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<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium, Part One, Secti
Patrice Riemens on Sat, 22 Feb 2014 23:15:49 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium, Part One, Section 5,


Part One, Section 5 (The Performance Society), #2


Enthusiast technophiles, evangelists of mass on-line participation would
like us to believe that /distracted-attentive/ internauts are generating,
by the sheer virtue of their numbers, a humungous surplus value, ready to
be converted in cold, hard cash. It is true that in a knowledge economy,
the more people bring in their own expertise, the more the common amount
of riches increases. Yet it is just as fallacious to pretend that we have
all globally become wiser. To know everything about a sitcom, about
celebs, about the latest fashion trend in Soho when one lives in East
Oslo, does not amount to know more (useful) stuff or to know it better.
And one does not become a smarter person by being, up to the minute, on
top of what our digital 'friends' are doing on Facebook, or by assiduously
following our would-be 'fans' on Twitter. The sum total of this kind of
knowledge serves one purpose only: to spin faster and faster the iddle
machine of digital evolution. Raoul Vaneigem's jubiliation on being able
to 'say anything, nothing's sacred' becomes dull as dishwater in view of
the mass of banalities being circulated (on the social) networks. Thus,
everything ends up being half serious and half trite, everything is
relative, and 'equipollent' (equivalent in significance), because it looks
like as if nothing new can ever be said.

And yet not all knowledges are born equal. Not all is equivalent. It's
true that my dotty old aunt Margareth will never be able to handle a
smartphone or a VCR - though she might learn it if given personalised
instructions. But she knows damned well how to live in her world, which
continues to be the real world for the largest part of the world's
population, and also for us, even though we tend to forget it when
ensconsed in front of our screens. Is there so much difference between,
say, repairing a leaking tap at home, or mending socks, or singing,
dancing, biking, or even being able to listen to a friend's confidences,
and to learn how to post messages on one's Facebook wall - and why is it
called a wall, by the way? The latter maybe is because it is intended to
be covered by graffitis - ad infinitum. So the two types of competences
might have a comparable  degree of complexity, but both are, in fact, very
different. The first type makes individuals more autonomous, the second
type is a knowledge-power that is entirely dependent on productions which
are heteronomous (that is directed by others according to someone else's
rules) vis a vis the world outside. This holds particularly true for those
users who haven't got any clue about how Facebook works, technically
speaking (and who have thus zero autonomy with respect to the tool), even
though they make a compulsive use of it. This because when rules change,
by virtue of 'default power', on Facebook, or on the platform I use to
build up my identity, I become confused, and as a user I get lost since
what I mastered has become useless knowledge which I now need to update.
In a certain sense it's me that has become outdated and in need of an
upgrade within this permanent education format where you learn strictly
nothing save to know how to adapt to the system. When a tab moves, when
the arrangement of the personnal account is altered by the service
provider "in order to enhance the user's experience" it is the identity
itself which is shaken up. What to do then against the programmed
obsolescence of the expertise when nothing that exist in the format
actually relies on us in any sense?

The very concept of opposition and critical attitude becomes obsolete as
well, just as the ability to seek alternatives. Thought's articulation is
sucked away by the velocity of change, the escape velocity needed to flee
the inconsistency of the sociality that is being created. In the next
chapter, however, we will see that this new sociality is part of a very
explicit ideological project: anarcho-capitalist fundamentalism, a project
that totally resonates with a vision of technology as liberation and
salvation. The words used to represent users' on-line experience tell all
is needed about the hollowness of the myth of digital participation. ' I
Like', 'FirstLink', 'Click Here',  'What Are You Thinking Right Now?':
it's all about /stimuli/ which are not even binate, but unidirectional.
Declaring one's tastes on Facebook is Okay, but to criticise doesn't make
any sense. The most common rejoinder being: 'well, if you don't like it,
why you would you go there? There's everything on-line, so you're entirely
free to choose what you do like'.

