Alien UndergroundBook Reviews

Kroker/Weinstein: Data Trash Book Review (1995)

Arthur Kroker & Michael Weinstein [New World Perspectives – Montreal 1994]
(Review published in Alien Underground 0.1, 1995)

“Take your choice: The VR Helmet or the disciplinary state”

This book is part of an on-going series of texts that Arthur Kroker has been involved in since the late 80s. The series, known as Culturetexts, aims to be a series of creative explorations in theory, politics and culture at the fin de millenium. Written in an academic style that is more akin, in parts, to some encryption programme, Data Trash takes a pessimistic look at the implications of the new technologies and theorises the rise of a new class which he calls the virtual class. For him technology carries with it the will to virtuality – meaning that ordinary waking perception is being increasingly surrendered to a technologically fabricated environment in which the coordinates of experience and human agency – will, intelligence, emotion etc – are evacuated.

For Kroker, the hype around the info highway etc is the way which bodies are drawn into cyber-space through the seduction of empowerment. The virtual class are those that would formerly be called technocratsand are they that have a vested interest in virtualising more and more aspects of existence; these are the likes of Bill Gates of Microsoft – the entrepreneurs of the communications industries opening up a gold rush on the digital frontiers.

For Kroker there is much to fear in this shift of social perspective that the new technologies and the will to virtuality imply: the merger of technology and biology unleashing economic eugenics – the world becomes a violent aesthetic experiment in redesigning the cultural DNA of the human species… the privileged elite emerge from an iconic gene pool.

Knowledge becomes reduced to information which can be stockpiled in data banks, this in turn leads to strategies of pricing knowledge and controlling access to it. Moving on from this, information increasingly becomes an economic factor whose value is maximised through the speed at which it circulates. In this scenario, told to us as the illusion of an expanded knowledge society, meaning is jettisoned as it slows down the circulation rate of information (hence Kroker notes how the InterNET has been swamped by demands for meaning).

Virtual reality insinuates that the image is the real thing and through the helmet and the gloves we are seduced by our own disappearance. For Kroker virtual reality is a perspectival trick that virtualises the real while working to actualise the virtual.

The theme that underpins the book is the means by which the new technologies encourage the replacement of the human being which is combined to and propelled by economic insecurity that encourages the desire for replacement – the most startling image illustrating this is the use of virtual reality for the terminally ill: choose to ‘experience’ the heaven of your choice before you die.

However Kroker and Weinstein’s pessimism, whilst being a useful antidote to the uncritical embracing of the new communications technologies, is typical of those intellectuals who have a yearning for high modernism and an inate fear of mass cultural surges. Their fear that social energy is being sucked into technology implies that the result is useless and uninteresting, that humans and technology are diametrically opposed. Such dualisms may reap polemical effect but they tend to ignore and hence devalue the possibilities for an increased social creativity made possible through technology. UR-v-VR?

Flint Michigan

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