Mona Lisa Overdrive

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Vorhanden, zuhanden. Those words seem like lyrics from a Rammstein album.  Bring on the pyrotechnics, we’ll be rockin’ tonight… well, we won’t.

Behind those big-sounding words – straight from the intellectual iron maiden that is Martin Heidegger – is a very important concept: instrumentality.  Vorhanden, or presence-at-hand, refers to things and concepts that are already there to begin with; it is up to us to make theories about what makes those things and concepts meaningful.  Zuhanden, or ready-to-hand, refers to the involved actions we have with instruments; we don’t need to make theories about using a spoon, for example.  Of course, I’m not an expert in all things Heidegger.

Personally, I appreciate the fact that more and more people are using social media to act upon their society in a positive manner.  I don’t know of a single advocacy or cause that does not have a manifestation in the Web.  The fact that Twitter has become the gateway for information on the state of Iran is something we should applaud and be proud of.  For everything said about “cyberactivism” as “slacktivism,” Pinoy Netizens are at the forefront of impeachment complaints and calling book blockades out as bollocks.

I don’t usually disagree with Cocoy on matters concerning technology – I’m sure he knows what he’s talking about – but I believe we are far from “cyber war.”  Twitter is a great way to inform us all about the goings-on in Iran, but it’s a long way from being the definitive catalyst for social change.  Rather than descend into long-winded discussions about hyperreality and simulacra/simulation, I’d like to make this polite (if not curt and fair) point: technology is an instrument in a situation, it is not the situation itself.

Take things like “cyber hackers,” for example.  I’m not discounting the possibility, for example, of online marauders hacking into my computer systems because of an open letter to Congress; but I’m not overestimating it, either.  Like I said before, the almost instantaneous action made possible by online social media can sometimes mislead us into thinking that the Internet will lead to instantaneous consequence.  To treat the “virtual world” as separate from the “real world” would be to misunderstand how things fall into place.  The most the Internet can do is be a catalyst for spreading information; the messenger may be shot during the war, but he or she is still not a soldier.

It can also mislead us into thinking that “cyberactivism” compensates for the weaknesses of physical action in the social realm.  Take Carlo Ople, for example:

And that I think is one of the strongest qualities of Virtual Rallies. The moment a person joins, he’s in it for the long haul. The count is cumulative regardless of the time and space. As long as the website is up and running, people will be counted. That’s the reason why the Facebook Cause against Con Ass is already nearing 30,000 sign-ups. Imagine if we give it more time? That number will continue to grow and eventually might even end up more than 100,000.

As much of a kind acquaintance Carlo is to me, I have to ask if he’s pulling anyone’s leg here.  Numbers are relevant, yes, but I don’t know how much commitment is there to be found in mouse-clicks or memberships to groups.  The numbers may be there, the shoutouts may be there, but as long as the barometer of action is measured in presence-at-hand, the cause is not there at all.  As inconvenient as physical action may be, we cannot allow things to descend into an exercise of slacking off and presiding in our computerized Parliament.  While we’re tweeting away at the events at Iran, the protesters are still marching in Teheran.  While there are people who will tout thousands of members in the No to Con-Ass Facebook groups, the protesters marched at Ayala.  There is a very big difference there, the least of which being commitment.

I feel that some people have a tendency to overestimate the importance or centrality of the Web as anything beyond the instrument that it is.  “The Internet is the new bastion of democracy,” at least to me, would be to say that the Internet becomes the Zion to the invasion of anti-democracy machines somewhere at the other end of the Matrix.  It’s a tool: the same tool that can be used to propagate democracy can also be used to propagate dictatorships.  It’s like we’re giving a tool a mind of its own.

Let’s get this back on track on a more positive note.  More than open up doors for things like “cyber war” and hackers and things like that, the real effect, or perhaps “danger,” of online social media is a more informed public.  It’s more dangerous than malware attacks.  Yet that comes with a curt and fair warning that when people define their situations as real, they are real in their consequences (yep, the Thomas theorem).  The central roles that we take as Netizens should also reflect in the way we are as citizens.  Virtual environments are not situations: they are instruments that act upon situations.  Vorhanden compliments zuhanden, but the latter is primordial – that is to say, authentic and involved – compared to the former.

The sooner we come to grips with that, the sooner we come to grips with the online and the offline…

Ah well, that’s another rant altogether.

* – So I’m kind of writing this because I just had a conversation with a friend writing her thesis on “virtual worlds.”  LOL.  The title comes from a novel by William Gibson.  And I’m still writing in long sentences, woot!

12 comments on “Mona Lisa Overdrive”

  1. Reply

    Marck, I do agree with you: “technology is an instrument in a situation, it is not the situation itself.”

    case in point: This tweet from @iran_translator “the website that was trying to identify protesters for arrests by Basijis has been pwnz0rs by Anon. :P”

    Twitter becomes a catalyst for social change— if 1) Iran gets new elections; 2) If Iran gets a new Ayatollah (replaced by a more benevolent supreme leader), or 3) The Islamic Republic of Iran gets a revolution and get a new government. and viola, Biz Stone, are golden, they’re going to be the next google.

