Ralph [00:00:03] Got it!
Tabitha [00:00:05] We’ve started…
DB [00:00:07] Our podcast!
Ralph [00:00:10] I was going to make an attempt at doing a podcast voice. Hello and welcome to… OK, let’s start. So I think what we’re doing is starting with why we’re interested in doing this project, right? And how we came about getting involved. Maybe I’ll just get started so we can get it out of the way. So my name is Ralph Pugay. I’m a visual artist, mostly a painter and a drawer. Also upon immigrating from the Philippines to the U.S., I moved to the Silicon Valley. And so that exposed me to a little bit of tech and tech culture. And at some point when GeoCities and AOL were around, and LiveJournal too, that was a really exciting time when it felt like the possibilities of the world were opening up. But then that kind of like came crashing down upon the emergence of Web 2.0, oddly
enough, I don’t know how, but I think that Web 2.0 feels much more formatted and now upon the coming of the pandemic and as we’re kind of isolated using Zoom, using all sorts of technologies to do work. I was teaching at the time, and so that felt like now there’s this hyper focus on what technology allows and then that eventually led to like exploring different avenues like Tik Tok, and then also talking to DB about crypto somehow as I landed on Crypto Tik Tok. And from there, it just kind of evolved into being really obsessed with trying to figure out what this new version of the World Wide Web is about but also the new other emerging technologies that are coming along with it. So that’s why I’m interested, folks.
Tabitha [00:02:24] Yeah, maybe I can ask you a little question, Ralph. How would you define Web 2.0? What does that mean to you?
Ralph [00:02:33] In my brain would it would probably start with like MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, all these platforms that allow people to communicate in a much more, maybe centralized way, but with limited amounts of functionality and forms of expression. So while you’re able to reach to more people, whereas with GeoCities, maybe you weren’t able to, but you had autonomy. In Web 2.0, you are able to reach to more people, but with less autonomy. And with web 3.0 I’m still trying to figure it out, but it’s all seems like it’s about money. Money! Money! Money!
Tabitha [00:03:17] It’s all always been about money, probably. Yeah, maybe I’ll pick up from there. I appreciate, Ralph, giving your kind of like general tech background. Like what got us interested in these technologies? And so for me, I grew up in a lot of like mediated environments, like in game spaces where they’re like analog games, like role playing games or like online multiplayer games, like deathmatch style video games, that kind of thing, as like a respite from the pressures of being a queer physical being in the repressive town that I lived in. And so that kind of was always there in my background as like an abiding thing, and just ended up coming out in my art practice as wanting to think about the space of identity in digital spaces, wanting to think about the potential to create pocket worlds in virtual spaces and feeling, I guess, an attachment and an affinity for that. And so thinking about this project, like, trying to parse emerging technologies and what are they doing. I always come back to this cliché and every time like I do, I feel cringy. I feel increasingly cringy about it, but it feels like constantly relevant, the Arthur C. Clarke quote, that “technology sufficiently advancement is indistinguishable from magic.” So I have an interest in exploring these things, both because of my interest in fantasy, but also my interest in the fact that I think we’re in this environment of increasing complexity and increasing proliferation of these things that people don’t understand, and that the technology and the paradigms purposefully obfuscate their mechanisms of action. And so I have an interest in how can we unfold that? Like, how can we talk about the meanings of some of these things and the impacts of our daily life, like as they’re happening? Because to me, like when I think of the title of this project, Frictionless: Holding On for Dear Life, I think not just of the frictionlessness of technological acceleration, it feels like we’re on this out of control accelerationist roller coaster all the time. And I guess part of the reason is, like so many of these interfaces, I’m thinking about social media or I’m thinking about the addictiveness of video games. They feel frictionless to me. It’s like they’re designed to be these lasers that just go right through you, I think of the cinematic trope of anime or something, you get shot with a laser and it just goes through you and you don’t even know what’s happened, and you get chopped in half in a horror movie, and you don’t even know what’s happened. And so I want to abide with that a bit. That’s part of my interest in the project.
Ralph [00:06:03] Now I have a question for you. Are you still playing video games?
Tabitha [00:06:10] I play video games periodically. I play things on itch.io, like weird art games. I really love that, that’s an environment that’s also proliferated as, like a weird coral reef of people who make things, kind of like I make, that are failures as video games in the conventional understanding of video games in terms of whether satisfying mechanics or being about power accumulation, and like, all of the pitfalls of AAA video games and it’s interest in having cinematic fidelity or something like that. I feel like in video games, those technologies, because they’re so often in service to capital and these like giant things, there’s so much unexplored potential that lies underneath it. It’s like, oh, let’s gather up those crumbs of capital and turn them into something beautiful. I guess while the world burns. Yeah.
DB [00:07:06] I want to ask you a question that I’ve always wanted to ask you. How do you see your creations as relating to… I’ve seen you’ve described yourself as trash, there was an allusion to trash and the detritus of these kind of digital systems. How do you see that concept of things that can be disposed of or disposable within this larger environment that you’re creating. Usually you want to create an environment, like you said, that is that is frictionless, that is all encompassing, and that is like world building itself.
Tabitha [00:07:48] Yeah, that’s an interesting question, because I’m also thinking about some of the themes that we talked about for this first discussion to lay stuff out in terms of collapse and just things falling apart in this, I don’t know, surplus of stuff. And so I guess I think about that in terms of a lot of the things that I make, I’m just gathering 3D assets that are just cast out on the internet. There’s all this 3D garbage on the internet. And so just scooping that together, almost in terms of creative re-use like people would think about, I don’t know, Scrap, or those kind of like ecologically focused organizations. But I think that’s just an expedient because then you don’t have to learn as much to create stuff from scratch or it’s not needed because it’s already out there. Yeah, I guess that’s that’s one layer, but I do just wonder what is all that digital trash doing? I think about Zoom, like we’re on right now and recordings and class recordings, and all of people’s photographs getting uploaded back into the cloud and it’s just like we were talking a little bit ago about crypto, and crypto gets this rap of wasting all this energy and stuff. But I also think about, what is the ecological cost of binge watching Netflix, right? Like, as the media gets richer and richer, it’s just like sludge in a way. But I don’t know. So I’m fixated on that.
