What happens when you’re forcibly ejected from Virtual Reality? You may experience “dumpshock” – a bewildering disorientation from the rapid change in context, and you may experience something similar on the internet if you shift from an ad-saturated to an ad-free environment. Like a fish out of water, you have no anti-environment by which to understand your reality, and the discovering one can leave you flopping around.
Welcome to your ad free internet experience. If you find this disconcerting, please, reconnect to Facebook now.
Are you confused? Disoriented? You may be experiencing dump shock. The feeling will pass momentarily. We’ll explain what it is on this episode of The Implausipod.
And snap! Back to reality. Back to your ad free internet experience. Now, we understand this can be a little disconcerting, but in this episode, we’re going to be talking about Dumpshock, which we first mentioned on this episode back in episode 10, and we hinted at it a little bit in episodes 8 and 3 as well.
And in this case, we’re going to be exapting a term from the Shadowrun role playing game to apply to a more generalizable phenomenon that’s been experienced in our reality. Because dumpshock is that feeling you get from a rapid change of context. In the case of Shadowrun, it was from being forcibly objected from virtual reality.
Dumpshock originally showed up with a brief mention on page 102 of the first edition Shadowrun core rulebook, published in 1989 by Facet Corporation. In it, they mention that “if you get kicked out of the Matrix involuntarily, you have been dumped. The rapid cutoff of the deck’s SimSense signal can cause mild disorientation, called Dumpshock. This can last up to 30 seconds, during which time you are disoriented” end quote.
And while it wasn’t the first mention of a disorientation that occurs with a shift from virtual reality, because the idea had been redolent throughout the cyberpunk literature throughout the 80s, it was where the phrase was coined. From there it grew, repeated in successive editions and sourcebooks for the game, but it’s really when the unofficial forums for the game got hosted at Dumpshock. com that it was more regularly used in the day-to-day vocabulary, so when I’m using the term as part of my vocabulary, or the larger vocabulary of the show and the blog, it means a rapid change in context as well.
When we mentioned the phenomenon in episode 10, it was in relation to the Fediverse, a distributed social network based on the ActivityPub protocol. And one of the features that’s touted about the Fediverse is that there’s no advertising, at least when compared to Twitter or Facebook or TikTok or any of the other social media networks that are out there.
So this lack of advertising can cause a sense of unease or disquiet, especially if you’re accustomed to the modern media environment that we have on the internet, or at least for the last 20 years or so. It’s something that we, the inhabitants of the modern OECD nations, know almost nothing about. It’s as if we’re fish in the ocean, and the water is advertising. We know nothing of what it’s like to be on dry land. An ad free environment is an anti environment for our current existence. And an anti-environment is what media theorist Marshall McLuhan described in War and Peace in the Global Village, and it’s from there that I paraphrased that bit about the fish in the water.
What he’s saying is that the fish would have no anti-environment by which they could perceive that the element that they live in. So for us, it’s advertising for fish, it’s the water. For birds, it would be the air. For smaller organisms, maybe the puddle that they’re in. For computer viruses, we could almost theorize it as being the silicon or the computer networks that they run through, but that idea of an anti environment holds true. It’s that change of context that allows you to examine your normal position or where you’re coming from. It’s like when you go on vacation, and you realize how your home country may be a little bit different than other countries around the world. It’s one of the uses of fiction and science fiction, especially where we can imagine a different kind of place and imaginary, as we discussed earlier, and see how things might behave differently. It gives us context.
Now, as I said, this idea of an anti environment comes from Marshall McLuhan, and we’ve mentioned him only sparingly before. We’ll have to go into some of his works in much more depth in the future, but we did want to address this specifically. McLuhan talked in fluent hyperbole, and this is one of those moments when that use of language allowed him to capture the essence of the moment perfectly well. And seeing as we’re talking about advertising, we’ll take a quick moment to take a look at what he said about advertising in Understanding Media as well. On page 202, he states that,
“Ads seem to work on the very advanced principle that a small pellet or pattern in a noisy redundant barrage of repetition will gradually assert itself. Ads push the principle of noise all the way to the plateau of persuasion. They are quite in accord with the procedures of brainwashing. This depth principle of onslaught on the unconscious may be the reason why.”
