The 1980 comedy The Gods Must Be Crazy explores how an unprepared and unsuspecting society is transformed by the introduction of an alien technology. The slapstick racism of the film portrays the ‘Bushmen of the Kalahari’ (the San people) as living in blissful egalitarian symbiosis with themselves and their environment until a glass Coca-Cola bottle falls from the sky (courtesy of an indifferent Western aviator). The object causes sharp schisms among the fictionalized San, introducing heretofore unknown sentiments of want, competition, greed, and scarcity. To save his people, eventually the leader embarks on a journey to throw the bottle off the edge of the world.
The film’s dated humor derives from a portrayal of the San’s ‘ignorant’ efforts to use the bottle. They are shown using the Coke bottle in manners Western audiences should find silly. While the premise is deeply problematic, the idea that introducing an alien technology could rip apart the social fabric of a people is compelling. The fictional San’s response to the Coke bottle loosely mirrors the globalized response to the internet. How did it get here? How are we supposed to use it? What’s its purpose? Who owns it? And most importantly, is someone laughing at us for using it ‘wrong’? The internet is very much an alien technology dropped into the laps of an unprepared people. Can the internet be thrown off the world? Will it shred the social fabric of its users? Is this society’s fabric in need of shredding?
Along with the disagreeable contours of private property the Coke bottle brings to the San, they are also depicted as privileging different aspects of the technology—some appreciate its entertainment value, some its carrying capacity, some seek to weaponize the bottle. The technology introduces multiple new trajectories of perception, as has the internet. Just as the empty Coke bottle is the garbage of an oblivious population, is the internet simply ‘someone else’s garbage’?
Just as mythologies developed around the origin of the Coke bottle in the film, the internet has its own creation myths. Some look to the 18th century binary coding of the Jacquard Loom for the internet’s origins. Some to IBM’s early adding machines. Some to Turing, Sputnik, or DARPA. All played their part, but developments at CERN in the late 1980s led by Tim Berners-Lee most definitively signal the unleashing of the internet as we know it: not merely a new communications technology, but an entirely novel material medium. What really came out of CERN in 1989 was the World Wide Web, giving us most of what is considered the internet today—websites, search engines, message boards. The internet and World Wide Web are not precisely the same thing, but ‘World Wide Web’ fell precipitously out of use by the 2000s and is only spoken aloud for ironic derision (even the ubiquitous ‘www.’ that used to precede URLs has become redundant).
According to the first website ever (http://info.cern.ch), the internet was “Originally aimed at the High Energy Physics community.” This branch of physics is commonly associated with CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), at which particles are slammed together at near the speed of light in efforts to open up ever smaller and hotter parts of the universe. These high energy collisions are intended to observe novel particles (famously the Higgs Boson was discovered here in 2012), but also track the behavior of known particles (a recent popular headline claimed that a fifth force of nature may have been discovered). Part of the impetus for this project is to understand the conditions of the very early universe, circa 10-20 seconds after the Big Bang. Tragically, these experiments have given us a much better glimpse of the end than the beginning.
Hadronic matter (the ‘H’ in LHC) is a sophisticated word for ‘regular’ matter—everything you’ve ever seen or touched is hadronic. But at a certain temperature, hadronic matter ‘melts’ into a quark-gluon plasma. Above this temperature boundary matter as we know it does not exist and a new type of matter emerges. This is known as the Hagedorn temperature, almost two trillion degrees Celsius (for reference, the sun is about 15 million degrees). The LHC can produce temperatures up to 5.5 trillion degrees Celsius, plenty to melt a proton. Melting the proton reveals to physicists the quarks and gluons that hold together all Hadronic matter.
Like all good creation myths, this origin of the internet blurs history, exaggeration, and politics. The idea that the internet was invented to facilitate high energy physics research skews the causality (such causal skewing has grown increasingly common since 1989, as discussed below). The internet wasn’t invented to help see past the Hagedorn threshold, rather the internet slipped out of the Hagedorn thermal dimension as researchers attained higher and higher energies at the supercollider. While the popular press repeatedly peddled misguided fears about CERN accidentally creating a black hole that swallows the planet, they missed the actual result of meddling with deep energies. Opening energies at which all we know becomes unwound has, in hindsight, had rather obvious corrosive impacts on what we know. That is, these chasmic energies have led to rapid knowledge decay.