DB [00:09:20] Yeah, I’ve always found…I guess I’ll go on to introducing myself. My interest in digital technologies kind of stemmed from, again, my upbringing in Hawai’i as being a queer artist “isolated” on an island chain, not being exposed to the types of communities and tech that I see unfolding and just being able to utilize really rudimentary web design and technology at the tail end of the nineties. And just piecing together what would become a contemporary art practice without even really fully contextualizing it as a teenager within contemporary art. I started making experimental web design before I even understood that it was web design. I didn’t understand what made it experimental, but just the process by which I was creating work, pilfering code, and which is why I asked about this gathering of trash, because I see, especially back then in Web 1.0, there weren’t these readily available repositories of code or images (1). Google had just sort of become what Google was in 1998. Even Yahoo was a better search engine back then. Just finding material and media was like a treasure hunt almost and being able to get into smaller pockets of the Web and pull out what I need, pull out what I can use and have, like, a DIY practice or approach to that without having any kind of formal training or formal exposure to tech, which eventually led to just more exploration of readily available technologies in my practice and kind of bridging an interest in the gap between physical media and digital media and tracing the ways in which those medias are accessible to me, which means low cost, if not free. GeoCities, like you mentioned Ralph, these platforms that allowed yourself to express, what do we what do they call it? The expressionless web? No, I’m sorry, the expressive web, where you could really tool your MySpace. I think MySpace was like the first Web 2.0 bridge, but there was that little like hack system where you could actually put in code to really represent your identity, and I think some of the reading that we were talking about was discussing what the introduction of grids did to that digital identity. And so, yeah, in the last 15 years just following these trends in technology and tearing apart what is usable and what isn’t to express perceptive differences and the dysphoric nature of identity and even cultural collapse or isolation as it pertains to queer identity or Pacific Islander identity. And I guess in the last year with the onset of the pandemic, which was personally kind of…also, at the time… Sorry, I’m getting it… I’m like…So this is part of the Zoom fatigue thing, right?! Where you can see yourself looking at yourself in that constant mirror. The onset of the pandemic was in tandem with a personal medical need that I had, so a lot of what I had built as my life, or known of my own identity and body also collapsed simultaneously. So in the wake of that, while we’re going through this large global pandemic, it’s also amplified on a very small scale for me and thinking about what is sustainable in my own life. What wasn’t sustainable in the life that I left behind and how all that translates again to technologies that I can access. Having almost nothing and building it from the ground up or something. That’s my interest in these Web 3.0 technologies. What can be made available to me and others like me who have almost nothing and want to build something?
Ralph [00:14:58] I have a question for you DB. Pertaining to exactly what you were just talking about. Does that interest also come with feelings of urgency to hit the ground running?
DB [00:15:17] Yeah. I mean, I think it’s feelings of necessity, right? Because when we’re watching so much of what we’ve known kind of just fall apart. It just begs the question, what can we actively do and what avenues are opening up that require very little for the most gain? And maybe that’s the allure of something like blockchain or even crypto. Probably for like the thousands of people who entered retail investment during this time, you know?
Tabitha [00:16:02] Apologies, my Zoom crashed for just a second, which is this problem that I’ve been having lately, speaking of Zoom fatigue and zoom problems. So I maybe missed a little bit of that. But yeah, I’m kind of jumping back a bit, DB, to you talking about your experience of COVID and that little collapse that we had, paralleled with the collapse of your body. And it’s interesting, I mean, I think it’s being reductive, but there is this like “tale of two COVIDs” or something where my experience of it was as an educator and it was like, OK, let’s mobilize all of these technological platforms to try to reach out and claw into keeping as many students as possible, keeping as many classes as possible. And I ended up teaching more because I have some of these skills that were translatable into teaching digital technologies. Some classes got canceled, like book arts classes. So let’s run like video game design classes or something instead. And so feeling at this time where other things are collapsing, this I don’t know, this overdrive, this background acceleration of the whole thing. And yeah, it’s wild to think about Zoom’s role in that. And you’re talking about Zoom fatigue and one of the readings about Zoom fatigue that they talked about, that Stanford article, about how it heightens the circumstances of being human in some way. It’s exploiting us in this way, which is sort of an unintentional aspect of its design that we’re seeing each other’s faces more. We’re in each other’s faces more in this intimate distance. And we’re exaggerating our social cues and we’re seeing ourselves mirrored back, which is deeply uncomfortable. So it’s this weird feedback loop that’s happening, like, no, give them more human! Humans like humans! How can we connect the humans to more humans, even though it’s done really ham handedly. I guess wondering with so many of these technologies what is part of the learning curve of the technology itself, not of us learning to use it? Or maybe it’s a learning curve of the architects trying to use it to make it frictionless because maybe we want it to be frictionless. And right now there is still friction. Mm hmm. Damn. Yeah.
DB [00:18:29] I think it’s also interesting that our quest to create these infrastructures that more naturally mimic the ways in which we communicate, the ways in which we connect to each other, how we build communities, all those things. It just sort of taps into this almost hyperreal uncanny valley of sorts that exists as that kind of uneasy feeling because we’re being confronted with something that we feel is dehumanizing, despite it being built to do the exact opposite and make things a lot more fluid, a lot more organic.
Ralph [00:19:15] Right, so would you say that it’s that the dehumanizing aspect of it is much more revealed whereas before we were using Zoom, and this is not meant to be like a rhetorical question, but maybe it was something that was suppressed underneath the surface? Whereas now it feels like, I know that this is dehumanizing. I know that I’m using up a lot of my time to not just learn these technologies, but also perform some kind of mastery over the technical aspects of what it is that you’re navigating in order to make everyone feel stable and OK, and that the world will be fine in the future. I’m asking mainly because that’s been my experience as like, oh OK, you have to navigate all of these things that at some point when I was teaching some students, there were things that they were needing to teach me because I just did not have the aptitude for it, and so it felt like there’s some humanizing aspect that I find in technology, which is just being humiliated and feeling like you’re confronting yourself in the mirror. And so for me, that’s the thing that’s most exhausting. It’s not looking at yourself, It’s actually seeing what you’re capable of and finding yourself feeling kind of short.
