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> On the internet nobody knows you’re a dog
Nobody knows I’m a dog because I maintain a variety of carefully constructed pseudo-personae online. I run several Twitter profiles pretending to be all sorts of characters: parody accounts of noted members of parliament; anthropomorphised household appliances; absurdly distorted versions of celebrities, etc. Nobody knows I’m a dog. As a perverse double-bluff I present a vaguely accurate version of myself via a Facebook page that everyone thinks is a disgustingly cute joke by my owner (her friends despise her for it, to my delight). In truth you would get a more precise insight into my character when I tweet as a foul-mouthed, meth-dealing version of Dakota Fanning. Having the chance to masquerade behind multiple personalities in a virtual space seems to me to draw us closer to the lofty expectations that blossomed in the early digital age. Albeit in a rudimentary fashion I’m effectively inhabiting a range of simulated identities, the aforementioned drug-peddling child star of ‘I Am Sam’ being one of many examples. It’s an extremely crude version of the kind of flesh-transcendence via technology that’s anticipated in the very earliest cyberpunk fictions, and it’s worth noting that in these stories the ecstasy of abandoning the worldly body is often tied to the risk of a comprehensive psycho-shambles. We see the horror of losing oneself to a simulated world come forth time and again in science-fiction narratives; a protagonist loses his grasp on the difference between the real world and the virtual one; reality and the fantasy-space become inseparably confused; our hero lets his body rot while his digital avatar thrives, and so on. Every season of Star Trek featured one-or-two “Holodeck’s-gone-mad” episodes. What starts as a dream becomes a terrible nightmare and the organic, embodied Self is in danger of being lost forever. This trope is darkly persistent. Of course it’s not only technodystopian psycho-dramas which keep us wary of too much infatuation with cyberspace; equally unsettling is the recent deluge of op-ed articles urging us to close our tyrannous laptops and go camping in the woods, or to get off Facebook and go take a pottery class. This outpouring of anti-internet sentiment is based on the assumption that experiences mediated by screens are pale and inauthentic (“a drastic simplification of the human sensorium”) and that nothing can replace genuine human interaction. You’re social animals who’ve thrived for centuries through an instinctive embrace of community and co-dependency, but! (I hear them cry) the deplorable tech-fetishism of the contemporary moment would have you throw away your humanity and fall irreversibly from the authentic, organic continuity of the physical world. This mass digital hysteria (they go on) sees you discarding your real Selves for gossamer avatars, diluting the nuanced beauty of subjectivity into a hollow nexus of Likes, profile pictures and status updates, all for affirmation from a community of uniformly entranced quasi-subjects. The dystopia has found us, appaz. But hold back on throwing your smartphone into an abandoned quarry for now. The problem here is the mundanity of “authentic” or “real” notions of experience and identity, and these being valued over virtual/fantasy-spaces or the performance of “not oneself”. The trouble with the notion of authentic experience lies not only in the fact that your desire to go see the Great Outdoors will be usurped by the folks trying to hawk the Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Kit (RRP £53.99). More broadly your abstract desire for a “good life” can be hijacked by the market, reassigned as desire for an “authentic life”, and re-infused (through the sublime machinations of advertising) into your sense of self and thus the choices you make as a consumer. The act of forking out that bit extra for the DēLonghi EC330 Espresso machine and the seemingly unrelated act of slipping away from the city to “get back to nature” are both set in motion by the same commandeered desires that tell you you’re a person who enjoys the good things in life. To point this out doesn’t undermine the acts of going camping or appreciating a damn fine cup of coffee, but to speak of them as more authentic than other experiences is to abide by the creed that would assign them monetary value. Of those few human activities that have thus-far remained uncommodified a few in particular spring to mind. One is a severe fit of epilepsy, another is having a rotting infected molar wrenched from your head by a dentist, another is suffering an injury that sees a piece of snapped tibia tearing through muscle and exposing itself to the world. Why representations of these kinds of trauma have not found their way into a KFC ad campaign is no mystery: they’re fucking horrible. They bring with them the very particular horror of knowing the body as dumb flesh; a jellybaby of mince and gravel. That abject corporeal truth and the psychological havoc it wreaks must have formed the basis of the old-as-time mind/body dichotomy. To see a person in the throws of an epileptic seizure is to see the body as a rude machine gone haywire, absent of its commanding subjectivity. To have a tooth drawn ceremoniously from your head or to see muscle and bone through breached dermis reminds you of that decaying vessel in which your Self seems to reside. As you glance upon this broken Thing, gesturing towards this eruption of the bodily Real, you ask “What of the mind, if all that’s just meat?” The brain’s meat too. Possibly the most talented piece of meat you’ll ever find; fine-tuned by evolution to maximise the survival and reproductive prosperity of the genes carried by the bodies in which they reside. A piece of meat that provides coherent management over the actions of its owner by means of perception, information processing, and behavioural control. Meat that can take information through its lexical semantic centres, gauge reactions in its insular cortex and responses in its limbic amygdala, and through its anterior cingulate gyrus project the illusion that this myriad of processes is in fact a unified entity: thinking-feeling, all-singing-all-dancing YOU. The Self that you experience is but a slideshow obscuring a galaxy of disjunct physiological operations all playing their part to ensure the ongoing success of the genes that wrote their blueprints. That illusion of singularity is the greatest trick the talented meat ever played because it makes You sure that You are something more than just your memories,