Ether 20 The Becoming Unreal of the Real

One Wilshire is tied to this physical location, it undermines the concept of an autonomous virtuality, revealing instead the simultaneous importance and abandonment of the physical world. In short, all of media and all of virtual life may be transmitted through non-physical technologies, but it is not possible to catalogue or store it without ties to storage and material culture. One Wilshire is an unimportant building without any physical presence or ability to signify its function as the palace of the empire of ether. Yet it is crucial. One Wilshire is the unreal exposing and making real of the unreal.

Individuals also long to become virtual and escape into ether. It is through this physical apparatus that, Hollywood stars, celebrities, and criminals obtain another body, a media life. Neither sacred or living, this media life is pure image, more consistent and dependable than physical life itself. It is the dream we all share: that we might become objects, or better yet, images. Media life can potentially be preserved for eternity, cleansed of unscripted character flaws and accidents – a guaranteed legacy that defies aging and death by already appearing dead on arrival. The idols of millions via magazines, film, and television are disembodied, lifeless forms without content or meaning.

But the terrifying truth is that, although a media image may be eternal, like Michael Jackson, its host is prone to destruction and degradation. Data itself is not free of physicality. When it is reduplicated or backed up to file and stored via a remote host it suffers the same limitations as the physical world. It can be erased, lost, and compromised. The constant frustration of CDs, DVDs, and hard drives is that they don’t last forever, and all data is lost at once. Up to 20% of the information carefully collected on Jet Propulsion Laboratory computers during NASA’s 1976 Viking mission to Mars has been lost. The average web page lasts only a hundred days, the typical life span of a flea on a dog. Even if data isn’t lost, the ability to read it soon disappears. Photos of the Amazon Basin taken by satellites in the 1970s are critical to understanding long-term trends in deforestation but are trapped forever on indecipherable magnetic tapes.