It's by using the technologies and pathways laid down by promoters of control that cyberians believe they must conduct their revolution. The massive television network, for example, whose original purpose was to sell products and - except for a brief period during the Vietnam war - to manufacture public consent for political lunacy, has now been coopted as a feedback mechanism by low-end home video cameramen. Coined 'Video Vigilantes' on a Newsweek cover, private citizens are bringing reality to the media. When a group of cops use excessive force on a suspect, chances are pretty good that someone with a camcorder will capture the images on tape, and CNN will have broadcast it around the world within a couple of hours. In addition, groups such as Deep Dish TV now use public access cable channels to disseminate convincing video of a reality quite different from the one presented on the network newscasts.
"The gun used to be the great equalizer," explains Jack Nachbar, professor of popular culture at Bowling Green University, in reference to camcorders. "\ou can say this is like the new six gun, in a way. It can really empower ordinary people."6 Police departments now bring their own video cameras to demonstrations by groups like DIVA (Damned Interfering Video Activists) in order to make a recording of their own side of the story. The new war - like Batman's media battle against the Joker - is fought not with conventional weapons but with images in the datasphere. The ultimate weapon in Cyberia is not the sword or even the pen but the media virus.
The media virus is any idea that infiltrates the host organism of modern society. It can be a real thing, like Mark Heley's Smart Bar, which functions on an organic level yet also acts as a potent concept capable of changing the way we feel about drugs, health care, and intelligence. A virus can also be a pure thought or idea, like 'Gaia' or 'morphic resonance', which, when spread, changes our model of reality. The term virus itself is a sort of metamedia virus, depicting society as a immunodeficient host organism vulnerable to attack from 'better' thoughts and messages. A virus contains genetic code, what cyberians call 'memes', which replicate throughout the system as long as the information or coding is useful or even just attractive. Cyberian activists are marketing experts who launch media campaigns instead of military ones, and wage their battles in the territory of cyberspace. How the computer nets, news, MT\Z fashion magazines, and talk show hosts cover a virus will determine how far and wide it spreads.
The public relations game is played openly and directly in Cyberia. As we've seen, people like Jody Radzik, Earth Girl, and Diana see their marketing careers as absolutely compatible with their subversive careers. They are one and the same because the product they market - house culture - is a media virus. "The fuel that's going to generate the growth of this culture is going to be trendiness and hipness," Radzik says. "We're using the cultural marketing thing against itself." So, to be hipper and trendier, people buy Radzik's clothing and are exposed to the memes of house culture: fractals, chaos, ecstasy and Ecstasy, shamanism, and acceptance. Making love groovy.
But older, more practical generations cannot be so easily swayed by fashion or hipness. Cyberians who hope to appeal to this market segment use different sorts of viruses - ones that are masked behind traditional values, work ethics, and medical models. Michael Hutchinson, author of The Book of Floating, Megabrain, and Sex and Power, makes his living distributing information about brain machines and other stress-reduction devices. He is a tough and determined New Yorker dressed in local Marin County garb: pastels, khaki, and tennis shoes. Similarly, the cyberian motives behind his 'stress-reduction' systems are dressed in quite innocent-sounding packaging.
"When we took acid in the sixties," Hutchinson admits, "we felt our discovery could change the world. A lot of the spirit at the time was, 'Hey, let's dump this stuff in the reservoir and turn on America...the world! We can get everybody high and there won't be any war!'"
But it's hard to get people to drop acid. Getting them to put a set of goggles on their eyes is a whole lot easier and can even be even be justified medically. Numerous studies have demonstrated that the flashing lights and sounds produced by brain machines can relax people, invigorate them, and even relieve them from substance abuse, clinical depression, and anxiety. The machines work by coaxing the brain to relax into lower frequencies, bringing a person into deep meditative states of consciousness. This can feel like a mild psychedelic trip according to Hutchinson, and has many of the same transformational qualities.
"The subconscious material tends to bubble to the surface, but you are so relaxed by the machine that you're able to cope with whatever comes up. Over a period of time, people can release their demons in a very gentle way. If it were as intense as an acid trip, it would scare people away." Hutchinson smiles. In a way he is glad to admit that brain machines are really transformational wolves in therapeutic sheep's clothing. "There's something really subversive to what we're working on here. We've convinced businesses to use these devices for stress reduction, schools for better learning curves, doctors for drug rehabilitation. The hidden agenda is that we actually get them into these deep brain states and produce real personality transformation. That's the secret subtext. I think in the long run this machine's going to have a very revolutionary effect, if everybody in the world..."
