Dr. Dan O'Hara - Non-Human Agencies: A Skeuomorphological Account of Virtual Futures
University of Warwick, 18-19 June 2011
Virtual Futures occurred at a tipping point in the technologization of first-world cultures. Whilst it was most often portrayed as a technopositivist festival of accelerationism towards a posthuman future – the “Glastonbury of cyberculture”, as the Guardian put it – its actual aim, hidden behind the brushed steel and silicon, the jargon and the designer drugs, the charismatic prophets and the techno parties, was rather more sober and more urgent.
In 1994 and 1995, Joan Broadhurst, Eric Cassidy, Otto Imken and I sought to use VF, among the other conferences we organized, as an instrument of ontological clarification. As philosophers, we wanted to understand what entities could be legitimately said to exist in a world which was dematerializing its organizational systems and cultural activities with ever-increasing rapidity, whilst at the same time re-engineering that most material thing, the human body itself. We tried to produce a new interdisciplinary materialism that could account for the nonhuman agencies – Gilles Deleuze’s “abstract machines” – which we considered to be driving both artificial and natural production. And we attempted, perhaps vainly, to confront a non-academic public with the then-imminent reality of their mediated, internetworked lives.
How was it that VF subsequently became a talisman of aestheticized apocalyptic futurism, failing to fulfil its designed epistemic function? In fidelity to our original aims, I will offer a neomaterialist history, via a skeuomorphological theory, of the hyperaccelerated success and demise of VF itself, demonstrating how both human and nonhuman agencies shaped the actual future of Virtual Futures.