All media as extensions of ourselves serve to provide
new transforming vision and awareness.
Our various improvements not only mark a diminution
of the function improved upon . . . but they also work to
dissolve some of the fundamental authority of the human itself.
We are experiencing the gradual but steady erosion . . . of the species itself.
It's not the medium that counts, and it's not the
message that counts, it's how either or both are
presented, in what context, that counts.
The birth of a new medium of communications
is both exhilarating and frightening.
--Janet H. Murray
Exhilarating Potentials and Frightening Problems.What are the new exhilarating potentials and frightening problems entailed by the Net's capacity to proliferate hypertextual links between bundles of disparate data? The Web's "anything instantly" capability -- as the Hypertext guru, Ted Nelson, once put it -- connects not merely information, but people, and so we have the bracing writerly experience of perpetual bickering among cybernauts of varying ideologies. Thus media prankster and cult expert du jour, Richard Metzger, exclaims: "It's [the web] a total cacophony of disparate voices. . . . But that's a good thing! More chaos! More ideological Balkanization, please!" But is diversity of opinion matched by political empowerment and diversity of access?
A panel discussion at ISEA '97 held in Chicago recently saw artists who worked in electronic media addressing this ticklish issue of access, relating it in their discusssion to the theme of extending multiculturalism within the electronic art community. Germane here are the insights of Joseph Lockard, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Berkeley who was not represented on the panel, that the ideological complex of individuality surrounding the discourse about the Net not only erases class, but also geographic location, gender, race and communal origin.
Probing this point in "The Virtual Barrio @ The Other Frontier,", California performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña cites as his opening epigraph the following anonymous, class-loaded confession down-loaded from the World-Wide Web:
"[Mexicans] are simple people. They are happy with the little they got. . . . They are not ambitious and complex like us. They don't need all this technology to communicate. Sometimes I just feel like going down there & living among them."In a cautiously optimistic editorial, Latino digital photographer Pedro Meyer, in his e-zine ZoneZero, states that exploitive capitalist formations are propelling the digital technology into Third World domains. (But he also points out the benefits those on the margins may obtain in having access to an alternative digital culture.) He notes that in Third World although some live in the digital era, the majority ignore its existence willingly or not even as their future is being profoundly influenced by it. We can't ignore, he writes, the fact that economic factors control the conceptual basis of photography as well as how and where it is used. But, he adds,"Imagine the difference in a poor neighborhood school teaching students about photography where traditional film has been replaced with digital cameras whose cost of film is zero. Not a small issue I would think. Imagine such students publishing their pictures on the Internet and sharing it with the rest of the world. That is a real and practical possibility today. Consider the implications from the point of view of self-esteem for such a youngster. How will all of this make a difference for a child when he or she grows up in this new digital era?"In contradistinction to Meyer, Lockard would see the concept of "cybercommunity" only as a pseudo-community geared only toward promoting life-style choices, rather than radical change. But Lockard does concede somewhat to Meyer's vision. When a community reports on itself, rather than being the object of mainstream reportage, observes Lockard, then cyberspace may be the vehicle to unite collective narrative with collective access. Hence, cyberspace can only gain in effectiveness and credibility. Certainly, Marshall McLuhan's touting of participational "cool media" and the evolving "global village," where electricity creates decentralization was very tantalizing back when first broached in Understanding Media (1964) and The Medium is the Massage (1967). It is still given voice in Pedro Meyer's editorial. McLuhan talked about "postliterate man" living in a world contracted to a village or tribe; there everything happens to everyone at the same time; everyone knows about, and therefore participates in everything that is happening the minute it happens. A "cluster configuration" (hypertextuality) would replace the "linear configuration" of traditional book literacy. Moreover, in a March 1969 Playboy interview, he said that: "TV tattoos its message directly on our skins."
