A paradigm shift in communication of visuals can save us from mass extinction. One of the hardest parts of attempting to communicate about ecological topics is that they are inherently hard to see. Unlike the previous generations I grew up hearing Al Gore and a vast array of other unnamed “climate specialists” explain the unfortunate current trajectory of our species in relation to our environment, but even with this information how far has the needle been moved? Furthermore, where is the needle, and where is it going? If there’s overwhelming evidence and support what’s the hold up. How far has 20 years of “fighting” climate change got us? Well, here’s a recent headline from a popular online news website I frequent: “Researchers Argue That Earth Is In The Midst Of A Modern, Human-Made, Sixth Extinction”1.
As 2020, a year filled with revolutionary civil unrest, unprecedented labor abuse, and a global pandemic closes out, it’s easy to overmine these events into some grand conspiracy narrative or undermine them into simple scientific coincidences. Either way the unfortunate light most people are hoping for at the end of this tunnel isn’t the warming embrace of the sun’s beaming rays full of Vitamin D, it’s the blinding beam emitted from 75 volts of power running through a locomotive headlight. This headlight is powered by roaring wildfires and patches of the Ozone across the world, but just in the year of 2020 the United States spent enough money on businesses during the coronavirus to build infrastructure to settle our future as a country to fight the climate change crisis, and put pressure on other countries to follow. Like many other modern wars, the participants seem content to use it as a neverending revenue stream around the apparatus in which the problem itself is being fixed. An endless series of calcified institutions around the fight and denying of climate change itself. This institutional buildup creates additional degrees of freedom between the communication of: the problem and the solution, the subject and background, and the perceived and actual threat. This inability to perceive the threat is at no fault of the perceiver individually. Specifically, seeing a moment in time for the collective species for a problem that takes place over multiple generations globally is an impossible task for any single person or apparatus to bare. The current framework that the communication of information around ecological topics is taking place within doesn’t seem to be able to compensate for our biological handicap of not being able to register hyperobjects(2), and leads to furthering our materialistic hypocrisy. The largest of these being that we are aware of the problem but are never able to move towards solving it. Which is where there’s an opportunity for ingenuity. We need to develop a new meta way of discussing what now is climate change but will be only the first of an endless barrage of hyperobjects we will be forced to come to terms with as a species. We will be forced to confront the parameters of reality in an unguilty manner. The problem of climate change is just too large for one person to consume, so we fall back into a Climato-quietism2: which is a practical climato-scepticisme(3) different from the cognitive one.
The closer we keep getting to the problem, the less people take it seriously and the less dramatic changes everyone feels willing to make because of the overfamiliarity to the problem and the perception that a solution has already begun taking place, and is on its way from problem to solution. It’s going from here to there; point A to point B. I believe this is the fault of not having engineered a creative enough solution to communicate clearly when the opposition’s goal is to cause miscommunication. The more assumptions the viewer must make the more potential for confusion. The viewer isn’t stupid, but the system of communication can cause that appearance. The best summary I’ve found of the strategy behind climate change skeptics was in 2003 by Frank Luntz in the NYTimes stating “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue.”. This use of unclarity to postpone the judgement on an issue is frequently used by many contemporary leaders of all affiliation and region. The strategy has stayed the same, but what has changed in the 17 years since that statement is the variety of mediums in which people consume information. What started as only a few of our species being able to read, has transformed into peaking to hundreds of real-time generated “realities” within the palms of our hands. So many mediums are available to the public for bad actors to create deliberate misinformation within that the term “firehosing” has been coined for the phenomenon. Also known as the object named the “Firehose of Falsehood” this propaganda technique involves broadcasting rapidly, repetitively, and continuously over a vast number of mediums (such as search results, social media, billboards, images on mugs, hats, etc etc etc). Every medium is at risk to a degree.
This confusion is made easier by the phenomenon that when being communicated to about climate change it feels like you’re being talked down upon and scolded. Not just even in person, but just generally the way the information is being presented. The information chooses to manifest itself as a brutal assault of factoids and doomsday scenarios used as ideological doctrine where one’s confused where to even find the doctrine itself. The average ecological conversations or calls to action comes to a close with the viewer feeling diminished and ineffective. This is the essence of bad marketing. Everyone “believes in science” now, but how that comes to reality isn’t being addressed. I suspect this is because that’s as far as most of us have gotten. We’re lazy in that this is the response the market has given us to communicate our intentions and we use it without questioning the medium of the message. Most discussions of any nuance within the subject are quickly aborted mostly on account of discordant variations of fact, or a misalignment between the participants preferred measures of systematic adaptation. Even when the viewpoints align close enough to agree there is no ground to be made on account the lack of executable information. On account of this phenomenon, overtime the issue is treated as a sensitive topic that people end up engaging with less because of the perceptively wide valley in between the two, but this is just a byproduct of the inherent inability to communicate information between each individual themselves and any hyperobject.
