Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 1, Number 5 / September 1, 1994 / Page 11

The Internet, Electric Gaia and the Rise of the Uncensored Self.

From Essays on the Anthropology of Cyberspace

by Michael Strangelove (

[The following is part of a collection of essays I am writing on the anthropology of cyberspace. The essays explore the emergence of a new type of self I have called the uncensored self and looks into the possible social dynamics that will arise from the convergence of this new type of self with the approaching new millennium.]

Why, I do not know, but it is only in the past few years that I realized I was to stand witness to a most remarkable event. An event that only the tiniest fraction of humanity has ever experienced. An event that will certainly shape cultures for hundreds of years to come. An event that will be a catalyst for ten thousand simultaneous events, small and large, ricocheting off of each other, shaping assumed improbabilities into massive undeniable social facts. What is most remarkable about this coming event is that it is merely a point of time to be shared by all who identify with the Gregorian calendar. This moment in time that will define my shapeless generation is the end of this second millennium and the beginning of the third.

I am thirty-one now and by the year 1999 I will be thirty-six, on January 1st, year 2000, I will be thirty-seven. I can recall thinking how old I once thought thirty-seven was. Now it seems to me that my life is only just beginning and I am destined to be part of a collective midwife and offspring to a new millennium.

This passing of the second and dawning of the third millennium will be quite unlike any other chronomatic celebration. What distinguishes this coming benchmark in history is the degree to which it will be shared by so many. Admittedly, the Western "Christian" calendar means little to one billion Chinese, hundreds of millions of Muslims, hundreds of millions of Buddhists, and so forth. But the Gregorian calendar is shared by the so-called industrialized nations--the nations that are responsible for consuming the vast majority of global resources.

The year 2000 does have shared significance to the world of technology, global commerce, industry, multinational corporations and their obscene power, the English and its main dialect; money. All are inexorably bound by the same heart beat, the same chronotype, the same obsession with time. Never before have so many held in common the same method of measuring how time is both "spent" and "saved". At no other time in history have so many been subjected to the precise measuring of "when" and "where".

So it can be said without hesitation that no event in history will be so widely shared and signified as the end of the second millennium. Other factors that will make this event so unique is the degree to which it will be anticipated, recorded and communicated. That a culture of eschatology such as ours will eagerly anticipate the occurrence of significant events at this end time is unquestionable. This anticipation will manifest itself as a growing obsession with the end-event. The anticipation will turn the West into a society of watchers--observers armed with all the tools of mass communication and prepared to transform the end-event into the most recorded moment in history. Needless to say, this very anticipation will be self fulfilling and ensure that massive collective social phenomenon does indeed occur.

The end-event will be characterized by a heightened degree of self-awareness in Western culture--individuals will share an overwhelming sense of participation in signification--these are the days that will be remembered for a thousand years to come. For a moment, the West will see itself as actor/historian/archivist, the defined and defining self.

This collective anticipation and recording will give rise to a priesthood of interpreters. Gurus of end time meaning will give voice to the collective mind. An industry of interpretation will flourish in the years preceding and following the end-event. The narcissistic "Who am I" will be answered with the collective, "Who are we becoming?"

So What?

So what can we say for certain about the coming of the year 2000? In the history of meaning, it will stand out as unique due to the unprecedented number of human animals that will participate in the event. It will be the largest collective human event. It will be the most anticipated event. It will be the most recorded event. It will be the most interpreted event. All of this ensures that the years immediately preceding and following the birth of the third millennium will be long remembered as the crazy years.

When Ideas Collide

This idealogue, the thought excursion, this book of time and times to come is an exploration of one aspect of the birthing process of a new millennium. Our focus is on a parallel phenomenon. This phenomenon is in many ways equally unique and significant.

It is perhaps not by coincidence that the approach of the third millennium should be heralded by a new form of human behavior. This new form of human behavior is a technological John-the-Baptist--a voice, a chorus of millions of voices crying out in the wilderness of these present times, this wasteland of isolated selves we call modernity.

