What are the wider effects of digital territories on the real world politically, socially & culturally as well as spatially? & what does this mean for the developing nature of what we can define as territory?
By Luke Marshall
Introduction – what were the initial intentions for the internet upon its release into the public sphere? & how do these now antiquated ideals relate to the current direction of development in regards to how we integrate & create digital territories?
Chapter 1 – What affects have digital machines such as Facebook & other social media platforms had on our political and social movements?
Chapter 2 – How are online gaming territories shaping social relationships? & what are these activities capable off in an economic, cultural & spatial sense; in specific relation to digital integration technologies?
Conclusion – Based on the research covered in my essay what effects are digital territories having on the notion of territory and where could this lead?
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What were the initial intentions for the internet upon its release into the public sphere? & how do these now antiquated ideals relate to the current direction of development in regards to how we integrate & create digital territories?
In this essay I will be approaching digital territories and their wider sociocultural, political & spatial effects through the lens of social media and online gaming. I will also be developing my understanding around how humanity is integrating itself into these virtual territories, in which I will make particular reference to mobile & other computational devices, as well as the possible prescience of the novel turned movie “Ready player one” (Appendix C) I will then use this research to discuss how digital & physical machines (Gagliardi, M., 2017) are shaping modern society & what possibilities this may bring. This essay will then conclude with my views on the research as well as whether the adoption and further integration with the digital is the right path for humanity or more to the concern whether we have a choice in this.
In my analysis of social media and other “Digital machines” (Gagliardi, M., 2017) I aim to understand the nature of hyper connectivity and its effects on the political world via the creation and use of digital territories with the aid of Mario Gagliardi’s “analysis framework” (Gagliardi, M., 2017) of digital machines. Key areas of research for this will be focused on how online movements & sites have shaped recent political events for example:
- Kekistan (Appendix D)
- Facebook (Appendix E)
- Anonymous(Appendix F)
- YouTube (Appendix G)
I will be exploring these territories & select individuals that surround/inhabit them to define any possible differences to contemporary notions of territory, as well as to analyse whether the effects of these digital territories have substantial/notable weight in politics. This part of my essay will be assessing territory as ideological grouping primarily, whilst still pertaining these movements to real world events and temporary territorialisation’s.
In my second chapter I will be focusing on online gaming and its relation to the physical world specifically on how it is redefining socialisation & the economic/cultural repercussions of this, to which I will be using examples such as 2 popular massive multiplayer online games (MMO’s) those being, World OF Warcraft (WOW)(Appendix K) & EVE online (EVE)(Appendix J); chosen specifically for the high experience documentation of the players as well as cultural relevance. Part 2 of this chapter will be examining the possibilities around digital integration technologies from simple yet not so simple hand held devices to virtual reality headsets (Oculus., 2018) & Haptic suits (Krumins, A. 2017), to which I will be referencing “ready player one”(Appendix C). The aim being to understand & define what it means to near fully integrate ourselves into these digital territories on a social and cultural level.
The first digital territory that could be outlined & is a direct precursor to social media/ the internet as a whole is the ARPANET (Appendix B), which was developed by engineers at DARPA in which the first “host to host” message was sent between 2 networked computers, akin to the first phone call, letter or clay tablet; we as a species had found a new way to communicate. This initial territories edge was easily defined as only set computers were networked during this time (1969-1972) primarily for faster communication between the early internauts allowing them to develop the ARPANET further from differing campuses/research sites. Over the preceding years this territory began to expand and incorporate further government, institutional & private backers which furthered the development of the early internet as well as to diversify the territory, to the point where ARPANET was no longer the only Intranet in existence. A form of exponential growth had taken hold of the sector & governing institutions based around coordination were required; such as the International Cooperation Board (ICB) & Internet Configuration Control Board (ICCB). (Founding of the internet reference)
The dissemination of information via networked computers no longer runs purely on raw packet information; emoji’s, emails, skyping, instant messaging apps are just to name a few. Nor is it limited to a group of highly knowledgeable engineers and scientists as anyone who’s ever taken a particularly long bus or train journey can realise; we are all internauts & nearly every modern individual living in the world has an online presence based in specific digital territories; Facebook, Reddit, Twitter or Instagram etc. (Leiner, B, et al, 1997) (Greene, T., Kahn, R., & Cerf, V., 2000).
The dissemination of information via networked computers no longer runs purely on raw packet information; emoji’s, emails, skyping, instant messaging apps are just to name a few. Nor is it limited to a group of highly knowledgeable engineers and scientists as anyone who’s ever taken a particularly long bus or train journey can realise; we are all internauts & nearly every modern individual living in the world has an online presence based in specific digital territories; Facebook, Reddit, Twitter or Instagram etc.
