Thursday, February 11, 2010

Where the Cylons will come from

I missed most of the SyFy (née Sci Fi) series Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009), though I managed to catch enough to know that I wanted to watch the new prequel, Caprica, from the beginning. I haven't been disappointed. With the pilot and two episodes now under my belt, it's safe to say that I'm hooked.

Caprica provides an origin story for the Cylons, a cyborg race created by humans who later attempt to annihilate their masters. That may sound pretty de rigueur as far as the sci-fi genre goes, but here's the twist: we learn that each Cylon's "being" -- his, her, or its unique identity or essence -- is actually the aggregation of a human individual's medical records, purchasing patterns, educational transcripts, voting records, electronic communications, and other personal information archived online. The Cylons are, in other words, the walking, talking, informational avatars of the human race.

It was with all that in mind that I happened upon the clip embedded below, which is from the February 2, 2010 episode of The Colbert Report. The title, "Cognoscor Ergo Sum," translates from the Latin as, "I am known, therefore I am." How apt. In the segment Colbert spotlights,, and other websites that allow people to reveal and record the intimate details of their daily lives. Blippy lets you broadcast what you've just purchased using your credit card, and where. IJustMadeLove allows you shout from the electronic rooftops when, where, and how you've just done the nasty. (Yes, I wish I were making that one up.)

The Word - Cognoscor Ergo Sum
Colbert Report Full Episodes

There's been all sorts of talk for years now about the vulnerability of information online, and it's no surprise given the proliferation of networked databases that identity theft has emerged as one of the foremost crimes of our time. What's even more striking to me, however, is how Caprica and the Colbert clip together seem to shift the meaning of -- and even up the ante on -- identity theft.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that we humans are poised to give rise a line of super-machines intent on wiping us out. What I am suggesting, though, is that we can only begin to imagine how and for what purpose the digital data trails that we leave behind today will be used in the future. I like to think about it this way: when I started college, how could I have anticipated a rash of photos and videos surfacing close to 20 years later on Facebook? Heck -- there was barely an internet back then, let alone affordable scanners or even the idea of social networking.

Leave it to popular culture, then, to register one of the critical questions of this new decade: how does a society plan for an information future that may well be unfathomable, technologically speaking?


Conrad DiDiodato said...

Interesting post, Ted.

I'm going to get a lot of informed insights into techno-literacy here.

Ted Striphas said...

Thanks very much for the kind words, Conrad. I've been blogging primarily over at The Late Age of Print for the last year, which means I haven't been as active here on D&R. It feels nice to be back in business.

Conrad DiDiodato said...


I've been meaning to ask what is your interest in Deleuze. He must rank pretty high in your academic books if you've named your blog after "differences & repetitions", a slightly altered version of Deleuze's most technical work.

Have you read DeLanda, probably Deleuze's most consistent champion (though I question certain aspects of his too strictly mathematical formulations of notions of "assemblages" and "singularity"?

Ted Striphas said...

@Conrad: I started D&R back in 2005, when I was teaching a graduate course on Deleuze/Guattari and the media. I was rather heavy into their philosophy then, and it continues to animate my own writing and research in both direct and indirect ways. I'd say my two most significant theoretical influences are Deleuze and Henri Lefebvre.

In a couple of days I'm going to post a link to an essay of mine that was recently published called "Harry Potter and the Simulacrum," which might give you a sense of the nature of my engagement with Deleuze. It's actually critical of his understanding of the simulacrum, though I hope in an appropriately Deleuzo-affirmative way.

I haven't yet had a chance to peruse your blog extensively, but it looks very interesting. I'll add it to my blog roll.

Conrad DiDiodato said...

Thank you, Ted!

I will get Henri Lefebvre.

My interest is in Deleuzian application to poetry/poetics. If you happen to have a bibliography of works by authors with similar interest in Deleuzian poetics, please pass it on.I'd be grateful.

The blog is new, tentative and at the moment unsteady on its legs: the goal is to create a site for people to start Deleuzian researches (whatever their interests): so far there is myself and visual artist/educator friend of mine.

You can send bibliography directly to my email.

Again, thank you. Your blogs are an invaluable resource for my own deleuzian interests.

Ted Striphas said...

Sorry, Conrad, but I don't have a bibliography like the one you're describing. Wish I did, though.