They Insisted All Reckoning Be Done by Hand — Agri Ismaïl

Dialling a place we had never been to, an entity we didn’t know. It hurt to bend down, unplug the wire from the fax machine and stick it into the grey box. The modular connector’s tongue clucked into place.

dial tone. waiting for the world to pick up. v8 bis transaction. then electronic blizzard. sharp. 0111111110 001111111 011111110 clicks. short clicks. configuration for protocol synchronisation .jpg of a handshake. Pixels writhing. Welcome to CompuServe.

This is how we were born.

Then we embraced a nightmare of noise, we chose our avatars and they were never something simple, never “First Name At Aol Dot Com”. It was always “Obscure Reference and Birth Year at Hotmail”. Or “Unflattering Late 90s Nickname at CompuServe”. So when the inevitable happened and we became embarrassing to who we had become we had to fold our real selves – which probably still existed at this point – into our former shunned selves. We hurt, but we fit. We began worrying about anonymity the moment we were no longer anonymous. We became a reflection of our tools.

After all, it is we who adapt to

the machine. The machine does

not adapt to us.[1]

You learnt everything you ever needed to know about sex from women whose names ended in .jpeg. Then came that moment when you looked up from a screen and found the real world lacking the colour, the depth, the realism in your palm. The backbone of this whole infrastructure that were kittens. Always kittens. Ads. Adblockers. Betas. Betablockers. Click Here. Commodities became gold became paper became numbers and the numbers went back and forth at light speed back and forth until the rich had become very rich and as for the poor, well… nothing ever changes for the poor. They smell and stare at our women while they wait for their transport in 50 degree heat and are so useless they can’t stop being so poor. We turned off the lights in GeoCities. A poet claims that at the bottom of the ocean is a layer of water that has never moved.[2]

Poets were generally more trustworthy than scientists.

Only art provides a space

of playful activity free of

the means-ends


of capitalism.[3]

(Of course Joseph Beuys died before having seen Transformers 3 Dark Of The Moon. So. There’s that.)

We constantly ran low on battery power. We never had enough RAM.

Dead pixel > Dead person. Not maudlin / hyperbolic: Truth. Don’t try to deny it. The world was unsearchable, the rare index was worshipped. Bell wanted to communicate with the dead, instead he invented the telephone. Oops. Now he created death, destruction of worlds. Ahoy, he said. Hello, replied Edison, always the grouch.

Something happened.

Let’s do Nick Land a solid and call it planetary technosentience. Let’s call it Skynet, but don’t give it your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle. Viruses, a plague on the hard drive. The natural world was already past, the preoccupations of humanity all just a shadow play, the drug that kept us going, feeding our synapses, telling us what to do, how to do it, all for the reckoning of something that was not cattle or properties or gold or pieces of paper. Long complex equations were forged to control the uncontrollable and we all nodded and smiled and pretended to understand, pretended we couldn’t see the tiny penis beneath the emperor’s belly and the cycle kept repeating crash boom bust and always bewildered the system had failed us: what had we done wrong? And there was blame, cut into various pieces and doled out. Vertical Financial Services Survived. Horizontal Financial Services didn’t. Countries were said to be broken. Our leaders spoke to us with the vocabulary of disappointed parents or gleeful sadists. We had been bad. We needed to pay for that. We couldn’t act the way we had acted, however that was, without impunity. The loose Deleuzo-Guattarian guitar playing us some rhizome, madness being called madness and appeared as such only because it found itself reduced to testifying all alone for deterritorialization as a universal process[4] as we whirred dervish-like faster and faster and faster until

But wait, you say, this isn’t a very good story. Where are the characters? Where is the plot?

You are part of the problem, wanting this. It is in fact the infatuation with individualism, the novel bourgeois concept of the Novel, of linear narrative, of capital-R Realism that stopped being realistic a long long time ago. But fine. If that’s what you need to keep listening. You can be the character. We can talk about how you looked as a child, how photographs of yourself confuse you still as you cannot imagine that ever having been you, the you that tortured your sister’s Barbie dolls in pre-pubescent psychosexual haze. How as a child your favourite fruit was the pomegranate. Its violent, poetic name. Its myriad rubies nested inside. We can talk about your first premature ejaculation, how it took a while for you to find out that the post-ejaculate disinterest in sex was normal. And then we’ll skip to the time you saw her kiss someone else and you felt like someone had let loose a horde of tiny barbarians amongst your organs who were hacking away while you had to smile and be happy for them (because yes, if we are to humanise you we need some far-fetched over-emotional metaphors). Then you became the sort of person who knew that Diet Coke gives you cancer but regular Coke makes you fat so you drank Diet Coke. You began going to the gym and you hated everyone there who looked glistening and sexy and perfect as they worked out while you sweated and basically looked like you’d been regurgitated by a washing machine. Somehow, you got a girlfriend. A girlfriend who once told you that she would rather have thighs that didn’t touch than world peace. Then. Remember how it was to be unemployed. You were looking for a job and then you found a job and the joy of this made you forget that your job consisted of making money for other people and you were supposed to be grateful that they gave you the honour of making them money. You had not read your Bukowski.

