Watch on for Snakes!
Hare-footed attention span eyelids dart around the room like the peskiest of fruit flies come fall, when the kitchen sink drain is still full of the rot of summer fruit skins. Swatting and flailing, each of your neck-breaking movements are recorded, then like deli meat processed, archived, backed up, stored, stacking, creating the very materials necessary for building the data depository of the future. Your movements pile up like bricks and are sold back to you when you construct a fortress to hide in. How to protect yourself from yourself? The consumed consuming and the consumer being consumed. The user is using, using, used.
The Internet is a snake with its tail in its mouth. A visualization of linear progress, one that holds true to the laws of the horizon as both the body of the snake and the Internet taper and thin into a vanishing point that promises beyond, or elsewhere at the very least. McLuhan's railway stretches toward the greener pastures of innocence. The present went that-a-way, right into the hole in the wall. Like a tromp l'oiel cartoon tunnel still dripping, a mouth widens.
With a hinged jaw, the digital cavern bellows with a resounding echo back to the first click, the first fang encounter. The devil embodied hisses its own sweet chorus, a bifid tongue gathering data on potential lovers, predators, prey in a 100km radius. Walking its mouth across its prize, a snake can ingest another that exceeds its own size. It cradles its own rattle in its gob. Its jawline rigged with tendons and muscles, contrary to popular belief, does not detach from its skull when agape. It expands like a toothy elastic, stretches out, and snaps back into place. Swallowing you whole without having to re-apply lipstick. With a serpentine writhe, it scrolls between boulders to reveal a new skin.
Just when you thought that a pattern revealed itself as an encoded yet decipherable language, the way to read it shifted, the alphabet updated—the old skin left behind to be recycled by hands or winds or machines, if at all. The shedding of snake skins is as much of a ritual as the necessary software updates we pause to perform on our devices. You've outgrown your parasite laden model. We allow ourselves to update when we feel safe, when we feel that we won't miss or be missed—most often when we sleep (and our softwares have evolved to make this 'presence optional' update possible). The snake too discards its outdated bodily technology when nobody is watching, but when it slithers away anew, it leaves behind the palpable marker of time, renders it imperfect, dry, cracking, obsolete. Out with the old and in with the newer model! Display the carapace above your mantle next to your 1st generation iPhone.
I've never had a dangerous encounter with a snake, but we've touched many a time before, the garden snake, the circus boa constrictor, the lamp-warmed house pet, and I. But those were censored snakes, snakes with parental settings, supervised, trained, restrained, blocked domains, on invisible leashes. The only thing that attracts me in the way that snakes do is the World Wide Web, and the closest I've ever come to an encounter with a poisonous snake is having a Facebook profile.
Watch on for snakes, not out. There is no off, there is no out. A warning to beware the quiet slithering ground worm stiff with imminent strike, and for the silent attacks inflicted on our digital docile bodies. We play with snakes every day; prodding their armor puzzled bodies with computer mice to pierce through to the tender inner soft, convincing ourselves that we will at last bring to boil the cold blooded—just a few more minutes. Our adrenaline and dopamine receptors fire on all counts watching the snake recoil and assume the strike position, double-tapping the like button, inviting attack with every 140 characters. An ancient alien charms us to get close, to lean in and touch the space where we might find the vestiges of once propelling limbs, to refract in the eye slime of the second lid—how fitting that it too is called the spectacle. You came to see yourself here, not in a mirror, but in the inexorable void.
Upload the encounter. Would you like to share this information with other users nearby?
Inch forward in the pursuit of narcissism, move toward your reflection and let yourself consign to oblivion the fact that it is housed in the eye of the body of the serpent. It is what we have been trained to look beyond—we see the Internet as a boundless pool of democratic black potential. We forget that the eye is just a container, its function, shape and cognitive influence ultimately determined in the pulsating centralized data center, or brain. It does not see, but it senses. Do not forget: venom runs through this blood. In a face to face encounter, we are eager to see if the digital grass is any greener on the other side, or if we should add magenta. Its poison is not of the fatal kind, but cues the onslaught of a particular kind of death, a virus, expanding a network of the inflicted, a cult you cannot leave just because nobody has figured out how, yet. Like we cannot become uncharmed, we can never revert back to a state of the offline.
How to reconcile this fatal attraction, how to sustain the stand-off between safety and the serpent? And why bother staying safe? You cannot cast blame on Adam or Eve because you too have succumbed to the serpent's rhetoric and have chosen to eat from the tree of knowledge, of good and evil. Our collective guilt can be traced back to a Google search.
Both indigenous and contemporary populations have injected themselves with small doses of poisonous venoms in efforts to build up immunity, to sustain ideas of youth and health, and out of sheer boredom and curiosity. Like a homeopathic cure, wherein the toxin which troubles the body is ingested in a smaller dosage to fight its symptoms, we reconcile our physical bodies with the seemingly intangible presence of the web by inserting ourselves. We simultaneously become porous receptacles. We put ourselves online—reduce our individuality to an algorithm, to a subset of data: name, birth weight, password, address, answers to personal questions; it is a willed synchronization. At the same time, not in exchange for the data we provide, but rather as a byproduct of our collective obsession to upload, the online has put itself in us. Our bodies physically respond to and feel media remarks—pockets perpetually buzzing, the email refreshing carpal tunnel, the vibration of a rare phone call.
Are we doomed to dance like this forever?
Kicking up dust in the desert surrounded by snakes, we have several options: the first is an exercise in complete avoidance of these snakes, like those who have never logged on (too late for you). Another option is to look on from a safe distance, getting close enough to make a photograph and reblog it, but not close enough to warrant serious threat. If we move in any closer, the tempo of the dance piques—the snake is swift, smart, tastes your smell with its tongue, anticipates or even provokes your next move. This is where the line of no return lies. We have encroached a guarded territory, trespassing with the risk of humiliation, pain, punishment, and poison, and with the goal of heroism, the possibility of a celebrated individualism—imagine yourself as the proud fisherman posing with your record-breaking catch, your blue fin tuna a fibre-optic submarine cable still writhing and dripping with sea salt.
But no matter how we dance, the reality is that we do. Pay attention, the strike comes when we stop staring the snake in its unblinking eyes.