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a serialized ethno-cyber-punk novel

Corporate Dictatorships of our Information Age

It may appear paradoxical that before I began to write “The Arbiter”, I first started by disconnecting from Facebook and Instagram. Writing about cybernetic themes while severing the most significant connection with the Internet — that of social media — seemed like someone who didn’t practice the thing they preached. 

For a while now we have been living like cyborgs, cybernetic organisms, part human and part machine, leading our lives simultaneously in the virtual as well as the real worlds. By disconnecting from social media, in a sense I renounced my cyborgness. My disconnection — however partial and selective — was nonetheless in tune with tenets of cybernetics. 

Cybernetics, as I have mentioned in a previous essay, is the science that deals with communication and feedback. In order for communication to be successful, attempts should be made to decrease the amount of noise and to amplify the signal. By disconnecting from social media I attempted to reduce the noise and tried to hone in on the important stuff, to amplify the signals within my own brain, and focus on the task at hand, i.e. the writing process.

This also turned out to influence and inspire how I wrote the story and the character of the Arbiter. As a cyborg used to being constantly immersed in datastreams, he had to switch-off his devices and go blind for his special mission. The withdrawal symptoms of the story’s titular character were a direct manifestation of my own disconnection from social media during the time I wrote that part of the story.  

We have come a long way from the times cybernetics was founded. Now rebranded as information technology, it boasts successes from machine learning, automation, data mining, artificial intelligence, just to name a few. But there have also been some quite, should we say, interesting, developments. One of them in particular, is what I like to call the “social-media industrial complex.”

Even though we have completely and unequivocally embraced the social media, I believe it has failed in delivering on its cybernetic promises. While social media has made some elements of communication easier, it has also, paradoxically, complicated others and made them more difficult. And as the main culprit I blame the “addiction aspects” that now seem inseparable from the current design of social networks — by this I mean that constant compulsion to check your phone in order to get that jolt of dopamine. 

Instead of our promised cyborgness, our promised symbiosis between human and machine, we were turned into cyber-dope-fiends, whose only preoccupation became to get that dopamine reward in our brains, no matter the content of the information. In this way, it became irrelevant what kind of content you viewed as long as the chemical cravings of your brain were satisfied.

In the social media of our days, noise is prioritized over signal, as the information loses cybernetic value for the human user. It has been transformed into a dumb stimulus to just turn you into an automaton who keeps checking their phone every 30 seconds in hopes of maximizing the reward of dopamine released form their brain. On the other hand, the real beneficiaries are the InfoCorporations, who not only monetize the clicks and screen time from their users, but also are involved in immense data-mining operations.

This has dehumanized us to such a degree that the prophecies contained in the 1999 movie The Matrix seem, at least in my eyes, so close to reality — the only difference being that instead of humans being used as bio-energy fuel for the machines, they are now used as data-mining and extraction of raw info-material that feeds these cybernetic leviathans (such as Google, Facebook).

Instead of having “human use of human beings” — to cite the title of Norbert Wiener’s book on Cybernetics and Society — we ended up with quite an inhumane use of human beings. We are now dope-fiends whose only purpose is to scroll, and click, and make sure all sorts of senseless data streams from server to server.

Categorized as: bonus | nonfiction

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