TV Network News Women Corresponding:
Barbara Walter/Faith Daniels (detail of 8 pieces)
Robert Heincken (1986, cibachrome Print/
ut back in 1960, in their introduction to the anthology Exploration in Communication, McLuhan and co-editor Edmund Carpenter initially expressed a more guarded opinion of such an evolution in which "this switch from linear to cluster configuration" impacts literacy as the "main prop" in our social structure and there becomes "less motivation for the teaching of reading and the achieving of literature culture." They conclude: "Whether this is good or bad remains to be seen."This "good or bad" will not be due to anything inherent in the new electronic technologies, but due to our lack of mastery of them as "new languages" in time to "assimilate them to our total cultural heritiage."
Bye-bye Body.Like many academics of my generation, I was also brought up on the clear-cut diatribe against the mass media by Critical Theory as initially set forth by the 1930s German theorists Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse who developed key Marxist theories concerning cultural production. I also absorbed the technological pessimism of Frenchman Jacques Ellul's The Technological Society (1954) in which the author opposed "technique" to nature and claimed the latter's demise; he sorrowed: "It is an illusion . . . to hope to be able to suppress the 'bad' side of technique and preserve the 'good'." So I had an attraction to Ellul's theoretical heir, Jean Baudrillard, for his touting of 'real life' street activism in opposition to the realm of the simulacrum, what he termed "hyperreality," in which there was no such binary as original/copy, only simulations. I was well-prepared to be simpático with Baudrillard's attack on the media's inherent underlying structure of domination, what he called the all-pervasive "Code." Yes, even to the point of agreeing with this Frenchman's pessimism when he claimed that the media's very form co-opts all negation/resistance, recoups the most radical content. One learned to, as Australian critic John Docker put it in his controversial text Postmodernism and Popular Culture: a Cultural History (1994), "suffer the embrace of communication" conceived as "fatally attractive, all conquering, smothering."This, of course, reduced mass cultural texts to a uni-directional mode of communication that merely shaped the masses' passive ideological subservience to dominant capitalist values.
More recently, this pessimism has been updated in Arthur Kroker (editor of CTHEORY) and Michael Weinstein's Data Trash: the theory of the virtual class (1994). These authors, influenced by Marx, claim that every technology releases opposing possibilities towards emancipation and domination. Kroker and Weinstein focus on the bad aspects of the computer revolution. They single out "the virtual class" -- a diverse group unified by their technical, financial, and consumerist support of the new computer technologies on global capitalism's behalf -- for suppressing the potentially liberating relations of production released by the Net in favor of the traditionally predatory force of production signified by the "Infobahn," or "Infosuperhighway." From Kroker and Weinstein's perspective, a stance they call "crash theory," McLuhan's burgeoning media-net, a global nervous system, simply materializes Catholic theologian Teilhard de Chardin's mystical evolutionary epiphany; humankind is, according to Chardin, to eventually achieve a state of "ultra-humanity" as earth's "psychic temperature" dramatically increases. Chardin's global psychic realm, his "noosphere," has become fact Kroker-Weinstein say. The convocation of disembodied minds who appear to each other on one of the Net's BBSs as screenfuls of typed conversation is, as computer-user's rights activist John Perry Barlow puns, 'the flesh made word'.
Kroker and Weinstein, in elaborating their "crash theory," mention McLuhan's point that our consciousness might be trained to respond to the distortions created by technology and, hence, restore its homeostasis through an intelligent media diet. The media might yet "serve man." But "crash theory" abandons the notion that media are true enhancements, "extensions of man." Elaborating upon a point already broached by McLuhan that "technologies are self-amputations of our own organs," the authors of Data Trash see the new media as "humiliations of the flesh." Bring on the ejection seat -- bye-bye body as it reaches "escape velocity" into the unflesh: "The flesh has crashed and is in a transition (virtualization) into the media-net to nowhere (to 'cyberspace')."
