Wages

PaypacketMeet the cyborgs in the money game! The Capital Cyborg with so much money that they no longer have to think about day-to-day living expenses and can focus instead upon plans to make more capital from, say, replacing an entire class of jobs with robots. The Welfare Cyborg whose income from the State is never enough to live on, forcing them almost universally into breaking the rules and supplementing their meagre allowance with often grim, cash-in-hand labour. The Entrepreneur Cyborg, whose fortunes are bound together with a specific set of companies whose dividends they live off. And, most common of all, the Wage Cyborg, who works as part of a company owned by Entrepreneurs or Capital Cyborgs (often both) in return for a fixed dollop of money each month.

Now this is by no means the only way of organizing the cybernetic network that distributes resources, labour, and power. Nor is the only alternative a State takeover of industry so that Capital Cyborgs can be replaced with Communists. But we don't spend much time thinking about how this game could be hacked to produce better outcomes. It does not, as Robert Nozick warned, seem plausible to ensure the kind of monetary equality that John Rawls dreamt about in his Kant-inspired political vision. There will always be differences in wealth and earnings. But it is still perfectly plausible (and potentially possible) to radically reduce the disproportionate distribution of money we currently endure.

What stops this most effectively is that both left and right, whichever country you might be in, argue about which is the best way to entrench the wage system. The view from the right is that giving more power to Entrepreneur Cyborgs will ‘make more jobs’, and thus improve things. This plan is great news for Capital Cyborgs, who spend billions to support it. The view from the left is that more money should be paid out to women, or ethnic minorities, or in some cases all Wage Cyborgs, in order that the financial cybernetic network be made ‘fairer’. But note that even from the left, the Wage Cyborg is enshrined as necessary and essential. When unions strike, it is nearly always about getting a bigger share of the money for wage-earners.

I agree with Nozick that uneven monetary arrangements can’t be eliminated (at least, not from our current position). Trade is fundamental to our human experience now that there are only a few hundred self-sufficient tribespeople left on our planet. But the Wage Cyborg is not axiomatic. Companies can divide their money in other ways than individually priced work agreements, a situation far more valuable to Entrepreneurs and Capital Cyborgs than anyone else. But I rather suspect the main reason we sustain the commercial system we have is not just the influence of those on the top, but the weariness of those on the bottom, who haven’t the strength left after working to make a stand. And so the game rolls on...

A Hundred Cyborgs, #42


Autumnal Intermission

Taking my usual break from social media for a few weeks this November. I will be hiding from the socially mediated world from Sunday November 11th until Monday 26th November at the earliest. A Hundred Cyborgs will continue soon afterwards.

Back soon!


Noise-cancelling Headphones

Noise-cancelling headphonesIt’s amazing to think that just a whisker over a century ago, there were no headphones of any kind. Since 1910, this technology has not only advanced it has proliferated. Most people reading this see people with headphones (or ear buds, or something similar) every day – many will use them daily, either for listening to music, or for communication software like Discord, Skype, and Zoom. They have outsold mice to become the most widespread computer accessory in the world, with a $10 billion market.

Noise-cancelling headphones are the most high tech option available at the moment. Sound propagates as waves, and all waves can be manipulated by the addition of other patterns of waveforms. Noise-cancelling tech uses a microphone to detect ambient noise, inverts the waveform, then adds the 180 degree inverse wave to the soundwaves being played. This almost completely neutralises the sound of the outside world, isolating the user in a audio world of their own. Fantastic news... unless you are trying to cross the road, then you have rendered yourself deaf and thus in far greater danger! I won’t dwell too much on this particular risk, but it is still worth bearing it in mind.

