Tuesday, October 22, 2013


As I sat reading, a muted television flickered over my left shoulder. I glance over and notice a commercial that shows a tank running over a car on a suburban street. I laugh out loud in amazement at such an awesome sight. The car is crushed, the tank rolls down the street. The next commercial appears without interruption… such that with no visual break or discontinuity of consciousness,  I then see a montage of military images. Jet fighters peel off in formation, a tank rolls up a beach… a landing craft door falls open to reveal the low-angle shot of soldiers running in formation through knee-deep water.

And so it goes, endless. No rest for the weary mind. Transfixed and seduced by the (as Robert Hughes says) the stupidly compelling medium of television.

What struck me in that moment was that I was both amazed by the visual pyrotechnics but also bored by them, with time between amazement and boredom being measure in seconds. One can imagine that in the early years of modernity, the time between amazement and boredom might be measured in a generation. Perhaps what the father found fantastic, the son found commonplace. Post WWII America, with it's accelerating material wealth and consumer culture, brought rates of change that reduced the amazement/boredom cycle to a few years… and then to the year to year changes of car models or the latest fashions. Digital technology has driven this cycle down further, where hardware is obsolete even as you buy it, and software updates itself online immediately upon installation.

We have arrived at a-temporailty. There seems to be no before and after. The temporal sequences are compressed into a timelessness. The theory of parallel universes… so popular in science fiction but implausible in our minds… seems to live daily in the realities of the simpler realities of computers, cell phones, TV commercials, and which pants to buy.

And whereas we can still plant an acorn in the ground and take a step back and take time to watch it grow… to observe causality… to observe nature… to feel the underlying truth to existence… we cannot step back and observe such natural breaks in the ceaseless flow of images and information that make up the tweaked world of manmade existence.

The reasons for this collapse of time and space into the dense black-hole of a-temporal disconnect is probably multi-faceted, but one reason I can think of lies somewhere near the needs of business to increase revenue. The formula might once have been to "sell more", but this logic has changed to "sell more often", or "sell all the time"… or maybe even "selling IS time"…. or "time is selling".

In the end, the old maxim "time is money" is realized in this digital, post-modern world, wherein the superconductive properties of new media have eliminated all resistance in the conduit between the seller and the buyer.

In electrical connections, resistance to the flow of electric current in a piece of wire is an upper limit on the wire itself, beyond which it overheats and the circuit melts down. Electrical systems are forced to employ circuit breakers to protect systems from physical damage. The holy grail of engineering becomes the discovery of materials immune to resistance. Such "superconductive" materials have no limit on their ability to move current.

In new media, the resistance on the conduit is time, which is an upper limit on the capacity of human beings to comprehend information-flows into their mind. If more information is pushed than can be consumed, the system doesn't so much break down, as become worthless. After all, you can always deploy advertising on 10,000 websites, and air television commercials at 4am on a school-night, but if nobody is able to consume them, the effort is a waste.

The limits on new media is the time required by the consumer of information. The holy grail for new media then becomes a superconductive consciousness... one where there is no limit. The old limit was the need to comprehend, which requires time. To take comprehension out of the equation, simply remove time. Compress time and space… future and past…  into an eternal present moment, where no awareness or comprehension is possible, and you have a superconductive consciousness, with no upper limit on what it can consume.

This present moment of consumption has a history, but one that has no distance in the past… an eternal past. This moment has a future, but a future whose features are indistinguishable, in as much as it exists with zero distance from the past. It too is an eternal future. If we consider that the awareness of time is based on an awareness of a before and after point, then the absence of such markers produces the awesome spectacle of timelessness.

So a question arises. How does the human mind exist in timelessness? What are the effects of timeless on consciousness? A million years of evolution have given rise to what we call our conscious mind… a million years of cause and effect, of before and after, of time and space, and time enough between points A and B to consider how they relate to each other, and us to them. Time enough to be aware, to feel, to judge, to understand. What happens when that time and space are collapsed? What becomes of the human when their is not time to be human? We are still here… staring into the TV… staring into the computer. But what are we in those moments?

When I stare at the TV commercials and have a reaction of both amazement and boredom…. where the time between them is so brief as to be negligible… so brief as to call into question that there is even a time lag. Perhaps they are not even separated by seconds. Perhaps my assignment of a brief time lapse is simply my applying conventional notions of time and space to phenomenon outside of time and space. Maybe I need to consider that my awareness of the TV commercial has no before and after… that instead of having two states of awareness… that is.. a state of awareness followed by a state of boredom… perhaps I only have one state. This single state collapses two things into one… it collapses the before and after. It is the atomic unification of "been there and done that". It is the negation of the varieties of life. How it is that I am living and breathing in such moments is a shocking reminder that life drives on in my body, same as it ever was… but that the life of the mind blanks out upon directing ones gaze at the cultural vanishing point of the TV set, or the internet, or whatever next thing comes out of that nexus.

And yet even as the sun sets daily on human intelligence, the undeniable beauty of it's sinking into the sea arrests the attention of onlookers. Celestial bodies are beyond reproach… as is television… as are all forms of mass hysteria.

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