PostCog is the first chapter of The Egress. It is a speculative project that explores a possible future concerning the degeneration of human cognitive abilities caused by our dependence on tech corporations as a knowledge repository and as a compass for worldview. The reason why we are addressing it is that the event of Cambridge Analytica has made us realise that the imminent danger is closer to us than we have thought of. Politicians and tech firms collaborated to manipulate public consensus through an attack on the human fragile psyche with the propaganda machine of theirs, a similar playbook from the 20th-century populist regime but supercharged with digital technologies and the weaponisation of online media. The incident was a nightmare for the pro-democratic society as the political twist has shaken the foundation of liberal democracy and eventually steered the globalised world into a different reality. One that promotes a crack in societal unity and provokes an unhealthy separatist agenda. Besides the allegation of these political tech crimes, our digital habits and practice that undermine our cognitive abilities could have played a major role in making us the victim of tech crime in the first place.
The emergence of platform media on the internet not only made the virtual world a neoliberal social utopia but also a fertile ground for commercial developments that sow capitalist agendas. Today society becomes more dependent on the information curated on the virtual world to learn about their surroundings as more and more of social activities resort to the internet or cloud. Therefore, this has created opportunities for commerce activities. The virtual world becomes a ground zero where the extreme commercial competition takes place as the promising online social traffic encourages the users to take advantage of the context. It did not turn out to be a Barlow’s independent entity but a supercharged version of our living reality although it was said to be a place that provides universal knowledge and a free world to the people. Like the real world, it is now driven by the market that relies on traffic, attention, and validation from the consumers as a commodity. It is a noisy world that big corporations to independent entrepreneurs or artists are competing for attention. Such conditions have brought the critical discourse of the attention economy on the table as some experts are concerned that it could have a long term influence on the utilisation of technology since harvesting attention is one of the main economic drivers. The competition of attention requires an immense amount of knowledge on individuals to decipher the psyche of the users to override their focus. And the platform media hold the responsibility to facilitate consumers' needs by providing them the service of targeted marketing with users’ data points that they harvested. This gave the platform media total autonomy to organise the information, decide the priority of it, and the formality of the content. The formality of the content plays an important strategy to provide virtual participants with a common ground to partake in the competition. A common ground that encourages them to craft attention-seeking headlines nor information that's compelling enough to capture viewership. And the bright side was everyone is given the liberty to create information and to become an independent journalist. And this has contributed to the making of bitesize knowledge and instant information to a respected format that disregards the depth of contents since fostering attention and maintaining audience traffic were prioritised as the primary objective. On the other hand, the platform media mobilised the recommendation algorithm trained with the harvested data to ensure the traffic is consistent on the platform itself while making sure client contents are delivered to the chosen audience. By doing so, it created a digital filter bubble that eliminates frictions and automates users' traffic online so that it could bestow users with personalised information in a loop. In a way, we are like horses with blinders running on a determined racetrack. Researchers postulated that these practices that seek to keep users attached to the virtual world have the potency to reshape our habits through targeting the weakness of the human psyche and cognition. And they believe that this is an alarming situation to modern society as it could undermine our ability to think with the newly reformed habit that reinforces our neoliberal yearning for social connection to the world, instant gratification and validation. As a result, we as the neoliberal subject rely on the comforting virtual world for constant self-optimisation and a compass for a worldview to survive in this man-made reality even if it could be detrimental to our wellbeing and human rights.
Therefore, there is indeed a need for us to look into the development of thought instruments that could reshape our habits and mind. We started to address the need for such research and proposal by first establishing it as a world-building project as it would help us to investigate what kind of context that would allow the issue of cognitive decay to flourish into a prevalent disease. By fostering a deeper contextual understanding of the complex relationship between the cause and effect of the concerned issue would give us an edge to develop a precise discourse and deliver constructive awareness to society. Like our predecessors, we believed that fiction still plays a vital role in assisting us to further excavate the possible outcomes based on the current development of scientific research, societal trends, etc. It is an apparatus that provides inclusivity in thinking as the fundamental process is driven by imagination. Alas, the purity of speculation that helps extrapolate possible and preferable futures has the tendency to become a double-edged sword that defeats its purpose. Some extrapolation that introduced a plausible solution ended up as an entertainment masterpiece that stuck in the bottomless pit of mass media where the critical conversation is reduced into the topic that emphasised solely on viewership. It is undeniable that the entertainment turn does help in gathering public attention and instills some general knowledge among society. However, the fate of the future depends on what shapes the probable outcomes and our intervention shouldn’t stop at the awareness stage but seeks to intercede into the real world. Digital rehab is the first experimental prototype that we designed as an intervention in this thesis. A kind of “diegetic” prototype that applies to the present condition which traverses between the line of fiction and reality. Like a bridge between fiction and reality that allows them to influence one another. It allows factually informed fictional solutions to intervene in the concern that we were addressing. Therefore, turning fiction into a pragmatic apparatus that could help craft a probable optimistic outcome for the future reality. It is a strategy that is based on CCRU (Cybernetic Culture Research Unit) Hyperstition theory where the real can be intercepted by the recurrence of fictional intervention through the deliberate use of cybernetic media that can turn beliefs into common practice. Briefly, this is a risky approach as it could become a breeding ground for irrational conspiracy theories that will sow confusion among society if not managed nor executed properly. However, the way we approach it was very much derived from Suhail Malik’s view on hyperstition which closely resembles the notion of advertising which has the potency to hijack the practice of the real nor the present via researched reality (a possible reality/ a fiction) that target on our collective minds with a legitimate practice drawn from the “fiction”. Our digital rehab is not an architecture but an imported reality where rituals and practices play a central role in keeping the fabricated reality together. Hence, allowing it to punctuate into present reality as a feasible long term intervention. The reason why we termed it as a digital rehab is that we see the thought instrument as a backend framework rather than a tangible object. The investigation, mapping, archiving, research, and fictioning are the five components of the digital rehab playbook as it emphasised on anti-frictionless information consumption, the study on the dominant paradigm, and expanding one's mind.
The Egress is a collection of research and worldbuilding projects that centered around the radical normalisation of intelligent technologies into our livelihood and the dominant power of the multinational tech corporation in our 21st-century economy. It is driven by the urge to understand what kind of future reality and obstacles we may encounter as when big techs are leading the global development agenda. The tech development has so far shed some light on society despite some unethical incidents that happened to be the direct implication of it. Some threats are foreseeable while some aren’t but what we all know is that for every optimistic invention comes with a price to pay just as Paul Virilio would have imagined. Are we prepared for the unprecedented circumstances that would undermine the wellbeing and welfare of the people although we have already started such a discourse ever since the initial declaration of the fourth industrial revolution and the latter political upheaval caused by Cambridge Analytica? Our state of readiness for change and counter crisis depended on the acquired knowledge and the critical planning that gave us the confidence to meet critical situations. This collection here is neither a series of cautionary tales that fuel a sense of Luddism nor utopic lore that may downplay the Darkside but a guide that seeks to initiate discussions and some essential thought experiments. It covers critical tech research topics that are associated with the field of socioeconomics, politics, architecture, and media. The objective is to create compilations of long-form research articles, tech journalism, speculative design proposals, and prototypes as a knowledge building apparatus, a guide for the future, and a possible contribution to future history archival.