Memetoxicity

It was too late

A few weeks earlier, there might have been a chance to save the intrepid explorer. Alas, the environment had overpowered him and broken through all of his protective gear. The goggles, the standardized dictionaries, the regularly scheduled communal low-stakes domestic activities – they did nothing. Not even the makeshift metaphorical tying himself to the mast had helped. He had heard the siren call, and succumbed. He ventured too deep into the memetoxic environment, and did not return. Only a husk of his former self remained

To think that, back in the old days, they let young academics go alone into these territories, without even so much as a supportive conversation to back them up. A simple introduction to methodology, some theory, and then off they went. Alone, unprotected, at times also unfunded. Sacrifices to the optimism of early digital humanities

The broken man murmured, the only phrase he knew how:

Sonic, and Knuckles, and Knuckles, and Knuckles, and

In the beginning was the Bird

One day, new birds started appearing. Most folks, not attuned to the comings and goings of birds, did not notice, but it did not take long until birdwatchers and ornithologists were on the case. A new bird was a big deal – for birdwatchers, to be able to say that they did indeed saw them; for ornithologists, whole conferences could be arranged based on confirmed sightings of new species in territories where they previously were not. Conferences meant funding, publicity and publications, all good things. Thus, the appearance of a whole host of new species of birds was a Big Deal, worthy of extensive note

Soon, it was discovered that these new birds were not related to the birds we all know and love, and that they probably were not descended from dinosaurs either. Scientists were baffled, and rightly so. The new birds came in all shapes and sizes, big, small, loud, sneaky – whatever your thoughts about birds are, there was one of those. They were, in a word, many

Little did the baffled scientific community know that there is only one rule in this world, one organizing principle from which everything else follows:

The amount of bird in the world is constant

The bottom line

They were, unequivocally, backed into a corner. Some would equivocate and say a more apt metaphor was that they were about to go careening of a cliff, but that implied the possibility of stopping. Which, after today’s announcement, was the one thing they could not do. They had explicitly promised not to do it, ever

Thing is. Being a massive global social network imposes certain limits to growth. There are only so many people in the world, and the recent proclamation to become ever larger and expand forever – well, the maths didn’t check out. Eventually, the world would run out of people, and then the company – solely and completely geared towards eternal expansion – would fall apart

Unequivocally

Thus, the discovery of an alien civilization with the capacity to communicate with humanity came as a big boon. To be sure, it was a momentous occasion in the grand history of humanity and its place in the universe, but – more importantly – it also meant that the company could keep expanding, and would thus survive

Which was the most important thing. No two ways about it

Straight outta the cave

He had done the reading. He understood it as well as anyone could be expected to understand it under the circumstances. Better, probably, given the very same circumstances. Thus, empowered by the confidence that comes from being well-prepared, he sprung into action and wrote the Plato essay of his life

It took him a while, but he did it

Proud, he turned it in

A while later, the response came. It came in the form of the letter F, and being sent straight to the headmaster’s office, right there and then. Despite the philosophical ethos laid out by Socrates, there was absolutely no room for argument

Slightly later, in the headmaster’s office, a revised response came. It came in the form of the letter A, and a hearty laugh on the part of his bespectacled reader. “Philosophical fan fiction indeed, my boy. You’re going to go far if you keep this up. Carry on”

Liking, commenting and subscribing – the next step

At some point in time, the stream had been about something. This much was evidenced in the paraphernalia – it made inexplicable references to eternal things, more often than not seemingly by virtue of once having been put there and then unceremoniously forgotten. The stream itself though, as it now stood, was an endless, self-referencing series of interactions between streamer and audience, where the subject matter seemed to be nothing but the stream itself. As such, there were no new viewers or long time firsters – indeed, either you were in it with evident alacrity or not at all. There were no entry points, possibly also no exit points. The rare accounts given by those who had managed to leave were disjointed and fragmented at best, common grammar seeming to be one of the first victims of the neverending, self-fulfilling stream of shared consciousness. In the absence of accessible data, it was thought best to treat it as a black box, whose internal mechanisms remain unknown, but whose effects are obvious for everyone to behold

A question of style

I lack all style whatsoever. I make Feyerabend look like the paradigm of systematized thinking. I make Wittgenstein look long-winded. I make Hegel look straightforward and undialectic. I make Nietzsche appear like the man to ask for common sense advice. My entry into the discourse firmly placed Foucault in the American pragmatic tradition. I spoke a sentence, and Glaucon disagreed. Socrates asked me a question, then changed his mind. I walked into a room, and Guy Debord took up drag racing. I performed on stage, and both Judith Butler and Erving Goffmann became traditionalists. When I spoke to Zizek, he did not mention Kung Fu Panda even once. Kafka once considered making me the protagonist of one of his stories, but found me too vague and undefined. Robert Musil took up statistical analysis. Pynchon called me the Kenosha Kid. According to Rowling, I was heterosexual all along

But, you know. I try best I can

An incomplete list of the different kinds of apocalypses there are

Apocalypse: a revelation regarding an impending catastrophic event, often heavily implicating the end of the world as we know it; the term is sometimes also used to connote these events

Anticipatory apocalypses: the end is nigh! Rejoice!

