“What if death is nothing but sound? Electrical noise. You hear it forever…. uniform, white.”
(Don DeLillo, White Noise)
Leyden Jar stores electricity of its own by connecting back to itself. According to Baudrillard’s critique of modernity, the visual experience of us, internet technology users, interacting with the screen which enables us to ask questions and give answers at the same time, could be compared to this Leyden battery phenomenon. We interact with images instead of a physical world, and the virtual world that we create is a “depthless surface”. Unlike mirror, it allows for no play of images, the viewer is asked to accept those images without questioning them. This infuses us with static electricity and offers us hypnotic pleasure, Baudrillard concludes. This is no obscure French, this is postmodernity.
“An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good,” the Budapest Initiative states. “The new technology is the internet. The public good they make possible is the world-wide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds.” Will the binary reality of this new technology leave something out, something intangible, but something – real? While breaking the linguistic text down to its smallest elements, its smallest chunks, will we lose from it a chunk of reality?
Scientists won’t sit in a bathtub today to proclaim “Eureka!” as they watch the water level rise, but they will brighten up their laptop screens to admire the view of the simulated information highway. Once the data is there, in the machine, they can play with it, watch it transform, manipulate it, explore its permutations. However, while they are being “informed”, are they concerning themselves with what this adapted image signifies in the real world? Or is it the spectacle of thought that we admire?
Collaboration is another major idea of information technology supported knowledge. Scientists are able to communicate more with each other, while the nature of research is no longer “focused” but – collaborative. However, in this attempt to communicate with others, to interact, to be “socially networked”, could it be true that the scientist is really communicating only with himself? Baudrillard notes that the mind of the user never gets beyond the screen, never really connects with that Other user. The user’s thoughts merely reflect off the screen and back into his mind.
We can pose this questions: if the scientists are really only communicating with themselves, connecting back to themselves as the Leyden jar, and if this self-containing of static electricity has a drug-like effect – is this the new nature of research? Self-contained, jarred, hypnotic?
Have we confused relating to one another with exchanging data with ourselves, as Baudrilliard suggests? And absorbed in themselves, buried in the screen, will scientists prove more productive, or productive like machines? Millions of users sit and stare at their screen staring at their own thoughts. The old “focused” research may now be replaced with the one “focused on Self”. What will it interpret – the world or the Self? Or just another Wednesday afternoon when the information flow isn’t equally enrapturing as usual.