Tabitha [00:21:02] I think “what you’re actually capable of,” but you’re making me think about another meaning of frictionless. We’re put onto these platforms, these surfaces (to really beat this metaphor), and it’s just icy. We’re just here trying to learn the gravity, we’re trying to learn the terms of an environment that wasn’t built by us, and I’m skeptical it was really built for us in any meaningful way, like it’s built for us as a material, but it’s doing this dual extraction of being a platform of our labor and a platform of our surveillance, right? And in the process of that, us trying to grapple with doing these normal human things within this environment of extraction. We’re slip sliding. It’s this fucking slapstick routine that we’re doing, trying to interact and human and educate and whatever we’re trying to do on these platforms, get food delivered or whatever. We’re humiliating ourselves and then feeling especially bad about it. I think because we feel like we have all these resources, we’re given this giant platform and resource. How come we can’t do it, whatever it might be, you know? And I’m thinking partly in that too about like…I feel like I’m doing that seminar thing… We were like, “Don’t do the seminar thing,” but then I’m like, Oh!…(laughing)
Ralph [00:22:22] But it’s nice to break the fourth wall, right?
Tabitha [00:22:25] Yeah, I’m thinking about one of the Facebook papers that we had read about this in terms of children. Fucking children, on Instagram and Facebook and shit like that effectively being given eating disorders because they’re told to human, and they’re told to child, and they’re told to grow in this slippery-ass fucked up platform, which…I probably shouldn’t be swearing that much. But they’re told that and then they’re hurting themselves and they’re being hurt by this thing. So I just went off a little bit on that. But I think about that as frictionless too. I think about that as those micro collapses that we’re seeing, these little human crumple zones as we encounter what our lives are like in these increasingly mediated formats.
Ralph [00:23:16] Right, it kind of makes me think of the necessity of tabloid news essentially. And what the function of that is as we sort of move ourselves away from centralized ways of disseminating information towards communicating with one another. It feels like, oh, what was the function of that thing? And how is that translating into this new world that we’re creating? Well, it’s decentralized, then it’s about us, and it’s about the things that we perform, crumbling along with the institutions that we abide by. Whether that be work or family life or whatever.
DB [00:24:08] I’m just thinking about what causes, especially in this time, people to want to participate in this, or makes the participation of new technologies or emerging technologies, Web 3.0, the promise of that, alluring? Especially with thinking about being confronted with the dissolution, like you’re saying, of systems that we thought were serving us. And we’re just buoyed by our kind of frenetic participation and the ever hastening pace of, like, we just gotta keep afloat. We’re all just treading water. And as soon as that stops, those micro and macro collapses and what the idea of decentralization promises is kind of what we saw in the pandemic, which was turning into our community for safety when all these systems that we’re supposed to provide safety had collapsed. And we always kind of knew. There’s this kind of fantasy death drive that we’ve always had in the back of our heads, right? It’s why dystopian films exist to begin with. We have this fantasy about collapse. But to see it actually unfold in real time, where we have to bind together and sew masks for nurses in hospitals or create mutual aid efforts that fill in the gaps where our government has failed. Just the idea of decentralized platforms that more accurately represent us and our communities is part of this buoy of hope that we have.
Ralph [00:26:04] The allure of it feels very religious and Judeo-Christian to me. It feels like it’s about salvation, right? Salvation from the world going to shit as crisis upon crises goes into the screens that you’re checking on a regular basis. There’s a false equivalence between saving yourself from capitalism and saving yourself from the world getting ruined that I think oftentimes gets intermixed and mistranslated. I think that mistranslation is what brings people towards being really excited about cryptocurrency because they could be the ones that 1: Are contributing to a new world order that is a replacement of this old one that doesn’t work for everyone and 2: Given the financial implications of crypto, they could also be potentially the ones that are on top. So it’s a new reorientation of the same thing, but the positions could potentially change similar to the ease of that happening in video games, for example.
Tabitha [00:27:29] I think that function of disruption, in a tech libertarian disruption sense, is always important to keep track of because it has that promise of upsetting the status quo. But to what extent is that possible within the current terms? In our conversations we’re going to be talking about many different technologies on top of the ramifications of that, and it’s tricky because in a lot of these conversations, there’s these tendencies to vilify this technology or that technology or there’s a hope curve or something. Like, “no, this is the real thing that’s going to save us” or whatever. But it’s hard because those all exist in this whole-ass system of capitalism that we live in, and white supremacy that we live in, and all of this that prefigures some of the terms that those technologies are functional within, are able to achieve. It’s like a constrained horizon of possibility. And I really appreciate, Ralph, you mentioning the idea of God, or you put it in terms of Judeo Christianity. I think of it in terms of magical thinking more broadly, and I think in art and popular online consciousness, we’ve been in this extended period of magical thinking, this new age of queer astronomy, and then on the right manifestations of flat earthness. And I wonder to what extent that’s about either the disorientation brought about by all of these new technologies, that it’s so complicated people don’t know what to do. So the narratives they want to put in are salvific, like you’re saying, or praying to the A.I., we’re praying to the rocket ship to take us to the Moon, right? Or if it’s like the overwhelmingness of that… or what was my other side of this argument? I don’t know whether it’s like a need to go back or… I don’t know, there’s just this wanting to have faith in these technologies or whatever it is. And I think there’s like a negative version of that faith, too. When I think of all the romanticization of like Cyberpunk and Blade Runner and stuff like that by Tech Bros where it’s like, do you know that’s bad? You know that’s the bad future, right? But there’s just this giving oneself over, that abandonment to this magical worldview that feels also at the heart of this.
DB [00:30:07] I definitely think that the concept of escape, which you had brought up a lot Ralph, definitely plays into that as well. I’m so glad you mentioned the Judeo-Christian construct and how that has historically served in imperialistic endeavors, which crypto is definitely being used for. And that’s like in that article you had shared with us. I was so stunned at the lengths the US government has so far been seemingly trying to stop the widespread adoption of cryptocurrency. But behind the scenes they’re hosting all these tech camps that are actively instituting this and in developing nations, especially Pacific Island nations. I definitely think that’s a place that we’ve always outsourced our escapist fantasies, right? The idea that life can be better in this paradisiacal island world where we are self-sufficient and we have all the time and money and resources that we want under a perpetual sun. And so I definitely think those frameworks work within each other and go hand in hand like this imperialist instinct and also this idea that we can create a system that will save, the, what do they say, the two billion bankless people across the world, right? As if banks were the thing that would save. As if the ways to manage your personal property, or your assets is the thing that’s going to save you.