Mario Gagliardi in his essay on digital machines references the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann by stating “Every new medium confronts society with new possibilities of information”(Gagliardi, M., 2017) in which new ways of managing a “surplus of meaning” affect “the structure and culture of society” which Luhmann describes as “Kulturform”(Gagliardi, M., 2017). Facebook is a perfect example of kulturform, with its ability to share information instantaneously no matter how erroneous that information may be, sends shockwaves through our culture near daily; this was most evident during the 2016 presidential election in the United States; emanating most notably from Donald Trump’s twitter account. Social media especially Facebook, twitter & YouTube became the battlegrounds for the culture war (Geraghty, J., 2016) that was embodied by the election, to which the repercussions are still being felt today with scandals ranging from Russian bots to subjectively offensive meme’s.
A product of this was Kekistan & the endless Pepe the frog memes (Placido, D., 2017), this digital territory/fictional country covers multiple social platforms online but was born on 4chan’s /pol/ board (4chan., 2018). 4chan is well known as an abrasive chat room website but the /pol/ board can only be described as a sewer of political debate, inhabited by self-described “shitposters” (Kekistan., 2018) or trolls. Kekistan is their tongue-in-cheek ethnicity & the home country of these shitposters, popularised by the YouTuber Sargon of Akkad. He states when describing the fictional country as “a parody of identity politics” that had been adopted by both the major presidential parties as well as the Alt-right. Essentially stealing the Alt-right main go to meme of Pepe the frog & making it their fictional deity, this was best seen when Alt-right figurehead & white identitarian Richard Spencer posted a #Freekekistan tweet (Twitter) (Spencer, R. 2017) and received a backlash from his followers as well as ridicule from many for not understanding the anti-identity politics stance of the movement, however it is unclear as to the level of crossover parts of the Alt-right have with the Kekistan movement due to the unspecified looseness of digital territories.
On the other side of the political spectrum Hilary Clintons campaign described pepe as “a symbol associated with white supremacy,” in reference to a meme posted on Twitter with links to the trump campaign. This also accumulated into an article on the Clinton campaign main website titled “Donald Trump, Pepe the frog, and white supremacists: an explainer.” (Now taken down) in which the cartoon frog was described as “sinister” (Kozlowska, H., 2016).
So what does all this mean in relation to online digital territories? Well for one it appears to show that ideological pamphleteering that was seen before & during the English civil war is alive and well online (Peacey, J, 2004). This being possible only because of the digital machines previously mentioned which is also akin to how civil war pamphleteering was only possible thanks to the Gutenberg revolution in the previous century. The fact that these ideological groups such as Kekistan but also Anonymous & Antifa can centralise their presence online and use it as an information highway, also allows them to mobilise in the form of protests (Physical territorialisation) and other forms of political dissent such as DDOS attacks (Rouse, M., 2017) (a favourite of Anonymous). Giving them a political weight to swing in cultural forums at social structures they dislike or like (thumbs up symbol), This in the words Luhmann is “Kultureform” & its presence on multiple platforms/mediums gives the information greater public reach; further growing the digital territories. The example of Kekistan also shows the permeability of these digital territories through the crossover of Alt-right members identifying with a movement that essentially ridicules their main philosophy but this could also be seen as the war of ideas within the movement which is typical of a political territory.
When these online movements manifest themselves through physical territorialisation via a protest it helps to scale the digital networks of these territories. 2 examples for this are as follows:
- The Million Mask March (Anonymous)(Appendix H)
- The Liberalist Count Dankula march (Liberalist movement)(Appendix I)
The Primary drawback to these territories is their ability to become echo-chambers in which agreeable arguments drowned out contrary opinions especially when the digital machines used to propagate these ideas allow for this closed mindedness. Facebook’s unfollow ability allows friended individuals or groups to ignore/remove the shared stories, news & opinions from their newsfeed shared by the unfollowed person. Inevitably this usually devolves into physical conflict when counter ideals collide; an example of this is when Antifa protesters shut down a talk on objectivism between Carl Benjamin aka Sargon of Akkad & Dr Yaron Brook hosted by Kings College London’s Libertarian society (Turner, C., & Horton, H. 2018). The right to protest was observed amicably until black clad protesters stormed the stage and appeared to assault the speakers, which further enflamed violence between protesters and attendees. This is a clear example of 2 ideological territories that have both organised through their digital presences confronting one another in the physical world.