Without waiting for the ending, my guess is this will be as effective as the United States’ implementation of the “war on drugs”. It’s near impossible to deeply care about drug abuse globally or even across a nation unless it directly affects the individual, or has the perceived potential to through the communication of fear. It is impossible for a single person to comprehend the exponential effects across generations within a whole nation or globally, so it is impossible to move accordingly. Because of this, the medium in which the communication behind the topic of drugs as a whole takes place within is the real culprit. In a similar way to climate change, it is impossible to understand the nuanced complexities that led to certain drugs being pharmaceutically acceptable, and certain drugs not worth being researched at all for no justifiable pharmaceutical or ethical reason. To have effective conversation around such a complex topic requires us to start moving multiple selections of the mental model at once in our head based on rules instead of specific positions. Instead of thinking how we can move an object from here to here, we are forced to think how the system itself decides to place those models there. This is done in the hopes that we can back engineer the system to never have to move the objects in the first place; the system will just produce them within the desired order. The paradox in which many cannot get past is that this still takes place within a potentially flawed system itself.
“I think we’ve passed kneeling. I think it’s time to go into actionable items. I think everyone knows what the issue is, and we’re done with that.”
Shawn Carter was speaking on his rationale for putting into place consciously imperfect apparatuses to take steps towards tackling a known problem. In this instance, he was referring specifically to the problem of the disproportionate use of lethal force towards minorities by police officers in the United States, but I think the lesson is universal. Examine that closely, he spoke strategically when he chose to say “I think everyone knows what the issue is”. He did not choose to say “I think everyone agrees on the issue”.
“We need to find a combination of state apparatus which can even be formally less democratic, more… technocratic. Why not, but which somehow directly interacts with popular opinion.“4
While Zizek was reacting specifically to the globally falling polling for confidence in democracy among Millennials, I think this concept holds true for all interactions between our perception and environment as a species. The degrees of freedom that come with increasing levels of “Checks and balances” offer proportionately increasing opportunities for energy to be lost or redirected. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for checks and balances, and checks that balance. Furthermore, I love getting checks and seeing my balance go up just like everyone else. My point is I think it’s important to be conscious of the quantity and burden that accompanies each individual layer of check and balance. Just think about it for a second, how does the “and” happen? What assessment of beauty is being made at this layer, and in turn, what does that imply is not beautiful? Who’s the one making this judgement?
This leaves the painters of meaning within a generation, with an opportunity to develop a new way of communicating with our environment about potential problems in a more efficient way. There’s an inherent trait of systems to not be able to compensate for what it doesn’t know. The framework relies on the system never reaching zero, or there would be nothing to write a check from or to. If too much energy is lost along the process then it becomes non functional, and is when we lose the ability to adapt it and it loses the ability to adapt to us. This is the potential hazard when a system is detached by so many degrees of freedom. More things going, the more things can go wrong, but what if we were able to speed up the connection in which our apparatuses communicate the problem to us? Then we would be forced to update our metaphysical version as fast as perspectively possible, and culturally aim in a specific direction. This requires connecting our apparatus to the mediums themselves in as simple and efficient a way as possible to decrease the degrees of freedom in which information could be lost. While running the risk of being a cliché from the generation I inhabit, I think this gap of communication can be bridged with technological solutions like: open sourced and decentralized technologies visualized virtually through Augmented5, and Virtual Reality6. Conceptually the goal is to use the virtual7 to blur the manifest8 and scientific images9 together virtually. So what does this actually look like? More or less it looks like a Manhattan Project within the ecological space that allows us to change how we perceive the environment to create a corresponding change in behavior.