Like I said, hyperbole, but it cuts right through to the heart of the matter as well. Now we talked a little bit about advertising in terms of the audience commodity back in episode eight and it’s kind of been a recurrent theme since we’ve started this set of episodes on the podcast. And despite his verbiage, McLuhan doesn’t necessarily take a negative view of advertising, though there is some critique, and that’s part of the overall critique of society.
His statement is, “The historians and archaeologists will one day discover that the ads of our times are the richest and most faithful daily reflections that any society ever made of its entire range of activities.” So here he is about 30 years before the release of Demolition Man, absolutely nailing it.
Now, we absolutely need to go into depth on Demolition Man at some point in time, but as of the recording of this podcast in September 2023, Demolition Man, which was released by Warner Brothers, which is a struck studio with the WGA and SAG AFTRA actions still going on, we’re not going to go into it in support of the strike.
But once that’s over, we’ll… Go back and take a look in depth. And while this isn’t a Marshall McLuhan episode, or it isn’t our intent to make one anyways, there is one more point that he makes in Understanding Media that’s directly relevant to our topic at hand, that of dump shock.
In Understanding Media, he talks about technology as an “extension of man”, and we touched on this briefly in our AI reflections episode, but in chapter four of the book, in the chapter are titled “the gadget lover” (or Narcissus as Narcosis), he goes in depth about at least his theory of how this is actually taking place.
According to him, when we extend our capabilities with tools, we tend to anesthetize our senses in order to prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed by the new sensory overload that comes along with it. And when we use electrical tools or electric tools, in this case, mostly he’s referring to things like radio, television, film, it tends to overwhelm us as it’s an extension of our central nervous system as a whole. So we have this idea of narcosis that by using technology we become numb to its use, that we have to have some kind of barrier there in order to prevent from being overwhelmed.
Now this links us directly back to the cyberpunk literature of the 80s where we had in Gibson’s Neuromancer Case, the console cowboy, who’s our initial point of view character, who had his nervous system damaged as punishment so that he couldn’t actually access the matrix anymore, as well as Pat Cadigan’s Synners, in which there’s a direct neural connection between the brain and the internet that had lasting and massive ramifications and repercussions.
But that image from pop culture that most people are probably familiar with is that one of Neo in the original Matrix, with that spike running directly into his nervous system that allows him to connect to the Matrix and then engage with virtual reality as it exists in the film. And while the allusions to the use of the Matrix being like a drug are strewn throughout the film and the series as a whole, and they link us heavily to McLuhan’s idea of tech as narcosis, they also tie the Matrix film back to the proto-cyberpunk authors like Burroughs, Ballard, and Philip K. Dick, as we discussed in episode 3.
Now there’s one more obvious allusion within the Matrix, and that’s the choice of pills that Morpheus offers to Neo in the room. And I don’t want to get into that whole red pill / blue pill discussion because of the way our culture went with that particular theme. I’d like to consider that we’re doing this talk from a parallel dimension where that particular context or point of view with respect to the pills did not take place. So if I’m talking past this a little bit, please understand, because we don’t want that to overload the discussions that’s taking place.
What I’d like to focus on is the event that happens immediately following Neo taking the pill. Where he’s covered by that silvery, mirrory liquid, everything gets turned inside out, and the signal gets disrupted, as we hinted at last episode. The point I’d like to focus on is not the pill, but the coating. Because that coating is the complete overwhelming of the senses. and the narcosis that takes place that McLuhan is talking about. That coating is what cultural theorist Thomas de Zegotita calls the blob, or post modernity. It’s that detachment that comes with ironism. It’s that sense of being one step removed and aloof in order to prevent yourself from being overwhelmed by all that’s going on. That if you can step back and laugh at something, or, you know, mock it, or deconstructed, then you can at least have some distance and protect oneself.
