Taiwan Data Heaven

Red Rock comes on-line. He tells me about a great new surfing destination in Taiwan. Seems that it is the largest data storage dump in the virtual world: unlimited FTPing territory, a kind of cyber-world where a hacker could put down roots. It is comparable to Turner's frontier thesis of the promised land, but rather than stopping at the physical edge of continental USA, you keep on vectoring towards the new horizon of the rising sun. Taiwan as the geographic edge of virtual America. Everyone in California has hard-wired their bodies, and are heading out for the interstitial coordinates of the Taiwan FTP site. I can't resist the impulse, and so I head out too. Before I disappear into the Net, I leave a note behind saying that if I haven't been seen for a day, send a cyber-search party, but be careful because I'm not sure what crash events await unsuspecting travellers in the East.

The Taiwan FTP site was everything I could have hoped for. Tetra-gigabytes of data: gleamingly arranged, sub-sonic vectors of information banks arrayed against a background sky of liquid crystal blue, pure data heaven. It's all there for the asking, and the Taiwanese sysops are true to the word that has been put out on the Net about them - "the friendliest folks I ever met," said Moog from Amsterdam. A free-fall into data, almost heavy with its gravitational weight. Less like a FTP site than a gigantic data harvesting-machine, the Taiwan FTP site aimlessly strips the media-net of its content, and archiving the human story into its humming machinery.

Red Rock signals me to get off at the freeway exit to alt.sex, Taiwanese style. I flip on my encryption sensors, and head straight for this new file horizon. And it's weird. A vast data storage bank for cyber-sex: bondage rituals, stories of sado-masochism that make you understand for the first time the pure aesthetics of disciplining of the flesh, stories of virtual bodies that merge together to the sound of crackling (electronic) body static as two neuro-skins that would be one make love against a crystalline background of data walls.

It's perfect that the world's largest data management base should be zoned away in Taiwanese electronic space. Data has always been future to our past, and pure data is the East as the end of western history, and the beginning of virtuality. The West, then, is just material for more history: archiving and data management in real-(on-line)-time in Taiwanese cyberspace as the telematic form assumed by the horizon of the virtual history file. And something else too. Taiwan was one of the first of the genuinely recombinant societies to surface from the ruins of World War II. Neither authentically Taiwanese (after its colonization by the fleeing Chinese nationalists) and certainly not pure Chinese, Taiwan was always fated to be a unique historical mutuation. A key part of global virtual economy, with its early restructuring by multinational corporations in search of cheap labor and even cheaper taxes, Taiwan has long been prepared as a data management system for sifting through all of the detritus of the virtual world. It has become a storage dump created by the intricate web of the MNC's and policed by the aging nationalist autocracy for downloading all of the electronic signals sent out by the pure instrumental activism of the rest of the globe.

And this is just as it should be because when life has no history, then data is the only sign of cynical power. Could this isolated Taiwanese FTP site be that key node where the genealogy of the Chinese mind is grafted onto telemetry, and the result is an infinite circularity of digital history?

But then, I'm a lurker here, a traveller in virtual Taiwan who always wanted to visit the East, and now doesn't have to bother.

Arthur Kroker teaches political theory at Concordia University, Montreal. He is author of Spasm and The Possessed Individual among others including the forthcoming Data Trash: The Theory of the Virtual Class with Michael Weinstein.