Waiting for a breakthrough
Edwin Bendyk

The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed – says William Gibson, the co-creator of cyberpunk and author of the cult Neuromancer.

The concept of cyberspace had appeared for the first time in a book by William Gibson, long before the Internet became popular, so let’s trust Gibson’s intuition and go in search for the future.

The most radical scenario for a future can be found very easily, look for a signpost with the inscription “Singularity” pointing towards Silicon Valley. There arise not only technologies of tomorrow there, California headquarters of an online business is a utopia, a place beyond time and space, where the Brave New World is forged. It is expected to come somewhere in the middle of this century, after reaching the “Singularity” - an evolutionary jump, induced by merging technology with biology. The true Artificial Intelligence will become a fact, and the man will become immortal.

True, culture has been thriving on such tales for centuries. This time, however the zeal of “singularists” goes beyond harmless, Faustian fantasies – there are powerful people behind them, the heads of Web corporations disposing of billions of dollars. They invest not only in the development of services for the digital people, but they also want to approach the moment of Immortality. If they succeed, as Zygmunt Bauman pointed out in one of his latest books, culture is over. Due to the cessation of its most important function - dealing with the irreversible terminality of human life.

This seemingly obvious track pointing to the Silicon Valley as a place where you should look for the future, therefore, leads to a dead end. The Californian utopia is extremely trivial, and it culminates in the death of culture. Whether it will happen, we do not know. We cannot , however, exclude the possibility that in the end Doctor Faustus is successful, but then there will be nothing to discuss any longer. The most interesting today seems to capture the moment at which culture began to regard itself (its death or metamorphosis) as the food for reflection and performances. This moment came during the Paraolympics in London in 2012, which were designed in the truly Nietzschean style. Ads preparing the audience to welcome the disabled athletes shouted: “Meet the Superhumans!”. On billboards the running Blade Runner, Oscar Pistorius, urged : “Look at the results , not on your feet.” The event was opened by Stephen Hawking, a brilliant astrophysicist, one of the greatest minds of modern times. A special mind, too, because located in a virtually lifeless body. It can work and communicate with the world only through digital technologies. Thanks to them the scholar, half a century ago “sentenced” to death, today is a superman par excellence.

These are all show elements, however, staged by the organizers of the Games. But what happened during the end of the Paralympic Games, when on the streets of London over a million people applauded the athletes, was not part of the script. Apparently, people understood the message accompanying the event and came out to pay tribute to the heroes who, from the status of “persons with disabilities” changed into supermen.

London 2012 confirmed what many seem not to notice: that we have already become a society of cyborgs, created by people with their complex electronic gadgets and identities distributed in the cyberweb. And that the society has created for itself a symbolic representation making a common expression of emotions and building of collectively understood meanings possible, in other words – it has created its own culture.

A manifestation of this new culture could be seen not only in London, the hyper-modern centre of the world, but also on its periphery, during Euromaidan in Kiev on the turn of 2013 and 2014. The crowd gathering on the square was not convened by some Central Committee or party - the first call to action appeared on Facebook. In response, thousands of people, or rather “ontological collectives” (people with their smartphones connected to the Web) came. Almost each action was mediated by the Web or at least spied by it. The Maidan was transformed into a hybrid space of action played out both in the real world and the digital dimension. Participants, like Internet data packets, commuted in the network, turning their virtual presence to the real presence, when the situation demanded it.

A dramatic illustration of the new identity and its culture was the message sent by Twitter, by a nurse Olesya Żukowska. Shot by a sniper she wrote: “I’m dying”. Fortunately, doctors resuscitated her, but a few days that passed on to her next message on Twitter, the global Internet crowd spent looking for information about the fate of the heroic woman.

Stephen Hawking surrounded by machines to read his thoughts, Oscar Pistorius and his prosthetics, Olesya Żukowska with her smartphone - these are new forms of subjectivity that we are still awkwardly trying to define, using such concepts as cyborgization, networked individualism, ontological collective. Regardless of the name, this subjectivity can express itself in the only way known to man - through culture.

In Kiev the Maidan culture had been to the end the strongest arms of the revolutionaries. And it was made of available symbols and codes: helmets and shields were covered with icons of the national heroes of literature - Taras Shevchenko, Lesya Ukrainian, Ivan Franko. At the same time in the social media there appeared references to Star Wars, Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, as universal texts expressing the ideas of good and evil. Codes of cosmopolitan pop culture mingled with national and historical codes. In constant communication process the Web revolutionaries gathered in the Maidan created a new political community, a new collective identity.

New identification demands a new political and institutional expression, new structuring. Here, however, there is a problem – in the game there are still old institutions that based their legitimacy on factors that used to build the status of Modernity players. The influence and power in the field of culture used to depend not on the communication effectiveness, but on the ability to control limited physical resources and the use of associated violence. The need to control caused by limited at that time technical capabilities of radio frequency spectrum shaped the electronic media. The economics of printing determined to a large extent not only the structure of the publishing market, but also other print-related forms of culture, such as encyclopedias or newspapers. Similarly one can analyze the music and film market. This structure legitimized legal solutions, their task being to facilitate the production of cultural goods and the control of their circulation in the capitalist society. The key legal and institutional solution was the system of copyright law. Its emergence and development can be interpreted as a system of translation and transmission of the aesthetic value to the economic value, the effectiveness of this being determined by the state.

Today, in the era of digital technology and the increasing importance of an economy based on intangible assets, when the final costs of production and distribution of more and more goods and services decrease to zero, the above legitimacy is eroded. Institutions that refer to it, however, do not intend to abdicate, but on the contrary, they are rather trying to master and capture the energy of the new revolutionary subjectivity or consolidate against it the incumbent establishment. It is a short term strategy and can not be successful, because the old forms do not conform to the culture of networked individualism. Its final shape we are not able to predict, although the absolute horizon defines the vision already described - Singularity, beyond which there is no culture. What is going to happen before this horizon? Responses are looked for by authors of scenarios published in this paper. They made a risky effort to reduce the complexity of the social world and identify the trends and factors that will determine the development of culture in the coming decades. The result are scenarios, none of which has to wait for its realization - they are not predictions, but the options for development of reality, depending on the factors determining the future. What will decide are individual choices of each of us, the networked individualists. It is therefore important to examine what forces determine our autonomy in the postmodernity. The key is to understand the Web, the environment in which and through which the networked individualists participate in social, political and cultural life.