Bill Nichol’s “The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetic Systems” – introduced in _The New Media Reader_ as an “update” of the Benjamin piece its title echoes – ranges over tremendous territory, looking at video games, patents, war, and cyborgs (cyborgness? Cyborgicity?) not in any evaluative sense, per se, but as an investigation precisely of the work of culture, as he describes it: “its processes, operations, and procedures,” with an eye to discovering “concrete embodiment[s] to the relation we have to existing conditions to a dominant mode of production, and the various relations of productions [they] sustain” (627). 
Nichol’s essay moves along a fault line: on the one hand, there is an investigation of culture, specifically as manifested in the prevalence of cybernetic systems and the way in which they’re exceeding the juridico-legal/educational/perceptual framework in which they were developed; on the other, there exists some writhing under the surface of an emergent idea of the potential for removal. Thus, the situations he employs to describe the alteration of systems seems, at first glance, to be a jeremiad of sorts, but the strength of the essay is precisely in the lack of its materialization.
In other words, what initially looks as if it will turn into yet another easy fit into the binary of “good technology/bad technology” instead, I will maintain, serves a much more useful purpose insofar as it remains analytic. Writing of the reproductive potential of the microchip versus the cinema, for instance, Nichol’s asserts that “[t]he chip is pure surface, pure simulation of thought. Its material surface is its meaning without history, without depth, without aura, affect, or feeling. The cop reproduces the world, the chip simulates it. IT is the difference between being able to remake the world and being able to efface it” (633). Initially – as my somewhat snarky marginalia would confirm – I was tempted to read this as a privileging of the former.  Instead, Nichol’s overall analysis becomes much more a litmus test of the reader, writing as he does that though mechanical reproduction changes the terms of production and reception, “the metonymic or indexical relationship between representational art and the social world to which it refers remains a fundamental consideration,” whereas “cybernetic simulations offer the possibility of completely replacing any direct connection with the experiential realm beyond their bounds” (634).
If this still sounds hostile to technological adaptation, I would maintain that it’s the reader, not the writer: the question, for me, becomes what this social world would look like without any sort of technological mediation or reproduction. In fact, Nichol’s immediately follows this with a look at what he refers to as the “emblematic precursors of the cyborg – the machine as self-regulating system” – zoos and botanical gardens, which not only “offered a source of enchantment even museums could not equal” but also created “a new form of vicarious experience quite distinct from the aesthetic experience of original art or mechanically reproduced copies” by bringing back “alive evidence of a world we could not otherwise know, now under apparent control” (634). Unless, I will suggest, we fetishize an idea of authenticity, this is not a bad thing. 
I don’t know – and won’t speculate – as to whether Nichol’s intends his work to function in the way it does, with interesting examinations that don’t offer a narrative of social decline or improvement. Rather, what’s interesting to me is why it’s that way. My initial thought – and I would invite comments, if you would – is that Nichol’s is prevented from moving either way (even in his discussion of amazingly contentious and morally-charged issues, like surrogacy for engineered fetuses, where he highlights the patriarchical structures at work in their legislative fate – he manages to problematize human identity, here, without claiming that what preceded our model was better) by the very explicit terms he uses. That is, instead of simply saying things are “better” or “worse,” he looks at a specific transition – from mechanical reproduction to cyborg culture – in such a way that it lays bare the starkness of the way in which both do work – and both do work we might not be comfortable with.
 The lack of explicit judgment – of foreclosure, really – is what I suspect leads to the curious tone Noah Wardrip-Fruin displays in introducing the essay: while he doesn’t exactly seem to blame Nichol’s for not predicting the lack of U.S. outrage for the assault of Grenada and Libya, I can’t help but thinking that if he were actually introducing Nichols in person, there would be an uncomfortable silence after his remarks…
 In my defense, “efface” does not, by virtue of common usage, carry a value-neutral connotation. So there.
 In addition to a fascination with zoos that only my unwillingness to appear *that* uncool to my significant other prevents me from exercising by spending huge amounts of time at even what I’m told is the less-than-impressive Buffalo zoo, zoos do important work in the study of animals, the education of people who might not be able to see them otherwise, and in many cases serve as the frontline in keeping threatened and endangered animals from extinction through breeding and reintroduction programs. It may be the case that zoos were historically terrible places that allowed us to pity the anthropomorphized animals we saw as bored, but the modern zoo bears roughly the same resemblance to those models as, say, surgery now does to surgery during Queen Victoria’s time.