Noise-cancelling headphones use almost identical components to the earpieces considered on Tuesday, with a diametrically opposite effect. If earpieces bind us together into co-operative cyborg collectives, noise-cancelling headphones shut out the outside world and isolate us. Setting aside the practical problems of combining these kinds of headphones with motorised vehicles, this is not necessarily a situation provoking any kind of moral debility. Everyone needs their alone time, and being able to focus precisely upon sounds is especially useful for sound engineers and other people who work closely with audio data. But the noise-cancelling headphone is emblematic of a world of consumers invited and tempted to revel in private solipsism. Shutting out the people around us is a natural instinct for humans – as Kant suggested, we are a species who primary collective experience is one of ‘sociable unsociability.’ We paradoxically want and need to be around other humans, even though we can’t always bear to do so, and tend to sabotage our social bonds through petty competitiveness.

It is certainly not a sign of moral debility to want to use noise-cancelling headphones. But the fact that this invention gives rise to this device and not others might give us pause. After all, the same technology could also be used to cancel out the tinny racket made by the person on the bus or train who has turned their volume up to tinnitus-inducing levels. But there is simply no motive in a purely individualist culture to care about the noise pollution we are causing around us, much less pay to stop it. This is a sign of a far bigger problem, one merely papered over by the consumerist hymn to individualism: our disempowerment in the face of technological corporate interests is presented to us as our personal freedom.

A Hundred Cyborgs, #41


The Secret of Game Narrative – Live

Adventurex-2018

This Saturday (10th November) at 12:15 pm GMT, ihobo’s founder Chris Bateman is giving a talk at AdventureX entitled The Secret of Game Narrative. The event is being streamed live on Twitch. We hope you’ll join us for this special talk about the unique ways that videogames create and subvert traditional narratives.

12:15 pm GMT, Saturday 10th November 2018. Cross posted from ihobo.com.


Earpieces

EarpieceFascinating cyborgs are made through the use of miniaturised speakers and a microphone in what is frequently called ‘an earpiece’, a term that also refers to the speakers of any telecommunication device held up to your ear. The earpiece joins two of more humans through a local cybernetic network allowing either two-way communication or just listening. The most famous uses for such a system is in bodyguarding or espionage, but the situation you are most likely to encounter earpieces is radio DJs and TV news anchors, whose producers provide constant steering directions direct to their ear.

The question of the cybervirtue of earpieces is that of the positive and negative behaviour it might bring about, and the earpiece encourages a kind of attentiveness that can be viewed as beneficial. Although there is a subtle and largely harmless element of subterfuge entailed in these arrangements – an invisible presence communicates covertly – the moral implications of this are largely innocent. For the most part, earpieces provide beneficial ways to bind co-workers into communicative groupings, and allow for new forms of co-operation that were strictly impossible before radio technology – although the famous scene in Cyrano de Bergerac is at least suggestive of earlier precedents, albeit with substantial poetic license and modestly nefarious intentions.

In science fiction games and stories, the earpiece is replaced with an aural splice – a digital device implanted directly into the ear. Here, the Bateman-Clarke Conjecture strikes again! This idea is solely appealing because we treat this cyberware body mod as if it were magic. In practical terms, given the inherent fallibility of all digital components, would it really be superior to require surgery to add or remove an earpiece when you could simply slip one on or off? There is the stink of what I have called cyberfetish about this fantasy – we oddly think cybernetic replacements for bodily functions are cool, and fail to notice that to wish for, say, cyberlegs, is to fantasise about being crippled on the grounds that replacement robot limbs must necessarily be an improvement. From The Six Million Dollar Man onwards, these escapist views of body modification have dominated sci-fi narratives. The paraplegic surely has reasons to wish for such technology – but it is perverse for anyone else to do so.

Even with just an aural splice, which does not involve amputation to make it work, are we so sure what we are wishing to get from body modification is not entirely deluded? Might it not be the case that a good pair of headphones already offers a perfectly reasonable way to put audio into our flesh-and-blood ears? Do not be fooled into thinking about technology as magic; every tool has its price, and this is doubly so for imaginary cyberware.

A Hundred Cyborgs, #40


Spaceships

EarthriseArthur C. Clarke’s Third Law famously proposed that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” But there is an subtle corollary to this... call it the Bateman-Clarke Conjecture: “Any entirely imagined technology is interchangeable with magic.” To put it another way, the only difference between science fiction and fantasy is that the former depends upon manipulating our scientific beliefs, whereas the latter can make up absolutely anything. Thus with a passing knowledge of contemporary theory, you can invent a sci-fi technology to do anything... plausibility disguises itself as possibility.

