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Paul Virilio. Red Alert in CyberSpace!

Paul Virilio. "Red Alert in CyberSpace!" in: Radical Philosophy. November/December 1995. (English).

One of the major problems now facing political as well as military strategists is the phenomenon of immediacy, of instantaneity. For `real time' now takes precedence over real space, now dominates the planet. The primacy of real time, of immediacy, over space is an accomplished fact, and it is an inaugural one. A recent advert for cell phones expressed it well enough:`The earth has never been so small.' This development has the gravest consequences for our relation to the world, and for our vision of it.

There are three barriers: sound, heat and light. We have already crossed the first two - the sound barrier with supersonic and hypersonic aircraft, the heat barrier with rockets which can lift a man out of the earth's atmosphere and land him on the moon. We do not cross the third barrier, the light barrier; we collide with it. And it is this barrier of time that history now faces. The fact of having reached the light barrier, the speed of light, is a historic event, one which disorients history and also disorients the relation of human beings to the world. If that point is not stressed, then people are being disinformed, they are being lied to. For it has enormous importance. It poses a threat to geopolitics and geostrategy. It also poses a very clear threat to democracy, because democracy was tied to cities, to places.

Having attained this absolute speed, we face the prospect in the twenty-first century of the invention of a perspective based on real time, replacing the spatial perspective, the perspective based on real space, discovered by Italian artists of the quattrocento. Perhaps we forget how much the cities, politics, wars and economies of the medieval world were transformed by the invention of perspective.

Cyberspace is a new form of perspective. It is not simply the visual and auditory perspective that we know. It is a new perspective without a single precedent or reference: a tactile perspective. Seeing at a distance, hearing at a distance - such was the basis of visual and acoustic perspective. But touching at a distance, feeling at a distance, this shifts perspective into a field where it had never before applied: contact, electronic contact, tele-contact.

The development of information superhighways confronts us with a new phenomenon: disorientation. A fundamental disorientation which completes and perfects the social and financial deregulation whose baleful consequences we already know. Perceived reality is being split into the real and the virtual, and we are getting a kind of stereo-reality, in which existence loses its reference points. To be is to be in situ, here and now, hic et nunc. But cyberspace and instantaneous, globalized information are throwing all that into total confusion. What is now underway is a disturbance of the perception of the real: a trauma. And we need to concentrate on this. Because no technology has ever been developed that has not had to struggle against its own specific negativity. The specific negativity of information superhighways is precisely this disorientation of alterity, of our relation to the other and to the world. It is quite clear that this disorientation, this `de-situation', will bring about a profound disturbance with consequences for society and, in turn, for democracy.

Nach den diversen Perversionen, jenen Abweichungen "wider die Natur", zeichnen sich nun also alternative Liebespraktiken ab, andere und komplexe Ausweich- und Ablenkungsph nomene diesmal, die nicht mehr "tierischer" oder zoophiler Natur, sondern "maschinell" und offen technophil sind.

Doch was verbirgt sich hinter diesem panischen Rückzugsphänomen, dem Rückzug vom körperlichen Akt? Die Angst vor der Ansteckung mit Aids oder andere Ängste, andere Schrecken, solche, die man sich nicht eingestehen kann ...

Seltsamerweise verbannt uns die Wissenschaft der Maschinen sowohl aus der geophysischen Welt als auch aus dem physischen Körper des Naechsten, der stets meinem Ego widerspricht und dessen Lebensnotwendigkeit nicht mehr das ist, was sie früher war, zu der Zeit, als das Tierreich mit all seiner energetischen Macht noch über jene Energien der Synthese oder vielmehr der Substitution dominierte, die heute die Überhand gewinnen.

Niederlage der Tatsachen gegenüber der Verbreitung einer Information, die ihrerseits vollkommen synthetisiert ist durch die Massenkommunikationsmittel, in denen das Bild bereits den Sieg über die Sache davonträgt, von der es niemals nur "Abbild" ist, aber auch, und darauf kommt es uns hier an: Niederlage der Tatsache des Liebemachens, hier und jetzt, zugunsten einer maschinellen Täuschung, bei der die "Distanz" wieder zur distentio wird, zur Auseinanderziehung und Trennung der Partner, wobei die Liebes- und Glücksspiele zu einem gewöhnlichen Gesellschaftsspiel werden; eine Art virtuelles Casino, in Analogie zur Wertpapierbörse, an der sich die Händler und die übrigen golden boys auf den berühmten Derivaten-Märkten tagein tagaus damit amüsieren, die Bank zu sprengen.