This territorial radicalisation could possibly be developing due to increases in the digestion and creation of information by the digital machines they inhabit, as well as the ease of accessibility to the digital via hand held mobile devices allowing the 24 hour news cycle to disseminate information more quickly into these territorial webs. Which we must remember from a historical point of view is a very recent development thanks to the internet, sometimes information is transferred before its even been printed or aired in many cases; by mainstream forms of media, with little to no due diligence on the part of the disseminators.
In conclusion, social media via digital machines such as Facebook, Twitter etc. appear to be aiding in the swing towards political fringes such as the Alt-right & “Ctrl-left” (Nawaz, M., 2016). The rapid escalation and feedback loop supplied directly to our Dopamine circuit (Ritvo, E., 2012). via our self-crafted digital echo-chambers allows the Overton window (a larger political umbrella territory) (New Statesman., 2015) to shift dramatically depending on the individual/groups in question. Which raises the added question; have we reached the point in peak information dissemination & ideological fortification essentially ensuring violent conflict, which could be described as a digital cold war?
Online gaming developed parallel to the advancements of the early internet and device networking, however it as a medium for social exchange & high density group interaction came into its own via the MMO genre of games. Of which 2 primary exemplars laid the foundation for the medium:
- EVE online(2003)(Appendix J)
- World of Warcraft (2004)(Appendix K)
Consistent themes in these MMO’s are anonymity via a gamertag, chat optionality (private>public discourse), Player created avatars, free choice on in-game politics via a guild or friend network & the presence of a low level crypto-currency. World of Warcraft’s in game currency (Gold) for example raised questions in mid-2017 when The Blaze ran the article “‘World of Warcraft’ video game currency now worth more than Venezuelan money” (Morse, B., 2017). which was sparked by a tweet which was later found to be inaccurate; Blaze concluded that WOW gold was worth even more than the Bolivar than was originally calculated, this coming off the back of hyperinflation experienced by the country. EVE online gives the best overview of in-game territory dynamics & player social structures thanks to the documenting of the games political and territorial history & frequent conventions; an exemplar of this being “The Fountain War” (Burke, A, Prelude. 2013).
The Fountain War has been touted as the largest online game based war ever recorded with over 4000 players taking part, & an estimated cost between $300,000 – $500,000 worth of resources (Kain, E., 2014); this can be calculated because of the player run economy mentioned in the appendix. This came about due to social tensions between 2 major alliances Goonswarm Federation (GF) & TEST alliance please ignore (TEST) as well as a frame change by developers which greatly weakened the GF’S economy by reducing the value of an in-game resource. This promulgated the need for war, to which the leader of GF; the “Mittani” (a self-styled emperor & probably the most powerful EVE member; who takes his role as seriously as any job), gave a speech.
“Odyssey has come–and it has left us destitute…Who is right and who is wrong doesn’t really matter: if we do not invade Fountain, someone else will–and they will enjoy the kind of wealth that we once had, while we wallow in wrenching poverty.” -The Mittani(Burke, A, Prelude. 2013)
The war raged in-game for 2 months in which fleets of ships consisting of thousands of players would systematically capture and recapture parts of enemy space; EVE’s daily updated political star chart showed at the time the dynamic shifts in territory from TEST to CF culminating in TEST’s defeat in late July 2013 (Burke, A, Deadlock. 2013). The final battle between the two alliances affected the server to the point of it first having to slow down time internally to 1/10th the speed just to calculate the streams of battle information. This then through a computing error crashed the entire server (Burke, A, Aftermath. 2013) of which there is only one that holds an average population of 30,000 online members at a time (EVE-Online Status monitor. 2018).
The relation to real world & digital territories has severe repercussions & side effects for the individuals inhabiting the digital machine as well as the people around them:
- Real world time zones (TZ) – The effect of global time zones in digital territories primarily in EVE can have measured repercussions; for example during the Fountain War it became apparent that Goonswarm had dominance during the American TZ whilst TEST gained superiority during the Australian TZ which eventually lead to a stalemate that was only broken by subterfuge. (Burke, A, Deadlock. 2013)
- Real world abuse – Disagreements in the digital often seep out into the real-world when anonymity is lost; In EVE again one dispute led to a permanent ban due to a threat made by one player to remove another’s hands. (Messner, S. 2017).
- Prioritising the digital – Many dedicated players in online MMO’S orientate their lives around these games due to social responsibilities in-game. In a talk given at EVE Fanfest 2016 titled “Life as a fleet commander” (given by a player who interestingly only introduced himself via his digital identity of Wolfpack10) the speaker described working his daily routine; such as work coffee breaks, around planning for in-game fleet management on his phone, as well as having to run home from a day out shopping to manage a fleet battle. (EVE Fanfest. 2016)
- Information overload – In online territories where thousands of people are communicating simultaneously, through specially designed gaming orientated voice over internet applications such as Discord (Discord. 2018). Information coming from both in-game text sources & external text/live speech applications can be overwhelming for players especially when they have to react quickly to varying levels of importance in information (EVE Fanfest. 2016). This is not a stress free environment for dedicated gamers however some sources stipulate that gaming can actually be stress relieving (Scott, E. 2018).
