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Technosurrealism, or "I'm a technorealist, too!"
Mar 23, 1998 :: Lance Arthur

The Technorealists really need a snappy sort of title to frame themselves as originators of this new non-movement, these twelve who sat before us fortunate few gathered at Harvard Law School last Thursday. Ostensibly, they were there to explain what the hell they were talking about and to attempt to place Technorealism into real-life applications. Other than as a journalist's consolation prize for not finding Esther Dyson before deadline. Like "The Gang Of Twelve", which, because it's a derivative title, would fit right in with their non-agenda agenda.

I went in thinking that I was probably a technorealist, mostly because I've never been a TechnoUtopian nor a neoLuddite (the apparently opposing forces of this movement with no enemies) and agreed that there is a middle ground but who really cares about that? It's no fun to stand in the middle while the polars are lobbing tomatoes at each other. You want to spur them on so you can laugh at them.

So the first panel sits down and explains that they aren't going to hurt anyone, that the media is at fault, that technology is just this big thing that no one understands, that schools need better bathrooms and that "information wants to be protected" which translates into "I write for a living and my copyrights are as useful as paper towels at an oil spill".

I read and reread the manifesto that is no manifesto because, it was explained, "we took pains not to write that on it" (which conjured visions of Steven Johnson grasping hold of Silberman's hands as he attempted to type MANIFESTO across the top of the document, screaming "No! No!") and still came away with that slightly empty feeling one gets after consuming an entire box of Nilla Wafers. Judging from the hue of the paper the non-manifesto was printed on and that of the accompanying Web site, the color of the TR's appears to be yellow. An unfortunate choice, given that most of them are journalists.

The audience was looking for a fight and would come away more than disappointed as the first six took turns patting each other on the back and explaining that they all agreed with certain parts of the document, but also agreed that pretty much whatever the audience said was wrong was also probably a fair statement. They had a collective head scratcher about the negative reaction to their proclamation because they didn't, apparently, mean to do anything other than ascribe the word "technorealism" to what had been called here-to-fore "the boring people with nothing interesting to say."

The second panel, convening after a break during which much cheese was consumed and the gathered TR's were pressed for new and more boring platitudes by the gathered and incredibly silent press, was supposed to provide what some audience members likely wanted to hear most; The answer to "so what the hell are you going to do, you silly self-promotional authors?"

What did this, uh, platform? Political movement? Journalistic ethics crusade? Non-threatening positional variance... whatever... propose to do to make the world a better place to live? Did they really want to stop wiring schools? Answer: Yes, and no. Did they think we should do away with copyright? Answer: No, of course not. We need to get paid! Okay, what did they propose, then, to resolve the problem of copyright enforcement on the Web? Code watermarks? Some pot o' creds that everyone pays into who accesses anything that is then divvied up among the card-carrying? Answer: We'll get back to you on that, we're not here to give solutions, only to foster communications.

Okay, should the government get involved in the Web more? Answer: It already is! But it's also not! So yes, and no!

Okay, who is the enemy?

Ready for this one? Answer: Bullshit.

Three hours later, and I was left with more questions than answers. It then hit me, they had succeeded! All along they kept carrying on that what they wanted was not answers at all, that they were not seeking to define any paradigms, crystallize any new ideas, gift us with The Answers. They only wanted to fertilize a new landscape to deposit their increasingly nonsensical ravings on. So rather than wander aimlessly through the old crap we're all tired of and no one believes anyway, they invented a huge middle ground without any edges so they could get a few more miles out of that pundit pool. Genius, it was, there before me. Pure and simple. These were journalists decrying the way the media treats technology issues, positioning themselves as pundits so they can, in turn, interview each other about a movement they created designed to remove obfuscation and Drudgey sensationalism because, say it with me now: Dull Is Cool!

Did I buy it?

Answer: Yes! And no! I'm a technorealist!

Lance Arthur works in Boston, but lives in the hearts of children everywhere. He understands technology only slightly less than the meaning of human existence, has never been paid for a written word in his life (including these) and was slightly creeped out about Paulina Borsook staring at him like that.



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