In a previous essay I discussed the unique role the corporation has in the global public because of its ability to move internationally and distribute ethical responsibilities from any one individual person; thus, the only medium their message was limited to was the medium of the specific corporate structure, and capital itself. This is where distributed ledger technologies have the ability to innovate. Distributed Ledger Technology, more commonly known as the blockchain technology, is all about the idea of a ‘“decentralized” network against the conventional “centralized” mechanism. It has been deemed to have far-reaching implications on sectors and entities that have long relied upon a “trusted third-party.” The obvious ecological downside to this decentralization is that it requires a higher amount of energy to run all the pieces. While the market forces have started to adapt and produce a product like Ecocoin, which are earned through sustainable actions, it’s far from the perfect solution. While we could go into the exact current numbers of terawatt hours of energy used by Bitcoin versus the traditional banking industry and then contrast that with the functionality given between the two and estimated energy that it would take to compensate, I think this is a useless battle. I think the only inherent problem behind high energy consumption is the coal burning power plants in which many of the virtual mining farms draw their energy from. It makes sense as a culture to spend resources on commerce, so how is that choice of beauty within the allocation of those resources being made? It’s up to the public, obviously. I believe Distributed Ledger Technology, and decentralized technologies and general will continue to give the public the power of the desire that inherently lies within all apparatuses. What inherent desire you might ask?
If we are the message within the medium this is the medium within every message. The ghost in every machine. Maxwell’s demon!10 I’m going to spare you the physics, and interpretations as a metaphor, and the subsequent reinterpretations, because this is where I want us to consciously steer clear of the overly literal or metaphysical and bring it back down to the medium itself, and the present moment in space. What’s more real to our current lives than the digital? Not the information on it, but its existence.
Even speaking in terms of linguistics the very operating system within the computers we collectively base our reality off of have been molded by Maxwell’s thought experiment. Within the system a Daemon is a computer program that runs as a background process, rather than being under the direct control of an interactive user. In a world of Daemons, the beauty of Distributed Ledger Technologies in this regard is that they let the user act as autonomously as possible, and by letting the users directly program the system it allows them to create their own desires and Daemons. This is done in an environment in which the overall systems Daemon is decentralized out to all the active users. Maximum individualism within a system that knows it can’t get out of the motivation of the system so it compensates. Obviously perfection isn’t attainable, but it is worth aiming for with the consequences of falling short keenly in mind while compensating accordingly in real time. Collectively we need a separation between the apparatus of the public from the ideology. If we could engineer it perfectly it seems like we’d want an autonomous power structure that allows and shows us how to regulate ourselves. This would require us to keep in mind the biases of the suggestion of the system itself. Enough anarchy to not let the machine run us; an off switch if it goes nuclear or dark. Politely phrased, a healthy dose of skepticism. This eject switch is important because we’re always within a system of some sort, so that system’s Daemons will always affect us. There’s always a universal outside of the self, a box you cannot think outside of. In practicality there’s no getting out of a containing system altogether. Even pure anarchy itself is a system. Being present in this moment in time comes with the obvious responsibilities of the space we inhabit. So it comes down to what will help us do that better.
Daemons are the price of autonomy, but by decentralizing the control similar to that of a Cooperatives2 it’s possible to make the individual Daemons within the system as autonomous as possible. Bitcoin and other decentralized platforms allow us to create a scenario where you have to convince less people to make change. Similar to the introduction of the printing press, this will allow people to assemble, and form a new dimension of the public realm. The same concept as kickstarter, but without the intermediary of the monetary medium itself. Similar to the transition from the page to the screen, the effect of no longer having the overhead of the material medium itself once inside the digital universe allows as efficient of transferring of information as possible. As a public we’re already being forced to use money as speech, so this just takes some of the potential for corruption/loss of information out of the process. Daemons, corruption, speaking money? I thought you promised virtual goggles and saving the rainforest?
I try my best not to lie, so here’s something to put on your face. I think one of the biggest leaps forward in rethinking how we interact with our environment visually will be the democratization of mixed reality technology via “smart glasses”. This will cause corresponding psychological and inherent physical actions in accordance with whatever patterns of organization the system inhabits. This will be the next step in the public’s symbiosis with the “smartphone” that started with the IWatches and its competitors, but dates back to the effects of overlaying hierarchical moveable type within our environment via signage. The difference between signage and this new real-time virtual image is the increased subjectivity; meaning, everyone can see a different sign. This has the potential to fragment the public into different versions of reality similar to the phenomenon of “echo chambers” within the public spaces created by social media platforms. Similar to social media, companies, Apple’s upcoming ‘Apple Glass’ appears poised to become increasingly interested in how we work and live as a public. This will unlock a new conversation around the virtual image the public constructs of its environment and thus, itself. What is allowed and isn’t allowed to be displayed and what are the degrees of separation between this version of reality and the participatory public.