Tabitha [00:32:17] You’re pinging my brain in terms of aesthetics of vaporwave, aesthetics of escape and empire embedded in that in terms of tropical seapunk shit, jumping dolphins, palm trees, and then also Roman statues and shit like that. And the way that translates into like fashwave aesthetics, you know, just like nazifying that. That’s a tangent, we don’t need to go there, but I’m also thinking about Blade Runner. And they’re embedded in that story, more in the book than in the movie is this, idea “life is better in the off-world colonies,” and everyone has left the fucking nuclear mutants back on Earth behind who are degenerating into nothing so that they can go and make their fortunes elsewhere using these androids. And so it does feel like a fulfillment of all of these sci-fi dystopian tropes that we’re just increasingly living among and accepting as the norm. And it’s a deeply weird.
Ralph [00:33:17] I was going to say something, but I forgot, oh, something about decentralization and the concept of decentralization because… I have a theory that there is something about it that seems kind of racist to me under the surface. To me, as an immigrant, it feels like a weapon that could possibly be open to mistranslation, right? The word decentralization really is just about shifting the center. Or is it about removing the center? What does “de” as the starting of a word actually imply in this case? Is it both-and? Is it that open? Let me look it up. Sorry. Now I’m moving away…
Tabitha [00:34:17] Move away, by all means, find a graphic and we can screen share or put it in our document. This nebulous document that we’re crafting. But I wonder if part of it too is what structure of decentralization? There are node graphs, right? There’s hub and spoke and then there’s peer to peer. I’m not an expert on this. I’m getting out of my depth, but there’s multiple modes of that that may play into the problems you’re describing, or not, potentially Ralph.
Ralph [00:34:46] Oh, “to negate.” So it’s about negating, but I don’t know if that’s true. There are a number of cryptocurrencies out there. There are a number of projects that are popping up that are trying to behead these larger monopolies like Facebook, which is now called meta, and Twitter and Netflix towards a decentralized model. I guess I don’t really even know what that means. But regardless, it’s still about creating. I guess decentralization happens within hierarchies, right? When you create a smart contract, the smart contract is like the god essentially that dishes out the number of currencies that you’re supposed to get for whatever it is that you perform. So in a way, it’s like the “de” is just taking the human out of it. So it’s like it’s constructed by human beings, but then deployed through a contract which has been deployed by this non-human agent. But then there’s also these new technologies that are becoming more human now, and so is like… I don’t know. Someone else talk!
Tabitha [00:36:05] I think the question I’m hearing you say is, what is it de centering? Is it, or is it recentering on the systems, recentering on a legalistic model? Legalistic is not quite the right word, but techno legalistic code legalistic model that is potentially, disturbingly less human than not. And is that good? Yeah, I don’t know.
Ralph [00:36:30] Yeah, it’s disturbing the foundations of what we know these terms to be, but encoded in them are still the foundations of that older model.
DB [00:36:44] I also find it interesting it’s centered upon the concept of being “trustless,” like that is the thing that we need to get over, being able to trust or having to trust the person that we’re interacting with. Just thinking again back to that article about the Pacific. How these organizations or NGOs or whoever, banking organizations in the Pacific are trying to sell this technology to indigenous nations by saying that it most closely replicates their culture and their way of life, whoever they are, when in reality, it’s built on this idea that we can export all decision making to an algorithm which is obviously “free of bias.” It really is an uncanny valley. You’re heightening the artifice at every possible turn, thinking that is what’s going to overcome bad actors or the ways that we can self-destruct. And in reality, it doesn’t really do any of that because we still need actual lawyers. It was supposed to negate the need for the legal system, but we need lawyers now to interpret between two systems. It’s not really decentralizing anything. It’s just requiring you migrate to another infrastructure.
Ralph [00:38:22] Right, so much of it is marketing. So in this case, people from the already developed nations and cultures are able to participate in this ecosystem. And then they become the hype and then they transport into the other developing cultures, which then buy into that hype, because to not buy into that hype comes along with the generational trauma of what technologies have done in the past.
Tabitha [00:39:00] Yeah, and I think some of that broader FOMO is back to technologies of escape, of fantasy, of deification or religiosity, that kind of thing. And some of this conversation makes me think about some of the questions that we got. We surveyed folks in advance to know what were people thinking about some of these emergent technologies. And one of the questions that came up in that that I thought was apropos of this is, “can we let go and trust what we have designed to do what we designed it to do,” which makes me think, can we even know what we designed it to do fully? And that’s part of to me, what’s scary about A.I. and some of these smart contract blockchain technologies. It just sort of seems to do its own thing and we can’t know what the third order consequences of that are if this system is just there and in the wild. I can own that’s part of my ignorance. I think maybe part of what we didn’t say in this conversation that we can say in the other materials is just to stress the non-expertness of us and our interest in that. We don’t know any of these things, we’re reading along with you, the viewer, at home trying to make sense of this as people who are interested in it. I think that’s a lot of the reservation that I have, and a lot of the reservation I think we saw in questions that people in general have is, we’re doing this automation and there’s the simultaneous promise like DB, I think is talking to, in terms of trustless systems, trust the system, as though these legalistic frameworks haven’t been used in colonial situations like the whole-ass time, like, “no, no, but trust it” and you’re not going to need these lawyers, you’re not going to need these other things. It’s fully automated luxury space communism and we’re going to get to go and rest and not worry about our shit. So is it that, or is it going to create a million other jobs to help support the system? It seems to me that there’s a paradox in that and the effect that automation is having is unclear to me. Like, OK, well, we won’t have truck drivers. Does that mean we’ll have people maintaining those systems or not? And that’s an active question that I see on one hand we’re making all these lawyers who are on top of it. But on the other hand, people are actually getting displaced from jobs through automation.
Text to speech avatar excerpt from
Robots were supposed to take our jobs. Instead, they’re making them worse.