All our LOLcatz, memes, and message boards come from the melted protons of supercolliders. This is nothing to be ashamed of. The fictional San people put the Coke bottle to much more functional uses than as a mere vessel for diabetes, why shouldn’t we try to use this non-hadronic matter we call the internet to learn about events in Ukraine or order toilet paper? More importantly, acknowledging the internet as an alien technology from another thermal dimension may help us appreciate it, use it better, and figure out who is laughing at us for doing it wrong.
The internet has traditionally been hard to define. Is it the physical servers that store data? Is it the surface of a computer’s screen? Is it the programming code? Is it the immaterial conglomeration of communication? Is it the hyperlinks between information? The difficulty in answering this question arises because the internet is a novel kind of matter with which we don’t regularly interact. The internet is not made of quarks held together by gluons (the ordinary stuff), but rather the quark-gluon plasma that comes from a world beyond two trillion degrees Celsius. What does it feel like to touch the internet? Well, it feels like touching something that isn’t composed of quarks held together by gluons, which has no other corollary experience (although scientists have speculated that non-hadronic matter behaves like a perfect viscous liquid—the internet seems pretty viscous).
So, the internet is composed of some alien matter that accidentally leaked out of a supercollider. How can this acknowledgement help us use the internet? This revelation means the internet is not based on Copernican, Galilean, Newtonian, or Einsteinian Reasoning. Reason and rationality from the Enlightenment to Chernobyl relied on observations of hadronic matter. We can throw all that stuff out the window when using and studying the internet. For many internet-users this is intuitive. The correct use of the internet is the production and dissemination of LOLcatz. The post-internet art championed by Marisa Olsen or the net art of surfing collectives like Nasty Nets and Supercentral in the 2000s accurately represented the alter-dimensionality of the internet. The internet is not irrational; it’s alter-rational—composed of a different kind of rationality. There’s absolutely no hadronic logic to why some TikTok videos go viral. Don’t try to figure it out using hadronic rationality.
This hints at what Laboria Cuboniks’ Xenofeminist Manifesto is striving toward— there’s more to reason and rationality than the oppressive, patriarchal brand extolled by Descartes and Kant. Those jerks don’t own rationality. The alienated rationality espoused by xenofeminism can be found in the non-hadronic matter of hyperstitional entities like cyberspace. Evidence of early experiments in harnessing this viscous rationality were attempted by the Cybernetric Culture Research Unit (CCRU) at Warwick University in the mid-1990s. Anthropologists have long-argued for a plurality of rationalities and logics.
Currently, the Black Quantum Futurism (BQF) projects of Rasheedah Phillips and Camae Ayewa vividly utilize the medium of non-hadronic rationality. Black Quantum Futurism, among other emancipatory efforts, employs the matter and logics of unbound quark-gluon plasma across multiple media to rewire exploitative timelines. Critically, BQF does not attempt to use non-hadronic matter to convey information about the hadronic world (as do websites like nytimes.com or reddit.com). Rather, through their Temporal Deprogramming, Community Futures Labs, Black Womxn Time Camps, and Non-Linear Futures, BQF’s work uses plasmatic rationality to expose inconsistencies in and alternatives to the façade of hadronic domination.
Both the internet and the Coke bottle are containers of unhealthy and slightly addictive materials. Importantly, the fictional San interact with an empty, used-up Coke bottle, which for the people who produced it, makes it simply garbage. The San come up with many ingenious uses for this garbage, just as we have come up with numerous ways to use the internet. If the internet is just ‘someone else’s garbage’ (the garbage of the ultra-Hagedorn realm), how do we prevent it from ripping apart society? Or, as in the case of Black Quantum Futurism, can this junk time be used to repair the incongruencies and injustices of our hadronic gods? While the normalized functioning of this colonial society certainly needs to be shredded, the imminent fear is that neo-colonialists will harness the dense energies of Hagedorn technology to reinforce regimes of divisive accumulation.
