Do Agent-avatars Dream of Embodied Sheep? Subjectivity and Subjugation in the Virtual World of Prometeus – The Media Revolution

Curator's Note

Prometeus, a video manifesto created by Casaleggio Associati, is reminiscent of Sloan and Thompson’s EPIC 2015. Both videos produce futuristic visions predicated on the potential power and unbridled growth of today’s new media giants, especially Google and Amazon.com. Both EPIC 2015 and Prometeus portray a future where today’s largest net-based companies merge into one entity that impacts and controls all aspects of everyday life (EPIC 2015 memorably calls the new conglomerate "Googlezon.") Narrated by Philip K. Dick Avatar, Prometeus adds a different wrinkle by incorporating Second Life into its story and paying increased attention to the growth of online virtual worlds. In 2022 after a media revolution where old media is vanquished, Google launches Prometeus, an interface for agavs, or agent-avatars. Amazon follows Prometeus by creating Place—"a company that replicate[s] reality"—and Second Life morphs into Spirit—a company where "people become who they want." Together, Prometeus, Place and Spirit become the ultimate virtual world, a virtual life today’s Second Lifers can only imagine. As a depiction of virtual reality, I want to contrast Casaleggio’s Prometeus to the Wachowski Brothers’ Matrix. The way subjects are controlled in the Matrix and Prometeus are very different. The Matrix controls human beings through force and deception. Prometeus, on the other hand, lets people choose their virtual lives, allows them to trade their memories, and in so doing, lets them enslave themselves into a totally immersive virtual experience ultimately controlled by Google. Therefore, Prometeus – The Media Revolution can be read as a cautionary tale warning us about new media conglomeration, the commodification of virtual life, and the banal fate potentially awaiting many virtual reality subjects. Yet such a reading might not be what Casaleggio intended, since he decided not to depict any counter-forces or agents of change that might challenge the power of Prometeus in his video. In comparison, EPIC 2015 ends with signs of resistance to Googlezon and some defiance from older media like newspapers. Prometeus, with its total erasure of old media forms, offers no sense that agavs will resist the new virtual life, or even have the means to do so. For me, that lack of resistance emanates from new media hype around online virtual worlds, and recalls a technological determinism prevalent in new media studies a decade ago.

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