With this in mind, there are three essential kinds of spaceships: those we have built, those we can plan to build, and those we can only imagine.  The trouble is, those latter two kinds get mixed up all too easily. Is a Europa lander something we can plan to build, or merely something we imagine? What about a colony ship? A Dyson sphere? Not seeing a technical objection is not equivalent to possessing the capability to implement. Science fiction consistently deceives us in this way, and we let it because we are imaginative beings and while we are capable of debunking other people’s mythologies, we can never quite manage it for our own.

The NASA lunar missions, and the Russian orbital missions before them, served political roles that entailed crafting the way people imagined them. “First man...” is a logic that serves political goals – as with “First woman...” and “First black...” There are positive aspects to this mythos-crafting, and Joseph Campbell was keen to stress the way the first Earthrise photograph (pictured above) opened the door to a new perspective on our planetary existence. But this hoped-for shift in perspective did not spread very far (although it’s there in utopian visions like Gene Roddenberry’s). Rather than uniting the planet, the post-Earthrise planet is fragmented into different responses to the existential threat humans pose to themselves: the environmentalist rally for prioritising the Earth; the reactionary denial of any need to save the world; and the insane confluence of those positions in the ‘flee the planet’ mythos that proposes that rather than solving the problems of human life on Earth, we should escape our doom here and magically work out our problems on another planet. The Bateman-Clarke Conjecture strikes again!

Part of the moral problem of spaceships is that we deceive ourselves about them in the same way we do about cars. We imagine the autonomy of the Millennium Falcon and ignore the immense cybernetic network required to make any industrial vehicle tenable. Bruno Latour remarked that airplanes don’t fly, it is airlines that fly. Well, spaceships do not visit other planets, it is space agencies that do, whether public or privately owned – and at a considerable cost in resources. If the achievements of NASA in producing the Earthrise photograph are not understood as the product of immense and expensive co-operative endeavours, then all space travel scenarios dissolve into mere fantasy.

A Hundred Cyborgs, #39


Halloween

JackolanternIf the spooky festivities of Halloween do not strike us as having any corresponding cyborg, it can only be because we habitually fail to see the technological networks we are embedded within, and thus the vast webs of machines and organisms we are living within. Take Halloween candy as just one simple dimension: cocoa plants in equatorial countries are harvested by humans and shipped by giant container vessels to factories in industrial nations. There, spherical moulds used to make chocolate snowballs for sale in December will instead make chocolate Jack-o’-lanterns, and humanoid moulds make ghosts and vampires before they turn to making Santas, and soon after anthropomorphic rabbits. Then off by giant freighter once again to supermarkets where they are bought to hand over to young children at the doorsteps of millions of houses on one single night of the year.

As already explored, our calendar is inherited from Christianity. Christian festivals were influenced by older pagan festivities – such as Ostara (Easter) in Spring, Yule (Christmas) in Winter, and Samhain (Halloween). Whatever ancient Celts may have done at this time of year, contemporary pagans celebrate Samhain (pronounced ‘sah-wun’) as a time to honour the dead, and the Day of the Dead on November 2nd that is celebrated in Mexico and elsewhere is directly parallel. In the Christian calendar, All Hallows’ Eve (from which Halloween takes its name) is not even the significant date: it is merely the night before All Hallows Day, which is the day before All Souls Day – which is the aforementioned Day of the Dead. All Hallows Day, or All Saints Day, is for honouring the beatified dead prior to offering prayers for everyone else the day after. This aspect of these festivities is all but lost in the vast commercial cybernetic network these religious practices have spawned.

