APPROACHING THE DESRT
I step onto the shadowed face.
Its sere slope stretching out to distant silhouettes whose brief life beams among the blur of heat and i am caught;
as the pinnacles beside me, bases sunk in sand, stripped by desert wind.
I used to see the Internet as a place without shape, if that can be can be called a place at all. I had presumed that the qualities that made the Internet unique were invisible qualities. It became apparent to me though that it is only the context of these qualities that makes them unique, and with that in mind the Internet as a place is acutely visible. To be sure, this place has cultivated many images during my time here, ranging from the Internet as an endless ocean of information to the Internet as a social metropolis. If I seek knowledge I would surf the vast ocean of information, if I desire to meet new people or become aware of the world around me I would become a member of the global village. Within this it seemed the entire spectrum of interaction was available, from the search for spiritual understanding to the search for fame. These images of the Internet, however, are merely visualizations that seek to define how one interacts with the Internet. By focusing on the way I interact with the Internet it overlooks the Internet as a place by itself.
It seems to me that in all of these prior images there is blindness, or accepting that I have eyes, an illusion, which causes them to fall short. This stems from a misunderstanding of the Internet as a place with itself. The endless ocean and sprawling city are merely surfaces which drape over a core. That core is the Internet as a place unto itself and that place is a desert.
It has been a popular image for the Internet to be viewed as an ocean, where I surf from one thing to the next and ride waves of information to places I didnít expect to go. In this landscape information flows; I sail and surf on a journey of exploration to new places with new people and experiences. Nevertheless, upon reflection it seems to paint broadly optimistic shapes. Shapes which are fuller than is the reality of this place and after my many years here I am convinced that the Internet is shaped more like a desert.
While a desert can come in many forms there are similarities to connect them. The most prevalent would likely be the lack of life in them. Or rather the lack of quantity in life. Where an ocean implies a boundless quantity and a movement of life, a desert isolates and binds to what life it finds. To see the beginning of this shape in the Internet all I need to ask myself is ďWhat lives here?Ē The answer is very little and I would go so far as to say that this Internet is a desert filled with only one life, mine. I enter the Internet looking for life, because the Internet-as-ocean should be teeming with it yet I am the only life to be found here. I am easily tricked because there are many signs of life here, almost every indication that I am with others; however, no other thing lives here. Those things which do exist fight for survival, where survival is awareness. To be unseen is to be deserted and in this place that is akin to burial. In many respects the things that are here are dead, although they might interact with my senses as if living.
It would be nice to say that information flows like water without end in this place, it implies change. Yet these things, this Information, doesnít flow around me like water; it doesnít move much at all. My actions are what give anything on the Internet a sense of movement, yet these actions exist outside the computer and therefore outside the Internet entirely. Where the Internet as ocean sees information flowing I see only information settled into dunes and mesas. I must recognize that there is no movement here, not from one dune to the other nor from one grain to the next. I am merely in one place or another with both of them occupying the same space. So I see this information as the spires and dunes of the desert in front of me, where the sere wind of my action shifts the landscape of this place to bring those grains up to, or bury those grains from, my view.
I do not deny information exists here, but if it is water it can only come from me and go to the desert. For its part the desert takes the water from me gladly. In this way the water I give dries into more grains of information. These grains sit in isolation from one another by pathless distances for which there is neither sailorís journey nor surferís ride. These sites recognize their separation; for all of them are defined as visually and technically separate from one another. And they are, all of them, brought to me. The water of information doesnít flow around me, it is my own water pulled from me by the heat around me, dried into taluses which then erode and fall off my self. The longer I stay in one place the more I feel the weight of isolation in each grain and recognize the heat from my solitude.
This heat emerges from the very moment I enter a site, for all things radiate heat in the desert. I might give my water to it, or seem to interact with it, but every quality that makes something a site is expended from it. In the time between my views it merely falls back into the landscape, buried. I cannot enter or exit any place in this unending desert; I am quite still, the landscape is brought to me, and so there is no need for entrances or exits. It becomes the case that I must abruptly change places entirely, or remove myself from the desert entirely, in order to feel change.
Upon recognizing that I must move, I do not surf a wave to seek new places but rather move with conservative and desperate action in an effort to shift the landscape and change my place. Where I might click a link or type an address, this act feels less akin to surfing and more so to an essential search for shade, shelter or comfort. I seek this shade because the heat of this place is stifling and oppressive. The Internet is, as too the desert is, a place of penetrating heat and devouring aridity. Here the aridity demands my water and the heat is a reminder of the solitude I face by not giving it. With these aspects blanketing me I act with the hope I will blow away the encroaching sand and heat which seeks to drain and bury me. Yet where might I find shade on the Internet? Where can I settle? Where can I create a habitat and comfort for my self? Those places that seem to allow some form of self limit the environment and in this way each site forces survival, not living. It seems now that along with the things of the desert I too fight for survival here.
Upon this recognition it becomes easy to see the fight I face to merely survive here. What is my file if it isnít opened? What is my site if it isnít accessed? What is my avatar if it isnít online? When I understand that survival is awareness the image becomes clear. Without being seen these things that are in the desert without me erode and fall as silhouettes into the landscape; monuments waiting to be brought before me. This place becomes rigid with them, and this piles itself into a definite landscape. Here too the image of an ocean breaks down. The ocean implies a landscape that is formless and dynamic, and the perception was that information could be accessed unfettered, that it could survive against damage and fill the spaces which had been censored. Itís now obvious it can be walled, obscured, censored, or just removed. This too implies a rigid shape and landscape, where I might see a file from one direction and not from another. My direction is singular and it determines my view of the plateaus, mesas, dunes, and spires; nevertheless, my direction and my view are both tainted.
