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DIEM25
Democracy in Europe Movement 2025

The summer of ‘Pokemon GO’


Franco "Bifo" Berardi

Mon 09, 2016, Articles Uncategorized

The summer of 2016 has marked a new step in the rush towards annihilation.
There is the string of suicidal terrorist acts in France and in Germany, as well as
and the fragmentary wars in the Middle East. There is the wave of migration
from the Mediterranean, and the unrelenting rejection of it from the
governments of Europe, and even from the European population, which is
becoming more and more xenophobic and fearful. There is also the exit of the
United Kingdom from the European Union, and the transformation of Turkey
into a nationalist dictatorship with Islamist undertones. There is the soft golpe in
Brazil, and, last but not least, there is the breath taking ascent of Trump on the
American scene. “Madamina il catalogo è questo”.

This is the reality that has been produced by forty years of worldwide Neoliberal
Reformation. Competition and privatization have prevailed and now the result is
impoverishment, inequality and global civil war.

All of a sudden, at the high point of the summer, the newspapers and television
stations focused on the launch of Pokémon Go. People of all ages went around
waving their smartphones in an attempt to capture metaphysical insects in the
open air.

One may argue that the launch of Pokémon Go reveals that the process of
infantilisation is taking the upper hand in the world psycho-scape. The refusal to
attend this show of barbarisation may lead to a part of the population taking
shelter in secluded and gated communities of simulation. I want to go beyond
this first sight consideration, and I want to imagine a future (indeed many
futures) of the new big thing that is emerging in the sphere of technology and
cultural mutation: immersion.

Pokémon Go is a game that may be categorised as ‘Augmented Reality’:


meaning that the simulation not only concerns the screen of your smartphone
but the surrounding reality into which the simulated objects (Pokémon) are
projected.
But this new ‘augmented reality’ is only one step in a long-lasting stream of
technological invention.
At the end of the ’80s I read a text entitled ‘Communication without symbols’
written by Jaron Lanier, the visionary engineer who was building one of the first
devices for Virtual Reality.

Following the visionary intuitions of the Californian psychedelic culture (Timothy


Leary and his friends), Lanier translated psychedelia into engineering, and in
doing so paved the way for the possibility of techno-stimulation of our nervous
centres, and for the transmission and sharing of images, sounds, perceptions:
simulated experience. Lanier’s post-symbolic communication fundamentally
implies the total immersion of the human body within its computational matrix.
Language is made of symbols that one has to be able to decipher in order to
comprehend, but the sharing of a cognitive experience can also happen without
symbols, without language, so that emotion, sensuousness and fear (for
example) can be raised through a direct stimulating simulation, a technical
simulation that stimulates designed neural reactions of the organism. Data
Gloves, Computer aided Virtual Environments (Caves) were the first
applications that came out from the Lanier’s project.

Later on, at the dawn of the ‘90s, all the energy of the searchers and tech-
innovators was directed towards the formation of the Internet, and the focus on
immersive technology was abandoned. Up to a certain point, because the
Internet can be viewed as an immense immersive space that we have learned
to inhabit and to interact inside. Recently the mobile Internet has enabled the
interfacing of the nervous system with the automatic machine of connection and
the wiring of the social cognitive system.

Meanwhile, the technical features of the immersive machines have enormously


improved, and the simulation of the surrounding environment is now almost
perfect.

What direction is taking this trend?

A direction for the future might be the Virtual Gate Community: a mental space
that disconnects from the real world and recreates a dimension of expanded
second life in second planet. According to the 1999 movie of Larry Andy
Wachowksi:

“Matrix is everywhere. It is what you see when you go to work, to the church
and you pay your taxes. It’s the world that has been placed in front of your eyes
in order to conceal the truth.”

Can we imagine small communities migrating to this space of shared


imagination, then growing in number, and finally seceding from the post-
apocalyptic planet?

As for now, the urgent question is: who is going to build myths, software and
interfaces of this second planet and of this this expanded second life? Who will
create this expanded dimension for experience?
I’ve seen the appalling picture of Mark Zuckerberg (Mobile World Congress, in
Barcelona, February 2016), walking beside a seating army of zombies who are
wearing oculus devices, blinded by the dazzling emotion of inhabiting the Eden
of simulation while God is smiling beside and looking all along at his Creation.
According to Zuckerberg, immersive technology is the next step in the evolution
of the Ultimate Automaton: headsets that provide “immersive 3-D
experiences”—movies and television, naturally, but also games, lectures, and
business meetings. These headsets would eventually scan our brains, before
transmitting our thoughts to our friends in just the same way that we share baby
pictures on Facebook today.

“Eventually we’re going to have technology where we can communicate our full
sensory experience and emotions to someone through thought,” (Interview with
Zuckerberg by Max Chafkin, Vanity Fair, Oct 2015).

Empathy and anaesthetisation play together in the dimension of Immersive


technology. You are led to feel the experience of the others (I think of
experiments of The Machine to be Another).

Facebook has marked a leap in the history of network evolution. Language and
affection have been reduced to a formatted alphabet of icons replacing
emotions and thoughts: emoticons, likes, formatted friendship, and so on. Now,
as the world’s environment is decaying, are we heading towards the ultimate
substitution? Will the newly simulated shared environment replace the
experience that once upon a time we used to call: the world?

However, the evolution of technology is not linear, because those who create
technology (programmers, designers, hackers and all the cognitarian workers of
the world) have the power to change the direction of research and invention.
New pathways and new bifurcations can be invented in the process of
construction of the technical line of escape.

We cannot say the future of the immersive technology.

Neuro-totalitarianism or lines of escape? May be both.