Englebart's notion of the development of a synthetic
superstructure to extend our biological being for
intelligence augmentation is in a very real sense
the development of electronic consciousness. Although
construction of this consciousness, what cognitive
psychologist Merlin Donald calls "external memory,"
has been going on for centuries, only recently has
the implication of its potential become apparent.
are experiencing the 'birth pangs' of a new era,
different in kind from what was before. Agriculture
yielded to industry, the economics of the soil yielded
to money, then credit. The mechanistic, industrial
behemoth supporting our expansion in the past now
gives way to hi-touch technologies and information
industries, which weave a bio-electric loom across
this planet: a global information, infrastructual
brain, knitting together a global village, a global
consciousness, what Teilhard saw as "social changes
and the awakening of the masses."
Laurel, a digital interface designer, researcher,
and writer focusing on human-computer interaction,
culture, and technology, designs in electric space
with virtual reality (VR) communications media.
She refers to electric space as a new landscape,
a superabundant sensory environment, a supermedia
world. Laurel says in a superabundant sensory environment
the brain's strategy of interpreting sensory data
differs from the strategy used in a less densely
sensory-saturated environment. When enveloped in
dense sensory information characteristic of electric
media, sense data are collapsed into larger patterns
before integration rather than parsed into pieces
before the question of meaning emerges. Laurel says
the consequent effect is that the experience of
being replaces point of view. Electric space is
poetic space, where the means of perceiving one
thing are in terms of perceiving another.
says the "pattern that emerges from a view within
the superabundant sensory environment replaces content
with relationship as the dimension of meaning."
She further notes that this fundamental shift "reveals
the true nature of the landscape of global media,
giving us our first view of the common ground of
space is full-sensory immersion, an environment
that has a certain quality, a certain 'feel.' McLuhan
perceived the effect of electric media as tactile,
saying it mediates all the senses to create an overall
sensibility, or 'feel,' of the input sense data
that the brain uses to dynamically generate the
imagery of thought. He pointed out that "electricity
is only incidentally visual and auditory; it is
describes immersion in the sensory saturation of
electric media as "viscous." She reports an experience
in the sensory saturated neon/video landscape of
Tokyo as "feeling it on her skin" rather than in
her head. "I am inside the experience. I do not
Bricken, a recognized expert in software architectures
for virtual environments, attests to the tactile
relationship and a sense of presence in electric,
enveloping, environments. "Touch," he says, "demands
a physical interaction with the body, while hearing
and sight are themselves mediated by the space surrounding
the body; they are not direct ... touch both connects
asked him about his experience with virtual reality.
I asked how the virtual space feels to the body?
How the body knew it was (t)here? He told me electric
touch plays a significant role in opening to virtuality;
in fact, it plays a most dominant part in establishing
presence in VR's electric poetic space. Bricken
said, "Virtual reality is never without touch since
a person is always feeling the floor, the force
of gravity ... The question is not VR without touch,
it is VR without consistency, without integrating
the touches being experienced with the VR being
experienced. Without integration, touch degrades
presence. With integration, touch is the most dominant
form of presence ... so the moral is haptics is
the royal road to credibility, to presence in VR.
In a sound-bite: Our bodies are the interface."
is a whole complex and the sensory feel of electric
media becomes the touch of electric, poetic space.
Immersed in electric space, sympathetic identification
with the full electric manifold takes place through
the feel of its 'hi-touch.' Electric media effect
a sense of tactility that mediates the senses to
establish the 'feel' of electric space.
dynamic relation, multi-sensory immersion characterize
the environmental effect of electric media. Time
and space dissolve through the actions of the organic,
speed of light interrelations of electric media.
Information and energy are affected. Spatial representations
merge as space shape changes, with multiple views
of objects possible from a single perspective because
planes and volumes become one. New patterns emerge
with the rapid flow of electric information. A change
in the nature of thought is a change in consciousness.
affirms this effect, providing experimental observations
in virtual reality. He says, "We have data from
several experiments that suggest an interesting
relationship between our perception of VR and of
physical reality (PR)":
The experience of temporal duration (time) is compressed
in VR. For novices, on the average perception of
one VR second takes about three PR seconds;
The experience of space is also compressed. One
VR foot is about nine PR inches;
Models using exact physical laws feel wrong in VR.
Angles and velocities in VR are also not aligned
with those we measure in PR
manifold characteristics of electric sensibility
are seemingly instantaneity, spontaneity, simultaneity,
discontinuity, tactility, continual modification
through dynamic relation. Like McLuhan said, "at
electric speed, all forms are pushed to the limits
of their potential."
speed is masked in consciousness by the awareness
of the action itself. The brain/body respond accordingly.
"Consciousness," Teilhard wrote, "...leaping and
boiling in a space of super-sensory relationships
whole system is nothing less than the brain, the
body, and the environment in interaction. What is
'without' is 'within.' Thought, feelings, mind are
ordered through a process of whole interaction between
the electric environment and the organism. Mental
phenomena, and any psychic transformation, can only
be fully understood within this context.
world is awash in information, immersed in a bath
of electric media poetics, the world's cultures
now globally linked and interrelated by meta-technology,
a superstructure built through convolution into
proximity. The world is undergoing continuous and
rapid change due to the acceleration of light-speed
view has changed. That is to say, our perception
of reality has changed. When our view changes so
does our mind. Our theories of nature, our natural
philosophy, as well as our theories of mind, self,
and soul reconfigure as the lens of our perception
shifts in interplay with the biases of our artifactual
© 2000 All Rights Reserved
Lauria is a research associate of the M.I.N.D. Lab
(Media Interface and Network Design LAB) at Michigan
State University. Her research involves the philosophy
and design of virtuality. Link to her Web page from
the lab at http://mindlab.msu.edu/mweb/people.htm