To access our soon-to-be-here futures, Shaviro uses contemporary science-fiction novels (for example, Noir by K. W. Jeter), films (for example, The Matrix by Andy and Larry Wachowski), and a comic book series (Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson). In the future world of Noir, the Pacific Rim has become the center of a global economy dominated by corporations. In The Matrix, a computer program designed and operated by intelligent machines harnesses human beings for energy. And in Transmetropolitan, "[e]very square inch of [a future] city is filled with crowds in ceaseless motion, continually being assaulted by flashing billboards, multimedia screens on the sidewalk surveillance cameras, and street vendors selling everything from high-tech sex toys to 'long pig,' fast food made from cloned human flesh."
The future imagined in Transmetropolitan, like the futures in The Matrix and Noir, is arrived at by way of established and emerging technologies of the late-20th and early-21st centuries. The current constellations of telecommunication systems, personal computers, cyberspace, soft- and wetware, biotechnologies, mass media, and commercialized jet planes are converging to form what will be for the next generation a radically new society, whose mechanism of control and commerce will transform the very substance of what we presently understand to be the stuff of human existence. For Shaviro, the character of human existence in the near future--what it will be like, and how individuals in this society will be managed or exploited--is better determined not by social science but science fiction.
Connected is also a great summing up of the theories and cultural practices that define or defined postmodernism--a cultural and economic area spanning roughly from the late '40s to the end of the 20th century. The postmodern concepts and predilections of Warhol, McLuhan, Pynchon, Delany, Burroughs, Ballard, Gibson, Baudrillard, Jameson, Dick, and Haraway are, section after section (there are no chapters in this book but a steady flow of short sections, none seemingly more than a 1,000 words), accumulated for the purpose of becoming a kind of platform from which Shaviro launches his dazzling speculations. Popular (or pop) science books (at times espousing wacky theories about evolution, genetics, nanotechnology, and so on) are also used as fuel for Shaviro's thought rockets (or fusées) into the night of our "uncertain future."
"I have a homepage, therefore I am," writes Shaviro on the middle of page 81. Connected is at root a work of philosophy. Not unlike the manner by which the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze used cinema to revise old and produce new philosophical concepts, Shaviro uses the network, as ultimately but not solely configured by the World Wide Web, to produce wholly new concepts (especially by breaking the virtuality/reality binary order) and to reconsider traditional ones (particularly in the area of ontology).
The philosophers who fare well in this process are Nietzsche and Marx--whose ideas in the early parts of Capital: Volume One have proved to accurately describe certain cultural tendencies of the postmodern condition. The philosophers who don't fare well are those who, like Heidegger, bemoaned the ways that emerging 20th-century technologies had eroded human subjectivity and interrelationships by distancing us from the truth, from nature, from God. But Shaviro, referring to McLuhan, argues that these technologies are, and have always been, natural. "My sensory apparatuses, and my organs, are always being replaced or extended by technological devices," contends Shaviro. "This process is coextensive with the whole of human culture."
There is no way to properly bring a review of this wonderful book to proper conclusion, so let me exit with a random quote: "And this is why beauty is so dangerous. It can be used, as the posthumans of Jupiter seem to be using it, to lure us to our own destruction."
Steven Shaviro will deliver a lecture titled "The Supreme Court and the War on Terror: Will It Learn from Past Mistakes?" at Kane Hall, University of Washington, on Sat Feb 21 at 1 pm. The event is free, so you have no reason not to go.