These effects can be seen in most individuals who have active social lives, it is merly the medium & frames in which these territories lie that is the primary difference; which could be described as a digitised social life. The real question raised by this level of social integration is who owns the digital machine itself? Those who inhabit it fund it, live in it or the developers who created & manage it?
Another factor being developed by gaming territories primarily is our integration into the digital; as mentioned previously hand held digital devices such as smart phones and tablets have normalised a near constant connection to our digital territory, to the degree we can be traversing a physical & digital territory simultaneously be it on bus, train or walking etc. Games developers however have lead the charge in taking this a step further through Virtual reality technologies (The Ultimate Virtual Reality Technology Guide. 2018) such as Oculus rift (Oculus. 2018), haptic bodysuits (Krumins, A. 2017) & omnidirectional treadmills (Hart, M. 2016). The aim of these devices is to further the immersion into digital territories such as games via sensory feedback of which the named technologies offer sight, touch and the ability to traverse horizontally infinitum. I could imagine this technology developing along with sensory deprivation chambers to produce a near full immersive experience where differentiated between the real and the digital becomes an impossibility.
Novels and films such as “Ready player one” (Appendix C) seem incredibly prescient considering that many sociocultural factors as well as the technology required to bring the dystopian world portrayed, either exist or are in development. The departure of spacial awareness from the physically spacial, raises many question on territory as a whole, especially when it can be defined and stored on a USB stick or in a server room. The “Oasis”(Appendix C) in Ready player one is a meeting place and gaming universe which already has a precedent to build from; that being VRChat. VRChat has been described as “an amalgamation social community video game” in which multiple areas allow for free play and world creation, its developers Graham Gaylor & Jesse Joudrey wanted the community to create their own territories in “the first real virtual reality hangout”(Alexander, J. 2017). VRChat also uses a very similar digital avatar system portrayed in the movie adaptation of Ready player one with many pop culture icons making an appearance in-game; solidifying my belief that Ready player one could one day be seen as a documentary on the development of digital territories.
Conclusion – Based on the research covered in my essay what effects are digital territories having on the notion of territory and where could this lead?
In relation to the digital it is becoming harder to define territory through conventional means for example the need for a physical bounding. When spatiality can be procedurally generated and our sensory systems fully immersed into a complex program, what do we mean by space? When we can craft whatever we want in an infinite medium. Now one could say well you’re limited to a set server or a set parameter crafted by developers; to a degree this is true for now. However when a digital machine can be shared to a widening variety of devices & the inhabitants can modify/rewrite this machine and the territories within, it becomes harder to define limitation. Another aspect akin to this in digital territories is that of identity, what does identity mean when your digital avatar is born from your own mind & all your physical identity is hidden behind a gamertag? Not to mention all this can be changed and a new identity forged in a matter of minutes. The effects created by these digital territories have been raised in chapter 1 but can be summarised as a detachment from physical forms of territory which with the furthering of digital integration leaves many possibilities open, for example what would happen if consciousness could be uploaded and made compatible with the digital? What would this mean for humanity & its ideas on territory, if as a species we were uploaded? Would we be trapped in the strict framework of our new digital existence & how would this differ from our physical limitations today?
It is implausible to try and answer these questions on territory today as we’re simply in the wrong medium to even contemplate them; we have no idea the prospects and drawback of a purely digital existence and what this would mean for the idea of territory. However we can accept that our current interaction with online territories is reforming our approach to socio-cultural & political events such as elections, as well as how we relate to one another not only locally but also internationally as friendships and other networks are created as easily online with someone on a different continent as they are down the local pub, whilst conversely someone can have over 1000 friends on Facebook and be very lonely. Another thing we can accept is that our advancing integration with the digital is expanding our ideas on spatiality, where moving in the digital world requires nothing more than a thought. The Indian polymath Rabindranath Tagore once said:
“There is a point where in the mystery of existence contradictions meet; where movement is not all movement and stillness is not all stillness; where the idea and the form, the within and the without, are united; where infinite becomes finite, yet not losing its infinity. If this meeting is dissolved, then things become unreal.”
With the research and examples I have covered throughout this essay I can only conclude that things are becoming very unreal and in my attempt to answer what this all means in relation to territory as a whole, I have been left with more questions.
