So many books to read, so little time.

The Information Bomb

with 23 comments

Verso, 2006

Verso, 2006

Compared to Deleuze and Guattari, reading Virilio is a breeze. This is a short book of about 150 pages, yet it packs as dense a punch as A Thousand Plateaus and uses similar concepts and terms. Virilio retains a pessimistic outlook regarding humanity’s relationship to technology, and views all scientific and technological development as being driven by military necessity. Hence, the internet itself was developed by the Defense Department and originally named Darpanet, but is then unleashed upon the world as a means of connecting the world via information, and ultimately giving the world finite boundaries that can be transversed instantaenously. Actual reality, which is governed by physical spaces and distances, is now supplemented by a virtual reality that produces and reproduces its own information that alters actual reality. Virilio’s world is one in which all ‘locals’ are truly ‘global’, where only ‘world time’ exists since all unfolding events are simultaneously broadcast across the world at every moment. And just as we can instantaenously broadcost information to the world, the world can just as easily look in, and following the vast network of information exchange to focus on any event or place in the world. Thus, we have an age of ‘tele-surveillance’ made possible by the ‘Grand-Scale Transhorizon Optics’ of universal global virtual reality (p. 13-15). The planet itself has now become cybernetic and endogenous, meaning that all information broadcast on each reflexively feeds back onto itself and all points on earch, creating new responses to new information created and disseminated in virtual reality. Everyone can which everyone else as global media focuses in and out of new objects, a process that has its own strategic value ripe for manipulation.

Take advertising. Given a global audience and a global market by the information bomb, capitalism can now invent demand for any of its products among every single human population. This is a ‘new-world ecology’ of information, making possible new possibilities for self-perpetuating ‘war-machines’ (p. 49) that reproduce themselves using global information channels. Since all information and locales are connected to each other competition with one’s adversaries (military or economic) necessitates that each actor wages an all-out war of information, to disseminate itself to all other actors, essentially to control information and how it is perceived. Thus, globalization creates a single ‘panoptical’ point of observation, in which we are all directed to observe the same events and all observers can observe each of us (p. 60-61).

Virilio deplores the homogenizing effects of the information bomb, yet at the same time fortells its own destruction. By creating a self-referencing virtual reality grafted onto actual reality, the information bomb creates the possibility of an ‘image crash’, where virtual ideas distort actual reality and do not conform to the perceptions of other actors. In monetary terms: “Virtual inflation no longer relates solely to the economy of manufactured products [or] the financial bubble, but to the very understanding of our relation to the world.” (p. 113) Virilio almost perfectly describes the American financial crisis in this section, itself caused by making up things that didn’t exist. Collective disbelief, or at least belief in something else.

Instead of historical periods (longue durees), time is reduced to light and speed – “a cosmological constant capable of conditioning human history.” (p. 119) ‘Conditioning’ is creating mechanical mental responses that automate human existence, even democracy becomes automatic as life becomes cybernetic:

“This history of the end of this millennium, held in a levitated state, is based almost solely on the incessant tele-presence of events which do not really succeed each other, since the relief of instantaneity is already winning out over the depth of historical successivity…Finally, everything is reversed. What arrives, what suddenly comes to us is far more important than what leaves, what goes off to the depths of our memories or the far reaches of the geographical horizon.” (p. 127)

Discursively creating a ‘telepresence’ using global information technology can be understood as information warfare, fought over creating ‘real time’ exchanges on the dimensions of geophysical, techno-scientific, and ideological global reality. (p. 143) As if war was fought at light speed by the transmission of successive images that created new interests and objectives in the minds of other people. And because the new ecology is linked to every other part of itself, it can change rapidly and create dramatic shifts in group identities and interests. Historical processes that might have taken hundreds of years before the information bomb might be condensed or vulnerable to rapid and chaotic change because society is ideationally moving faster, literally toward light speed. Thus, Virilio invents the term ‘dromology’ to describe ‘the logic of speed’. It might be interesting to see how dromology relates to contemporay wars, particularly irregular conflicts like those raging across southwest Asia.

Update:  for another look at Virilio, check out Adam’s review which kicked off this blog.  Yes, reviewing the same book without realizing would constitute something of an EPIC FAIL on my part, thanks for asking.


Written by stephenpampinella

January 9, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

23 Responses

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  1. “… war was fought at light speed by the transmission of successive images that created new interests and objectives in the minds of other people.”

    But that is not war.

    It may be brainwashing, or persuasion, or hypnosis, or something. But not war.

    “War is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fufill our will.”

    Violence is absent and compulsion is probably absent. This type of thing may be ancillary to warfare, or preceded it, or even be an instrument of warfare. But it is not war.

    Keeping our categories clear and uncluttered will help us make sense of the inundation of crazy new stuff that is coming our way.

    In fact, I think more and more that keeping our language is clear and uncluttered as possible is the only thing that is going to keep our nostrils above water in the years ahead — metaphorically of course.

    Lexington Green`

    January 9, 2009 at 10:57 pm

  2. Read this 6 yrs. ago. Probably’ll have to go thru it again. DEFINITELY easier to read than Deleuze & Guattari (what on earth are they talkin’ ’bout?), but still, “an age of ‘tele-surveillance’ made possible by the ‘Grand-Scale Transhorizon Optics’ of universal global virtual reality” is a mouthful.

