The towers—tall, haphazard constructs with jutting rectangular antennae and box-like receptors seemingly pasted on at random—were received with varying degrees of incredulity, paranoia, and outright hostility. Their ubiquitous appearance seemingly overnight had an air of the uncanny. The contemporaneity of the emergence of these monstrosities with the viral pandemic of 2020 and its associated security measures did nothing to assuage the subliminal, and increasingly liminal doubts and fears.
The official narrative went something like this: in an ever more connected age of information in which data circulates, compounds, flows at ever faster rates, the current network speeds are insufficient for the requirements of cyberspace. Thus, vast infrastructural adjustments are needed within physical space to accommodate the accelerating circulation of info-flows. The telecommunications firms financed the project, partially motivated by the ingenuity of planned obsolescence which tech manufacturers had been practicing steadily for decades already. No chance of the so-called neoliberal governments of the time allocating equivalent funding necessary for such an ambitious and totalising project at the level of public goods. With the introduction of a new network, all extant cellular communications devices would need to be replaced with more relevant hardware, creating a boon for the entire industry. But why should we be concerned with the technical and mercantile impetus for the global plan? Rather this account will play with the more intangible externalities of the project.
For a populace increasingly skeptical of media narrative, rightfully intuiting that the credibility of the mainstays of public opinion was worth nil, the putative reason behind this massively integrated and coordinated project seemed implausible. The multitudes, already unmoored in an epistemology of uncertainty, floundering in the soup of postmodern consciousness, saturated in the hyperreality of their lives, by the sheer volume of information comprising the ‘total flow’ of their connectivity, subjectivised as debtors and precarians, reacted to this phenomenon in an expected way. The vast majority found it odd but accepted it according to the reasons outlined above: no one had any illusions that the corporations weren’t just inventing another excuse to peddle more superfluous shit, that the network really did need ever more expansive infrastructure to bear the weight of the nonspace of virtuality. However, this age of impotence also bred those whose precariousness and dividual insignificance led to outbursts of collective violence over events they did not and could not understand. The burning and sabotage of many of the towers are but one piece of evidence of this current of seething, paranoid insecurity. These occurrences, sporadic and disorganised at first glance seem to possess a continuity with Luddite movements of ages gone by.
The artisan weavers who stormed the textile mills of London during the Industrial Revolution were also deeply suspect of technology, and the danger of the prosthesis replacing the organ. However, this historical Luddism is much more attributable to antagonisms in the social relations of production, and the obsolescence of their labour at the expense of a more efficient and faster-paced method. The trace of velocity emerges. But the tower incidents didn’t directly stem from labour antagonisms— the motivations are more schizophrenic, diffuse, and compulsive. It seems that these outbursts directly, if unconsciously, reacted to a larger tendency in the possibilities inscribed in the year 2020. That is, of a gestalt switch, the beginning of the end of conjunctivity. The process’s embryonic gestation was consummated in the early prehistory of capitalism. It put on its big boy trousers with the introduction of second-order cybernetics during mid-modernity, and was now, in the desert of the real left by cyberspace, asserting itself blatantly and physically, mutating humanity.
Fionn Murphy regretted staining his Hugo Boss trackies and Air Max 95s with petrol. The flames licking the corrugated iron sides of the behemoth and the noxious smell of chemicals that permeated the air as plastic bubbled and melted was dizzying. The small group of young men clad in designer brand jogging suits, baseball caps and balaclavas stood back, surveying the holocaust which threatened the supports of the tower overlooking the Ballyfermot GAA pitch. This was an act of rebellion, vigilantism, taking matters into their own hands. The Dublin young fellas piled into a van and departed as the tower shuddered and collapsed with a shower of sparks and electrical flashes. Across Europe similar fires had been set, molecular flames spurting across the continental surface: a column of flame in a Parisian banlieue, a conflagration on the edge of Warsaw, a liquefaction in a Dutch exurb. The circuit remained unbroken. The feedback continued.
The supreme irony of the neo-Luddites was that their impotent acts were the result of networked coordination. The total flow of info-stimuli does not concern itself with such theological concepts as truth; all that matters is validity, comprehensibility, exchange. Thus the saboteurs inherited the notion that these towers were dangerous to human biology: from cancer to the novel virus, the assertions that these towers promulgated a mysterious miasma disseminated through the matrix that birthed them. And why not? After all, they were ominous and disconcerting to look at. They seemed spatial exemplars of the eschatological era in which humanity had found itself, undergirding the automation of human intimacy, the technolinguistic automatisms responsible for the desertification of social meaning, the technocapitalistic automatisms responsible for the desertification of the world. The social contract was the liberal founding myth for what they called Western Civilization, but the unspoken history is that nascent capitalism did not survive on property rights alone: commodity valorisation has always necessitated coordination and control, a loop of information circulating in tandem with the circulation of goods.