QAnon is a paradigmatic example of the internet (of non-hadronic matter). There may well have been a hadronic person making Q’s posts, but the posts themselves were of non-hadronic material. The presumably human poster used the non-hadronic matter that is the internet to make millions of people around the world believe an outlandish fiction. The power of non-hadronic matter is stunning, spurring thousands to attend rallies and at least partially fuel riots. Non-hadronic matter seems to exert some kind of control over us hadronic entities. The fear is that we will become increasingly swallowed up in a massive quarkfire that coats every surface with internet (see smart pillows and smart underwear).
Whereas QAnon used the unique properties of non-hadronic matter to manifest distrust, BQF uses it to facilitate reparative justice. Importantly, BQF doesn’t rely on the electric interfaces of screens to manipulate non-hadronic matter. They’ve hacked the alter-rational matter beneath the quark-gluon plasma to create analog hyperstitions. Both cases of world-making, whether the conspiracies of QAnon or the temporal justice of BQF, indicate the ability of adjacent realities to be melted and blended together.
Amazon, another example of the internet, controls a great percentage of the world’s non-hadronic matter and it is one of the most violent entities on the planet (in terms of growing inequality and destroying ecosystems). Jeff Bezos has basically made $200 billion from harvesting non-hadronic matter. If we want to redistribute control of non-hadronic matter away from Bezos, Zuckerberg, and Google, we must disabuse ourselves of the misconception that the internet can possibly reflect the behavior, will, and sentiments of hadronic entities (like ourselves).
From news sites to dating apps, the internet inexorably must distort information because it is made from a different kind of matter than the information it is trying to convey. You cannot communicate hadronic information through a non-hadronic medium without some potentially dangerous distortion. The phenomenon is not unlike that depicted in the 1979 Tarkovsky film The Stalker. When the ultra-Hagedorn realm laughs at us for misusing the internet, it’s because we’re trying to use it to depict hadronic reality. Trying to report news, facts, history, or collect encyclopedic knowledge with any fidelity to reality is probably the silliest use of internet, and if there are ultra-thermal quarkian interlopers they would be right to mock us.
Until we get a better read on the properties and capacities of non-hadronic matter, we should probably restrict our use of the internet to artistic experimentation. Not only does this seem much safer than visiting cnn.com or facebook.com, it’s also a highly effective way to learn about the affordances of new materials—manipulating them creatively. You can find truth in the internet but it is the slanted truth of impressionism or surrealism. Gilles Châtelet promotes “the urgency of an authentic way of conceiving information which would not be committed solely to communication, but would aim at a rational grasp of allusion.” The information coming to us from the internet must be viewed not as communication, but as an allusion—a gesture toward a distanced phenomenon. Likewise, poet Veronica Forrest-Thomson (perhaps the first xenofeminist) poses “rational obscurity” as a means of forging alternative orderings.
‘Reality’ as a concept didn’t exist before the 15th century popularization of linear perspective—a series of diagonals leading into the oblivion of an event horizon. Likewise (according to Google Ngram), ‘reality’ experienced another surge in usage in the first half of the 20th century, accompanying aesthetic and artistic trends toward abstraction (not to mention concentration camps and atomic bombs). This is all to say that ‘reality’ is foremost a concept that has been defined by artistic experimentation. It may seem counterintuitive that a cubist painting or BQF exhibition is more realistic than a report on npr.org, but historically this is the case. This should remind us that we won’t find any reality on the internet until we begin to see it, not as a communication technology, but as an artwork.
The end of the world is the end of a collection of knowledge. The internet ends the dominant way of knowing of previous centuries. This dominant exploitative colonial knowledge thrived on genocide and ecocide. Will the post-hadronic reality ushered in by the end of energy entrench this wasted world as a baseline or offer a reparative off-ramp for conceiving worlds otherwise? The answer depends on whether or not we continue to treat knowledge as a mass-produced commodity (like a Coke bottle) or a malleable horizon for experimental imagination.