This, our telematic being, "circulates and mutates in a cycle in which bodies are uploaded into, and downloaded from, the media-net, producing a dizzying succession of hybrid monsters." Interaction and immersion on the Net as participants, as "hyper-geek incepts," might make us critics IN the Net, but not OF it. Moreover, resistance to this telematizing of being -- what Kroker and Weinstein call "inception" -- takes the form of what those authors term "retro-fascism," that is, the "brutal quest for purity within the (vanished) flesh" which can be seen in the proliferation and visibility of White Pride groups on and off the Net. 
Stelarc in Performance
Empowerment or no?This, of course, dashes all hopes for using the mass media itself for any meaningful resistance to society's master discourses of patriarchy, capitalism, and bourgeois individualism, beliefs re-enforced by the ideological state apparatuses of family, church, and school. And yet . . . and yet, part of me wanted to see something liberating in the new technology, as had Lee Felsenstein and Efrem Lipkin, the founders of Resource One and Community Memory. These were 1970s' San Francisco Bay area computer resources, accessible urban data-bases that meant to inform and liberate "The People." Information was power. Technovisionary Ted Nelson even had once self-published a "counterculture computer book" titled Computer Lib, its battle cry being "COMPUTER POWER TO THE PEOPLE!" Unfortunately, this interventionist vision has been replaced by the likes of Yahoo founder Jerry Yang's pronouncement cited in The Wall Street Journal ("Oh, the Tangled Web Cybermoguls Weave," Kara Swisher, Section B-6, March 5, 1998): "It's more fun today than it was a year ago. The reason is that we are in the position today to actually help change something, whereas a year ago we were just a very puny part of something." To which the WSJ reporter observed: "While Yahoo's menus of Internet sites are terrific, it's not clear that showcasing all the Web's top Letterman sites will change much of anything."
I thought of Walter Benjamin's similar ambivalence concerning new technologies.In "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Benjamin senses that the new reproductive technologies of photography and film were both liberating and oppressive. Benjamin points to the loss of material authority, and hence the loss of "aura," entailed by these analog media. This loss, wrote Benjamin, has empowering and disempowering social potential. Now in digital technology this loss is absolute, eroding any differentiation between original and digital copy. Furthermore, electronic communication on the Net decentralizes the positions of speech and publishing, film-making and television broadcasting and, with the advent of RealAudio and similar software, even radio. By extrapolation then, we may assume digital technologies will exhibit both positive and negative impacts upon society fueling a vigorous pro and con debate on its efficacy.
British sociologist Anthony Giddens attempts to see this ambivalence as rooted in the "mutual dependence of structure and agency."  His "theory of structuration" postulates a mutual dependence between the individual and society. In Central Problems in Social Theory (1979), Giddens argues for the "fundamentally recursive character of social life" which "expresses the mutual dependence of structure and agency." Thus, all power relations between agent and social structure manifest autonomy and dependence in both directions. Structure (in our case the new interconnections generated by the new technology) is both enabling as well as constraining. Unlike in Baudrillard's thought, structure is not counterposed to freedom. Moreover, in that central text of postmodernist theory,The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979), Jean-Francois Lyotard notes that people are never completely powerless in relation to communication or to bureaucracy and the social structure. His well-known championing of diverse language games, the agon or struggle between competing knowledges, would seem -- contra Baudrillard -- to be implemented, supported, and extended by the plethora of new electronic modes of communication (especially the Internet) becoming available to larger numbers of people. The Internet and its hypertextual potential would not signal the end of writing, but it would effect how we perceived author(ity). This is remarked upon by French Deconstructionist Jacques Derrida in Glyph 1 (1977) even before the full impact of the computer and the Net was felt: "We are witnessing not an end of writing that would restore, in accord with McLuhan's ideological representation, a transparecy or an immediacy to social relations; but rather an increasingly powerful historical expansion of general writing. . . . Cut off from all absolute responsibility, from consciousness as the ultimate authority . . . the intention animating the utterance will never be through and through present to itself."
