Monday, 17 March 2014

Along the trails of ephemeral self-portraits

The vibes around you are buzzing. The people around you confirm that this is the place where you want to be. Right here, right now, you are the hero of the moment. It’s your moniker in this fragile fragment of the world and your arm extends, without thinking, like Zen-archery. You turn and brandish a smile towards an undetermined audience, to a virtual observer that is not here but is omnipresent and affirmative. And you click a selfie.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Sure, it was for teenage kicks, but now it’s the accepted behaviour of presidents. Are selfishness and attention-seeking increasing their influence on our construct of identity? Are we living in a virtual, continual streaming of entertainment, that is fast becoming real life? It’s nothing to worry about. We are merely exploring the possibilities of a new technological platform. But the truth is that human minds have always been fatally attracted to expressing themselves.

Anatomically modern humans were wandering on this planet for 150,000 years, but we only started to be self-conscious 77,000 years ago. Our cognition is designed to become aware of itself in front of itself, that is, to be self-conscious. It may be the complexity and capability of our cerebrum that is responsible for our humanistic imagination and rationalization, but those whirring cognitive cogs need a stage upon which perform.

The first touch screen was the wall of the Blombos Cave in South Africa. There they drew the projection of their imagination and inner thoughts, at long last extending their cognitive ability in front of themselves. On those rocks, you’ll find stories of hunting and worship, and above all handprints of lines and signatures of spots; the signs of the self-recognition of cognition and being aware, imprinted by the inventors of their own narratives.
They were modern men, interested in combing their hair and applying ochre to their skin. They were men who admired their own way of thinking whilst despising the ideologies of their adversaries. And from the organization of billions upon billions of synaptic connections, was born the epitome of representation, self-consciousness, to be human. It was then that the Ur-selfie was born. And it is since then that our accelerated brain has exploited every possible platform to mark its presence in front itself, not matter how ephemeral or temporary this manifestation could be.
Being became aware of its own presence, or so Heidegger would say. But the manifestation of self-consciousness is also the ultimate platform. From the cave’s wall, those first touch screens of representations bounced back thoughts and imagination in the form of words. This was the beginning of augmented reality, because words started to superimpose layer upon layer of complex information on the surroundings.
Our world is made up of the stories of the hundreds of generations and the millions of individuals who’ve left behind the narrative trail of their consciousness. Brains don’t love or hate, neither do they dress up or dine out. Do you really think that it is your brain going to work and loving your partner, or that it is your narrative, intermingled with those of all the people in your life, including Mandela and Miley Cirrus, that is giving you the augmented platform for your projections?

The selfie-technology of consciousness transforms every situation with opportunity to stage self-expressions. Some platforms grow, ripen and then die out. Some stories are convincing today, but tomorrow they’ll fade away. In the 1950s, owning a lawnmower epitomized the narrative projection of the desired lifestyle. Nowadays, even though you don’t need to change your iPhone more than your vacuum-cleaner, your consciousness craves to be better represented by the latest Smartphone than by a state-of-the-art Dyson.The revolution of information technology provided a new, powerful platform and when it became social, setting the stage for massive self-representation: your mark seen by a planetary audience. Selfies are so irresistible because our brain feels the same thrill it sensed all those millennia ago, the same euphoric ecstatic rebirth of self-consciousness, and all its storytelling experiences in this world.

With Google on the verge of introducing its G-Glasses, having the connectivity of a smart phone in front of your eyes will be a game changer of habits and thinking. Our own perception of the world, and consequently of ourselves, will be altered. Every time a brain approaches a stage, it has the chance to present itself in front of itself. Whether you’re a banker or a lawyer, every human brain, deep at its core, is an artist. Just as it was back in Blombos, it is now.

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