In that, I mean the public will be affected by it whether consciously participating or not. Functioning similar to contemporary social media and politics in that we do not have to be signed up for an account on Twitter for what happens on the platform to affect us. This is where I think it will be possible to metaphorically weld in a visual scoreboard containing the projected apocalypse timer. A visual representation of the Doomsday Clock, or more sinisterly phrased as ecological propaganda created by the educated. As a public, not having access to such an apparatus of real time communication with our environment feels like setting the goal of losing weight, but not being able to weigh one’s self with an at home scale. Furthermore, it actually feels like trying to lose weight, and when you go to the doctor to get a checkup she/he doesn’t give you the results, instead the information is delivered via the following day’s front page article on The New York Times with the title “You’re Getting Fat: The Story of Death”.
So, what does an ethical apocalypse timer look like? I think it looks like a Los Angeles, California resident sitting bored in traffic for hours having the ability to look up in the sky and see a visual representation of the ozone health, pollution levels, or any other data a semi autonomous group decides they would like to give the public the ability to display that the user finds important(Gamma light, ULTRAviolet light, air quality, etc etc etc). The public will soon have the ability to Visually Sample11 any piece of data in any manner. In other words, we will interact with Data visualization on a higher frequency of occasions and have more opportunities to deploy and to organize the subcomponents of this process.
There could easily be a future where such public displays of data could be viewed as potential misinformation if not run through a corporatized bureaucratic structure, or political apparatus. Similar to the church with the printing press and the film industry with the screen, the early adopters of this new public virtual will set the rules. These rules will directly shape the way we understand our environment, thus, how we understand our own perception of beauty. This new mixed reality gives us the perception of possessing the ability to heighten our senses, but what will be drastically different will be that there will be a process function within everything we perceive visually. Adding this process function adds a minimum of one more degree of freedom within the system; this causes there to be an intermediary between our environment and our perception as a public. Which bears to question, where does the data come from that pilots these sensors? What message is in this medium?
The development of this assemblage that is the public virtual image will depend on the autonomy and knowledge of the sub-systems in which this data is produced. Data quality is a measure of the condition of data based on factors such as accuracy, completeness, consistency, reliability and whether it’s up to date. Why is data important? As data processing has become more intricately linked with business operations and organizations increasingly use data analytics to help drive business decisions, there will undoubtedly be attempts to manipulate the data which powers these decisions instead of the decisions themselves. The use of bad data causes bad analysis, which causes the designers and creators to create bad processes. Who needs to lie to someone if you can make them not believe the truth when you tell them. This is most apparent in the manipulation that has taken place around research data as a result of financial incentives. Furthermore, bad data can destroy the user’s confidence in the system itself. This manipulation of data has drastically negatively affected the public’s opinion of scientific research itself. Although it’s generally recommended to possess a small dose of skepticism, this engulfment within the medium itself will require an increased amount of distrust of the containing system. One of the most repeated cultural truisms in contemporary culture is “don’t believe everything you read”. This has taken on a whole new level of cultural relevance during our contemporary Post-Truth time. Thanks to phenomena like “fake” news, there has been an increased awareness about the process functions within the mediums that create the messages of “news”. How does one spot fake news? A lot like bad data we look at the process that gave us that information. The healthy distrust of the containing system requires an understanding of the system itself. Landauer’s principle holds that “any logically irreversible manipulation of information, such as the erasure of a bit or the merging of two computation paths, must be accompanied by a corresponding entropy increase in non-information-bearing degrees of freedom of the information-processing apparatus or its environment”. Another way of phrasing Landauer’s principle is that if an observer loses information about a physical system, the observer loses the ability to extract work from that system. Extracting work, or any “truth” from a system requires knowledge of how the system operates. This forced responsibility will cause us to adapt, becoming more conscious about the quality of data that travels inside of our brains. Speaking of inside our brains, one of the most impactful technological innovations in the development of this virtual public image is happening in Neuralink’s development of a brain-chip interface. Brain implants themselves are not new — research and development have been going on, tested, and used since the 1970s. It’s just that previously, brain implants have not been considered enhancements, but a medical procedure aimed at reaching some desired functioning version of mental homeostasis. In an attempt at not getting lost down the what ifs and predictions, we’ll just leave that to mull over individually at a later date.
