On The Forgotten
by Beauchamp Art
Discussing the overlooked, the inhuman, and the simulacrum.
Making reference to Matteo Bittani’s (2015) How to get rid of homeless.
The internet is a strange place. It forces you to question whether the people that individuals communicate with are real. Not simply whether they are putting up a facade, or that someone may be acting as someone else, but can make the user question whether people seen online are actually human or just an artifice; bots. The sort of automatons that may fail the Turing Test but bypass a spam filter.
When passing someone in the street, and they say hello, there tends to be little doubt that the person that has proposed greeting is really there, and that they are not some trick or hallucination. However, in an online forum, individuals may discuss matters with other persons only to suddenly realise they are engaging with and artifice. This could make users question the authenticity of their every day interactions both on and offline.
What if the person someone speaks to in the morning is not only not who they report to be, not just a false profile, or ‘Catfish’, but exclusively being a body of code. This uncanny situation could be a fairly disturbing experience? Schizoid revelations may suddenly seem logical. A person may resolve that their friends and family have been replaced by robots, that they are dead and the meta data lives on, generating auto-completed text, friendly reminders that they are not alone.
What if the face in the street really is just a phantasm thought up to fill in the blanks in the fictional space between the reality of the virtual world and the illusions of the physical. Walking amongst the ghosts in the machine, the phenomenology of interactions may make the simulacrum more real than real. The Reverse-Turing Test could show everyone to be machines.
The user sees a new friend pop up, they click through their photographs, scan through their status, and conclude that they are not real, just a generated profile created for some non-specific marketing purpose. The ghost wails as it is denied a body, a parasitic host within a social network. But what if they were real, and a person of flesh and blood is told that they do not exist because their profile suggested the utmost inauthenticity; then the cyber vampire sees nothing in the mirror, for they are without substance. What of those dehumanised, ostracised, forgotten from history, lingering as only a whisper of genetic material, reverberating almost silently across the generations.
Who is the forgotten man to himself?
This is not limited to the issues of reality, simulations, and social media, but more broadly concerns to value, or lack of value, placed on those individuals who fall outside of mainstreams Western society, who are rarely observed, and rarely considered human by those in positions of privilege; at the most these people are a statistical inconvenience.
Following the popularity of the video game, Sim City (in which the player controls the growth and development of a fictional city) there came a large number of forum threads dedicated to dealing with the problems of homelessness in the virtual cities within the game. These were collected together in Matteo Bittani’s (2015) How to get rid of homeless. With many players so desperate to be rid of this problem that they resorted to finding increasingly elaborate ways to have them removed, killed or otherwise exterminated, to increase the prosperity of the rest of the Sim populous, in a demonstration of digital Deterministic Utilitarianism; ends unwaveringly justifying means.
“‘Decontextualised from their original source and reproduced on paper sans the majority of online communication hallmarks […], these textual exchanges create a peculiar narrative,’ Bittanti writes. Some comments ‘reveal racist and classist biases, and forcefully introduce – or, rather, reintroduce – a highly political vision that the alleged ‘neutral’ algorithms were supposed to overcome’.” [Hern, 2015]
The hyperreal homeless reveal the inhuman potential for media to easily distance individuals from their actions, as even the most benign figure may become malevolent in the mock-Milgram’s Experiment of the Sims. The beggar is nothing but background noise to be ignored until their presence can no longer be ignored, and they are forcefully removed.
Within the game, many players thought that the homelessness problem was a bug within the program, this glitch causing a surplus of derelict individuals. Where in fact, this represented one of the more realistic elements within the game, echoing the real issues of city management; in that it takes very little for people to be displaced, and problematic. They may rapidly becomes hate figures for those in a position of power, comparable to the disdain directed at litter. Much as the calls of spam bots echoes the frustrating harping of undesirable unpeople, reflecting a meritocratic philosophy that blames the poor for their own misfortune, rather than examining the environment in which they have been degraded and demonised.
In 2001, “Vincent Ocasla created a megalopolis in SimCity 3000 which he called Magnasanti” [Hern, 2015], a totally self-sustaining utopia, which had no streets for the homeless to reside, only underground transportation and skyscrapers for the most efficient labour force. The undesirables became obliterated though total displacement; potentially caricaturing the urban displacement of gentrification. Such as the ‘Social Cleansing’ facing the residents of Aylesbury Estate, in which:
“Leaseholders [living there] are being forced to sell their properties back to the council but with the money being offered they can’t afford to buy anything locally or indeed in London. Comparable ex-council properties in the area cost much more than they are being offered in exchange for their homes.” [Parnell-Hopkinson, 2015].
