The Internet as a Sensory Medium
for Rediscovering Ourselves and Our World
by Shin'ichi Takemura
Japan Theme Pavilion sensorium Producer
The PC revolution of the late 20th century is significant for its effect upon personal autonomy and self-expression. But we find ourselves today faced with the challenge to communicate with others through "Network." Hence, the Internet, a medium that connects individuals within a matrix of self-expression and creativity that transcends the "individual."
Communicating and networking is of value to us as more than a means of expanding ourselves into the outside world: it is also a means of going within and finding in ourselves an "otherness" and even "other ethnicities" that will take us beyond our usual notion of what constitutes our "individuality." Our inner and outer selves (and others) are interconnected and multilayered, and can be understood only by nurturing our "relational sensitivity."
The "Internet" is then an "Innernet". The planet-encompassing electronic network is a medium that makes manifest our inner networks. And it has come to life at a critical point in the lifespan and system of the planet.
The Japanese concepts of "I (myself)" and "human being" reflect the essential and ambivalent "network-like" nature of our being. The Japanese "I" ("jibun") implies the existence only within a relational context, one that comprises both the relational aspects within myself and the holonic and relational structure of the universe. The communication network is not limited to simply linking individuals within a social context. Rather, it constitutes an ecological chain that is imbedded within the physical cycles and information exchanges of the natural world as a whole.
As for the relational nature of the self, our minds and bodies are also holonic communication networks. Our bodies exist within the outside environment, but at the same time they act as environments themselves in that they make possible the survival of such organisms as intestinal bacteria and mytochondria. The body, then, is an environment that does not "belong" exclusively to you or me or anyone. It is an information network fabricated of numerous "divisible elements."
Also, look at the constitution of the human genome (DNA) or the hierarchical structure of the brain and consciousness. According to the DNA program, within its nine-month gestation period the human embryo recapitulates a four-billion-year process of evolution, advancing from fertilized egg and progressing from the levels of fish, amphibian, reptile, and so on, to the human. Inside the human genome, even a very concrete history (story) of symbiosis with various viruses is inscribed.
We are holonic, containing multitudes, a vast network. We are not set apart from other life forms such as bacteria, plants and animals. Rather, we are all a part of the vast matrix of "living information."
Many ancient myths and religious practices (for example, totemism or shamanism) express the fact that we carry within ourselves a multidimensioned life-memory that connects us to other plants and animals. This living memory serves to take us beyond the conventional boundaries (physical and otherwise) of self-definition. Again, all living organisms are connected via an invisible, complex communication network.
We live in a time when both our self-definition and world view, as well as the cosmological implications of our existence, are undergoing drastic change. The elements of the exciting and new discoveries in the life and earth sciences, in communications and other fields are being synergetically integrated on the deepest levels. Soon, even long-accepted buzzwords such as "communication" and "network" will not be limited to refer to human activity. Ideas of a "communications revolution" and a "global village" will soon be seen within a greater context, a deeper and wider network.
The world itself is a communicational web comprised of an invisible network linking human beings and the entire living environment. A new kind of self-identity will soon come to define the words "communication" and "network." It will be a meta-concept, a template for the symbiosis of human and other life forms.
Indeed, humanity's supreme mission may be to attain a sense of "planetary self-definition." We are simply too ignorant of the world and our place in it. What amazing things occur in the world and in ourselves! And so much of it is invisible: complex and unseen communication is constantly going on between and among ourselves and plants and animals, microbes and minerals. As we breathe in the air around us, as we drink the local water, what storehouses of memory of our locale and of the planet do we take in? And how are they connected with the air and water of a different part of the earth? We are in need of an experiential channel that would make us more aware and appreciative of these matters.
The Internet is here to transcend even the frontiers of our contemporaneity. The Internet is not just concerned with the mass media, surfing, or virtual shopping (or virtual anything else).
The Internet has the potential to give rise to a new human common sense: an enhanced and pluralistic sensorium and nervous system that can be shared by all. The Internet is here to connect us to the hidden channels of the wind and water and fire of the earth. Like electronic acupuncturists we will diagnose the body of the planet through our senses.
Perhaps we shall also see an "Inter-Species-Network" that will enable us to make contact with trees and dolphins. The Internet/Innernet, then, is not limited to a human context, not to mention some virtual cyberspace.
Our eco-aesthetics -- our endeavors to express the complex beauty and meaning of the world in words and images, sounds and actions -- have reached a level of refinement collectively in different cultures and on an idiosyncratic level in individuals, that we can regard them as resources we are free to draw upon. Their great importance will be further revealed as our use of the Internet expands.
The Internet is a uniquely plural and open phenomenon and has nothing to do with conventional, monoistic notions of progress. It is therefore in a unique position to help maintain the intelligent ecosystem of the planet. What we have hitherto regarded as "underdeveloped" possesses the potential to contribute as resources in their own right to the "life/culture" genetic system of the planetary information sytem.
Modern society has disregarded our own multilayeredness and plurality. Our potential multiplicity in the biological and ecological senses is ignored. Our senses have been confined and reduced to typographic and image-centered cognitive structures.
Conventional wisdom no longer applies in a post-modern world. Yet, people often look backward and speak nostalgically of a post-industrial society. An information network, for example, may transform us as the industrial age once did, but to insist that "everyone should know how to handle a keyboard" is merely an extension of the kind of thinking that favors a standardization that eventually becomes discriminatory.
Are we ready then to realize a true post-Gutenberg multimedia society, not only in terms of technology, but also in respect to our cultural and sensory experiences?
Right now, the world is beset by problems: environmental damage, ethnic conflicts, failed economies, and so on. This Internet expo, as the last expo of the 20th century, and also as a rite of passage into the 21st century, will not be merely a naively optimistic celebration of new technologies. This expo cannot ignore the ills of the time, the degradation of relationships and the breakdown in communication. Their solutions depend upon a radical redesigning of the "structures of experience."
We need a new medium that will nurture our senses so that we may all be compatible with the natural and cultural diversity of the world. A new world demands a new medium: a medium to develop a new "common sense" regarding our planet, our land, and ourselves. This is the keynote of our contribution to this expo, sensorium, as the Japanese Theme Pavilion.
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