On the Immaterial

During the late 19th century Heinrich Hertz conducted a number of experiments that would eventually prove the existence of electromagnetic waves — specifically, radio waves. At the time, Hertz believed this discovery was of no practical importance. His experiments merely proved that there are “mysterious electromagnetic waves that we cannot see with the naked eye.”[1] The SI unit Hertz (Hz), posthumously named after the scientist, became the universal standard unit to measure frequencies. Hz describe the frequency of oscillation within electromagnetic radiation (present in wireless transmissions of data including radio, cellular communication, and wi-fi internet), ‘clock rate’ (used to measure computing power), and vibration (present in the production of sound).

Nearly a century later, during the intellectual surplus and economic expansion of the post-WWII United States, cybernetic theorists began to analyze and create processes in which humans and machines worked in unison, a relationship based on communication and control. These theories introduced the notion of a “negative feedback loop:” a method employed to describe and influence self-correcting systems. These methods were put to test in the development of war machines and artillery systems, as well as information storage/retrieval and economic systems.

By the 1970’s cybernetic theories were adopted by a generation of computer scientists and engineers during the creation of Silicon Valley that placed the computer and radio dead center within a capitalistic, libertarian, utopic vision of the future. The frequencies that Hertz discovered are omnipresent, heavily utilized and commodified, creating an intangible framework of information relationships governed by resonance and powered by the computer processor.

The electromagnetic framework in which images, signs and symbols are distributed exists within the cybernetic history of innovation towards the establishment of western imperialism. A history which has also led towards the exploitation of citizens within a global network. How are these affects articulated? What strategies may alter this course?