And so we must ask: Just who is getting access to the new media and what use are they putting it to? What is that media doing to people who use it? Opposing Derrida's comments above, media theorist and phenomenologist Michael Heim thinks one doesn't have to delve deeply into the noise-soup of the Net to get a bitter taste of what he calls the "spew." He admits that there is "a certain cultural exuberance" about the Net "which is enjoyable," but ultimately it's "literacy gone berserk." His solution, however, is not a neo-Luddite (the original Luddites were nineteenth-century radicals opposed to machine technology largely for economic reasons), swing-the-hammer, approach a la media critic Kirkpatrick Sale; it's more akin to Marshall McLuhan's (Heim's mentor) admonition that we "work with our freedom within this medium" and "try to adapt it to us and make it part of our gestures, and not to break away from it and turn our backs on it." 
The Paleocybernetic Age Revisited.In the 1970s a media theorist and teacher at California Institute of the Arts, Gene Youngblood, attempted to resolve the debate over the new media by formulating it in terms of one-directional hierarchy vs. multipath non-hierarchy, rather than the dichotomy non-electronic media vs. electronic media. Recall that this was the time of such art-shakes-hands-with-science programs such as E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) which supported artists who were exploring artmaking relation to computers, video, and lasers.
In Expanded Cinema (1970), Youngblood describes experiments in these areas, such as John Stehura's computer-generated film Cybernetik, and called the emerging historical moment of this exploration "the Paleocybernetic Age" because it combined the "primitive potential associated with the Paleolithic and the transcendental integrities of 'practical utopianism' associated with Cybernetic."  He argued that the increasing saturation of the modes of communication and our correspondent "feeling more comfortable with our [electronic] extensions" (an obvious debt to McLuhan here) would lead of itself from hegemonic one-way media communications to more democratic intermedia networks that would become "metabolically and homeostatically interfaced with each human being."  But Youngblood seems to have been blind to the reverse scenario, as William Gibson astutely observes in his classic cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer (1984), "that burgeoning technologies require outlaw zones . . . a deliberately unsupervised playground for technology itself." In other words, the world of hackers and digital artists become unofficial R&D zones for the new technologies; hence, the willingness of granting agencies, civic and corporate, to fund artists working within the new technologies, despite the low aesthetic product that often results.
Cybernetik 5.3 (1965-69) John Stehura, 16mm. color, 8 min.
The Internet, certainly, would seem to realize Youngblood's utopic vision of intermedia networking. He enthusiastically viewed the trends toward this shift as "the rebirth of 'cottage industry' as conceived by the economist William Morris during the Industrial Revolution in England -- the autonomous ability of the individual to generate his own industry within his own local environment. The primary difference," he went on to explain, "between Morris's pre-industrial view and today's post-industrial reality is that cottage industry and global cybernetic industrialization interpenetrate each other's spheres of influence synergetically, each benefiting from the other."  Utopian in outlook, Youngblood here (by fiat) envisioned the conflictual dichotomies of local vs. global, subjectivity vs. corporatism, rhizomatic vs. arborescent, as moving toward a mysterious Hegelian overcoming of opposites via synergy, a total effect that is greater than the mere sum of its parts, a term popularized by R. Buckminster Fuller who wrote the introduction to Youngblood's book.