Ralph [00:41:30] Yeah, I’m having a lot of questions about the allure of being able to absolve yourself of autonomy in relation to your question, but also one question that I had written down before this conversation, as I was reading the reading on aesthetic flattening. Could blockchain be used or these emerging technologies be used against aesthetic flattening? And what does that look like? And in relation to the reading about slavery in like the global south— I don’t know if that’s an actual term that was used in the reading, but I was thinking about why are these entities… granted this it’s probably because of the history, but are there any possibilities that these governments can actually be agents for their own people beyond money, given what they know about their own history and culture? And so I started to try to imagine some possibilities. What would it be for governments, given they are having a lot of digital nomads come through? What would it be for them to mandate these people to be living with citizens of their country, and their citizens then be subsidized by these people for living at their homes? Because oftentimes what happens is outsiders come in and then they don’t really understand the culture or see the people for who they are. And so that just perpetrates the same things over and over. But that’s like a very solution oriented model. I’m sure that there are problems with it, but I think this comes back to the concept of humanization. And how is it that as a global society, we have not come to terms with understanding what that actually means?
DB [00:43:57] Yeah, absolutely, one of the things that I was thinking about was that article on micro work, Tabby, when you were mentioning “does it just create a million more jobs?” But what kind of jobs, right? And the dysphoric thought about this that gives everyone that chill or that, “I don’t want to live in that future,” is that idea that I am tethered to a computer doing micro tasks teaching A.I. how to read human emotions by tagging images of smiles or whatever? That seems dystopian to me despite it providing quote unquote livelihood for whoever is involved. And yeah, this anxiety over what actually constitutes something that is representative of humanness? And how do we fight this aesthetic flattening? Well, we’re seeing that right? And it’s again like the solutionism that is brought up is “we’ll just make the metaverse. That’s 3-D.” We’ll fight the grid by just migrating everyone into a virtual place where you can do your virtual work. But it appears to you as you’re in a 3-D environment, that should solve it. But again we’re just creating more and more opportunities and more and more uncanny valleys for all of us to float in and feel uninspired, unfulfilled, and then dream of our own little mini escapes. Whether it’s addiction through acquiring and trading crypto or whatever kind of escapes you can force into your life.
Tabitha [00:46:03] Yeah, and that micro work, that idea that we’re already also sort of talking about through Zoom of being tethered to one’s computer, it’s deeply horrifying to me. Just get in your cage, get in your cage. And it’s hard because I know for a lot of people, they experience it as a really positive thing to just not have to go out into the world. And I guess I honor that for those people. But yeah, it’s unsettling. I guess there’s almost something charming to me about the micro work of a Mechanical Turk type situation where somebody is doing that. Maybe it was in the same article… I guess what I’m terrified by is almost the double exploitation of to what extent is the data that’s happening on Zoom, or whatever other platform we use, now already extracting that affect based research through A.I. So the model I had for myself is what if you went to work and your boss made you put on this tiny system of dynamos that captures all your bio movement power as this double thing? And that research about affect or microwork or whatever…maybe I’m wrong headed in this, but it seems to me that’s going to satiate. I think it was in the Weaponized Design podcast where they were talking about the AI based music. And they’re talking about the wrong headedness of debating is AI going to blow up all of music? Where it’s actually about, well, the AI is premising its music on a data set of like all of these existing musicians, how is that gathered and are those people compensated? Maybe I’m wrong but It seems like that will saturate. Will we need more? Or is this just my own dystopic hellscape that I’m spinning off where the AI is just like, nope, we don’t need you anymore. Terminator mode and everybody goes away because the technology of capital has become fully autonomous and it’s an accelerationist singularity situation. I don’t know.
Ralph [00:48:15] Right, it’s really interesting. Have any of you listened to any of that music at full length?
Tabitha [00:48:24] I listened once to a station that made an unending black metal track that I found to be quite satisfying, if you like that.
Ralph [00:48:33] What was satisfying about it?
Tabitha [00:48:36] I don’t know, it just hit the itches. Maybe part of it was just the novelty, and I was willing to forgive some of it for the novelty. Part of what I enjoy about that kind of metal is just the cascading flow. So to me, it’s almost like ambient. It just lends itself well to these walls of noise crashing over you, guitars, that kind of thing. Yeah. How about you?
Ralph [00:48:59] No, I haven’t. That’s why I’m curious about it. I read something that I was going to add to this conversation, but I think it might be off chain. Going back to these promises of technology, in terms of how it’s supposed to enhance our lives, and I’m just pointing this out because it seems important, oftentimes it always caters to the topic of governance and a top down kind of governance, but never about trying to have the technology try to figure out how to create a system that allows people to have a voice and determine what happens from the bottom up. I start thinking about what would it be like for people that are ordinary citizens like us to contribute to creating a smart contract that then we deploy for people that are in federal government so that they can abide by it? And this is off the readings, but given this is another topic that’s happening right now, aside from Meta being the new name on Facebook is this issue with the SEC trying to combat a lot of developments that are happening in crypto right now. And I think it might have something to do with the fact that smart contracts, as they continue to develop, will hold them much more accountable towards how they treat transactions with different entities, right? So there’s some potentials there, but the marketing always goes top down.
DB [00:51:03] I was drawn to two things you were mentioning. You were coming up with an off the cuff kind of solution to digital nomads and you know…
Ralph [00:51:14] I hate them!I want to be them, but I hate them.
DB [00:51:19] Right? Well, again, we want the promise of escape, right?
Ralph [00:51:25] And being a multitudinous human being. You can be a broken human being in this non-flattened Zoom state.