Antagonistic apocalypses: the end is nigh, and we shall fight it tooth and nail until it has been overcome and a new, better tomorrow (where everything returns to normal) can be secured

Resigned apocalypses: the end is nigh, and there isn’t really anything we can do about it

Designed apocalypses: the end is nigh, within budget and proceeding according to schedule

Selectively acknowledged apocalypses: it only becomes apocalyptic when it happens to affluent people

Understated apocalypses: the world ended in 1879, and no one really noticed

Zombie apocalypses: this might very well be the first time any of these people acknowledged your existence

Nuclear apocalypses: we built ever bigger bombs, and then used them. In retrospect, this might not have been the wisest, most virtuous course of action to have chosen

Postapocalypses: it happened, and we somehow remained

Postapocalyptic zoology: ordinary animals have mutated into unusually large and aggressive versions of themselves. It is unclear how the food chains of these massive animals are structured or maintained

Postapocalyptic warfare: war. War never changes

The aesthetic sensibilities of preapocalyptic postapocalyptic modern culture: its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order

Post-Benjaminian aesthetic sensibilities of preapocalyptic postapocalyptic modern culture: we got self-annihilations we ain’t even got names for yet

A lot to think about

He was, to put it politely, in a hurry. Not to worry, though, he was also very close to where he was going. All he needed to do was to find a parking spot, and then he’d be all set. There should be one somewhere around – aha, there’s one!

In fact, there was a whole row of them. An entire sidewalk’s worth. A worrying plethora in this sea of scarcity. Something had to be up. But what?

Then he saw them. The signs. They explained in extensive detail when parking was allowed, and when the full force of the municipal government would come crashing down upon those who broke its sacred commandments. Better pay attention, lest one makes a mistake

He began to read

After reaching the fifth sign – parking was allowed on even-numbered dates, but only if they were not a Sunday, but only during the summer months of the year (weeks 23-25 excluded), unless a special occasion dictated otherwise, with reservation for local variations – he gave up and moved on. Surely, somewhere, there had to be a parking spot that was not also a logic puzzle

They came, they saw, they conspired

Some time ago, we found out that the rumors of a complex, multi-layered, long-term global conspiracy to take over the world were in fact true. They had been at it for centuries, ever so slowly inserting themselves into various centers of power, some obsolete, some emerging, some so boring you wouldn’t even think of them as such. In short, they were all over the place, and they endeavored to make it theirs. If rumors and analytical indicators were anything to go by, they were pretty efficient at it.

We did what any rational municipal planning body would have done. We hired them to solve our complex, multi-layered, long-term local problems. There were necessary construction projects that had stalled since time immemorial, structural issues which required some serious out of the box thinking to solve or bypass, and on the whole a vast range of problems which we simply could not solve left to our own devices. While the solutions they proposed sometimes made little short-term sense, they overall tended to make such retroactive sense that having done otherwise seems nonsensical or ideological to an extreme degree.

To be sure, the risk of them inserting their own machinations into our everyday lives was an ever present constant. But listen. They solved traffic. They solved segregation. They solved homelessness. It would be something of a stretch to say that they solved ecology, but things used to be much, much worse in that regard. Everything is better now. Ever the very air is cleaner, somehow.

If this somehow furthers their plans for global domination – we’ll take it. We willingly understand and accept these new terms and conditions.

Digital white noise

The terms of service were very clear. The website (“WEBSITE”) was free to use by anyone, on condition that they posted a link to it every now and again. Not too often, but not too infrequently either. There was a balance to these things, and the trick was to time the mandatory posts just right

As predicted, this generated a lot of buzz around and about the site, especially as the big influencers got to posting. So much buzz, in fact, that other sites caught on and implemented their own version of this condition, so as to cash in on the increased attention. The attention economy is a thing, after all

Soon, just about every website had included this clause somewhere. This, predictably lead to a lot of people posting links with very low enthusiasm very often. For a while, there seemed to be nothing other than these links dominating the timelines across several social media, a veritable flood of spam for things everyone was already aware of or actively using. A very unpleasant situation indeed

Then, through some unspecified magic of spontaneous social organization, it was decided that the 13th and 27th of each month would be Link Posting Day, where everyone algorithmically posted everything they were obliged to post. At a certain predetermined time, the links flooded every timeline there ever was, and then everything continued as if nothing had happened. A big ol’ reset button of socially mediated white noise

Just as intended