Machines of Loving Grace?This synthesis of high-tech with communitarian values is also noted in media critic Theodore Roszak's discussion of early hacker counterculture's utopian aspirations in The Cult of Information (1994). He sees guerrilla hackers' vision of the future as unique in its determination to synthesize these two seemingly contradictory images: communal life and unabashed technophilia. "Commited by their tastes and talents to the expansion of high tech," these hackers, he writes, "had no hesitation in seeking to play through the full repertory of computer electronics and global telecommunications." However, this "new technology would be contained within an organic and communitarian political context," which Roszak refers to as a "hybrid reversionary-technophiliac vision," and goes on to cite the first stanza of Richard Brautigan's late-1960s poem "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" as an exemple of such an attitude:Roszak sees this curious blend of return-to-naturism and high-tech as developing out of, and figured by, the 1960s LSD drug experiences and "acid tests" wherein high-tech chemistry synthesizes a product capable of taking its users into (supposedly) archetypal, primitive states of consciousness. Moreover, this primitivizing drug experience was expressed in the high-tech, hugely amplified psychedelic music of the time. This reading of the-new-machine-in-the-garden is updated to include a critique of the "cyber-hippies" of today in Mark Dery's probing of cybercults and publications like Mondo 2000 in his book Escape Velocity. Therein, Dery attacks adherents of "cyberdelia" for their knee-jerk pessimism about political solutions, yet their unbounded faith in technological ones. He goes on to cite a publisher's catalogue blurb for Mondo 2000: A User's Guide to the New Edge put it: "Mondo 2000 will introduce you to your tomorrow -- and show you how to buy it today!"
I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
like pure water
touching clear sky
However, some post-LSD era squabbles over emerging technology have reintroduced the traditional versus the new schema once again. A particularly important debate of this ilk, already broached from the conservative position by Michael Heim in his book Electric Language (1987), has concerned the efficacy of using the computer as an instrument for writing and reading; specifically, for creating multipathed texts that Ted Nelson some two decades ago dubbed "hypertexts" (McLuhan called them "cluster configurations") which do not possess the traditional text's tree-like hierarchical-linear structure. Will such electronic multi-linked texts replace the physical book? Will this cripple or enhance reading and its effects upon readers? Where McLuhan's optimism was guarded, and Heim more pessimistic, Nelson is ebullient. Sadie Plant, eager to see digital technology as rooted in women's traditional labors, claims such electronic writing as more a species of loom-produced weaving than traditional writing.
Ride the Rhizome.
"Literature," Nelson wrote in Literary Machines (1984) -- extending structuralist concepts broached in the 1920s by the linguists and literary theorists called the Russian Formalists -- "is an on-going system of interconnecting documents."Similarly, Michel Foucault, with prescience, wrote prior to the advent of the Net: "The frontiers of the book are never clear-cut . . . it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, others sentences: it is a node within a network." If these two thinkers are correct, hypertext can be seen as a form of meta-writing, or better, "topographic writing" (Jay David Bolter) that is spatially realized as a network, a radicle-system, or "rhizome" (as Deleuze and Guattari use the term in their tome, A Thousand Plateaus, 1987).
Bolter argues that topographic writing "challenges the idea that writing should be merely the servant of spoken language."  One hears echoes of Jacques Derrida's attack on the priorizing of speech, his lambasting of Western "logocentricity" which claims that speech is truly able to presence one's thought. Sadie Plant in Zeros + Ones: Digital Women + the New Technoculture (1997) sees hypertexting as a way to handle the postmodern condition where enormous amounts of data have "burst the banks of traditional modes of arranging and retrieving information," and as a viable tool for "establishing multiple connections" to better address the fact that in postmodern academia "no topic is as regular and simple as was once assumed."