DB [00:51:38] Right, but what I’m thinking about is that the trust that we’ve had in our institutions to identify where things are going wrong and then proactively provide solutions or regulations, right? Because what essentially you’re talking about is a regulation to impose onto digital nomads, that says, “you have to do this because it’s best for society.” When really we always see governments just struggling to keep up with the tech, right? We look at our senators and we’re like, you guys all think that email comes in tubes and you can’t even wrap your head around like Web 2.0, much less Web 3.0. And it just seems like this clunky system that can’t keep up. But meanwhile what they’re trying to do is figure out ways to get into the technology and use it to support existing structures. I’m not sure which of the 10 articles that we’re sharing, but they were talking about peer to peer networks and how they had used that technology, it was a threat to copyright holders and eventually after four or five years copyright holders figured out how to use that very technology to identify each person who was breaking copyright and then use IP addresses to track those people down and hold them accountable. So the promise of a decentralized “completely safe space” that we’ve created with emergent tech is as we speak, as you can see, different governments are developing their own crypto to pull the rug out from the uses that would be subversive. And our history is full of that. Maybe that’s another tangent fantasy where our institutions are actually looking out for us or could possibly save us from ourselves, in which case it is up to us to create what you said, the smart contract that holds everyone accountable.
Tabitha [00:54:12] Yeah, the media that you were describing was the podcast on weaponized design, and they were talking about a couple of things there. They were talking about the person, I don’t remember which peer to peer or torrenting client that person was involved with, but they were one of the founders of Spotify. So there’s that layer of, Oh, here’s this great open source or, open web if not open source, you know what I’m saying, kind of technology. And then it’s like, OK, learned what I need to do, let’s bounce and make some serious money. And then the further layer was people reverse engineered it. I don’t know whether it was the government or some other commercial party working with the government that reverse engineered torrenting to be able to backtrack people for DMCA takedown notices. So there was that… shit, I had a through line. You said so many great things there… The idea of having a smart contract that keeps the government accountable seems like we still believe in this thing, we believe in some higher order that can reach beyond the government and do governance better. And I feel like what DB is talking about there exactly undermines, like the problem where we have these other global multinational company actors that subvert the whole thing. There’s not a real relationship between the populace and the government because all of our platforms are privatized and mediated or where even if they’re not, there are these actors that are more powerful than many governments that are controlling those pipelines.
Ralph [00:55:52] Yeah, and they’re not held accountable as much as paying taxes to people that are supposedly doing work for them. Hmm. Fuck yeah.
Tabitha [00:56:09] And maybe I bring a question in from… I always want to say a question from the chat because it sounds so nice, but it’s not a chat. It was a survey we did. So can I bring a question in from the chat? Is that okay?
DB [00:56:20] Yeah, absolutely.
Tabitha [00:56:21] Yeah. So one of the questions that jumped out to me on this is the question that always comes back to me is “what is our agency with the technology that we use? Where do we draw the line once our agency has been eroded? What does the technology want/ take from us and do we feel comfortable sharing it?” I think there’s so much in that, the part that I’m really sitting with right now is, “what is our agency with technology use and where do we draw our line once our agency has been eroded?” And my question is, how do we know when it’s been eroded!? There’s a whole trap in Web 2.0 technology, in that sense of “express yourself,” be your individual self online, use your agency to be this digital self that is totally caustic. You’re inherently eroding your own agency by participating in the system, and I sense we’re getting this in a later conversation, maybe. But so much of those mechanisms are about not just selling ads, it’s about reconditioning your behavior. And we’re seeing it, your uncle who is totally Q Pilled has had their behavior reconditioned, the kid that’s got the eating disorder has had their behavior reconditioned, yada yada yada. So I wonder about that, and it makes me think of the crypto addiction article where they talked about needing to see addiction as a spectrum, that you’re not either addicted or not addicted. Where are you in this? And I like that there’s a vulnerability in that. There’s an awareness that I might be kind of habitually using this thing or my agency is compromised here, and to operate at least from that seemingly sort of sober state, versus, I don’t know, there’s something I see in tech where so many people are like, “I’ve got the edge, I’m going to get one over on these capitalists and I’m going to re exploit them or, I’m not susceptible to these marketing schemes,” that I think need to be eroded.
Ralph [00:58:22] Right. So what I’m getting from that is it’s really interesting because as we’re thinking about systems of power, there is also a flattening that happens as we’re discussing it. And then there’s the oppressor and the oppressed. And that’s true. However, there are also degrees to that, and there are ways in which people that are oppressors can also participate in being oppressed. So it’s really interesting because as I’m seeing what we’re trying to do right now as part of the developed world is try to get our hands and get a grasp of these new technologies, given that the resources are closest in proximity to us. And then given that we are now living in the world, of what is it called? Not part time work… Yeah, the time of gig work. We can hire people from the developing societies to do that work. So we’re able to get labor for very cheap. And then there’s also a really interesting phenomenon where those gig workers are employing bots in order to make the gig work faster. So there is also some really interesting counter tactics that are happening, or counter strategies that are happening in these worlds that aren’t even really visible to us as we participate in this new form of globalized economies.
Tabitha [01:00:09] Can you point really quick to a field where you see that happening, like that outsourcing of gig workers elsewhere in the world and then the bots?
Ralph [01:00:19] NFTs. So it’s like in the case of NFTs. You can hire people to do your art, you can hire people to program your smart contracts and you can also hire people to do marketing. Art is maybe the only thing that can’t be automated, but in the case of maybe employing people within your community, and you can afford to offer them cheap labor and they agree to it like that is a form of automation in a way. Or maybe like, that’s stretching too hard? I don’t know. But it’s like in terms of smart contracts, if you build one, then you can just use that as a template and kind of like reuse the same things over and over. And in the case of marketing, there are bots that would literally, you can collect things on an Excel spreadsheet in terms of links to post to then use one of those automated mouse clickers to then put in messages and just do the work that way. So there are ways to get around these types of systems because you, as a person and your labor or your physical labor is not necessarily visible.
