A child born today will be immersed in a world that is, more than ever, virtual… With a single Google search, a child has instant access to a plethora of information. With Google Earth the entire globe can be navigated with little travel-cost endured. And languages can be translated without a single understanding of the complex linguistics of other cultures…
These words are taken from the blog for the forthcoming University of Warwick Virtual Futures 2.0’11 conference. The stated theme of the conference is “Digital natives: fear of the flesh?”. The phrase “digital native” refers to someone young enough (in body or in spirit) to find themselves at home in the fast-evolving digital connected world.
But is anyone truly at home in this world? The author of the blog, Luke Robert Mason, continues as follows, drawing on comments made by performance artist Stelarc who took part in an earlier Virtual Futures conference:
But this virtual world is also plagued by complexity – a complexity born of information which the biological brain is not designed to comprehend. As performance artist Stelarc stated in his early work, “It is time to question whether a bipedal, breathing body with binocular vision and a 1400cc brain is an adequate biological form. It cannot cope with the quantity, complexity and quality of information it has accumulated; it is intimidated by the precision, speed and power of technology and it is biologically ill-equipped to cope with its new extraterrestrial environment.”
The Virtual Futures 2.0 conference rekindles a series of trailblazing conferences that the University of Warwick hosted in 1994, 1995, and 1996, attracting upwards of 300 attendees:
These conferences questioned the future possibility of the ‘virtual’ and alluded towards the impact of emerging technologies on society and culture. They were, at their time, revolutionary…
The topics discussed at the conferences in the 90’s included chaos theory, geopolitics, feminism, nanotechnology, cyberpunk fiction, machine music, net security, military strategy, plastic surgery, hacking, bio-computation, cognition, cryptography & capitalism. These topics are still poignant today with perhaps the addition of genetics, bio-engineering, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, bio-ethics and social media.
Call for papers
The conference organisers have now issued a call for papers:
The revival aims to reignite the debates over the implications of new and future communication technologies on art, society and politics. The conference will take place on the 18th-19th June 2011 and include paper presentations, panels, performances, screenings and installations.
We welcome researchers, scholars and artists to submit proposals for papers and/or performances around this year’s theme of: “Digital Natives: Fear of the Flesh?”…
Please send proposals (250 words max) to email@example.com by 1st May 2011.
Interested in presenting or performing at the event? As for myself, I’m preparing a proposal to speak at the conference. I’m thinking about speaking on the topic “Beyond super phones to super humans – a journey along the spectrum of personal commitment to radical technological transformation“.
I like the conference focus on “digital natives” but I’m less convinced about the “Fear of the flesh?” coda. Yes, my human flesh has lots of limitations. But I look ahead to far-reaching bodily improvement, rather than to leaving my flesh altogether behind. Other radical futurists, in contrast, seem to eagerly anticipate a time when their mind will be entirely uploaded into a virtual world. There’s ground for lots of debate here:
- Are these visions credible?
- Are these visions desirable?
- How should such visions be evaluated, in a world full of pressing everyday problems?
- Which of these personal futures should we prioritise?
No doubt these questions, along with many others, will be tackled at the event.
Note: Virtual Futures 2.0 is organised at the University of Warwick with support from the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning, the School of Theatre, Performance and Cultural Policy Studies, and the Centre for History of Medicine, in association with Humanity+ UK.