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Re: <nettime> Autonomy and Control in the Era of Post-Privacy
Felix Stalder on Sun, 4 Jul 2010 13:22:59 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Autonomy and Control in the Era of Post-Privacy

...in the spirit of 'slow media', a delayed response....

Hi Nick,

thanks a lot for your thoughtful reading of the text.

On Friday July 2 2010, Nick wrote:

> When you write about new subjectivities, you point out that the
> meaning of privacy changes, due in part to the reduction in
> differentiation of inner and outer worlds. You then state that
> privacy becomes "more the danger of disconnection from a world in
> which sociability is tenuous and needs to be actively maintained all
> of the time." I don't really understand this. I see that
> disconnection from fragile social networks is an issue, but am
> having trouble connecting this up with privacy.

The differences between speaking in private and speaking in public are 
blurring. Not just because we are doing both over the same networks, but 
also because the modes of speaking are changing. Richard Sennett spoke once 
about the 'tyranny of intimacy' in relation to how the public appearance of 
politicians changed through television. 

In a way, this is now a generalized norm within digital social networks. 
You have to present yourself in public as an individual in order to be able 
to join digital social networks, which, increasingly, becomes a 
precondition join other forms of social networking. 

I assume that having no record on Google/Facebook/etc is about as 
problematic as having the wrong one, if you apply for a job, or meet up 
someone for a first date.

But even on a more mundane level. As more of your social life gets 
coordinated through these media, more of the norms dominant in these media 
permeate throughout your life. To retreat into privacy is a violation of 
these newly dominant norms -- which, of course, is possible on an 
individual scale, but not on a general one.

> And second, you mention that new ways of constructing and taking
> part in voluntary networks can increase the "real autonomy of
> people, because it is focused on creating inter-personal worlds in
> which autonomy can be lived on a daily basis." This too I'm
> struggling to mentally connect. I see that a wider range of social
> interactions, and personally tailor one's communication web, is in
> some sense increasing one's autonomy, but to me it doesn't seem all
> that significant. Is there more to this that I'm missing?

The ability to connected to like-minded people, to engage with them in 
sharing, cooperation and collective action, holds, in my view, a real 
potential for increasing autonomy. Thus, autonomy is best defined as the 
ability to pursue one's interest together with other people who share the 
same interests, rather than the ability to act alone.

I think structurally, this is very significant, but how much of this can be 
actually realized within a particular life, depends, of course, on a lot of 
things beyond the media. 

But we should not only look at big events, but also at small things. To 
spend less time watching day-time TV and spend more sharing information 
about your cats with others in pet forums is a real gain in autonomy. Not 
earth shattering, but real, and affecting at least one slice of that 
person's life.
> In reply to Elloi's first problem with the paper, that it ignores
> ownership of the wire, I somewhat disagree. It is mentioned in the
> last paragraph, talking about the need to "modulat[e] what the
> providers of the infrastructure can see of the sociability they
> enable." For some infrastructures this is of course more technically
> feasible than others (e.g. P2P vs web-based).

The ownership of wires is important and this is why there are new forms of 
autonomy AND of control. But the owners of the wires to not determine what 
takes place over time. They have the ability to set certain parameters (it 
would be great to have a serious critique of the type of individualism 
enforced through Facebook), and intervene if push come to shove, but even 
these forms of power are always active, a lot of things can take place that 
is not determined by them.

> The second issue, of homogeneity caused by over-availability, is
> really important, though I'm not sure it's essential to the argument
> in the paper. It's an issue I have a really hard time thinking about
> solutions to. More transparency of search engines (as alluded to at
> the end of the essay) helps a little, and an ability to personally
> tweak or reengineer algorithms would help more (ignoring the
> problems of how to implement such a system), but even these don't
> really go a long way in addressing it. Anyone else want to weigh in
> (or suggest places to read more) on the problem?

My hunch is that discourses are fragmenting and within these fragments, 
they are becoming more homogeneous (i.e. digital social networks are poorly 
capable of self-critique, 'if you don't like it, go somewhere else') but 
across these fragments, discourses are become more heterogeneous. Mass-
media, rather than representing society as a whole, are simply becoming one 
of these internally homogenized fragments (and this is why they are 
increasingly distrusted by those who belong to other fragments, ie. the 
majority of people).

But this is really hard to substantiate. There is some academic research on 
"homophily in social networks" [1], and an interesting pop-sci book [2] on 
precisely this issue of information overload and cognitive closure, but 
it's remains a hard issue.

best. Felix

Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks
Author(s): Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin, James M. Cook
Source: Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 27 (2001), pp. 415-444
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2678628

-> http://www.sna.pl/teksty/McPherson01.pdf

Manjoo, Farhad (2008). True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact 
Society. Wiley

--- http://felix.openflows.com ----------------------- books out now:
*|Deep Search.The Politics of Search Beyond Google.Studienverlag 2009
*|Mediale Kunst/Media Arts Zurich.13 Positions.Scheidegger&Spiess2008
*|Manuel Castells and the Theory of the Network Society. Polity, 2006 
*|Open Cultures and the Nature of Networks. Ed. Futura/Revolver, 2005 

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