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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2008/01/24
by Jesse Jarnow

War on War, parts 14-15

BRAIN TUBA: War on War, parts 14-15
Over Christmas vacation, I went to my couch, which was actually a far more exotic destination than I could have possibly suspected. The reason for undertaking such an arduous journey was fairly obvious: sitting at my desk felt lonely without my laptop, which was in hands of the bright-eyed and occasionally able 20somethings at the Apple Store Genius Bar. My couch, unequipped with a wifi receiver as it is, might as well have been a beach. For a day or two, it was relaxing, but then my friends started arriving back in town from their various holiday jams, and it became a little nerve-wracking.
Not having a Google search bar nestled somewhere within arm’s length was — at least in an isomorphically consistent way — like being without running water. The information I needed was still accessible, but I had to go to the well. Or, actually several wells. I had pick up a newspaper to find out what was going on in the world or get a listing of movie times (or turn on the TV or make a phone call), go outside to find out the temperature (or buy a thermometer), call restaurants to find out their addresses, look at wall-posters to find out what subways were and weren’t running (or text message friends). And that’s not to mention watching a movie and not being able to Wiki-up pages about the director. Granted, I can live without all this information, but — when I have the choice — I don’t. The world felt different without that constant technological overlay, the familiar fading inaccessible into the background.

I weathered the week and read a book a day, savoring what William Gibson called "the oldest and the first mass medium…. But it’s still the same thing — I make black marks on a white surface and someone else in another location looks at them and interprets them and sees a spaceship or whatever. It’s magic." I was still pleased as punch to get my computer back.
We are not agrarians. That much is pretty obvious. And though being green has become such a catch-all that a spambot named "Liv Greene" recently showed up on my buddylist, getting back to the garden doesn’t dominate our mass cultural fantasies the way it did 40 years ago, when Joni Mitchell sang in "Woodstock" about how "we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden." Rather, the idea of being environmentally friendly is just that: being friendly, as if the environment were something separate from ourselves, like a creature in a zoo. This is encompassed perfectly in the notion of ‘carbon neutral’ events: doing things that are actually bad for the environment, but planting enough trees to offset the damage. It is environmentally ‘friendly’ in the same way a fake smile over a lop-sided business deal is.
Instead, our utopias are technological. "The Google story, like the rise of Microsoft — or the Beatles — has already become a legend of popular culture," Ken Auletta noted in a recent New Yorker piece. Once, one might have found a political alignment for himself through the music he listened to and the drugs he consumed. Now, one’s relationship with technology can also be extrapolated into something resembling an ideological stance (especially if one considers the spread of the internet to be our generation’s equivalent of LSD). Either way, the article in which Auletta compared Larry Page and Sergey Brin to Lennon and McCartney was titled ‘The Search Party,’ about the California company’s first forays onto Capitol Hill.
Meanwhile, Sweden has seen the rise of the Pirate Party, an organization founded in 2006 to make arguments in favor of open intellectual property rights. Though one can imagine the party drawing its strength from the fuck-you-very-much appeal of its name, there is something to be said for using the opposition to digital rights management as a springboard into conversations about civil liberties. Certainly, some of these issues have entered into the national debate, with both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton making their support of net neutrality part of their advertised platforms. But one wonders how deeply it runs. Just as the legalization of marijuana seems fairly far-fetched, so does the legalization of downloading, as the Pirate Party has argued for.
One imagines that the dorks would need some kind of advocacy wing — in the same way that the Black Panthers were an advocacy wing of the civil rights movement — before having any kind of deeper impact on American politics. But maybe not. The European wing of the Green Party — which, according to BoingBoing, "controls 10% of the continentwide vote" — recently released a pro-file-sharing public service announcement, explicitly connecting the piracy laws with a classist tactic espoused by multi-national corporations, and (by virtue of their being the Green Party) drawing a line from their work to the bigger global picture.
How will it play out in our own Presidential election? It probably won’t, which is too bad, because one can imagine it being folded into the cynical cycles of American political in-jokes 30 years from now, when it is already too late: "I downloaded… but I didn’t listen!"

Jesse Jarnow blogs at

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