I'm teaching Bruce Sterling's Shaping Things right now and thus thinking of his neologism, the spime. Spimes are Sterling's vision for the next generation of technology and draw their name from their unique ability to be precisely tracked in space and time. As Sterling suggests in his book (and here in a 2004 Wired article), we are already beginning to see spimes: objects that are linked to vast databases of information about them. He gives the example of how Amazon treats books. And I was thinking the other day of how I was in the supermarket trying to find an environmentally sound cleaning product. I was staring skeptically at Clorox's new line of green cleaning supplies. So I pulled out my iPhone and did an internet search. I was able to determine that these products were relatively good. So the product is there before me and the information is out there. The spime begins with linking those two. In addition, the spime also tracks its own singular history. That is, this particular bottle and its contents: where did they originate, where have they traveled, and how will they be disposed. Sterling suggests this kind of information will be significant in the necessary green revolution everyone speaks of.
But Sterling makes another interesting observation that appears tangential, but I believe is significant. In the Wired article he notes:
de la Concha had an RFID chip implanted in his arm that can track and
authenticate him, a bold bid to fight government corruption. Of course,
it's his brain that makes him smart. It's the chip that makes him an
object: cataloged, searchable, and locatable in space and time.
This reminded me of Baudrillard's arguments about the power of being an object, a somewhat counter-intuitive argument when we generally think of agency as attributable to subjects not objects. If we are indeed moving into a cultural period where we will begin to see intelligence, information, and power as emerging from objects or networks of objects, then I believe this has significance for how we understand our discipline (and I realize that in the scope of this revolution, this is a small corner, but it's my corner).
If there is one sentence that was truly formative of my interest in rhetoric and composition, it was in Lester Faigley's Fragments of Rationality, where he somewhat off-handedly remarked that the battle lines in composition studies were drawn over the subjective positions we wanted our students to occupy in the classroom. My dissertation really came out of examining those subjectivities and the role pedagogies played in seeking to produce/manage subjectivity. It was only later on, when I really got into studying technology, that I began to think that the emphasis on subjectivity was misplaced. To focus on the subject is to focus on ideology and culture (and cultural-ideological conceptions of discourse). Investigating technology led me to view ideology as a cultural effort to apprehend and direct affective and material processes that couldn't be simply reduced back to culture. Materiality comes with its own set of forces, and these forces (both inside and outside of the body) have as much of a role in composition as the ideological subject.
The spime composes its own topological, discursive text, marking its passage through space and time. As Sterling notes, objects become processes, trajectories of mutation (and ideally mutations that result in an unproblematic decay into non-toxic elements). Of course objects have always already been this (well, not the non-toxic part), but the spime allows the composition of information regarding this process. Here is this recursive process of ripping, mixing, and burning information. Each singular spime rips data from the world about itself, mixes it with previously analyzed data to produce a timeline, and burns that data into a recorded trajectory. Then "we" as composers (who are now also spimes, like the attorney general above) rip data from a network of spimes, mix that data together (making connections, conducting analysis, developing interpretations and arguments, etc.), and burn the composition into a format that is once again accessible through the network. And its not really a matter of choosing to compose in this fashion, but the becoming self-evident that this is our process–much in the same way as the web 1.0 made self-evident so many of the once difficult theories of postmodernism.
The question though is how does one adapt pedagogically, institutionally to such shifts?