisciplinary
exchange taking place across such a wide social spectrum.
So now, with some regret, it is time to pull the plug on this FleshFactor
thing. These proceedings will remain on the Ars Electronica server and I
encourage you to re-read your favourite passages from time to time. Many
have told me they are using the FleshFactor thread as assigned reading in
university classes. Please continue to do so. A number of people have
told me they enjoyed reading the FleshFactor as a sort of heady soap opera
with characters good and evil. It certainly was passionate at times. And
scores have told me they couldn't keep up with the volume of contributions
and some day they are going to find the time to read the FleshFactor...
Good luck. Myself, I know I will return to its volume from time to time
because there are so many interesting ideas and perceptions and phrases
embedded in its mass.
There are thanks due. Thank you Gerfried Stocker and Jutta Schmiederer
and thanks to all the staff of the Ars Electronica Festival that
engendered and supported the symposia.
Let me express my thanks to all the contributors, those who wrote once and
those who evolved into committed, significant, reoccurring voices. Thanks
also to the distinguished presenters to the live symposium--your
preparation, effort and your impact in Linz made this FleshFactor thing
complete for me and for the approximately one thousand people moving in
and out of those auditoria during those two very intense days. (It is
perhaps interesting that our net-symposium ended up with about 1,000
on-line subscribers/and that during the two days in Linz about 1,000
people attended the live symposium--with probably no more than a hundred
of the live attendees having read the net-symposium).
And thanks to the readers of FleshFactor, many of whom read every word
without contributing a single public statement to the on-line forum. I've
appreciated your feedback, via e-mail or in person, positive and negative.
So while this feels a bit weird, to sever the physical link between our
collective, applied intelligence, it is exciting to imagine the phantom
energies and voices that will spring forth and reverberate long after this
amputation. It has been a vast pleasure to be connected to all of you.
Goodbye FleshFactor. Peace.
Tom Sherman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
former moderator, FleshFactor symposia
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