The Information Bomb
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.