Maybe the Sky is Really Green, and We’re Just Colourblind:
On Zapping, Close Encounters and the Commercial Break



Paranoia and Moral Panics, 2010

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YouTube Me and I Tube You


Just over a year after the first video was uploaded onto YouTube in April 2005, the number of uploads was growing at a rate of 65,000 a day.71 Facebook, whose approximately 500 million members totalled 7.6 per cent of the human race, became the online emblem of the virtual society at the dawn of the twentyfirst century. More than 3 billion mobile phones—one for every other person on the planet—foreshadowed the convergence of media into one portable device.72 With this new remote control, we were perpetually online, connected and multi-tasking, living in a world suffering from ADHD and devoid of sleep. Firmly placed at the centre of the network, the individual could now "tap", "pinch" and "flick" touch-pads, navigating and skipping through their personalized prime-time of other people's lives. If the launch of MTV in 1981 sang that "Video Killed the Radio Star",73 then the YouTubes and Facebooks were transforming who or what the "video star" was. Set within logics of consumerism, these websites promoted the idea of user-generated content, only to gobble it all up for themselves under outdated copyright laws. Trapped within private databases, reality was now defined by search engines and tags, connectivity and buffering-times.

Navigating the Net not only redefined, but also magnified our addiction to channel surfing, where the ubiquity of pushbutton technology enabled endless clicking and ceaseless popups. A perpetual distraction, this illusion of abundance staged by techno-magic hid the ugly face of an info-dystopia. Images of Abu Ghraib, 9/11, swine flu, the BP Gulf oil spill and the economic crisis composed our new contemporary sublime. Political debate had shrunk into mere fear management. No longer happy innocent consumers of a bygone TV era, we were now both avid consumers of fear74 and the protagonists of an increasing ubiquity of systems of surveillance.

Replacing our "consensus reality" with a surplus reality, the virtual was surpassed. The world and life within it was already being genetically modified and photoshopped. Corporations was abducting our very essence. DNA, life's building blocks, were becoming their property, patented and privatized for profit. With its genetically modified variant, food became alien.75 From what we digested, to what we ingested, Big Pharma invaded the intimacy of our bodies with a vested interest in the propagation of the swine flu epidemic; immune systems offered the promise of a multimillion-dollar market. From biological viruses to digital viruses, advertisers were now looking at the possibility of digimercials, by which viruses would disseminate logos into the electronic environment.76 Where will this take us? Case in point: twenty-five-year-old Matthew Nagle, a quadriplegic permanently paralysed from the neck down, had a 4-millimetre wide silicon chip placed on the part of his brain that co-ordinates motor activity. Using only the power of his mind, Nagle took a day to learn entirely new computerized skills, such as zapping his TV channel, adjusting the volume, moving a computer cursor, playing a video game, and even reading his email.77 Add some recombinant DNA cortex rewiring on a nano-level and, instead of mistaking reality for a commercial break, life will literally become an advertisement, the ultimate commodity. In his novel Nymphomation, Jeff Noon speaks of genetically modified flies, programmed to transmit commercial slogans in their flight paths.78 When this happens, zapping will be pointless.