    Still gives me headache readin’ “War & Cinema : The Logistics of Perception”. While does it seem that French works even when translated into English still seem so difficult a read?


    January 10, 2009 at 8:49 am

  3. Lex,

    I agree with the war-as-violence critique in principle, but I think what Virilio is getting at is the relationship between war and politics. While Clausewitz asserts as war is merely an extension of politics, numerous postmodern scholars have asserted that politics is an extension of war, to the point that politics (‘brainwashing’ or socially constructing reality by communicating information) is merely an extension of war (Foucault 1972, Deleuze and Guattari 1987). Counterinsurgency theorists also make a similar point: “‘A revolutionary war is 20 per cent military action and 80 per cent political’ is a formula that reflects the truth.” (Galula 1964, 63) Kilcullen goes further and even says its 100 percent (Kilcullen 2005). In other words, how people understand violent actions – the meanings they assign to those acts – is more important than the actual act of violence itself in winning a war, because how people react to violence will determine their perceptions of legitimacy and the rightfulness of mobilizing for future acts of violence. The winner is the side that mobilize more support than the adversary and also deter any additional or spantaenous mobilization by making the very acts of waging war illegitimate. The same principle applies in states with functioning governments where ‘war’ in society is localized and regulated by the state. For example, police forces legitimately wage war against those who break the law, and if their violent actions – intended to compel law breakers to submit to their will – are considered illegitimate by the population, then they will instigate future acts of violence. And, the very fact that the violence exists, in whatever form, is proof that the police are losing a ‘war’ on crime.

    What does ‘tele-presence’ have to do with all of this? When warring parties commit violent acts against each other, they compete to attract tele-presence to those acts and point out their illegitimacy. Hence, Hezbollah skillfully used the accidental killings of civilians by Israel in Lebanon to great effect in 2006 and in 1982(i think? forgive my history but it happened twice). It doesn’t even have to be the other side fighting in the war to point out illegitimate violence and create tele-presence around them. The Red Cross is doing just this WRT to some instances of Israeli operations in Gaza. The fact that global media exists as the medium of communication permits any non-state actor can draw attention to the perceived legitimacy and illegitimacy of coercive force. Perpetuating one’s own legitimate violence while ending the adversary’s illegitimate violence is the difference between victory and defeat.


    This was my first Virilio piece and I hope to read more. Bayart’s translation into English is also ridiculous and makes for slow reading. I hope to draw out more similarities between Deleuze/Guattari and Virilio in future posts and in conversations with A.E., especially the concepts of space, linguistics, and war machines.


    January 10, 2009 at 8:55 pm

  4. […] 10, 2009 Lots of paper writing and reading lately, some summaries are posted at the Antilibrary blog. Related to a comment I made to Lexington about politics, war, […]

    Meh « Stephen Pampinella

    January 10, 2009 at 9:14 pm

  5. Stephen, with no sarcasm whatsoever, you should read Clausewitz.

    I am finding it interesting.

    “While Clausewitz asserts as war is merely an extension of politics, numerous postmodern scholars have asserted that politics is an extension of war, to the point that politics … is merely an extension of war …”

    Clausewitz says that war is an extension of policy with the addition of additional means. To carry out policy the political leadership possess a range of means, including the kind of persuasive ones you refer to. A policy such as “pacify Iraq” may call for a package of “means” that is 80% non-kinetic. It is a counterinsurgency program, and perhaps counterinsurgency warfare is a misnomer. But anything that involves a substantial amount of violence is still probably some kind of “war”. But I do not think it lends clarity to say that politics is war by other means. I suppose I would have to see that assertion laid out more comprehensively to see if actually made any sense.

    My limited exposure to the postmodern writers is that they like to do wordplay, and flip expressions and be paradoxical, more as a form of intellectual play than as a means to better understand the world and make informed decisions. If I am being unfair, I confess to limited exposure and limited interest in these thinkers based on what I have seen.

    Moreover, to be pointillistic, you err in attributing the word “merely” to Clausewitz’s definition. Embarking on a war is to enter a world of violence and danger and uncertainty than is no “mere” extension of policy, it is a major step, into a darkened as I think Hitler himself put it.

    My main point is that keeping terms clear is helpful. War has its own domain, even with fuzzy edges. Politics, the same. Calling what the police do “war” probably does not help clarify what they are doing or how it ought to be responded to.

    Lexington Green

    January 11, 2009 at 10:15 pm

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    March 21, 2009 at 3:27 am

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    April 25, 2009 at 2:36 am

  9. […] “Compared to Deleuze and Guattari, reading Virilio is a breeze.” Actually not Virilio himself but the book called “The information bomb” which he wrote. And this post gives a rough summary of it’s content. So it seems to be up to me to give a summary of a summary. And if anyone would start to summarize me than we alltogether get a book of 150 pages broken down to, say, 150 words or even letters. This would be the opposite effect of an information bomb I suppose. […]

    Linkblog » Antilibrary

    January 12, 2010 at 8:06 pm

  10. […] stephenpampinella on September 13, 2010 I previously reviewed Virilio’s The Information Bomb here, and in the meantime have read War as Cinema and Open Sky. Virilio theorizes about the future and […]

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