    There has been a call out to bring in more proxy servers to help the people in and out of Iran to give, anonymous, and encrypted messages out.

    I don’t think anybody expected such a “war” to be played out. Sexier to imagine boys and girls sitting behind serverlines and flying predators and blowing up servers while eating chips.

    The Iranian Situation is less about bringing down websites, but more on getting credible and reliable information to and from Iran.

    As cool as the technology being used on both sides of the conflict is, it is less about the tech and more about the People of Iran.

    cheers! 😀

  2. Reply

    There are limits of course to the role of cyberspace in social change. But as I said on twitter, what happen in the worlds of the real and hyperreal may serve to complement and mutually reinforce each other. it isn’t a one-way relationship, no?

  3. […]Marocharim, in his posts The Slacker Effect and Mona Lisa Overdrive, questions the triumphalist tendencies of social media over the realm of the real. In a nutshell, he does not think that ‘cyberactivism’ is a substitute for agency in the real world.[…]

    • tina
    • June 23, 2009

    i knew that title was familiar ^^ have you read neuromancer, and the rest of william gibson’s novels? 😀

    your post reminds me of an article by cory doctorow about police violence in the uk. even if that event was massively documented, nothing happened ’cause nobody acted on it. much as the internet is a great tool for spreading information and organizing people, if nobody starts taking concrete action then it’s all for naught.

    you might like cory doctorow’s novel about how america can become a police state in the very near future using current technology. it’s a fun read, and freely downloadable to boot ^^

  4. Reply


    True. I would rather have it that the medium be treated as a catalyst. I am worried about the tendency of this becoming a triumph of Twitter, as opposed to being a triumph of the Iranian movement on the ground, but that’s another story. I think I’m just a wee bit of a paranoiac when it comes to these hyperreality things, LOL.


    Read your entry with a lot of interest. I agree that they should “bleed” into each other, word and flesh (and the mindf**k begins, so I’ll kill it now, corps sans organes… BEER), but invoking W.I. Thomas, if people define their situations as real, they are real in their consequences. Yep, it’s a channel, and as much as channels are limited, we should use it prudently. We row the boat to the vast sea, yet the river has banks… so to speak.


    You don’t know how pleased I am to meet someone who saw a small trace of “Neuromancer” in this post. 🙂 I’ll download the book and read the article, thank you. As far as “police states” go, let us entertain that possibility, but let’s engage in it critically. Surveillance countering surveillance… interesting.

  5. Reply

    Cyber-activism and IRL activism shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. I attended the first Con-Ass gathering by the FB group. Sadly, very few people went.

  6. Reply

    Marck, why can’t it be both? the fortunes of both twitter and the Iranian people are best served if this “uprising” succeeds correct?

    from a business stand point— twitter’s fortunes grow /because/ it has become this important vector. it is inline with twitter’s current business plan: to grow value. what better way to grow value than to be an instrument of sociological change?

    @caffeinesparks i think the only limit now to cyberspace being a vector of change is when ANY government or entity purposely shuts itself off from the network. That’s getting harder to do when every business transaction relies heavily on the Internet.

    guys, let’s also not forget that the internet works both ways. Even as activists use the network, governments can use it too. And they tap into it fairly easily like what the Wall Street Journal explained Iran is doing.

  7. Reply


    I think the best reason to explain the lack of quorum in the street is that success builds bigger crowd. Past gatherings have given people the impression that it isn’t a vector of change. That is is all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    1. Reply

      @cocoy: nothing against “virtual gatherings;” my point is that both the online and the offline should complement each other. 🙂 it’s just that in the grand scheme of things, the real should still take primacy over the hyperreal. the internet is still a tool, an instrument. 🙂

  8. Reply

    Hi bro!

    I just read your article. I think my sentiments were summed up by most of the people who already left comments here (about how virtual and real life can mix and is not mutually exclusive).

    Let me just give you an update on the Facebook Stop Con Ass Movement.

    – More than 75,000+ sign-ups
    – has had 2 EB’s in Metro Manila, special guests were Rep. Roilo Golez and Con Com Christian Monsod
    – Will have other EBs in Cebu, Davao, Bacolod, General Santos, and Bulacan in July
    – Received mileage from traditional forms of media (TV, Radio, Print)

    The beauty of this campaign is that it crosses the line between the virtual and the real world. Instead of just staying in the streets of Makati for one rally, what we’re doing is we’re going all around the country trying to educate people about Con Ass. The Facebook Cause is the platform, but we have multiple real life channels as well to reach out for others to join our cause. It’s like one giant info campaign.

    I’m proud to be part of it and will definitely push for it ’till the end. As a New Media practitioner and marketer, this is my little contribution to nation building. 🙂

    Cheers bro!

    1. Reply


      cool. well like i said bro, there’s nothing “wrong” with the campaign, it’s just that i question the sign-up as a “commitment” as it stands. you’re right, it’s a platform, and basically i’m just calling out on readers to say hey, this shouldn’t stop at signing up for a badge or joining a group in Facebook. 🙂 we’re both on the same page as far as new media is concerned, it’s just that i take it with a bit of jadedness.


  9. Reply

    wake me up when the pinoy blogosphere incest stops.

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