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Steven Shaviro's book is primarily
a discussion about cyberculture or the network society. Cyberculture is the collection of ideas,
customary beliefs, values, and behaviors that arise from the use of computers
and networks. In Connected, or What
It Means to Live in the Network Society, among the variety of topics
covered are: mp3s and file sharing; copyright laws and hip-hop; Web surfing;
electronic and camera surveillance; and capitalism. However, what makes his text unique is Shaviro method for
addressing these issues. Instead of a more
traditional approach to media studies that would likely be empirically based
and would follow a specific writing format and methodology, Connected is
a speculative exercise using the concepts and the themes found in the genre of
science fiction books and films. In an
age when technology has been a very significant player in popular culture,
politics, and the economy, Shaviro argues that science fiction is essential for
a more transparent understanding of cyberculture. The book uses stories and themes written by such esteemed science
fiction writers as K. W. Jeter, William S. Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, and
Now, it must be clear that Shaviro
does not use science fiction because of its predictive power. Rather, there is an edifying value to
science fiction. It is a genre that is
an exercise in working out of the "what has not happened". Science fiction removes us from the
constraints of the immediacy of experience and the horizons of the
possibilities of experience are expanded.
The imagination is at play and thinking is unconstrained by what we
obtain from sensation and experience.
Why is science fiction so useful
for understanding current and future trends in cyberculture? In cyberculture, technologies are integrated
into society at a faster rate than our ability to fully understand their
implications. The use and acceptance of
new technologies comes prior to a complete understanding of the technology's
inner structures. We do not have an
archive of experience to turn to when we deal with new technologies and related
cultural practices. Epistemologically,
Shaviro suggests that our ability to understand and comprehend all the forces
at work with technology is always a few steps slower than the pace at which
technology and cyberculture moves.
Science fiction works "at the border which separates our knowledge
from our ignorance, and transforms one into the other" (ix). The essence of the book, then, is that we
must find ways to revise and improve our descriptive abilities. Shaviro suggests that we can use the genre
of science fiction as a way of extending our vocabulary and imagination to help
us understand the implications of cyberculture. These fictitious stories give us a descriptive ability to deal
with new and unforeseen developments stemming from the realities of new
technology and new social practices.
However, it must be made clear that
the themes and ideas from cyberculture are primary while science fiction is
secondary. Shaviro's text is not an
anthology series in science fiction.
Instead, the book uses particular science fiction stories and talks
about specific themes or plot points that are very similar and run in parallel
to current issues in cyberculture. The
book successfully follows the maxim that the boundary between science fiction
and reality can be blurred. Shaviro
does a good job of explaining the various science fiction stories and then
making the relevant connections to our society. For readers with little or no exposure to science fiction, the
intricacies of these stories are explained well. Other times, there is no science fiction is mentioned. For instance, the discussion on censorship
and file sharing is one of the best aspects of the book and there is no
reference made to specific story.
Besides the use of science fiction,
the other unique characteristic is the layout of the book. Instead of a more traditional layout
consisting of chapters and a cohesive structure, Connected is a series
of long one-paragraph essays, each with an individual subtitle. The book is a series of spontaneous and
fragmented thoughts and there are times when it lacks cohesiveness. What is troublesome about the structure is
that there are times when adjacent mini essays do not relate to each
other. More importantly, Shaviro does
not seem to follow up on some important conclusions and does not develop these
points into greater depth and nuance.
Instead, it is often the case that as soon as one essay ends and other
begins, the themes are not mentioned again.
The structure itself is something that Shaviro never discusses. There is no question that the structure is
done to parallel certain aspects of cyberculture. But as to what aspect of cyberculture the book is imitating, this
is not made clear. As much as the
organization and layout of the text is unique and prominent, it can also be
difficult and dizzying at times.
Overall, the text is very
insightful and worth reading, if one can handle its structure and fragmented
themes. But on the other hand, its
structure can be distracting to the reader.
While some readers may find the organization and layout of the book
refreshing, it is also takes away from the essential insights drawn from the
method of using science fiction to help better elucidate what it means to live
in a network society.
2004 Robert Ramos
Robert Ramos lives in New York