Cyberstructuralism

Never has computer hacking seemed as creative as now. Consider what black hats can do merely by putting a microphone near your computer: with enough sample data, they can machine-learn the unique sound of each key on the board with 90 percent accuracy or determine a private decryption key by listening to the humming of your computer's viscera. Such discoveries—and these are just the techniques transparency-minded professors have discussed publicly—make us rethink the faith we place in our digital infrastructure. It seems every few months bring the revelation of a major vulnerability; it stands to reason that it’s only a matter of time before one of those vulnerabilities is a cataclysmic one that the developers can’t patch quickly enough.

But that's not what disturbs me the most. The subreddit /r/outside experiments with the idea that reality is a video game whose objective is a successful life. Posters lament the absurd restrictions imposed Machiavellian "devs," those code-wielding overlords whose decisions about the architecture of reality determine our decisions about how to navigate real life. Though it might feel like a satire of religion, I wonder if even real-world theism sits a level of abstraction away from grasping the very real omnipotence held by contemporary tech elites. Tom Scott, a brilliant YouTuber who defies categorization, has a dystopian video called "Single Point of Failure" in which one of Google’s top-five devs goes rogue, turning every Gmail account outward for journalists and amateur sleuths to voyeur all over.

I struggle with poststructuralism's steadfast determinism when I consider the immense amounts of power vested in the actors who govern our digital existences. Foucault and Butler reject the notion of identity, but I don't know what to make of the very real correspondence between our online identities and the selves they index. I find it easy—and this unsettles me—to say that my internet breadcrumbs are who I am because they determine so much of my life: the products that get marketed to me, the jobs I’m eligible for, the impression others have of me. My electronic environment digitizes me where Cartesian metaphysics fail, for Foucault, to incarnate me. And those who control that cyberstructure possess real agency over me by operating prior to and above the digital sphere—in a way the human subject can never circumvent the "system" of reality. Might the poststructuralist teardown of subjective agency be a mere consolation prize for those outside that elite place above the fray of a digital existence?