This parallel phenomenon is the fastest growing technology of communication in history. This voice coming to us from the frontier of human experience is the largest uncensored form of communication in history.

This voice was first heard by most individuals in 1993 and immediately entrenched itself in the landscape of popular culture. This voice, this prophet of the third millennium, this technological John-the-Baptist has a name and its name is the Internet.

The Internet is not about technology, it is not about information, it is about communication--people talking with each other, people exchanging e-mail, people doing the low ASCII dance. The Internet is mass participation in fully bi-directional, uncensored mass communication. Communication is the basis, the foundation, the radical ground and root upon which all community stands, grows, and thrives. The Internet is a community of chronic communicators.

Significance in history is not the product of isolated events but the result of convergence among a multiplicity of forces. It is the thesis of this work that two isolated events --- the end and beginning of a millennium, and the rise of mass participation in uncensored bi-directional mass communication--the Internet, will conjugate in such a way to give birth to a new form of human behavior and with novel behavior, a new form of human consciousness--the uncensored self. The dynamics of this convergence, and the characteristics of the next stage in the development of the Western self, are the focus of this work.

Sex, Drugs and E-Mail: The Elements of a New Style of Consciousness

What do sex, drugs, and e-mail all have in common? Sex is tightly controlled in our society -- only one legitimate institution, only one legitimate partner. The dominant paradigm that defines North American sexuality is capitalism-- each body is owned, exclusively possessed by another body. Free agents, the unowned self, represent danger, a threat to another's sexual property. Drugs, illicit drugs, induce expanded consciousness, alternative selves, but a monotheistic society demands one self to answer to one god, one crown, one law. E-mail, as a metaphor for networked, global, uncensored communication, is already under attack by the state (through the Clipper chip legislation--an attempt to provide wiretap capability for all electronic communication). E-mail, Internet-based communication, is clearly potentially subversive as it allows bi-directional, unfiltered, uncensored mass communication. Uncontrolled sex (unowned bodies), illicit drugs (multiple or distributed selves), and e-mail (uncensored electronic mass communication) are all inherently subversive. If there is a question behind this book, it is this: "Are we witnessing the rise of an alternative cyberculture that propagates an uncensored self? (Not through alternative sexuality or drug use, but through a new geography of existence in uncensored cyberspace - - change the geography of existence and you change the nature of the self.)"

The Physics of the Tragic Self

The post-quantum mind is the most tragic of sentient beings. What could be worse than being confronted with the empirical infinity of the universe, the distant promise of hyper-light speed interstellar travel, and our own earth- bound mortality? We are given awareness of the infinite, tempted with the possibility of randomly exploring the origins of the light which beckons us each night, yet we stand naked before our own death, deprived of this endless frontier. On the very threshold of our dreams, awareness of the extent of our possibilities is confronted by severe technological and biological barriers.

This, though, is not the final word. Confronted with the inaccessibility of our physical frontiers, my generation has turned inward and discovered two new immanent and infinite frontiers. These new frontiers of the next millennium are the uncensored, distributed self, and cyberspace--the location of the virtual self/community--Electric Gaia. ¤

Note: Although the third millenium does not properly begin until 2001, I use the year 2000 as the critical reference point here because the majority of people will attach greater significance to 2000 than 2001 (it is a clearer dividing point in the popular mind, and therefore will prove to be the focal point of the collective mind).

Michael Strangelove is the publisher of The Internet Business Journal and the author of How to Advertise on the Internet. Michael is currently working on a new book, The Uncensored Self: Essays in the Anthropology of Cyberspace. Forthcoming articles about the Internet by Michael Strangelove will appear in Online Access ("Immigrants in Cyberspace," September), The Journal of Scholarly Publishing ("Using the Internet for Marketing: A Publisher's Secrets," Fall), and WAVE ("The End of Publishing").

Copyright © 1994 Michael Strangelove. All Rights Reserved. This essay may be archived and reproduced in electronic form so long as no fee is charged to the user. It may not be reproduced in print or used for commercial purposes without permission from Michael Strangelove.

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