The towers were ugly. But they weren’t especially abnormal in the vulgar heterogeneity of the contemporary sprawl of architectural junkspace. The more one observed them, the more sinister they seemed—a blatant example of Lefebvre’s social production of space. Except rather than bourgeois city planners, these constructs were directly implemented by the matrix itself, acting through the dividual nodes of the tech corporations to materially instantiate itself in its teleological imperative to accelerate its expansion and subsumption of reality. Moving from the striated time of disciplinary society to the smoothness of control society, the human subject is dividualised—individuation in Jung’s sense is impossible because there is no socially contiguous self as such. Rather, there is a fractal and permeable series of continuous divisions constituting the human subject. Deliveroo, Tinder, Airbnb, online banking, faceless corporate accommodation, desire production. Constant, ceaseless desire production.
The video which Fionn’s accomplice Donal took of the tower, swaying ablaze above the darkened field, was uploaded to the Facebook page ‘D8 Against 5G’. Though masked, the stature, frame, and clothing of the arsonists was clearly visible in the light of the smoldering electrical fire. A cursory scroll through the page included veiled threats to local politicians and instances of mild public disorder including a clip of Fionn and company pelting two telecoms engineers with mouldy onions. To a professional, the proposition of identifying the young men in these videos was not impossible. With the right software and database access it was only a matter of trial and error, scale and determinism. The accounts they used were throwaway husks, but still tangentially linked to profiles which presented the precious simulacra of their personal lives much in the same way as the advertisements of that era. Most of them were only technically excluded from the unemployment figures of the country, thanks to their various ‘side hustles’ and zero hour contracts. Such was the consequence of the conflict between the absolute surplus value of wage labour and the relative surplus value of automation.
The miasma of which the pronged spires were emblematic was not biological so much as semiotic and, at the risk of using a very antiquated concept, a matter of spirit. The confusion stemmed from the violent interposition of the towers in physical territory while, contrastingly, fulfilling the function of a vast deterritorialisation; they were making the humans sick, a sickness of that long disavowed entity, the soul. Of course the lugubrious reactionary and the technophobe lament the diminishment of those things which made them human, all too human. The technophile, high on huffing the same feedback loops which power the virtual machine, triumphantly announces that technology will guarantee the appropriation of nature for the uses of humanity, that any negative externalities are only a matter of developing the right scientific solutions. But it was too late, already in 2020 the great going over had been set in motion; there was no going back, only through. Fionn was a node of the cybernanthrope, as were over half the human population who swam through hyperreality. These dividuals, little more than variables in the algorithmic functions of the Net, subjects of surveillance, monitoring, and data capture still maintained the humanistic Weltanschauung of the prior centuries—the possibility of embodied joy, the ineffability of poeisis, the potential to truly know someone else. Though these concepts were intelligible, it was becoming harder and harder to keep the dream alive, numbed as these dividuals were by the anaesthesia of alienation. This alienation was, at bottom, rooted in time.
Bergson posits that chronological time is a matter of motion. Thus the velocity of the planets relative to the sun, and the sun relative to the centre of the galaxy ad infinitum constitute our capacity to measure temporality. Durational time is the phenomenological experience of becoming; through the transitory phase of the cybernanthrope, humanity was becoming-torpid, burnt out, lassitudinous. Hence the towers: the flows of information needed to accelerate in order for all the tasks to be completed, so that the productivity quotas could be met, and the necessary algorithmic corrections could be made for the vicious circle to continue. The cognitive capacity of humanity was being outstripped by the accounting and control system it had birthed. The superfluous meaning-making devices of liberalism with its purported justice and its equality of opportunity merely acted as drag to the circulation of the info-flows—the virtual machine allowed those still interested in such things to act out a pantomime of discourse on its servers, adding ever more meaningless signs and symbols to the vast oceans of data—a simulacrum of politics. Commoditisation of pleasure and libido guaranteed that there was no outside to the circulation of flows. Automation was nearing totality.
Fionn and his group of friends were circumstantially detained by Gardai observing the CCTV footage gathered from the alleyway across from the cell site. After appearing in court and being convicted of arson, he was sentenced to three years in the medium security Mountjoy Prison. Fionn was released in March of 2023. The act of insurrection which stole three years of his life had not resulted in the postponement of the activation of the 5G network. In fact the tower which was burnt was only equipped for 4G signals. Their jagged misshapen silhouettes against the television screen grey North Dublin sky greeted him on his walk back to the apartment he shared with his two brothers and mother; in a sickening simulation of once-endangered familial structures, precarity had brought about the resurgence of intergenerational cohabitation. He locked the door, sank onto the sofa, and traced the pattern which unlocked his Samsung. The towers cast long shadows, from the hives of productivity known as cities to the ever diminishing forests and plains. They impress themselves into the collective unconscious, what’s left of it. They speak of increasing efficiency, velocity, and smooth horizons; in their wake hangs the atavism of a bottomless human fatigue.
Xavier is a student of philosophy at Trinity College Dublin and meme creator. Xavier’s work explores philosophical pessimism, human communication, media theory, and political economy.