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  • swarnamanjari chellapandi

The socio - technological singularity

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

The internet is a fictional society, while democracy is an essential technology. As the lines between society and technology blur, somewhere along imaginary borders, we are building a brave new world.


Floating in space and time, is 'just another url'.

Coming of age, 'remotely'

I turned twenty in 2020. The year which jolted our reality and made us lose sense of time and space. "Is this the worst time to be in your twenties?", read a recent Dazed article. I shared it to a bunch of my friends who sent back melting face and single tear smiley face emojis. Graduating against the backdrop of a pandemic, with adulthood creeping up, relying primarily on the internet and haunted by a fear of impending climate catastrophe, my friends and I feel disjointed along with an urgency to act differently. This set of feelings, accentuated by our participation in spaces that fluctuate rapidly between the physical and digital, has given rise to one of the most complex social dynamics in human history. Mental health conversations are governed by TikTok lingo and textationships are embraced as the less daunting in-between. For a generation carefully treading the lines of political correctness, inclusivity and their own social lives, this gooey mess of what's IRL is confusing, slimy and hard to embrace.


That being said, we are also a generation that can be clearly defined by its personal values. Inside our homes, the digital realm opened up as a portal to balance for our lack of connections in the immediate vicinity. A month before my twentieth birthday, I was involved in an online protest with my friends and classmates. As a bunch of amateur activists, we managed to organise and invigorate others to function as one to successfully state our demands. The protest was only an induction. I began reading extensively, attending multitudes of Zoom meetings and hearing progressive voices from all around the world. I found an extensive community who shared similar values and were misfits in their own worlds. I spoke to mentors and peers, exchanging bits of information and sharing resources across conversations. This was a new world, that felt like home, unrestricted to the local. It brought about a kind of newfound (in)dependence and I was completely unaware of the fragility of the foundations it was built upon.



The Real world exists



Away from the dreamy realities of the online world, we are fleetingly but firmly grounded to the inescapable reality of what surrounds us. The pandemic exacerbated the living experiences within our homes and our minds. Some of us were stranded in remote cities while many of us made the journey back home, completely unaware of when we would return. Enclosed in a space with close family or friends made us examine how our relationships function. We were forced to sit back and think about how much we've outgrown our childhood homes and our present alienation to them. Some felt a sense of true return to the past, and took comfort in familiar environments during uncertain times. For those of us who are inhabitants in our own solitude, we faced our inner voices and worlds. We dealt with the joy, peace, numbness and pain that came along with it. We wrote, filmed and made art. We cooked, knitted and made stressful, but super satisfying Dalgona coffees.


Our eyes could also never escape the grim reality happening outside of home. We saw the startling inequalities in every social framework. The endless days inside the safety of home was kept alive but thousands of essential workers in the health, food and data industries who were paid low wages and were operating in risks, unknown. Ignorance to poverty and pain before, now became an uncomfortable prickly feeling that we could only try to squash within through expressing discontent and showing futile support on social media. Vaccine inequity dictated who got the vaccine first and made us examine the unchangeable flow of resources on the global map. The previously engraved lines of trade and power were shining starkly on the slate during the sudden circumstance. "Can nothing be changed?", we wondered. The state was still the state and us humans, were only individuals. The inevitable reality that was hidden behind the illusion of interconnectedness online was giving us a false taste of freedom and power; the only truth was the looming present moment; rooted to the local - its customs, laws and governance unshakeable as hell.



Fictional Realities



Zooming in and out of both the real and the virtual, we can't help but realise the fierce augmentation of one on the other. In the vast system that makes up the digital world, stripping apart the metals, cables and wiring, we might discover nothing but human motivation and aspiration. It also reflects our biggest fears and disappointments. These computational megastructures that we have constructed, extend up in the air into invisible clouds of data and intelligence far beyond our imagination. They are concrete and physical as much as they are abstract and virtual. They are messy and tangled, subject to need of maintenance and repair, in a state not very different from our own society.


Like feeble stars in darkness, some possibilities that emerged out of this situation was the power of the virtual to alter the real. What if we could translate interconnectedness to real solidarity and unprecedented access to real freedom? We saw acts of immense hope amongst local entities entirely operating as combined social organisms - moving together, organising and directing resources in unimaginable accuracy and precision. The State ceased to exist, losing responsibility and the acts of individual citizens banding together came to the fore. Hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, and medicines were sourced and redirected by people unknown to save lives unknown. Huge databases of information were open sourced and shared to keep people aware of available facilities at different locations.


"I feel that all organising is science fiction - that we are shaping the future we long for and have not yet experienced." - adrienne maree brown

Even among the false Whatsapp forwards and the proliferation of dangerous misinformation, gentle light came through the slender cracks of civic action. Collective organising at the smallest of scales made a huge impact - and the internet enabled us to do so. Recognising this tool and reclaiming power over the use of it will be a step toward shaping the narrative of our technological futures. To imagine and create fictional realities that that favour our collective well being by resisting against populist narratives that govern the culture war in the tech world may well be a starting point.



 

Note from the writer: The anatomy of a URL post will either be a long form essay, a listicle or even a graphic collage. I will be experimenting with formats that may suit the topic discussed. The end of all posts will have links to cool resources that I found interesting that week.



cool resources


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Wild Domesticity by Alice Yuan Zhang, appears in the Are.na manual 2023

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