His sentence trails off as he muses on global brain-machine enlightenment. But the Food and Drug Administration has other plans for these devices. Manufacturers may no longer make medical claims about the machines before they have received FDA approval - a process requiring millions of dollars. Hutchinson is convinced that there are powers behind the suppression of the brain virus machine.
"George Bush once said, 'The only enemy we have is unpredictability.' Authoritarian systems depend on their citizens to act with predictability. But anything that enhances states of consciousness is going to increase unpredictability. These machines lead people to new, unpredictable information about themselves. The behavior that results is unpredictable, and, in that sense, these tools are dangerous. Big Brother is threatened when people take the tools of intelligence into their own hands."
This is why Hutchinson spends his efforts educating people about brain machines rather than distributing the machines himself. His newsletters detail where to purchase machines, how they work, why they're good, and how to make them. "Mass education is mass production," he says. "Even if the machines are outlawed, the circuit diagrams we've printed will keep the technology accessible,"
Finally, though, the most cyberian element of the brain virus machine is the idea, or meme, that human beings should feel free to intentionally alter their consciousnesses through technology. As the virus gains acceptance, the cyberian ideal of a designer reality moves closer to being actualized.
For the survival of a virus, what promoters call 'placement' is everything. An appearance on The Tonight Show might make a radical idea seem too commonplace, but an article in Meditation might associate it with the nauseatingly 'new' age. A meme's placement is as important to a media virus as the protein shell that encases the DNA coding of a biological virus. It provides safe passage and linkage to the target cell, so that the programming within the virus may be injected inside successfully. One such protein shell is R.U. Sirius's Mondo 2000.
Originally birthed as High Frontiers, a 1 zine about drugs, altered states of consciousness, and associated philosophies, the publication spent a brief incarnation as Reality Hackers, concerning itself with computer issues and activism as Cyberia's interests became decidedly more high tech. Now known to all simply as Mondo, the two or so issues that make their way down from the Berkeley Hills editorial coven each year virtually reinvent the parameters of Cyberia every time they hit the stands. If a virus makes it onto the pages of Mondo, then it has made it onto the map. Cyberia's spotlight, Mondo brings together new philosophy, arts, politics, and technology, defining an aesthetic and an agenda for those who may not yet be fully online. Mondo is the magazine equivalent of a house club. But more than gathering members of a geographical region into a social unit, Mondo gathers members of a more nebulous region into a like-minded battalion of memes. Its readers are its writers are its subjects.
Jas Morgan, a pre-med student in Athens, Georgia, knew there was something more to reality but didn't know where to find it. Like most true cyberians, drugs, music, and media had not made Jas dumb or less motivated - they had only made it imperative for him to break out of the fixed reality in which he had found himself by the end of high school. (ITe once placed one of his straight-A report cards on his parents' kitchen table next to a small bag of pot and a note saying "We'll talk.")
Like many other fledging cyberians around the United Slates, Jas had few sources of information with which to confirm his suspicions about life. He listened to alternative FM radio late into the night and read all of Timothy Leary's books twice. Jas had been particularly inspired by Leary's repeated advice to the turned-on: 'Find the others.' When Jas came upon an issue of High Frontiers, he knew he'd found them.
High Frontiers was the first magazine to put a particular selection of memes together in the same place. Ideas that had never been associated with one another before - except in pot-smoke-filled dorm rooms -
could now be seen as coexistent or even interdependent. The discontinuous viral strands of an emerging culture found a home. Leary wrote about computers and psychedelics. Terence McKenna wrote about rainforest preservation and shamanism. Musicians wrote about politics, computer programmers wrote about God, and psychopharmacologists wrote about chaos. This witches' brew of a magazine put a pleasant hex on Jas Morgan, who found himself knocking on the door of pub-lisher/'Domineditrix' Queen Mu's modest mansion overlooking Berkeley, and, he says, being appointed music editor on the spot. The Mondo House, as it's admiringly called by those who don't live there, is the hilltop castle/kibbutz/home-for-living-memes where the magazine is written, edited, and, for the most part, lived. The writers of Mondo are its participants and its subjects. Dispensing with the formality of an objectified reality, the magazine accepts for publication whichever memes make the most sense at the time. The man who decides what makes sense and what doesn't is R.U, Sirius, aka Ken Goffman, the editor in chief and humanoid mascot.