If we ask about the cybervirtue of Halloween, we’re enquiring into the positive and negative behavioural effects of this odd cybernetic network. Buying candy does not seem to offer much sign of virtue, although giving it away for free is ostensibly generous, if it is not done out of fear of reprisals in the form of egging and the like. Strip away the commercial veneer of neutered monsters and mandatory candy, however, and focus upon the surviving Christian and pagan rites of remembrance and it is easier to have something positive to say. Even without invoking anything supernatural, the world around us is a living echo of those who came before, and we are as much the cybernetic production of the souls of the dead as of our trade distribution networks (also set in motion by those now gone). The cyber-respectful honouring of the dead wrought by calendars and mementos off the departed is far less entertaining than the circus that is commercial Halloween, but it also might be worth far more to the humans involved, who may yet gain a clearer vision of their future through reflection upon the past.

A Hundred Cyborgs, #38


President of the United States

Contains ideas some people may find offensive.

Presidential SealWhat a fascinating cyborg the President of the United States has become! Heads of state always had their vast networks of beings and things – “all the king's horses and all the king’s men” which, then as now, couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again. But the US President, or ‘POTUS’, as the internet has crowned him, is the boy with the most toys. The White House, the secret service, Air Force One, the Presidential Emergency Operations Centre bunker, not to mention all the military hardware connected through his role as ‘Commander in Chief’, which includes – for the last three Presidents – an army of killer robots that can assassinate anyone deemed worth killing in complete disregard for international law.

Now a lot of ink has been spilled, or rather, pixels enflamed, over just who carries the title ‘President of the United States’. And to be sure, this is a highly influential position, quite possibly living up to the sobriquet ‘most powerful man in the world’ (and for now, at least, it appears this role does require a penis). But there is something highly misleading about treating the vast cybernetic network surrounding the Oval Office as crystallising in the absolute power of the one individual. For it rather seems as if, with the state of, well, the States, the President is more akin to a rodeo clown clinging to a careening bronco, more engaged in clinging on than having the capacity to steer this lumbering behemoth of a nation in any specific direction.

The murderous drone fleet is a dead give away in this regard. It began under Bush Jr., escalated under Obama, and continues to do so under Trump. Now if we understand the President as being ‘in charge’, what are we to think? That all three men held in common a reckless disregard for human rights agreements the US had been instrumental in drafting? Or perhaps a strong desire to encourage terrorist recruitment and the entrenchment of ‘America’s enemies’? No, I doubt this is what we’re dealing with here. It seems vastly more likely that the institutions of state in the US, and the vast cybernetic network surrounding them, are beyond the direct influence of any elected official and that it is either impossible or at the very least tremendously challenging for any individual to steer it in new directions.

I love the United States, I love the ideals it was built upon, and I love its citizens, both liberal and conservative – I even married one. But I cannot buy into this story that the occupancy of the White House is the root problem with this once-great nation. I fear that POTUS is secretly IMPOTUS, and that the entrenched battle over who can sit in the top seat obfuscates a far more troubling crisis of communication and citizenship identity, and the horrifying absence of any honourable disagreement that might allow a politics that is something other than endless figurative and literal war.

A Hundred Cyborgs, #37


Introducing the Chronicles of International Hobo

ihobo_biglogoBig things are brewing at International Hobo… After nearly two decades of providing our acclaimed game design and narrative services to nearly 60 clients on four continents, we are opening a new office in downtown Manchester and putting together development teams to work on some intriguing game projects of our own. We’re still delivering our award-winning services to clients, but over the next few years we’ll also be dipping our own toes into development and publishing – not to mention some crowdfunding to help those projects get off the ground.

To help our loyal fans, clients, friends, and associates stay abreast of what we’re up to, we’re launching a new email Newsletter, The Chronicles of International Hobo, as a place for keeping track of our game projects, speaking gigs, and crowdfunding campaigns, as well as contractor and staff openings. We’d be truly grateful to anyone who wants to sign up for the Newsletter, using the box in the sidebar here, or via the landing page over at TinyLetter.

We will still be posting updates here at ihobo.com, but the Newsletter will provide additional behind-the-scenes information that won’t be here on the site, including opportunities to collaborate with us on game projects in ways we’ve never offered before.

Please sign up for the Newsletter – and thank you for supporting International Hobo!

Cross-posted from ihobo.com.