Information Devours Communication

“We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning,” writes Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation (originally published in 1981).

He goes on to argue that “information is directly destructive of meaning and signification.” “Information devours its own content,” he adds, “It devours communication and the social.”

There are two reasons Baudrillard give for this. I’ll draw your attention here only to the first. Speaking of information, he writes,

“Rather than creating communication, it exhausts itself in the act of staging communication. Rather than producing meaning, it exhausts itself in the staging of meaning. A gigantic process of simulation that is very familiar. The nondirective interview, speech, listeners who call in, participation at every level, blackmail through speech: ‘You are concerned, you are the event, etc.’ More and more information is invaded by this kind of phantom content, this homeopathic grafting, this awakening dream of communication. A circular arrangement through which one stages the desire of the audience, the antitheater of communication, which, as one knows, is never anything but the recycling in the negative of the traditional institution, the integrated circuit of the negative. Immense energies are deployed to hold this simulacrum at bay, to avoid the brutal desimulation that would confront us in the face of the obvious reality of a radical loss of meaning.”

CNN was, then, barely a year old, Twitter and Facebook altogether unimagined. It seems to me, nearly four decades on that we incontrovertibly live in the antitheater of communication.

Life: The First Person Video Game

Still from Kluwe's Youtube video
Still from Kluwe’s Youtube video

How will Google Glass transform professional football? Oakland Raiders punter Chris Kluwe is on the case. He is the NFL’s first Google Glass Explorer, a cadre of early adopters hand-picked by Google based on their response to the prompt “If I had Glass …”

Kluwe has had limited experience with Glass so far, mainly using Glass to record drills, but it’s been enough to give Kluwe a lot of ideas about how Glass could be deployed in the future. Alex Konrad of Forbes interviewed Kluwe and described part of what the punter has envisioned so far:

In Kluwe’s future NFL, players will wear clear visors that that can project to them the next play to run as they are getting back into position from the last one. Quarterbacks can get a flashing color when a receiver is very open or which area is about to become a good place to look. Running backs could be alerted that a new path to run has just opened up.

Here’s the striking thing about this entirely plausible development. For years, video games have been striving to capture the look and feel of the game as it’s played on the field. What Kluwe has described is a reversal of roles in which now the game as it is played on the field strives to capture the look and feel of playing a video game.

The closest analogy to the experience of the world through Google Glass may be the experience of playing a first-person video game.

This little insight carries wide-ranging implications that are not limited to the experience of professional athletes. A generation that has grown up playing first person shooters and role-playing video games is on the verge of receiving a tool that will make the experience of everyday life feel more like the experience of playing a game. This brings an entirely new meaning to gamification and it raises all sorts of intriguing, serious, and possibly disturbing possibilities.

As early as 1981, the philosopher Jean Baudrillard claimed that images and simulations, which had traditionally copied reality, were now beginning to precede and determine reality. Recalling a famous story by Jorge Louis Borges in which an empire commissions a map that is to be a faithful 1:1 representation of its territory, Baudrillard believed that now the map preceded the territory. Glass is poised create yet another realization of Baudrillard’s critique, except that now it is the game that will precede the real-world experience.

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UPDATE: Nick Carr adds the following observation in the comments below, “You might argue that this reversal is already well under way in warfare. Video war games originally sought to replicate the look and feel of actual warfare, but now, as more warfare becomes automated via drones, robots, etc., the military is borrowing its interface technologies from the gaming world. War is becoming more gamelike.”