Example of a rhizomatic text from A Thousand Plateaus (1987)
In her recent book Hamlet on the Holodeck, Janet Murray also constructs a paean to the new electronic technology. In particular, she focuses on hypertexting in creative writing and in computer-based educational software. But, curiously, her celebration is rooted in an anti-Deconstructionist stance: a Humanities teacher at MIT, she writes about her increasing alienation from postmodern theory during the 1980s as an opposition between her marriage and child-raising and "literature and academic feminism" which seemed "somehow to have fallen into the hands of the suits." She sees the new computer technologies as a way to garner meaning, rather than disperse it across an intertextual abyss:"The new theoreticians no longer saw the novel as the 'bright book of life' but as an infinite regression of words about words about words. . . . Truth and beauty were nowhere in sight. But at the same time that literary theorists were denouncing meaning as something to be deconstructed into absurdity, theorists of learning methods were embracing meaning [and using the computer to do so] as the key to successful pedagogy." Opposing Bolter -- but akin to Murray in attacking the full range of postmodernist enthusiasms, such as the problematizing of stable meaning, the death of the author as the loss of the unique, conscious intentionality behind the text's production, and multiculturalism which undermines Western cultural authority -- is Sven Birkerts' The Gutenberg Elegies (1994). Birkerts predicts a twilight of the inner, autonomous self as the fate to be suffered by our "sensibility" in the flattening out of experience in the post-humanist electronic age where "seductive electronic games have made deep inroads upon the expanses of dreamy solitude." He mourns the gradual loss of what real books can do to "augment certain inner powers," saying that reading "is the intimate, perhaps secret, part of a larger project, one that finally has little to do with the more societally oriented conceptions of the individual." Not merely bemoaning the replacement of images for text in media, Birkerts even finds subtle differences between old-fashioned texts typed onto a page and word-processed documents appearing on screen: "The words are the same, of course. More or less. Yet at some level, perhaps molecular, they are not the same" .
Ultimately, what Berkerts desires is a retreat to an "ever-present awareness of fixity, of indelibility" that used to be "so pressing a part of the writer's daily struggle" which the writing technology today, he says, no longer enforces. Here lies the crux of the matter. The Bolter-Birkerts debate can be seen as a representative example of the extremes -- unbridled praise of pluralism and difference versus a retour d'ordre to the humanist stabilities of authority and interior subjectivity -- between which more complex, "fuzzy" responses to the potential of this technology lie.
A Curtain on History.My own ambivalence concerning the emergent technology remained merely intellectual for me until I encountered Chicago artist Jno Cook's multi-media gallery installation and web page "catalogue" titled NO CARRIER in September 1996 at Beret International Gallery in Chicago.  Therein, I found my own "fuzzy-logical" position on computers physically embodied in a brilliant ironic hodgepodge of Mason jars filled with doll heads, linked by tubing, that lampoons scientific experiments, and a "funland" carousel of out-dated computers working out silly looping and dumb calculations. This octet of uselessly busy computers reminded me of McLuhan's quip in Understanding Media (1964) that "all electrical appliances, far from being labor-saving devices, are new forms of work, decentralized and made available to everybody." 
A green hard-plastic curtain composed of circuit-boards titled "A Curtain on History" divided the exhibition space; for me it suggested the historical divide between the industrial and the postindustrial. This sculptural suggestion of relationship between new electronic technologies and history's theoretically problematic position today as evoked Marxist critic Fredric Jameson's attack on postmodernity's "pseudohistorical depth" in which "the history of aesthetic styles displaces 'real' history."  The piece also recalled the Kroker and Weinstein insight in Data Trash that history is fast becoming irrelevant as its human subject is no longer the protagonist of anything but cynical dramas on the media-net. As if to underscore this latter point, Cook presented enlarged garish color prints of women's faces, details culled from various Usenet porno repositories. Is the male gaze being "digitally enhanced" here only to become a reductio ad absurdum of its desire to objectify?
No Carrier, "A Curtain on History," Jno Cook (1996)
In Cook's installation I sensed a kindred, clownish, conflicted spirit. His explanation of his installation's title inspired the reflective theme, "Art and New Technology: Pro and Con," of our premier e-zine issue:
From No Carrier (1996) Jno Cook"NO CARRIER represents that moment when you disconnect from net infinity, and push back your chair to take an overview. It's not really the living organism it seemed to be. It is only a bunch of machines and telephone wires. It's not really there, is it?" A "carnivalesque mode of understanding" (John Docker's term referring to Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bahktin's idea of the topsy-turvydom of carnival celebrations as liberatory and challenging to central authority) seemed to pervade Cook's inversion of Mason jars with childish things into high-tech looking devices and computers into mindless, stuttering calculators that beg us to play with them, but who rebuff our attempts at control. He had taken the sudden juxtapositions, swift contrasts, and heterogeneity characteristic of the realm of electronic communications and turned those very qualities back against it.