The Aylesbury case has met with some popular anguish by the local inhabitants who had their homes removed, barricaded off, and patrolled by private security firms. They faced the wrath of a system which deemed them counterproductive to the development of the area. Rather than providing provisions or support for them, they were simply removed, and so they subsequently protested; backed by not only local support but more broadly, pointing out the ridiculousness of having large number of privately owned houses unoccupied whilst people are forced to live on the street.
Much of the support for the protest came from those from similarly affected areas, in other words, the poor stood by the poor. As recent research has indicated [Graeber, 2015], and some people have often suspected, it as been revealed that those from more privileged backgrounds are less capable of empathising with the disenfranchised and impoverished, as they are incapable of contemplating a common ground, “The rich and powerful […] can remain oblivious and uncaring, because they can afford to” [Graeber, 2015]. Whereas those from poorer backgrounds were capable of showing empathy for wealthy people who were suffering, undoubtedly aided by popular depictions of celebrities in tears across the tabloids, and the poor illustrated sparingly as scrounging rodents. “Those born to working-class families invariably score far better at tests of gauging others’ feelings than scions of the rich, or professional classes” [Graeber, 2015].
How rapidly utopia descends into dystopia, in striving for the prosperity of the many, utilitarianism neglects the few, Social Darwinism and eugenics take hold; much as a user may cull their unwanted ‘friends’ on Facebook, cutting off those who do not provide self or interesting communication, to be unremembered due to inactivity.
The ostracised of online social media take their place alongside the unwanted bots, as media despots cleanse their kingdom. Not only have “the bigots of privileged Britain have truly put an entire class in the stocks” [Jones, 2011, 122] as Owen Jones observed, but they are now in a position to not only ignore, but deny the existence of unwanted persons, those who lack useful connectivity, who are not Linkedin; outside of their zone of reference, of understanding, of care.
The dehumanised take their place alongside the ‘Robots’ (deriving from the Czech for ‘slave’ [or ‘work’]), and the subhuman mass become labeled with a mix of derogatory descriptions and shunned the darkest corners of society, furthering social divisions, inequality, and a growing apartheid within the wealthiest states of the world.
For the privileged: those with wealth, power, large number of Twitter Followers, Facebook Friends, influential contacts, media management, private schooling, public funding, low melanin and a ‘Y’ chromosome; everyone else is ersatz embodied, subhuman stimulants, ubiquitous untermensch, impersonally unpersoned. More skeletons for the closet of “the Internet as a communal apartment of [the] Stalin era. A new, Mass Panopticon” [Manovich, 2009] blinking in the face of undesirables, all tarred with the same homogenous brush to match the tarmac, pavement as boots stamp on the face of humanity – forever [Orwell, 1949].
- Bittani, Matteo (2015) How to get rid of homeless. <https://vimeo.com/116082707> Accessed 5.4.2015
- Graeber, David (2015) Caring too much. That’s the curse of the working classes. The Guardian [Online] <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/26/caring-curse-working-class-austerity-solidarity-scourge> Accessed 28.3.2015
- Hern, Alex. (2015) Virtual debates about homelessness in Sim City hold up a mirror to real life. The Guardian [Online] <http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jan/14/virtual-debates-homelessness-sim-city> Accessed 5.4.2015
- Jones, Owen. (2011) Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. Paperback. Verso Books. London: UK
- Manovich, L. (2009) On Totalitarian Interactivity. Manovich.Net [Online] <http://www.manovich.net/TEXT/totalitarian.html> Accessed 13.6.2009 Cited in Galloway, A. R. (2012) The Interface Effect (Paperback). Cambridge, UK. Polity Press.” 7
- Orwell, George. (1949) Nineteen Eighty-Four. UK
- Parnell-Hopkinson, Beth. (2015) Aylesbury Estate Residents Fight ‘Social Cleansing’. Londonist [Online] http://londonist.com/2015/03/aylesbury-estate-residents-fight-social-cleansing.php> Accessed 6.4.2015