Jas moved in and quickly became Mondo's jet-setting socialite. His good looks and preppy manner served as an excellent cover for his otherwise 'illicit' agenda, and he helped get the magazine long-awaited recognition from across the Bay (the city of San Francisco) and the Southland (Los Angeles). But as Jas developed the magazine's cosmopolitan image, R.U. Sirius developed Jas's image of reality. Jas quickly learned to see his long-standing suspicions about consensus reality as truths, and his access to new information, people (Abbie Hoffman's ex-wife became his girlfriend), and chemicals gave him the lingo and database to talk up a storm.
"Every time I want a CD. I have to go out and spend fifteen dollars to get one when it would be really nice just to dial up on the computer, or, better, say something to the computer and get the new release and pay a penny for it. And to not have it take up physical space and to not have all these people in the CD plant physically turning them out to earn money to eat. I want a culture where everybody's equally rich. People will work out of their homes or out of sort of neotribal centers with each other, the way the scientists work together and brainstorm. Everyone worries about motivation. Don't worry - people wouldn't just sit around stoned watching TV"
He ponders that possibility for a moment. "Maybe people will want to take a year off, smoke some grass and watch TV But then they'll get bored and they'll discover more and more of themselves."
The boys and girls at Mondo have made a profession of quitting the work force, getting stoned, and sitting around talking like this. (Since my shared experience with the Mondo kids, publisher Queen Mu has worked to make the magazine more respectable. Most references to drugs are gone, and the original band of resident renegades - who Mu now calls 'groupees' - has slowly been replaced by more traditional writers and editors as the magazine tries to compete with the tremendously successful Wired magazine. This strategy seems to have backfired, and having lost its founding contingent of diehard cyberians, Mondo 2000's days appear to be numbered. But, in its heyday, Mondo was as vibrant as 'The Factory', Andy Warhol's lolt/commune/film studio/drug den of 1960s New York City. Mondo the magazine and Mondo the social setting provided a forum for new ideas, fashion, music, and behavior.)
Like their counterparts in Warhol's New York, the kids I meet at this the original wild-hearted Mondo 2000 have dedicated their lives to getting into altered states and then discussing fringe concepts. Their editorial decisions are made on the, 'if it sounds interesting to us, then it'll be interesting to them' philosophy, and their popularity has given them the authority to make a meme interesting to 'them' simply by putting it in print.
The entire clan found itself on the Mondo staff pretty much in the same way as Jas. Someone shows up at the door, talks the right talk, and he's in. The current posse numbers about twenty. At the center of this circus is R.U, Sirius. ITe's Cyberia's Gomez Addams, and he makes one wonder if he is a blood relation to the menagerie surrounding him or merely an eccentric voyeur. It's hard to say whether Sirius is the generator of Cyberia or its preeminent detached observer, or both. Maybe his success proves that the ultimate immersion in hyperspace is a self-styled metaparticipation, where one's surroundings, friends, and lovers are all part of the information matrix, and potential text for the next issue. While some social groups would condemn this way of treating one's intimates, the Mondoids thrive off it. They are human memes, and they depend on media recognition for their survival.
"We're living with most of our time absorbed in the media," Ken speculates on life in the media whirlwind. "Who we are is expressed by what we show to the world through media extensions. If you're not mentioned in the press, you don't exist on a certain level. You don't exist within the fabric of the Global Village unless you're communicating outwards."
So, by that logic, Sirius decides what exists and what doesn't. ITe has editorial privilege over reality. "Oppose it if you want," he tells me as we drive back from a Toon Town event to the Mondo house late one night, "but you're already existing in relation to the datastream like the polyp to the coral reef or the ant to the anthill or the bee to the beehive. There's just no getting away from it." And Sirius is Cyberia's genetic engineer, designing the reality of the media space through the selection of memes.
R.U. Sirius's saving grace - when he needs one to defend himself against those who say he's playing God - is that he doesn't choose the memes for his magazine with any conscious purpose or agenda. The reason he left Toon Town so early (before 2:00 A.M.) is that, in his opinion, they present their memes too dogmatically. "Mark Iieley and the house scene are a bit religious about what they're doing. Mondo 2000 doesn't have an ideology. The only thing we're pushing is freedom in this new territory. The only way to freedom is not to have an agenda. Protest is not a creative act, really."
The memes that R.U. Sirius chooses for his magazine, though, are politically volatile issues: sex, drugs, revolutionary science, technology, philosophy, and rock and roll. Just putting these ideas into one publication is a declaration of an information war. Sirius claims that one fan of theirs, a technical consultant for the CIA and the NSA, always sees the magazine on the desks of agents and investigators. "He told us 'they all love you guys. They read you to try to figure out what's going on.' Why that's pretty pathetic. I told him we're just making it up."
