Sun Ra’s “Space Is The Place” leads me into the mirror-world. I drop down into a seat and scry. One of the oldest known forms of divination. Our social media empires have attempted to capture the worlds on the other sides of our scrying mirrors. This is what shows like Black Mirror have tried to teach us. Students and I have returned to head culture’s first encounters with electronic black mirrors in the budding early days of videogames and personal computers as reflected in “Spacewar: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums,” a report Stewart Brand wrote for Rolling Stone magazine in December 1972. The piece begins with the conviction that the world is windblown and that change, technological modernity — in a word, “computers” — all of these have been foisted on “the people,” regardless of whether or not “the people” are prepared for it. Within less than half a century following the piece’s publication, most of us would be clutching these objects like gods. Brand’s advice was, “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.” This is the meaning of his Whole Earth Catalog. The medium in that case was indeed the message. The Catalog is significant primarily in terms of its form. A functional blueprint for Revolution is one that provides “Access to Tools.” But why was Brand so nonchalant, I wonder, as all of this began to unfold? Why was he so nonchalant about the effects on neighborhoods IRL as heads began to spend their night-time moments “out of their bodies, computer-projected onto cathode ray tube display screens” (39)?
Is there still a Freudian subject in the age of Big Data? Scanning a bin full of books at Goodwill, I encounter an ominous concatenation of signs: “The Crippled Lamb”; “The White House Transcripts”; “Herman Kahn”; “1984”; “Armageddon.” Push away these titles on the surfaces, however, and one can happen upon a far more hopeful arrangement: a psychology textbook; a collection of “parable-stories for those on a mystic journey”; a study of the “theology of romantic love”; a guide showing how to set up a “children’s house” — an environment for learning based on the Montessori method, “where children can be their own masters, free to learn at their own pace.” Is there a name for the belief that reality has been edited, updated, revised? Just like that, rifts seem to form in memory. New dimensions are added to ease tensions in the fabric of the totality. By these means, those who adequately desire a thing can suddenly find in their immediate environments resources enough to bring their wishes to fruition.