It is quite surprising that we talk very little about electricity, electricity as such. Electricity is the stuff all our modern communication media are based on: it is not just the fuel, it is the medium itself of our media. I am not a physicist, I know very little about the technicalities of electricity. But one thing seems quite obvious to me: the connection between electricity and communication cannot be an arbitrary one. What is "electric" in communication as such that makes electricity its contemporary carrier by excellence ?
Air, paper, electricity: what is the difference?
Spoken communication travels through the air, from mouth to ear.
Written communication up to now travelled on paper from writer to reader. One dimensional linear traces on a twodimensional sheet, which, as concrete object of course manifests threedimensionally, e.g. as a book or a letter.
Electronic communication manifests through electricity. What is that? In German it is called "Strom", i.e. stream, current. It is not a tangible object but something which moves.
It is an active tension, moving, flowing invisibly in a network of wires. It is brought about through polarity, i.e. through difference: through the tension between the so called negative and positive pole. It is magnetic, it is liquid: it flows, it is kind of alive. It seems to be the erotic power of matter.
That alone would be stuff enough for elaboration on a metaphorical and a literal level.
But I want to jump to the next point: electricity is dangerous. Is either created by poisonous acids in batteries, or, in the most frequently used form, a strong physically dangerous force in the net. We cannot touch it. Yet, all the life-processes in our body is based on electromagnetic processes. But the electricity of our external power-supplies is much rougher and stronger than the electric tension in our cells.
How come we trust our message to a medium which would kill us if we touched it with bare hands? It seems likely that there is something dangerous intrinsic to communication, to make electricity such a successful carrier of our exchange.
When we are in love we clearly perceive the electricity in communication. A computer does not care whether we are in love or not. But we must have noticed somehow how electric successful communication can be. We can be struck by it. Now, unfortunately, we had to make a devil's deal. In order to be able to reach everybody, we had to sacrifice the possibility to get struck by the presence of the other. As usual in our culture, we trade in quality for quantity. But of course, we can fall in love with the one we exchange e-mail with. Only the computer will never know. And the recipient also might not necessarily notice.
Electricity, as it manifests in our computers, is not particularly erotic. It manifest as light, not as warmth. If it does, in fact we should better switch the machine off.
Now, why are some people so obsessed with the idea, that computer should be conscious, and, by consequence, also have feelings. I find that longing very hard to understand, except if I see it as a new manifestation of "mythic-magic" animistic thinking, which experiences the world around us and in particular nature-things like trees, rivers, mountains, as living being. This I find in fact quite plausible, we do not necessary have to get to other planets in order to find life-forms other than our own... But these computer-animators, most likely they do not talk to trees. Perhaps they are just lonely people who want to communicate and yet not get up from the computer. Or because they think of themselves as a computer, and they do not want to denie these "weaknesses" like consciousness and emotions, to themselves.
If Descartes' dog is a machine, as Descartes assumed, I am a machine too, and since I have feelings and consciousness a machine has that too, and Descartes's dog aswell. Which is exactly what Descartes denied. Descartes did not want to be a machine. But he also, and primarily, wanted to prove that he is not an animal. The aspiration of his time was not to be an animal. That seemed to have been a big deal then. Until Darwin came up with a different idea. Of course Darwin only came to his conclusion exactly because it was such an issue, such an obsession, not to be an animal. Presently we still do not want to be an animal, even though most of us think we are, but many of us do not mind to be a machine. Andy Warhol expressed this most explicitly and honestly: I want to be a machine. (Does that change of ideals mean that we became more modest, more realistic or more degenerate? Other cultures try to tell us that we are or could be gods..., but perhaps the reputation of our god went down so dramatically that nobody wants to entertain that aspiration anymore...)
So, where does that leave electricity. Electricity sems to be the blood in that world-wide web-like creature, which offers us to carry our messages and to bring us those of others, and in the meantime it is fed by our nuclear power plants and by the blood of our life-time. The curser blinks and seduces me into moving it, because electricity has to move. A piece of paper does not care. Or rather: it stares at me so threatening, that most of the times I hesitate to put the first letter onto its virginal surface. That's why my style degenerates with the computer, or at least it changes. I become chatty. With the use of electricity, communication is beyond the virginal appeal of "the first time", beyond the courtship phase of letters with real traces of kisses or tears on it, even beyond the honeymoon phase of human communication with books which are nice to see and nice to touch even after repeated reading. It's more like habitual sex, promiscuous and no big deal. Yet, some people seem to get extremely excited about it. Computers, world wide networks, virtual reality, and what not. I try to understand that, but it reminds me of a book I read, by some Eugen Diesel (family of "the" Diesel), written in the twenties, about the car. The fantastic changes this will bring. And yes, the car did change our world quite a bit, but it didn't change us.
Why can computers only function with electricity? Stupid question, but think about it. Perhaps some of you, dear readers, want to answer me that question.