In spite of his lampoonish attitude, Sirius admits that his magazine reflects and promotes social change, even though it has no particular causes. "We're not here to offer solutions to how to make the trains run on time. We're coming from a place of relative social irresponsibility, actually. But we're also offering vision and expansion to those who want it. We don't have to answer political questions. We just have to say 'here we are.'"
And with that we arrive at the Mondo house. Sirius has a little trouble getting out of the car. "I'm kicking brain drugs right now," he apologizes. "I was experiencing some back pain so I'm staying away from them, for now." Yet, he manages to round off his exit from the vehicle with a little flourish of his cape. He moves like a magician - a slightly awkward magician - as if each action is not only the action but a presentation of that action, too. No meaning. Just showmanship.
As he walks the short footpath to house, he comes upon journalist Walter Kirn, who is urinating off the front porch into the bushes below.
"We have a bathroom, Walter." Sirius may be the only person in Cyberia who can deliver this line without sarcasm.
Walter apologizes quickly. "This was actually part of an experiment," he says, zipping up, and thinking twice about offering his hand to shake. He proceeds to explain that he's been waiting to get in for almost an hour. He thought he saw movement inside, but no one answered the bell. Then he began to wait. And wait. Then he remembered something odd: "That whenever I take a piss, something unusual happens. It acts as a strange attractor in chaos math. When I introduce the seemingly random, odd action into the situation, the entire dynamical system changes. I don't really believe it, but it seems to work."
Sirius stares at Kirn for a moment. This is not the same journalist who arrived in Berkeley last week. He's been converted.
"So you peed us here, I guess."
Walter laughs at how ludicrous it all sounds. "It was worth a try."
"Apparently so," concludes Sirius, opening the door to the house with that strange hobbitlike grace of his.
Why no one heard Kirn's ringing and knocking will remain a mystery. About a dozen Mondoids sit chatting in the large, vaulted-ceiling living room. The cast includes Eric Gullichsen (the VR designer responsible for Sense8 - the first low-cost system), two performance artists, one of Tim Leary's assistants (Tim left earlier in the evening to rest for a lecture tomorrow), one member of an all-girl band called DeCuckoo, plus Sarah Drew, Jas Morgan, a few other members of the editorial staff, and a few people who'd like to be.
Queen Mu concocts coffee in the kitchen (hopefully strong enough to oust the most sedentary of couch potatoes from their cushions), as a guy who no one really knows sits at the table carefully reading the ingredients on the cans of Durk and Sandy mind foods that are strewn about. Back in the living room, the never-ending visionary exchange-cum-editorial meeting prattles on, inspiring, boring - abstract enough to confuse anyone whose brain chemistry profile doesn't match the rest of the room's at the moment, yet concrete enough to find its way onto the pages of the next issue, which still has a couple of openings. The VR designer might get his next project idea at the suggestion of a writer who'd like to cover the as-yet nonexistent 'what if ... ?' technology. Or a performance artist might create a new piece based on an adaptation of the VR designer's hypothetical interactive video proposal. This is at once fun, spaced, intense, psychedelic, and, perhaps most of all, business.
"It's interesting to see what happens to the body on psychedelics," someone is saying. "The perceptions of it. Some of it can be quite alien-looking.
Some of it's very fluffy and soft and wonderful. Sort of gives you some hints of what the physical evolution of the body is going to be like."
"And the senses. Especially hearing and sound," adds Sarah, looking deep into the eyes of one of her admirers. She's this Factory's Edie Sedgewick except with a shrewd mind and a caring soul. "Think if, instead of developing TV we had taken sound reproduction into art. It would have created a different society." No one picks up on the idea, but Sarah has nothing to worry about. A huge spread on her music is already slated for the next issue.
Sirius sits down next to Sarah, and her admirers back off a little. Kirn watches the couple interact, silently gauging their level of intimacy. Perhaps Sirius is only a cyber Warhol, after all. Sarah might be his art project more than his lover. Meanwhile, others wait for Sirius to direct the conversation. Is he in the mood to hear ideas? Flow was Toon Town? Did he think of the theme for the next issue?