If I'd written a review of that show then, my title for it would've been: "Nothing but Nasty Machines Behaving Nastily in a Nasty Situation." Cook's attitude seems more akin to Theodore Roszak's as espoused in his recent book The Cult of Information: A Neo-Luddite Treatise on High-Tech, Artificial Intelligence, and the True Art of Thinking (1994). Not a doctrinaire technophobe, Roszak admits to using a word-processor to write his book and to have surfed the Internet for databases for his research. His main target is the exaggerated claims for the efficacy of the new technology and its ability to handle information. I-n-f-o-r-m-a-t-i-o-n -- this vague, cultish "godword," with which this technology is oft inextricably linked and praised for maximizing, is touted "by elements in our society that are making some of the most morally questionable uses of computer power." Such power needs to be challenged "if if the computer is not to be delivered into the wrong hands." 
Roszak summarizes the history of the term Information Age, envisioning the new technology as a threat to education and to proper thinking; he claims it merely adds to the information glut which functions to swamp us in facts and not in new ideas. Contra the enthusiasms of the likes of Janet Murray, Rozak is pessimistic concerning the new technology, noting how "the Information Age" has insidiously and aggressively made its way into the educational curriculum "which could distort the meaning of thought itself." He says we often perceive the computer's ability to store information in vast amounts and process it logically as memory, even as what we call reasoning in human beings, such that many members of the information cult "have concluded that what computers do somewhat corresponds to what we call thinking."  Similarly hostile to AI's reductionist notions intelligence, Sadie Plant argues in Zeros + Ones that reason and memory is insufficient to account for intelligence, which in humans combines intuition with irrational forgetfulness, insight with the ability to dissemble.
Cook's Merry Hacker-Pranksterish looping computer programs satirize this "cult of information" which Roszak speaks of, attacking the notion that one can equate computer-processing with human thought. Roszak observed that, "Measured against that claim, even the most ingenious computer is bound to look ludicrously inadequate... more of a joke than an achievement" (my emphasis).  "It's artificial stupidity rather than artificial intelligence," quipped cyberpunk musician Elliott Sharp. Cook's reconfiguration in NO CARRIER of computer technology into a hanging curtain and a carousel of computational mayhem, debunks the illusion that just because computers process data quickly and microscopically that they don't work like other machines. Cook's installation is saying: "Hey! computers may look like they're running along as smoothly and silently as the brain when it remembers and reasons, but . . ." Or, as Roszak points out, "Computers can be taken apart, scrutinized, and put back together," and they are "low-grade mechanical counterfeits" for human thinking.  For both Cook and Roszak, the term artificial intelligence is something of an oxymoron. In recycling and recontextualizing computer technology, Cook's installation reminds us, in contemporary art critic Lucy Lippard's words that, "It's not the medium that counts, and it's not the message that counts, it's how either or both are presented, in what context, that counts." In the context of Cook's show, a blatant expropriation of computer technology from the scientists and the CEOs, this electronic technology is shown to have the awful potential to create new forms of social obfuscation and domination, but also the potential to bite the hand that feeds it, to critique technophilia itself.
So I agree with University of Illinois, Chicago English professor Joseph Tabbi's point in "Reading, Writing, Hypertext: Democratic Politics in the Virtual Classroom" that one should view the Net not as a single medium with a single effect, but as embedded within the context of other media, including our bodies and our natural languages. This works, he says, to all the better keep open the possibilities of reform and dissent within "the newly aggregated digital media," thus "creating an intermedial balance of powers."  The fate of the Net will depend, he claims, on the ability of its constituencies to use it critically, and with awareness of each other's existence.