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The Internet, a Tool for Art?



Virtual identity and pushing buttons


Humans rarely are naked. When we undress, we feel helpless: maybe someone is staring at us, maybe it is cold or too hot and the sun could burn our skin. And even if we are dressed, we live in boxes, drive around in boxes, stare into boxes - just as you do right now - and carry boxes around all the time. In his essay "Das Unbehagen in der Natur" (Civilization and its Discontents, 1931) Sigmund Freud called the human a "God with artificial limbs". He stated that we need tools and machines as a shelter against nature. But defending oneself primarily means control of the environment. Freud further opens up a view on the development of culture as a system of rules in order to manage human's level of happiness.

"What do they demand of life and wish to achieve in it? The answer to this can hardly be in doubt. They strive after happiness; they want to become happy and to remain so."

(Sigmund Freud, "Civilization and Its Discontents", 1931, p. 23)

Therefore humans aim for maximum pleasure and the avoidance of pain. In this way we set ourselves limits by defining rules, which prevent us from "rising too high" as well as from "falling too deep". Those definitions were the beginning of culture, enabling humans to live together as a civilization.

"These things that, by his science and technology, man has brought about on this earth, on which he first appeared as a feeble animal organism and on which each individual of his species must once more make its entry ('oh inch of nature!") as a helpless suckling-these things do not only sound like a fairy tale, they are an actual fulfilment of every - or of almost every-fairy-tale wish. All these assets he may lay claim to as his cultural acquisition. Long ago he formed an ideal conception of omnipotence and omniscience which he embodied in his gods. To these gods he attributed everything that seemed unattainable to his wishes, or that was forbidden to him. One may say, therefore, that these gods were cultural ideals. Today he has come very close to the attainment of this ideal, he has almost become a god himself. Only, it is true, in the fashion in which ideals are usually attained according to the general judgement of humanity. Not completely; in some respects not at all, in others only half way. Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on to him and they still give him much trouble at times."

(Sigmund Freud, "Civilization and Its Discontents", 1931, p. 38/39)


The prosthesis creates a protective distance between us and the environment, and at the same time it is the powerful connection to it, with the force to shape it after our wishes. This definition of prosthetics points out to the human desire for self-improvement. With the aim of perfection, in order to function better, faster, work more efficiently, he got linked to the machine. During World War 1, at the rise of the industrial age and the development of disciplinary society, there was a high interest in prosthetic research. Soldiers who didn't die, but returned as war invalids, constituted a big problem for governments: It is hard to convince a population of the benefits of a war while they see poor mutilated young men begging for money in the streets. So functional prosthetics were developed in order to re-integrate the veterans in society as workers. As shown on the impressive picture below, there were even efforts to connect the human body directly to the machine in the factory.



prosthesis harrasser

(image: new interfaces for workers and machines, Prüfstelle für Ersatzglieder, Berlin 1919)




(image: typing on a laptop, google pics)


Until today it hasn't changed much. We use any kinds of machines to improve ourselves. The interfaces as well as the range of application areas are far more elaborated, there is a technical gadget available for every imaginable situation. And those gadgets are not only available - we are dependent on them. For instance it means a lot of stress if someone lost their mobile phone. A mobile phone is nothing else than a prosthesis, worn on the body, enhancing the capabilities of the human brain (saved phone numbers) and voice (far distance communication). Leaving the industrial age behind and entering the phase of cognitive capitalism, of course the focus is on machines cultivating our mental abilities. Following Freud, the phone call not only has the positive attribute to improve forces, but also provides the shelter of a distance. In my childhood I always did prank calls fooling people by pretending to be someone else and telling them weird stories. I'm quite sure that kids today do pranks on the internet, just the same way. On the web we create virtual identities, for self-portrayal, but also for pretending to be what we wish to be, our imaginary selves in an imaginary world. We can be someone else on click, mute people on click, add friends and end friendships on click, all from a distance, we can even shut the whole world down on click. Virtual identity generally provides the illusion of controlling everything on click, especially the appearance of the self and what it might look like in other people's eyes.




(image: Become Your Avatar, Second Life official website, 2011)


On the internet there is often used the term "RL" (Real Life) to differentiate between the physical world and virtuality. But if you ask Second Life users if they consider their "SL" (Second Life) as "real" as their "RL", they say yes. They live there, they have friends there, a house, a car, a closet. Of course it is real, it's just not real. Maybe the simulacrum of virtuality is already even more real than real reality. And insidiously we became the prosthesis ourselves.




dipl mindmap

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