Images and Emergence
Technologies produce effects outside their primary function. A
car may get us from one place to another, but this simple task of
transportation brings with it many unintended consequences. Roads,
necessitated by cars and trucks, transformed the very structure and
organization of our cities and towns, metamorphosing the economic
and social life within. Transportation (following on the heels of
mass mechanization) helped alter agriculture and all forms of
production. Byproducts of transportation, its support systems and
infrastructure have had unforeseen downsides. As roads crisscrossed
the land, they diminished and dissected biologically robust and
diverse ecosystems into frail, isolated island habitats.
Transportation became a driving force behind the fossil fuel
industry, now threatening all ecosystems on the planet.
Cars have shifted our sense of time, of space and of locality.
Increased mobility simultaneously empowers and alienates us. In
cars we carry our "personal space" in a bubble through the
world-removed from direct interaction or involvement. "We're just
passing through here," is a syllogism synonymous with the culture
of the car no less than how many people now treat aspects of their
personal and political lives.
Advances in transportation changed our physical environment and
allowed for "ways of being," unimagined by its inventors, who, more
than likely, saw the car simply as a means of getting from point A
to point B. The car is far from unique in offering unheralded
promises and unforeseen pitfalls-many technologies deliver that.
Unintended consequences are endemic of emergent properties,
unforeseen properties that only become apparent in the course of
use, action and interaction.
Biological systems exhibit emergent capabilities in extraordinary
ways as well. Individually ants exhibit no innate intelligence.
They operate in biologically predetermined-and extremely limited
autonomous ways, using chemical markers and receptors to find their
way and to operate in the world. And yet, with no directives to
guide them, they exhibit complex systems of group behavior and
create complex and specialized physical structures as well.
Individually ants couldn't tell you about farming, or engineering,
or architecture or of collective defense and yet all of these
properties manifests themselves through the group and can be
readily seen in the colonies the ants naturally, collectively and
Images are the invention that transformed the beings that first
conceived them. Images allowed for a conception of the infinite by
finite living organisms within the confines of time and space. Our
images created meta-worlds within the world, reference points that
conjured personal meanings and connected them to all things-seen,
known or imagined. But however we classify image making or describe
it, the power of imagery is, arguably, one of our most potent
tools. Imaging/imagining also constitutes a formative and
transformative emergent technology.
Our world and our interactions within it are infinitely more
complex than what we casually apprehend them to be or intend them
to be. Our images, their creation, dispersion and use have allowed
us to negotiate and organize an increasingly dynamic and complex
social and economic order-a social and economic order that would
never exist without images to support it. And as we move forward,
deeper into a world predicated on images (with a concomitant
distribution of power that is effected through images), we should
take note that we have, again, entered into a shifted paradigm as
we all now create and distribute images with increased fervor and
felicity. While we have historically been making and sharing
images for some millennia now, humanity has entered a point of
transition unheralded in its scale, its means and its manner.
We can speculate what new order will manifest as our world is
increasingly replicated and replaced by visual images exteriorized,
traded and metabolized with an almost universal zeal, but we would
likely be off the mark. For our technologically driven torrent of
instantly created, accessible, communicated and consumed visual
images are merely the tip of a newly emergent iceberg-an obvious
manifestation of a phenomenon that will further transform society
in unforeseen ways: Image by image and terabyte by terabyte through
machines and interfaces that are extensions of our physical selves.
And each image traded and consumed is a simple statement: an
expression and extension of being that moves us a little further,
collectively and blindly into the future.
Ken Schles (Foam Magazine #5/Near)