DB [01:01:47] One of the things that jumped out at me in the reading again, I don’t remember which reading, oh The History of Fear of Technology is that there’s this threshold that you have to cross between when the usefulness of the technology overrides your anxiety about the risk, and you go from someone who is… it’s a very binary thought which stands in complete contrast to this idea of this spectrum, right, a spectrum of participation or a spectrum of even addiction to technology is where you’re either not using the technology or you are, you’ve signed on. You’ve signed it. You’ve become complicit. You’ve said yes to the terms and conditions and you know what you’re going to get. And now you’re in this and you’re willing to be mined and you’re willing to be extracted from, you’re willing to be a participant in this situation. But what you’re describing, Ralph, is again this spectrum of participation in order to regain agency within these systems that we’ve now come to, we have enough literacy and we have enough history in Web 2.0 technologies that we understand that this is built around us, not for us, and it’s built to take from us, kind of what the question was asking, “what does technology want from us and are we comfortable sharing it?” A lot of the times, just for the ease of convenience, we are comfortable sharing it, but we build these little systems to regain. I’m just thinking about other uses of bots, social media is supposed to be a direct reflection of not only your identity, but your social clout, right? How many followers you have on TikTok or elsewhere is a reflection of how potent you are as an individual and all of that is completely constructed. You know, you can hire a company in San Francisco for 100 bucks a month to inflate your numbers, and they have real world… depending on what industry you’re in. Or maybe it’s every industry, I’m not sure. I know this because my partner is an actor. But you can’t get on to certain network television shows as an actor without a certain amount of followers, and that’s just part of the requisite. So anyway, just interesting to think of subversive uses of these platforms and tech that we’re signing onto, but understanding that it’s a game that we’re on the losing end unless we go the extra mile to essentially cheat within the systems and lessen our participation to the level that we are being extracted from. And instead, we’re getting something back from it.
Ralph [01:04:54] I was just going to say the other option is to not be afraid to be hungry and die.
DB [01:05:02] Right, right, right. Like Ted Kaczynski style. Take it. Completely opting out, minus the violence, but like completely opting out of society is like the old… You know what I mean? That’s a very binary thought. And it’s essentially what people said, “What am I going to do? Not have a Facebook? What am I not going to be on the internet? I might as well be dead.”
Tabitha [01:05:29] Yeah. I think that’s its own fantasy. I love that we have these tangent universe fantasy spaces, which I think everybody thinks about to some extent, cottage core Ted Kaczynski somewhere on the spectrum of canning things and sending pipe bombs is definitely a real thing that people think about. But at the end of the day obviously don’t choose to do. And I’m thinking about these subversive uses, whether they’re token resistance things. We did other readings, I think not in this set of readings that was about tattleware, or job surveillance stuff. And I only got turned on to reading about that because I was probably trying to buy a mouse or something on the internet, and I found these mouse jigglers. These special pieces of hardware that you set your mouse on top of. So while you’re working from Zoom and being surveilled, it just intermittently jiggles or can make your mouse move in a way that it tricks the surveillance software into thinking you’re actually doing something from home, even if you’re not. And although it’s about surveillance, not automation, which is partly what we were talking about in terms of bots, right? But there is a quote in the Vox article about robots not taking our jobs, but instead making them worse that I’m coming back to. I’m just going to read it because I have it in front of me. It’s this person who’s talking. I don’t know how to pronounce the name, I apologize, “Acemoglu said that when firms focus so much on automation and monitoring technologies, they might not explore other areas that could be more productive, such as creating new tasks or building out new industries. Those are the things that I worry have fallen by the wayside in the last several years, he said. If your employer is really set on monitoring you really tightly, that biases things against new tasks because those are things that are not easier to monitor.” I’m trying to always like cling to, holding on for dear life, to any encouraging thing about this as an artist who uses technologies, and for me, that is to say there’s a sphere of creative endeavor that transcends the ability to automate or monitor, maybe monetize right now, that just to try to stay on that edge of some kind of creation that can’t yet. But that’s also an exhausting process because it demands its own form of hustle or fugitivity or something to try to stay in that space. And then what you sacrifice by being in that space is, I think, a degree of illegibility in terms of, like, is this regarded as a form of art or labor or whatever, because it can’t be readily interpolated back into the system and monetized into likes or whatever. Potential hope.
DB [01:08:25] But does that degree of creativity, where you can actually express it, where in the hierarchy of the system, can it be expressed right? If you’re an artist and you have the ability to exist outside of these systems, essentially the value that is created by your thought process that is an evolution or something would have to be implemented in what way? Creating your own startup? Right? Because I feel like these systems of quantification and measurement and surveillance stifle the small creative acts that many people in labor up and down the chain have historically been able to express in a very organic way, right? I’m thinking of a supervisor seeing one of their low level employees doing something or interacting with a customer, or what what have you, in a way that is useful to not only the team, but the company? And it is rewarded by praise and encouragement and that sort of thing. And these are the systems that supposedly keep a place growing, a workforce growing, a team growing, and also just feels again that that search for what is human, it just feels more human. But if those levels have been stifled to the point where I think in that same article, somebody was trying to say “sorry” as much as possible to trigger the empathy quota or something in the software that was… right!? That’s such a perfect example because it’s not “thank you” or something. It’s so demeaning. It’s so like I’m on the defense, like I’m apologizing repeatedly, and that’s what gives me the most points in this horrific system. And anyway, how that stifles those types of creativity that would take place on that level.
Tabitha [01:10:42] Exactly. And in that same article, again where they were talking about in the past delivery drivers would be rewarded if they stayed longer, delivered more. But in this because it’s so fully documented, what is possible, the sphere of package delivery, of possibility. It’s all stick and no carrot now, right? You must maintain the metric and that speaks exactly to what you’re describing of that sphere. There is no creative possibility because it’s been totally hierarchized. The whole sphere has been mapped, allegedly. I think your point is well taken as like, who gets to be on that edge of creativity that cannot be monitored? Not everybody, for sure.
Ralph [01:11:30] Yeah. Oh, so depressing. Let’s talk about something else! That is really interesting, though, because I’m going to bring it to a conversation that I had recently with a colleague from a different institution because I think that I am predicting that college institutions, higher learning institutions are going to start looking at what these technologies are able to offer. So their students are able to sustain themselves while they’re producing creative work. And I think it’ll shape the way that we train people. But I’m also imagining the possibility that there is no better way to train people to be artists than the developing world where people have been accustomed to being able to be resourceful and trying to find whatever resources are available to them in order to survive and to train them to have creativity while doing that sets them up for a life, whereas they’re able to not feel alienated by a world where they’re isolated by poverty in a way in comparison to the way that exists within the developed world. Does that make sense? So throughout your life you’ve been growing up in poverty. And all of a sudden, you have these intellectual, active, creative skill sets in front of you. The possibilities of you fearing failing could potentially be much less. Because what else do you have to lose? Whereas in the United States, as I’m thinking about all of these institutions that are trying to figure out what it is that they need to do in order to allow their students to make a living and survive, they have a conception of what surviving means, which is different from actual surviving. Or maybe different in terms of class strata. I could be wrong. That’s just a hypothesis.
