Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Internet Invents Sex

I am spoilt for choice. Shall I muse on the strange case of the 747 containing all the Blairs overshooting the runway at Miami? Or is there more meat in the Dumfries earthquake? Yet perhaps I should take a stroll around the invading skyscrapers. It's always like that at this time of year - too much and yet not quite enough. On balance, however, I think the naked cleaner revolution is the big story. This is about the craze - if such it is - for hiring naked cleaning men and women. It is driven, of course, by the net. What is interesting is not the idea itself, but the spin appplied to it by Sean Thomas, the First Post writer. 'The net is changing sex.' he writes 'Why? Because it is the subconscious of humankind: with all our strangest fears, desires, and fantasies written down and exposed to others.' This is precisely wrong. I am sure the net is changing sex, but to assume that it is a direct transcription of the human subconscious is absurd. Cro-magnon man didn't wander the African savannah thinking how nice it would be to have a naked cleaning lady. Such a desire is the creation of culture. The net has accelerated this creative process. It doesn't draw desires out of people, it implants them. This means, of course, that, though the net is a human creation, it is not fully human. It is already something else.


  1. But the subconscious is replete with material which is a product of our culture. As a banal example, when you drive home without thinking consciously about the process of changing gear, then your subconscious is doing the gear-changing for you. Cro-Magnon man also didn't think about changing gear in automobiles. When Sean Thomas speaks of 'the subconscious of humankind', I take him to mean the sum of the subconscious of all the individual humans, not the purported Jungian subconscious common to all humans.

    You could, however, make a case for saying that the internet provides a positive feedback process which amplifies any subconscious yearnings people may have.

  2. I just had an extremely detailed and scary dream -- and I'll share it with you guys! In my dream, Fortune 500 companies ran the world. They controlled the government and every single person. And then, it turns out, what is controlling them is not their CEOs, but their computers, which have become sentient and taken over the companies and the world economy. And the computers know everything about everybody, including those trying to hack and attack them.

    It sounds silly, putting it here, but it was a very scary and detailed dream -- perhaps inspired by watching my son play detailed and scary computer games. Most of the world resembled the poor parts of Bombay and people had jobs supplied for them by the government, acting out the wishes of the computers. People routinely "disappeared" and everyone was afraid of everyone else.

    Moi, I was being pursued by the government assassins and the last scene of my dream was me stealing fruit from an orchard (big, weird green fruits, the like of which I've never seen before) to eat on the run.

    Okay...Tell me this: Has the Internet created the content of my dreams in addition to the desire for naked cleaning people?

  3. I never had a naked cleaning lady but I had a scantily dressed blondinka dusting and pouting when I was in Richmond and all my visitors thought something had to be going on. It wasn't, sorry to dent my own reputation. Not at first, anyway.

  4. The biggest error here is to conflate the Net with any form of the unconscious, be it the personal (biographical) or the Jungian (collective, archetypal). What is really going on here is the process which every professional graphic designer working for an ad agency knows: advertising is the creation of desire, not the resolution of desire. The naked cleaning person was around as a concept prior to the World Wide Web; I recall seeing it in print in the mid-1980s. What's going on here is that smart folks have figured out that the Net is THE most rapid, effective advertising venue invented so far. You're quite right that the naked cleaning person is an invention of culture: the Net is an invention of culture.

    What does seem to be happening, which is also something advertisers know all about, is the projection of desire onto the Net. All media are channels for the projection of desire. The Net, because it has been unregulated for so long, merely appears to reflect the unconscious urges of its users: not because it does so anymore than, say, James Bond films, but because it it still largely an uncensored medium.

    It's not that there are more naked cleaning persons out there, but that they are easier to find out about, and hire. The advertising-created feedback loop kicks in when clothed cleaning persons discover there's a potentially profitable niche being created, and start taking off their cleaning clothes, as well. Eventually, after the feedback loop's been in play for awhile, you get an apparent chicken and egg scenario: which came first, availability or desire?

    Well, having worked in the advertising industry in my misspent youth, not long after I failed as an academic, I tend to view all this with a cynical eye. Advertising is the creation of desire, and folks who work in that industry are often brilliantly creative.

  5. Susan, without meaning to steal your thunder, your dream strongly reminds me of some science fiction stories by Isaac Asimov, written back in the 50s. Of course, your scenario is also the key plot point behind William Gibson's seminal cyberpunk novel "Neuromancer." It's not a new nightmare, at least not to me; but then, I've been reading SF since I was a teenager, back in the Pleistocene.

  6. In fact, that's EXACTLY what I did. Try to stick within the confines of your areas of expertise - things just get messy otherwise.

    Kind regards etc....

  7. Hey, Art-- You are doubtless right. I love scifi, too, and I just bought my son several Ursula LeGuin novels that influenced me greatly in my youth. What you say about advertising creating desire sounds correct, but there must also be an unconscious link or I would not have dreamed this!

    Loved Asimov, too -- espec. "I, Robot," and Robert Silverberg. Haven't read much lately -- too many books to review.

  8. The cognitive principle is surely the same for any media (newspapers, tv, radio, internet etc), the differences are around (a) variety and (b) transaction costs.

    So, to try and translate:

    At the base level, there is/should be a theory of cognition that explains how the brain stores constructs and concepts from the sentient world, without discriminiating over their source (e.g. 'real' experience, media suggestion etc). The sub-conscious is free to use these constructs still without making reference to their source, thereby allowing the media to affect tacit thinking. It is only when the construct (or derived model) is found to be problematic that the brain demands conscious action upon it, and thereby is likely to decode the reference source and thereby acknowledge whether this was in the thinkers own experience, or just was something he/she read about, watched etc.

    In essence then, the brain is never wholly independent of the media around it but then in turn makes the media around it. It is positive reinforcement through mutual dependency.

    This seems to be the base level action of the brain, but I am here to be corrected as my knowledge is shaky.

    Where I am more confident is to say that what is different about the internet is (a) variety (theories of Stafford Beer and others) and (b) transaction costs (Ronald Coase and others).

    The variety argument is simply that the internet allows more channels, more ideas, more propositions to reach the mind of the 'observer' (remember he/she is not fully independent). In theory, the internet allows us all to log our dreams, hopes, fears and fantasies in a way that is accessible to others. (Is this a scary thought?)

    Then, of course, the internet plays around with transaction costs which in any analysis is surely its most fundamental impact. In short, this means that there is likely to be a shorter route between an idea and its fulfilment in the real world.

    To take the naked cleaner example. This could have been featured in any media (e.g. Eurotrash, the Jonathan Ross show??, certain dailies). However, obviously, it is more likely to feature in the internet than any other channel (part of the variety argument).

    Once upon a time, a person with a healthy chequebook might have watched a feature on Eurotrash, say, about naked cleaners and would have labelled it "harmless fun" whether or not he/she had therein developed some latent desire to experience what it would be like to have a naked cleaner. This was because, in part, there was almost no chance of procuring a naked cleaner as the transaction costs were too high (i.e. where does one find one?). With the internet, the idea is linked to supply, and the transaction costs are close to zero. Perhaps you just need to enter your zip code, credit card number and make a choice from a range of 'models.'

    Who knows, maybe one day it will be passe and clad cleaners will be in vogue.

    Perish that thought.

    Overall, if we accept the point about positive reinforcement we need to paint on a very broad canvas. The species evolves through its use of technology (hammers, trowels, printing presses, engines). Media is 'mind technology' and through it the evolution of mind is caused.