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Mystical Positivism
part 3

Yet, at the very moment when hypermedia is becoming an everyday tool, there are increasing numbers of people who are turning digital convergence into a new religion. For them, hypermedia is no longer simply a useful and beautiful tool for work, entertainment or education. Instead, it is the focus for their mystical fantasies. Confusing science fiction with science fact, they believe that new silicon forms of life are being born and/or that humans are about to be transformed into cyborgs. Like earlier attempts to fuse science and religion, this new cyber- faith does contains elements of insight into the contemporary condition. From fractal geometry to evolutionary progress, digital technologies do simulate aspects of the natural world. From consumer goods to medical technologies, humans do live in symbiosis with their machines.

Yet, the new believers are not really interested in how nature can inspire the making of good hypermedia or how we can invent technologies for better living. Even John Perry Barlow's crazy scheme to declare the independence of cyberspace is far too utilitarian for them. Instead, they want to be present at the apocalypse itself - the end of time, the world and the human race. For intellectuals, artists and ordinary punters alike, this millenarian vision can be both romantic and intoxicating. If they're really lucky, they won't just witness the dawning of a new epoch, but also might even get absorbed by the Net into the Godhead or be turned into immortal post-humans!

Ironically, one of the key concepts of this new cyber-faith is the old enemy of religious belief: Darwinism. Back in the nineteenth century, evolutionary theory didn't just discredit the literal truth of the holy texts. It also provided a rational basis for understanding the human condition. From Spencer on the right to Marx on the left, Darwinism acted as an inspiration for social thinkers to examine human society without being trapped within the confines of religious belief. Yet, nowadays, it is evolutionary theory itself which is being used to proclaim the imminent arrival of the God-Man. Nowhere is this clearer than in the popularity of the concept of the meme - the cultural form which self-replicates using human society like DNA reproducing itself through a species. Because this theory already uses the computer virus as an analogy, the existence of memes has become a central article of faith for the cyber-mystics. For what are the new Gods emerging from digital convergence but memes embodied in silicon and metal?

 
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