In many ways, the augment reality perspective on technology (i.e., that the digital and physical worlds are co-determining) is implicitly predicated on the assumption that people are capable of interfacing with technology as equipment. No doubt, even when computers were tools they influenced our offline social lives (and vice versa). However, the reciprocal relationship between online and offline experiences becomes more obvious and more significant when technology becomes invisible to us, so that we can simply drift online and offline with little notice of the transition. Ironically, this means that as we, smartphone-wielding cyborgs, become further enmeshed into this augmented reality, we are less consciously aware of our technological integration (at least, until this equipment malfunctions).
The personal computer revolution is not merely a technological development; it is an ontological shift (i.e., a shift in the nature of being). Human consciousness is expanding out from the realm of the physical into the realm of the digital and back again. As a consequence, it is dangerous to trivialize our online presence. This equipment—our profile, our updates, our “likes,” and everything else that functions as a mechanism of self-expression online—like all equipment, comes to constitute an important part of our very being. We are what we equip.”
On the day I stopped by his office, Schalk hit a button on his computer, and Pink Floyd blasted from his speakers. He was running an experiment to see what happens to people’s brains when they listen to “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1” (a question that has occurred to any stoner who ever contemplated human consciousness in the glow of stereo lights). Weeks before, Schalk played the Pink Floyd song for some of his epileptic volunteers and recorded the activity in the parts of the brain that process sound. Schalk showed me a volume meter on his computer screen — this was a brain, tracking the roar of a guitar solo. It worked just like any other volume meter, but in one experiment, Schalk found that the brain did something unexpected. When he interrupted the Pink Floyd song with moments of silence, the brain’s volume meter continued to tremble up and down, as if the song were still playing. This, Schalk said, showed that the brain creates a model of what it expects to hear — a shadow song that plunks out its tune in the player piano of our auditory system.
“Isn’t this crazy?” he shouted over the thunder of the bass. “We’re close to being able to reconstruct the actual music heard in the brain and play it. If we had several times more electrodes, I bet we could do it.”
But for Schalk — and many others in the field — the ultimate goal is not music. It’s language. Schalk dreams of letting people speak with their neurons, issuing silent commands to their machines.”
“We have a guy here who was dropped into remote, isolated areas of Iraq to set up their telecommunications systems,” said Christine L. Frei, director of the Clearwater Economic Development Association in Lewiston. “He told me, ‘We had better communications in Iraq than you have in central Idaho….“I don’t think enough people understand just how bad the situation is,” said Susan Crawford, who focused on broadband issues for President Obama early in his administration. “It really is time for this country to invest in getting its citizens online where we don’t have Internet access, especially in rural areas, so we stop sending jobs to India that we could be sending to Idaho.”
Aleks Krotoski interview with Danah Boyd
“Under normal circumstances, autocratic regimes need to lock up only a few people at a time, as people cannot easily rise up all at once. Thus, governments can readily fight slow epidemics, which spread through word-of-mouth (one-to-one), by the selective use of force (a quarantine). No country, however, can jail a significant fraction of their population rising up; the only alternative is excessive violence. Thus, social media can destabilize the situation in unpopular autocracies: rather than relatively low-level and constant repression, regimes face the choice between crumbling in the face of simultaneous protests from many quarters and massive use of force. While, unfortunately, we do see violent reactions from regimes, it is certainly not a desirable or sustainable outcome for the autocrats. They want to rule, not fight civil wars.”