Benjamin Bratton is an acclaimed techno culture researcher. In the sphere of his interests are at the same time achievements and problems in the field of physics, architecture, new media and cultural theory. His judgments are often paradoxical, and his speeches and articles invariably generate heated debate and heated discussion. Before his lecture at Strelkov, Bratton told us about the abyss into which the Internet is pushing humanity, told about the main delusion of our time and how the World Wide Web creates new political models.
Daria Gloving: The area of your scientific work is completely new and unexplored. How would you explain your field of activity to a small child?
Benjamin Bratton: I have a six-year-old son, so I have already tried to explain to him what I do. I’m not sure if he understood, though. I would explain my work as follows: a person creates the world around him and is aware of it, relying on the technologies that are at his disposal; I’m trying to understand what these technologies are.
how they can change over time and how these changes will affect the human perception of the world. That is why my research is at the intersection of several disciplines, and I have to work simultaneously with architects, sociologists, musicians and engineers. It’s funny, but because of this, at an architecture conference I look like a specialist in new media, and at round tables dedicated to new technologies, I am perceived as an architect.
DG: You said that technology affects our perception of the world. Let’s talk about the Internet as one of the main technical innovations of our time. Don’t you think that our attachment to the World Wide Web is already making society weak and unstable in the face of real problems?
BB: I like to repeat Paul Verilog’s phrase: “The invention of a new technology is always the invention of a new disaster.” When we came up with the car, we came up with a car accident. When we created the stock exchange, we created the preconditions for its crisis. Having created a world-class computer system, we inevitably created the conditions for an accident. It is quite possible that we are not talking about a total collapse, but about an event that will entail political, cultural, psychological failures.
Despite this, I am an optimist. Verilog’s Law works in the opposite direction, so that any disaster entails the creation of new technology that will prevent similar incidents in the future. The Internet is now both a huge database of where the police keep your driver’s license, a place to chat with friends, and a complex supply chain. We have before us the examples of Turkey and Egypt, where the state is trying to disable one or more functions of the Internet. Now this is already perceived as a power outage. That is, a person is accustomed to certain conditions and it is already impossible to wean him from them.
But the Internet is, first of all, and there is electricity. And just as electricity has become an integral part of nature and the environment for us for many decades, so computers have become a natural accompaniment to everyday life. We do not say “electric light” for a long time, we just say “light”, and even more so we do not say “calculating phone”, we say “iPhone”.
The Internet has disappeared into the reality around us, has become invisible. We don’t think that everything around us has been programmed for a long time: streets, transport, traffic lights, houses. We inevitably became addicted to this technology as we once became addicted to electricity. If for me light bulbs and a TV screen are a familiar environment, then my six-year-old son already understands interfaces and handles the iPad without problems.
DG: Is it possible to predict what kind of disasters or accidents we may face due to the Internet?
BB: Justin Bieber! To be serious, one of the main misconceptions of our time is that supposedly advanced technologies are the product of politically and culturally highly developed communities. This is not true! In fact, we have the latest technologies that work in an archaic society. For example, radical Islamist groups and social networks. Not only does jihad already exist at Google, but Google has infiltrated and become an integral part of the jihad. Or imagine huge Amazon warehouses where people work in the worst conditions sorting through all this myriad of goods.
I think this system will gobble up itself. You see, we are talking about a megastructure. About a huge, gigantic, eternally hungry machine that is underground, constantly distributing information and requires more and more electricity.
There are not many people on Earth who develop and improve this system, and potentially 6-7 billion people use it. The United States spends an insane amount of money annually on maintaining and maintaining all the databases, so it is likely that the Internet is the last technology that mankind created. And this is not because this technology is so perfect, but because it pushes us into the abyss. You just need to learn how to use this technology wisely, conserving more energy than we consume.