Journalist-turned-starmaker R.U. Sirius is the head 'head' at Mondo, and he serves as the arbiter of memes to his growing clan. It is Sirius who finally decides if a meme is worth printing, and his ability to stay removed from 'the movement' gives him the humorist's-eye view of a world in which he does not fully participate, yet absolutely epitomizes. Plaving made it through the 1960s with his mind intact, Sirius shows amazing tolerance for the eager beavers and fist wavers who come through the Mondo house every day. In some ways the truest cyberian of all, 'R.U. Sirius' asks just that question to everyone and everything that presents itself to him. Flis smirkishly psychedelic wink wink tone makes him impervious to calamity. His 'no agenda' policy infuriates some, but it coats the memes in his glossy magazine with an unthreatening candy shell. Hell, some of: the strongest acid in the sixties came on Mickey Mouse blotter.
Sirius sits in a rocker and smiles in silence awhile. ITe knows these people are his willing subjects - not as peasants to king, but as audio samples to a house musician. As Sirius said earlier that day, "I like to accumulate weird people around me. I'm sort of a cut-and-paste artist." ITe waits for someone to provide a few bites.
"We were talking about the end of time," one of the performance artists finally says. "About who will make it and who won't."
"Through the great attractor at the end of time, she means," continues another. "Into the next dimension."
"Only paying Mondo 2000 subscribers will make it into hyperspace," Sirius snickers, "and, of course, underpaid contributors."
Everyone laughs. The mock implication is that they will be rewarded in the next dimension for their hard work and dedication to Monde now - especially writers who don't ask for too much money. Sirius puts on a more genuinely serious tone, maybe for the benefit of Kirn, who still jots occasional notes into his reporter's notebook. This is media talking about metamedia to other media.
"I'm not sure how this is all going to come to pass, really." Sirius says slowly, so that Kirn's pen can keep up with his him. "Whether all of humanity will pop through as a huge group, or as just a small part, is hard to speculate. I don't think it'll be rich, dried-up Republican white men who come through it in the end. It's more likely to be people who can cope with personal technologies, and who do it in their garages. You have to have your own DNA lab in your basement."
"I've got this theory about New Age people and television." Jas sits up in his chair, gearing up for a pitch. The relaxed setting in no way minimizes the personal and professional stakes. To them, this is an editorial meeting.
"New Age people are very much like the Mondo or the psychedelic people are - they just go outdoors and camping because they are scared of technology. That's because growing up in the sixties, parents would take TV time away as a punishment. Plus, TV became an electronic babysitter, and took on an authoritarian role. And I think a certain amount of TV had to be watched at the time in order to get the full mutation necessary to become one of us. They didn't get enough, so they became New Age people with mild phobias towards technology."
There's a pause. Most eyes in the room turn to Sirius for his judgment on the theory, which could range anywhere from a sigh to an editorial assignment. Would the idea become a new philosophical virus?
"ITmmph. Could be ..." He smiles. Nothing more.
Jas goes downstairs, covering the fact that he feels defeated. Someone lights a bowl. Queen Mu serves more coffee. The guy in the kitchen has passed out. Someone pops in a videocassette. Walter, wondering now what he liked about Sarah, checks his watch. Somehow, it's hard to imagine this gathering as our century's equivalent of the troubadours.
But maybe this is the real Cyberia. It's not tackling complex computer problems, absorbing new psychedelic substances, or living through designer shamanic journeys. It's not learning the terminology of media viruses, chaos math, or house music. It's figuring out how two people can sell smart drugs in the same town without driving each other crazy. It's learning how to match the intentions of Silicon Valley's most prosperous corporations with the values of the psychedelics users who've made them that way. It's turning a nightclub into the modern equivalent of a Mayan temple without getting busted by the police. It's checking your bank statement to see if your ATM has been cracked, and figuring out how to punish the kid who did it without turning him into a hardened criminal. It's not getting too annoyed by the agendas of people who say they have none, or the inane, empty platitudes of those who say they do. It's learning to package the truth about our culture into media-friendly, bite-size pieces, and then finding an editor willing to put them in print because they strike him as amusing.
Coping in Cyberia means using our currently limited human language, bodies, emotions, and social realities to usher in something that's supposed to be free of those limitations. Things like virtual reality, Smart Bars, hypertext, the WELL, role-playing games, DMT, Ecstasy, house, fractals, sampling, anti-Muzak, technoshamanism, ecoterrorism, morphogenesis, video cyborgs, Toon Town, and Monclo 2000 are what slowly pull our society - even our world - past the event horizon of the great attractor at the end of time. But just like these, the next earth-shattering meme to hit the newsstands or computer nets may be the result of a failed relationship, a drug bust, an abortion on acid, or even a piss over the side of the porch.
Cyberia is frightening to everyone. Not just to technophobes, rich businessmen, midwestern farmers and suburban housewives, but, most of all, to the boys and girls hoping to ride the crest of the informational wave.
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