If Gutenberg’s Galaxy is what we may regard today as the accumulated body of recorded Manifest and Scientific images, then I believe ecological awareness has the potential to be the gateway into a galaxy of mixed realities which consist of the aforementioned realities combined virtually. In short, the public, aware or unaware, will have developed a virtual meta language. It will change how we perceive ourselves, which I believe is one of the stimuli that will force us as a species to renegotiate the relationship between our ideology and reality. Ideologically speaking people have been trained to have an overwhelming amount of skepticism and casting away of any grand narrative, or any drop of universalism. Residing within a pessimistic generation, I didn’t see many hopes of such a universally free system, but I believe the recent COVID-19 global pandemic was the re-awakening of collective responsibility since the great nap we’ve experienced since World War II, and now everyone has a healthy dose of skepticism. Not in the existence of a grand narrative, oh contraire, I believe we are now skeptical of the ability to get outside such grand narratives. I believe it has reignited the public realization that there is one and that we participate voluntarily or involuntarily. Inevitably some users still won’t care, and everything is just one long blackout. Which only leaves to question, what is humanity’s role on this planet? Without sidestepping the question, I believe it is all autonomous acts of “informing matter with meaning, and expressing meaning with matter”12, and the responsibility that these acts bare.
The practical effects of this blackout of ecology is the hypocritical ignorance of ignoring the undeniable shifts in way of life for a massive amount of people around the world including: the rising temperature in Antarctica causing the ice caps to melt faster, the hole in the Ozone layer over Australia which is causing higher rates of skin cancer, the building water crisis in Egypt, etc. etc. etc… Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think visualization will cure these things in itself, but I do think it will spark the brains that subconsciously move us to, as a public, better understand our environment and our current place within it. The global ecology crisis will continue to be treated like it has been so far, being fought tooth and nail over every inch. As the generation burdened with dislodging these objects the only option available is to engineer solutions to efficiently loosen the objects, while simultaneously beginning to find new teeth and nails, all while contemplating why we even have these objects to begin with. Okay, maybe this isn’t the only option, but I think it is the option that has the highest probability of success as a public. An ecological Manhattan project, but the ecological Gadget will aim to let the public create instead of destroy in an architecturally aware manner through all aspects of being. The power is being slowly given to create everything we perceive in a hyper, but self-aware manner. Everything’s for sale, all that’s left is to negotiate the price.
1 ) Paul Bledsoe, The New York Times: Going Nowhere Fast on Climate, Year After Year
2 ) Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World
Hyperobject are things that are massively distributed throughout time and space relative to humans
3 ) Bruno LaTour, War and peace in an age of ecological conflicts, 2014
4 ) Slavoj Zizek, RT: Why have millennials lost faith in democracy?, 2020
5 ) Augmented Reality is overlaying the virtual on top of what you’re perceptually seeing and has been around for a long time at this point, but thanks to advancements in machine learning has become highly more effective in recent time.
6 ) Virtual Reality is an immersive artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (such as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment. This became open to the public
7 ) The virtual refers to an aspect of reality that is ideal, but nonetheless real. A virtual memory is “real but not actual, ideal but not abstract” — Marcel Proust
8 ) The Manifest Image is the understanding of itself and the world that humankind has developed throughout history, and which is deeply ingrained in both folk conceptions and philosophical traditions.
9 ) The Scientific Image is the understanding of the world that has arisen through new techniques of inquiry and through the modern revolutions in science through technology.
10 ) Maxwell’s demon is a thought experiment created by the physicist James Clerk Maxwell in 1867 in which he suggested how the second law of thermodynamics might hypothetically be violated. In the thought experiment, a demon controls a small door between two compartments of gas. As individual gas molecules approach the door, the demon quickly opens and shuts the door so that only fast molecules are passed into one of the chambers, while only slow molecules are passed into the other. Because faster molecules are hotter, the demon’s behavior causes one chamber to warm up and the other to cool down, thereby decreasing entropy and violating the second law of thermodynamics. This thought experiment has provoked debate and theoretical work on the relation between thermodynamics and information theory extending to the present day, with a number of scientists arguing that theoretical considerations rule out any practical device violating the second law in this way.
11 ) Visual Sample: A component used to change the way an object is viewed
12 ) Matthieu Pageau, The Language of Creation: Cosmic Symbolism in Genesis, 2020
The fourth chapter from ‘Everything’s For Sale | A meditation in immaterialism’ by Zac Counts, which you can find below. Blessings