(This is enough information to go on, we can extrapolate from here. You are our character and you are hopefully believable.)

Austerity ran in nation state veins. We double-dipped, so we can’t have nice things. It was a self-induced asceticism perpetrated by sadists who gave up second homes and expected others to give up food. That’s not how China does it, they said.

Everything was China, all the time. Every once in a while a list of prohibited words in China escaped, terms that, if you were to type them into Google, your computer would just shrug and be all like “I have no earthly idea what you mean”. // // // These terms include sex, dictatorship, Tibet, red Ferrari, playboy, multiple parties, whore, corruption, torture, anus, Jesus Christ, scrotum, riot, insurrection, red terror, 89, 69, evil, pigeon, timeshare, penitentiary, bra, finance, shit and growth// // // Growth. Everyone was fixated with growth. This is fine if space is infinite, which it is in the virtual world, where storage is not a luxury. O Cities, how much you had to learn from the hard drive. What was stolen from us we got to keep. So. Communication whittled down from interpersonal meetings in the physical world to voices decrypted across telephone wires to words on a screen to 160 letters on a screen to 140 letters on a screen to a poke to a Like to a +1. Remember how entire civilisations feared the 0 and how right they were to do so.

The apocalypse of the dodo is not remembered by the rhinoceros.

To discuss whether capitalism had a heart or invisible hands is like wondering what the median penis size of dinosaurs was when they became extinct. i.e. Totally and Completely Irrelevant. You remember how you bought overpriced books trying to understand how to make money into more money. You remember the shamanic nature of financial analysts, the oracles with their tiny glasses and beady eyes uttering their self-fulfilling prophecies. Bulls and bears battling it out.

A sino-pacific boom and automized global economic integration

crashes the neocolonial world system, the metropolis is forced to

re-endogenize its crisis. Hyper-fluid capital deterritorializing to the

planetary level divests the first world of geographic priviledge;

resulting in Euro-American neo-mercantilist panic reactions,

welfare state deterioration, cancerizing enclaves of domestic

underdevelopment, political collapse, and the release of cultural

toxins that speed-up the process of disintegration in a vicious


We tried to renegotiate history when there was nothing to renegotiate. We thought we were communicating. We were wrong.

messages are essentially commands to which persons are expected to react.[6]

Acronyms flooded our tickers. The restrictions of obsolete technologies that we build into new machines. More offers to give you a larger penis than you would ever know what to do with. Your screen propped up on your bare belly your face reflected, you judging yourself as you filtered by most viewed and then spending more time than you would ever be comfortable admitting to trying to find the right masturbatory stimuli.

Dreams of electronic sheep. (Morphology. Longevity. Incept Dates.)

You try to recreate the virtual world in the real world. Commodities should be accessible whenever you want, wherever your shell is. A McChicken is a McChicken in Bangalore, a Whopper is a Whopper in Lahore.

Habibti, you have to stop copy-pasting.

We nodded as we burned.

(…) all we commonly call “real” represents only a fraction

of true reality. The voice-phenomenon establishes a

relation to an extra-real or anti-real world of


Our flesh became a nuisance, restricting simultaneous presence. We set in motion a dynamic series of estimates. Rauschenberg’s Oracle could be modified but ultimately could not be controlled.

Cult of efficiency and now we were superfluous. Not just men with their remnant Y chromosome who had been superfluous for a while, but each and every one of us. The French word for stupid was bête. Their word for stupid was humain. The physical world of dirt, of matter, of shame fossilised behind the vibrant living wires, of money-numbers coming, going, from terminal to terminal while we held onto our narratives in the face of a reality we were no longer masters of. You will remember this, your skeleton will remember this. And the systems, the synapses, the circuits will remember us after we are long gone, as these strange impetuous imperious gods that created them and made them act according to our whims and with time their memory will be hazy and the narrative simplified and all of humanity will be remembered as one monolithic contradictory creator with arbitrary rules and morals. All that will remain of us is love the data we saved.


Agri Ismaïl is an Iraq- and Sweden-based writer whose work has appeared in The White Review, 3:AM Magazine, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Al Jazeera, and the Swedish journal Glänta among other places. He can be found on and on Twitter (@a9ri).


[1] Freidrich Kittler, “From Discourse Networks to Cultural Mathematics: An Interview with Freidrich A. Kittler”, J. Armitage, Theory, Culture and Society 23 (7-8), 2006, p. 36

[2] Anne Carson, Red Doc >, Random House, 2013

[3] Joseph Beuys, “We are the Revolution, a True and Democratic Socialism”, lecture held 21st April 1971 at Rome’s Palazzo Taverna.

[4] Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, ‪A&C Black, 2004 p. 158

[5] Nick Land, PBUH, Meltdown, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987-2007, Urbanomic, 2011 p. 449

[6] Freidrich Kittler, The History of Communication Media, CTHEORY, 1996 (

[7] Konstantin Raudive, Breakthrough: An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead, Colin Smythe, Gerrards Cross 1971, p. 83