Again, as De Zengotita calls it, it’s a blob. It surrounds everything, like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. It deadens the edges and doesn’t let anything get through. And this is what Neo experiences. But it’s also really hard to pierce the veil. So when something does get through, it’s overwhelming. It’s a shock to the system. It’s like it takes something on the scale of a 9-11 to have enough signal to break through the background noise that we live with.
So this shifting context that we see, whether it’s for Neo in The Matrix, or Stallone in Demolition Man, or a hacker in Shadowrun, or us, shifting context between an ad-saturated environment and an ad-free environment. Happens with the Fediverse. Or at least that’s how it’s described on the brochure. Because the truth is, the Fediverse isn’t an ad free environment.
It’s just, it’s not a sponsored environment. I mean, there’s commercial entities that operate on the Fediverse just fine, and there’s more and more joining every day. You can see them with everything from the BBC to Ars Technica to smaller news sites or publishers, big and small, and the authors themselves, whether they’re sci fi authors or others, as well as artists, whether they’re independent or emigrates from Etsy or operating a storefront, in an era of the branded self, of a mediated self, then it’s not an ad-free environment. They’re continually going to be there. And much like McLuhan was talking about earlier, when an ad is a learned way of communicating, of expressing oneself, then it’s going to be taking place within the posts that are made on the Fediverse. So while the Fediverse is not ad free, so to speak, it lacks the obnoxious levels of advertising that’s prevalent on all other forms of social media.
And this brings us to a couple of our last few points. The shifting context that happens with dump shock doesn’t imply necessarily a change in speed, it just implies a change in direction. But we’ll leave our discussion of the works of Paul Virilio in modern media for another time. Let’s just suffice to say that the relative velocity can be dependent on the frame of reference, which brings us to our last reference right now and that is Zizek.
There’s a relatively infamous clip from his 2012 documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology where he steps into the frame of John Carpenter’s 1988 film They Live and talks about the glasses that Nada uses to see the aliens amongst us. The glasses act as a filter that allow him to pierce through the ideology that the alien’s media uses to overlay upon our own. And when you compare that to other filters that are used in pop culture to similar effect, like the ones that were used in season 3 and 4 of Westworld, the genre, or Noire that we discussed in Episode 2 and 3 of the podcast, you can see the disorientation and disquiet that they all have in common. As the characters step into that anti environment, that shift of context, they’re now suffering dump shock.
And it can happen to us as well.
Thank you for listening. And as we come to a close, I just wanted to take a few moments to talk about some channel-related business. As we stated at the outset, this is an ad free zone. There should be no advertising associated with it, though some podcast players will interject ads. I don’t know if I have any control over that, but I hope I do.
We are famously not on a few of the more common podcast players like iTunes, Spotify, and Google Podcasts because, well, we have some issues with those particular companies. It is absolutely possible that if we do post this podcast, this episode in particular, or any other to YouTube, that it may end up getting ad support.
And just is the way things work there. I could demonetize them, I think, but if for some reason you’re seeing an ad with it, by all means know that it’s not intentional. In all honesty, the costs for running this channel are pretty minimal. Mostly in my time, and that’s fine. I enjoy doing the work. We don’t currently have any affiliate links, but if we do end up making any recommendations, we will try and get you as close to the manufacturer, publisher, or distributor, or original creator, author, musician or what have you is possible, but if you feel that a donation is something you’d like to do, or that’s within your practice, then by all means, there is a buy me a coffee link included with each and every show, and there may be a Patreon at some point in the future, but right now that isn’t in the cards.
So continue to enjoy your ad free experience here on The Implausible. I know I enjoy making it, spending this time here with you, I hope to see you again soon. Until the next time, have fun.