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- Digital machine – Mario describes a digital machine as a “cannibal of information” this is due to the fact that it is information that consumes information to transform & develop new information, this cycle is what develops the digital machine and the territories it consists of in a sort of feedback loop. The process also creates new territories and like cells they multiple and decay exponentially based on the information consumed & produced. Mario’s diagram of a digital machine can be seen below: (Gagliardi, M, Fig2. 2017)
- ARPANET – Advanced Research Projects Agency Network or ARPANET was an experimental computer network that was an early form of internet used to connect Pentagon funded research institutions via land line. (Greene, T., Kahn, R., & Cerf, V. 2000)
- Ready Player One – “The film is set in 2045, with the world on the brink of chaos and collapse. But the people have found salvation in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance). When Halliday dies, he leaves his immense fortune to the first person to find a digital Easter egg he has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, sparking a contest that grips the entire world. When an unlikely young hero named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) decides to join the contest, he is hurled into a breakneck, reality-bending treasure hunt through a fantastical universe of mystery, discovery and danger.” (Trumbore, D. 2017).
- Kekistan – A fictional country and ethnicity that developed in reaction to the identity politics adopted by mainstream political parties primarily but not limited to the 2016 presidential election. (Benjamin, C. 2017).
- Facebook – By far one of the most popular social media sites used today with over 2 billion members (Statista. 2018). The site has been hit with flurries of accusations from Russian bots sharing fake news to affect elections, to Cambridge Analytica using harvested information to guide key figures in both the Trump & Obama presidential campaigns, now common practise (Boyer, D. 2018).
- Anonymous – A community of online hackers or hacktivists with branches in nearly every country, that act with anarchist tendencies against governments, corporations & institutions etc. This is often carried out through cyber-attacks or other forms of digital warfare, however Anonymous groups have taken part in open air protests primarily in the “Million mask march” in which members & empathetic parties rally in major cities wearing the Guy Fawkes mask popularised by Alan Moore’s V for vendetta graphic novel. (Anonymous. 2018)(Brooks-Pollock, T. 2014)
- YouTube – Akin to Facebook & google, YouTube has amassed considerable cultural relevance as a video sharing platform; to the point where “YouTube it” is used in the same manner as “google it” further advancing this notion of having the total accumulated knowledge at the fingertips of any individual with a digital device. This site has also turned gamers, cultural critics/ counter cultural icons & alternative media sources into million dollar industries.
- The Million Mask March (Anonymous) – This march organised largely by anonymous occurs globally in over 481 cities as of 2014 & is a protest against “establishment” instituted initiatives such as austerity, mass surveillance & infringements on rights etc. Attendees wear Guy Fawkes masks making them by extension anonymous; this has the wider effect of clearly plotting the protest itself by the collective wearing of the mask. (Anonymous. 2018)(Brooks-Pollock, T. 2014)
- The Liberalist Count Dankula march (Liberalist movement) – This march was organised shortly after the sentencing of Markus Meechan aka Count Dankula (youtube/facebook identity), a comedian charged with being “grossly offensive” under the 2003 communications act (Communications Act. 2003). After he taught his girlfriend’s pug dog to “sieg heil” as part of a practical joke in which the dog would react to trigger words such as “gas the jews” & the afore mentioned “sieg heil” (BBC. 2018). The liberalist movement saw this sentencing as an affront to freedom of speech due to the judge concluding context was irrelevant to which they swiftly organised protests both in London & outside the court at Airdrie. People holding Kekistan flags and Sargon of Akkad attended the event in support of freedom of speech. (Dale, H., & Hobbs, S. 2018)
- EVE online(2003) – Set in a literal Universe this Sci-fi MMO sets a very loose frame for players to interact with; allowing them to forge alliances, empires & other forms of governance solely on their ideals and preferences, which can incorporate thousands of people. During its early stages one player described this loose frame/lack of narrative as such “Here is your ship, now fuck off”. The game also has its own economy which can be translated to a real world dollar value through a player managed exchange rate mechanism; or in other words a free market. The frame this digital machine has is therefore very similar in structure to the international political/economic landscape & the internal strife found within the EVE universe shows this. (Parkin, S. 2015)
- World of Warcraft (2004) – Developing on RuneScape WOW is seen as the originator of all modern fantasy MMO’s. Set in an expanding universe with 2 clear factions, this machine allows for group cooperation & chat akin the previous example as well as character creation which is a constant theme in MMO’s. The ability to purchase gold from the developers also sets a loose exchange rate between real world & in game currencies however this is in competition with an online black market trade of gold which is a ban-able offence. (Welsh, O. 2014).
M.Arch in Architecture 2017/18