Vapor-Modernity: Specters of the Future
The late cultural theorist and philosopher Mark Fisher writes a sobering critique regarding the “slow cancellation of the future.” The quote is sometimes attributed to Bifo Berardi; it comes from Fisher’s sophomore book, “Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures.”
The book itself tackles themes of nostalgia and how consumerism has ultimately led to cultural stagflation or the deflation of subjectivity and expectations for the future. Vaporware (or vapourware) is a product, typically computer hardware or software, announced to the general public but is late or never actually manufactured or officially canceled. Thus, a specter haunts the current system of things, the specter of the future that never arrived.
If I were to briefly summarize into a catchy slogan what “vapor-modernity” is, I would state that it is “Mark Fishers ‘Dollar Store’ Hauntology.” Hauntology has its origins in Derrida’s work on Marxism and how Marxism tends to haunt The West, “from beyond the grave,” that is, from a state of non-being or non-presence.
The term was applied to musicians by theorists Simon Reynolds and Mark Fisher, who explored ideas related to temporal disjunction (retrofuturism, cultural memory, and the persistence of the past). This was incorporated into genres like Vaporwave. The visual aesthetic often includes early Internet imagery, late 1990s web design, glitch art, cyberpunk tropes, anime, Greco-Roman statues, and VHS FX. However, source material tends to primarily be limited to Japan’s economic flourishing in the 1980s and the September 11 attacks or dot-com bubble burst of 2001. This is evident in albums like “Floral Shoppe,” which depicts the intact World Trade Center on the cover.
Vapor-Modernity then could be described twofold. First, it affirms the nostalgia of better times and the ideological and political promises of the prosperity of Neoliberalism and 80s-90s consumerism. But, second, it also reflects the current environment in the constant eternal return of the old as the new. This has been exhibited in full resolution during Facebook renaming to Meta.
Meta is a branding attempt at a clean slate regarding the countless controversies Facebook has dealt with regarding privacy and “democratic intervention,” and more. It was a move to solidify the company as a media company focused on “forming connections.” If you notice the rhetoric around Meta, the idea isn’t entirely new; for decades, the internet and internet companies have harbored the message of bringing the globe together. This time however we have, “unanticipated special effects.”
The tweet shows how this Neoliberal-Capitalist regime focuses its resources on forms of profit-oriented interpassivity. The technology and innovation that mark progress and accelerate cultural production only mediate and facilitate advertising spaces; what better way to advertise and create even more ephemeral spaces detached from reality.
Vapor-Modernism does not promise anything new it can only recycle pastiche elements from the confinements of its internal logic, that is, of the market’s movement. If there’s is to be massive retention to the Metaverse, what other way to ensure people stay connected to the systems of capture than to integrate systems directly from Web 3.0.
I had made a previous tweet coining a technology of capture, which is the emergence of the NFO (here’s a small thread).
Vapor-Modernity thrives in ephemerality. In intangibility and Libidinal Oriented Ontology, Flows of desire coalesce around hype and flexing. This is seen in its purest form in the hyper-speculative finance world of Shitcoins. These coins have no intrinsic fundamentals backing their economic investors. The guiding principle for all Shitcoins is to follow the flows, whether cash flows or hype flows, the driving investing factor for most is, “to the moon!” This is a return to Potlaching, a return to extravagant expenditure not just as a show of sovereignty but as a “flex” (as if those were to have been exclusive.” We are entering or have already phased into a new economic paradigm, that which speculative finance always wanted, flows free of rational constraints.
The emergence of these third stage is Simulacrum. NFT technology is used to instantiate Non-Fungible Objects (items) in the ‘Metaverse.’ A new way to flex, the crossbreeding between web 2.0 and 3.0. Metas’ most recent tweet seems only to support this Hypothesis.
Thus we can see that Vapor-Modernity is in full swing. Vaporware/wave has ontologized itself, haunting our reality in a degraded state of pure simulacrum, trying to maintain the simulation running at full cylinders even as we inevitably are hurled into collapse.
The future may be canceled, but at least it’s
A E S T H E T I C.