It is perhaps this point exactly which causes frustration with me. As almost all things lack in this place so too does perspective lack. Like an ever present mirage my lack of perspective sits as the film which is both veil for, and portal to, this desert. It is not surprising but definitely disheartening to think that the Internet, as it exists now, cannot be removed from the mirage which colors my view of it. Indeed after all these misperceptions and misinterpretations I feel like Iíve been tricked by that clichť mirage, the mirage of oasis, and taken it to its extreme out of desperation. It now seems foolish to consider this place anything but a desert and my interaction with it anything but a mirage.
If the desert is an image of the Internet as a place, then the mirage is an image of how I interact with it. It is a film for my screen. It gives the desert an illusion of movement. It entices me to believe that others exist alongside me. Yet it is purely illusion. Among the many other illusions this mirage is capable of it seems that the most potent is its ability to form an image of itself as a city of people. My mistake is understandable. I seemed to interact with many others, watching them grow and move. What I did instead was willingly give my water to the desert and watch it sway in the heat. The mirage gave me the illusion of growth and movement. There is neither movement nor growth here and therefore no real connection between myself and the silhouettes of this desert.
Where the mirage dances against the background of the desert an outline of a city can be seen. An intangible city seemed to be very close to how I viewed this place previously. The city image seemed to recognize the quantity of this place, and it had a bit of an answer for the sense of isolation I felt. So much seemed to be happening and in the presence of so many things and events it was easy for me to feel separate from it. It also implied a denseness of other people, whose signs I saw often and therefore believed existed all around me. It is obvious now that I did not go deep enough into this city image; I stopped at the mirage and turned inward.
It seems to me that this mirage initially worked on the common belief that through the Internet any person could connect to any other person; that I could find someone to interact with living in any corner of the globe. This sense seemed to weaken as I spent more time on the Internet, the mirage seemed unable to sustain this wholly ďotherĒ as social partner and as a result it began to shrink its social sphere. It was too weak because it had to create so much; nearly the entire body had to be created from scratch. The illusion breaks too easily when tasked to create a body it cannot inhabit and a character it cannot know. Now I interact, presumably, with those people whom I know from the outside world, friends/family/colleagues. Their worldly selves acting as shell which the mirage uses to interact with me. It seems to work, when my mind has a sense of a person from the physical world it fills in many of the blanks which are left by the Internetís limitations.
In a way I forced it into this state and as the mirage came closer to death it acted with more resolve. It is with this superior resolve that the mirage shrank in an attempt to create a stronger bond to me, its giver of water. By using my close friends and real world acquaintances this mirage gains traction with me, I gladly give to the desert when it is presumed I give to my friends. The mirage merely tries to distract me from the knowledge that every single person on the Internet is merely a mirage of a person whoís already given something to the Internet. This is nowhere more apparent than in places like video chat rooms. The mirage is powerful here because it maintains a sense of life and transference that occurs in the normal interactions between others and my self, but in this there is disconnection and illusion. What I read and see on the screen of another person is merely the mirage of another person. I interact with no one. It cannot be anything more than that because the desert is incapable of anything further. The mirage canít take from the self-effacing, so it pretends at interaction. It sits between me and the desert, and ultimately between me and any other person.
The blindness in the Internet-as-city is the impression that this place is changed by my actions. The mirage impressed upon me the feeling that I was part of the ultimate cityscape, where all things were created. The city image seemed really an image of creative force, mankindís dream of the wholly manmade. But nothing is created on the Internet, and nothing is created by the mirage. I give this place my water, my attention, my actions. The people I meet are not people and the places I visit are not places; they are merely representations of the things others have already given to the Internet. They are merely discarded shards which the mirage uses to sustain its illusion. If there are no people or places, where or what is there to change or create? Here the city began to crumble and recede from me as I started to understand that the only thing I was ever capable of doing with the mirage was giving.
The mirage ensures this. It acts as a defense mechanism to keep the desert from being removed entirely. The mirage gives me the privacy of solitude along with the impression of connection so that I feel comfortable and appear connected to the people who interest me. And since solitude and social interaction are not very similar the mirage must act to resolve them. I need only look to the common concerns of privacy to see this in action. In it I see an underlying conflict between my actual solitude and my illusion of social interaction. In other words I recognize in some sense that I am alone, which makes it easy and preferable to speak, act, and give as if alone, yet I am fed the impression that I am with others, which gives me the awareness that others may see what is mine (although it doesnít come from me). This internal sense of privacy fights with this external sense that people are watching me and so conflict arises.
It is my impression that this conflict will lessen as this place develops, for as it develops it will shrink further. Down to one, down to me. In this way the mirage intends to evolve into the mirror. As it stands, the mirage is not equipped to act as mirror although it periodically plays at the role. The role of the mirror and its appeal to the mirage are easy to see. The mirror gives me a view of myself which is unavailable to me otherwise. Just as a physical mirror reflects my self in a way I cannot view on my own, so too would the mirage as mirror reflect my self. This mirror, however, would reflect my self as internal, spiritual, emotional, or intellectual. In whatever way I seek to manifest my internal, the mirage would seek to act as a mirror of it in the hope of attaching itself to me completely so that my act of giving is never broken. The mirage seeks the point where the act of my giving becomes irrevocably embedded in the act of my growing. It inches closer to achieve the state where I cannot discern where it begins and I end. This attachment is surely the font of eternal youth for the mirage; however, I fear that the desert itself will become obscured because of it.
It seems to me that when the city crumbles and the ocean dries there is still the desert. When I leave there will still be the desert. Nevertheless, I canít help but feel apprehension. In a way I feel a premature regret for the loss of the desert. For it seems to me that when the mirage turns mirror the desert will still be here, but I will not see it any longer.