Tabitha [01:14:15] I don’t know if I’m following you. There is somebody who also gave a response that is…Maybe this is something we can explore more in a later talk. But they pointed to this person. Peter Turchin’s theory on elite overproduction, which they described as, “the new Unabomber manifesto for me personally.” And so I read a little bit about what this person was talking about. I think it can go to some potentially fashy places, but this person talks about part of the political polarization and the unraveling of the social fabric is that in developed nations, in America, we have people who are so over-educated that with that education there comes this aspirational mindset, right? Like, “I should have a place in this hierarchy.” But the problem is that is getting smaller and smaller. And so there’s this discontent. There’s these people who have this sense of a right to something, and they’re increasingly disillusioned. And so what maybe I’m hearing, I’m trying to put it that way, that’s part of it, is it’s almost like, I don’t know, America needs to not try to keep innovating itself, or not try to keep developing itself in these ways because it’s over? I’m not sure if that’s…
Ralph [01:15:35] Well no, so the question that I’m asking essentially is, what does creative production look like without entitlement?
Tabitha [01:15:43] Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Yeah, or entitlement to what? Yeah. And what are any of us entitled to?
Ralph [01:15:54] And really, that’s what’s fueling all of this stuff. It’s not like I myself, having followed cryptocurrency, and I’m interested in it, I don’t think the cryptocurrency and blockchain is going to solve the problems of the world. But it does feel like, oh, like this… Like what you feel compelled to do because you don’t want to feel isolated from the larger community that you exist in. And by that society in general. It’s not necessarily the community I’m in proximity to.
DB [01:16:48] I think maybe one of the problems that I find myself having is that currently the community built around these technologies are so limited, and you can identify ways in which this technology and this infrastructure might be helpful to other communities that you can identify outside of it. But how does that actually come together? Because you can tap into all these resources and…I mean, not to simplify it, but we’re oversaturated asking each other to fund our GoFundMe for whatever, you know what I mean? And there’s the promise of this whole side community, they have their own economy and they’re seemingly throwing it away on, not throwing it away, but, spending real money on JPEGs that could absolutely be used to sustain entire communities with real life needs. How do we bridge those gaps and how do we adopt these infrastructures not just for the movement of capital, but how do we adopt these infrastructures in a way that actually supports communities and creates actually more trust? How do we use these trustless systems to create more trust within our communities and just open people up to additional resources? I don’t think that those bridges are there yet or that roadmap has been made yet, and that is probably the most disillusioned aspect of the whole scenario. You know, I think people just take a look at it, and it seems so opaque and not for us. And that’s the major hurdle.
Ralph [01:19:00] It’s really grim to even attempt to imagine it because the climate crisis hasn’t really spurred it on I don’t think. So if that’s not going to do it, given the proliferation of images that are related to the climate crisis and how urgent it feels. Everyone’s just urgent about collecting those Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs so that they can go on yacht parties when Miami sinks. It doesn’t seem like it’s the people that are really in power that are going to be solving that problem. I think that they’re really in it. They are also going through their own addiction to the privileges that their position has afforded them. And so for me, the question of how do we get to have younger people maybe who will survive this time to actually understand what the value of education is or how do we get them to understand what it means to be a human being? Or how do we get them to understand what it means to be a human being that then supports their communities and what being a community member looks like?
Tabitha [01:20:20] Yeah, absolutely. DB and Ralph, you’re making me think of that Can We Use Crypto for Something Besides Capitalism or whatever that article was, where it is such a bummer, I think they talk about it in the way of people just came to want to make money off the money that was itself supposed to solve a bunch of these problems. Like, oh, no, let’s make this other thing. And then very similar methods of financial extraction got applied to it. That’s the darkness. And I hope that the people that you’re describing, DB, who do want to make these connections between audiences that can really benefit from the potential technologies, that that can happen, and Ralph talking about education also makes me think about unlearning, and there’s a section from the Code of Touch where they write, “I will mobilize this approach by way of an utterly fragmented thought experiment towards the urgency of unlearning the imperialism of navigation regarding computer generated images as navigational tools.” And so I think, Ralph, what I’m hearing of your challenge of educational models, to even unlearn it’s almost like we have to have an awareness of the thing that we’re learning from, to visibilize these things that have been put into our sensorium, our day to day life, our economic systems, and then be able to step back from them. That line from The Code of Touch to me really paired with, in the Aesthetic Flattening article where it’s a Marshall McLuhan quote that I’d never heard before, “first, we shape our tools and then they shape us.” And so there’s that trying to re humanize, re three dimensionalize ourselves, to step back from these things. And I think that was one thing I was encouraged in our project as trying to take up some of that mantle of reshaping ourselves from these tools potentially.
Ralph [01:22:33] Yeah, right. I was going to say something else in response to that. It’s about creating new tools, right? So how do we 1: Get people to learn how to create their own tools based on 2: the things that they’ve learned, given the shape of the world that we exist in. To me, a lot of these conversations relate to what does it mean to be a human being? But also what does it mean to be an active being? And what does it mean to be a passive human being?
Tabitha [01:23:15] And what are we active or passive within? I think I want to draw like the idea of tools as all kinds of things, you know? Art is a technology. Art is a tool unto itself, regardless of whether one has access to creating wholeass platforms or contracts or that kind of thing. Yeah.
Ralph [01:23:37] Is that a good place to conclude?
Tabitha [01:23:40] It might be, DB, you got any?
DB [01:23:42] I think so. I was trying to think of a way to link it to our next conversation, which is about spectacle and illusion. And I can’t.
Tabitha [01:23:55] I think that’s what we’re trying to extract ourselves from. I think that’s the climate that we’re in that makes it hard to create those tools or gain that autonomy from, potentially.
Ralph [01:24:09] Oh, fuck. Take care of yourselves when you log off, guys. This is a rough conversation. I came here being a tech optimist. And now I’m going to vomit. Wait, it was recorded, right?
Tabitha [01:24:34] Yes. Thanks for coming, everyone. We’ll see you on the next episode.