But freedom is not the same thing as the freedom to choose between black
and white. It is a constructive process, which, when undertaken without
necessary nuances, leads to absurd simplifications. 'Voting' procedures
may sometimes be implemented, e.g. on Amazon reccomendations, or regarding
the evaluation of Wikipedia entries. The pooling of these resources and
their analysis is used to establish /rankings/, that is to organize the
results according to values expressed by users, which are bound to change
over time. We will return to this in details later on, when talking about
confidentiality and profiling. The evangelists of digital democracy will
argue that online expression of preferences will deal with the
'dictatorship of the majority' issue once and for all. This problem is
most manifest in what is the world's  broadest /ranking/ system: Google's
/PageRank/. In the beginning each and every link to a site was considered
to be one single preference, or 'vote': hence search results were those
that 'had been vouched by the majority'. But  these simple algorithms were
very early on contextually tweaked through the diktats of a global
algorithm, /TopRank/, which is based on individual data profiling (earlier
searches, browsing, history, locale, etc.). Here appears the ideology of a
very specific kind of transparence, which can only be achieved by
pilfering individuals' data on a grand scale, and throwing their  inner
life into the vortex of an online system. All these contents gathered by
way of /tracking/ procedures [19], are separated into smaller and amaller
sections allowing for an ever more finely preferences-atuned, real-time
service/ product provision to the individual internaut. Algorithms will
(semi-)automatically extract the appropriate response to any wish
expressed through 'likes'.

The spatial metaphor of an 'inside' (individuality) vs. an 'outside'
(collectivity, network) is useful in order to grasp the fatal error of the
technological miracle, which is the distinguishing feature of the
turbo-capitalist dystopia. The knowledge amassed in the 'outside', a.k.a.
'Big Data' is a pipe dream, because whatever knowledge is useful to humans
is not 'outside' and is also not easily transferable. Even though
knowledge can be acquired, shared, exchanged, transfered, and rendered
objective, it still remains based on a highly individual process of the
imagination. Contrary to the unreflexive total recall of digital devices,
identity building, the negotiation of the self, is a process whereby we
continuously shed knowledge, and memory, in order to recreate it, just as
we are constantly regenerated within and by our (biological) life
processes.

When we 'know' either something or somebody, we clearly enter into a
relationship with something that is external to our individuality. But not
all relationships are equally interesting, and in need of deepening - and
so neither are all (on-line) links. The dictatorship of 'zero cost' is
worth exactly that - nothing [20]. The 'Like' culture has nothing to do
with personal choices; it just represents a pseudo-random judgement.
Establishing a new communication is not easy. It amounts to assert a
preference by carving into what was previously a continuum, and so to
create new divisions of space [21]. This requires time, effort, and
attention. One needs to feel under obligation here, because if one
establishes a link, i.e. a bridge, between two points on the network, and
it's done badly, the link/bridge will collapse with the very first person
trying to use it. But the cult of the link is exactly the opposite:
immediatism rules: 'everything has been said before', 'it's all out
there', 'everybody's here already - your 'friends' are waiting', 'your
competitors are laughing all the way to the bank, while your clients were
waiting for you', etc. You need only to type the right url and you're
there', 'just open an account on this or that social network, and you'll
be among 'friends'. Or: the party is there, out there - it's the inner
world that is sooo boring.

(to be continued)

Next time: Pierre Levy speaks!

...........
[19] Check it out at http://donttrack.us/ which does a great job at
explaining, with just a short presentation, how the tracking system of
search requests works.
[20] For instance, suppose you just have topped up your mobile phone
credit and you get an offer: one hundred /free/ SMSs to be send within the
next 12 hours. Now you're faced with an opportunity (yeah, another one!)
to communicate which is worth nothing, neither for you as a sender nor for
the recipients of your messages. An act of communication is namely of
value only through the effort and the time spent on it. And yet, the
perverse gratuity gizmos make us feel guilty if we don't seize the golden
opportunity given to us to, e.g., send hundred SMSs just like that.
[21] Graph theory may be used to show that in the Internet(work - taken as
a graph), a truly new communication will totally reconfigure the net
itself, and thus constitutes a radical act of creation. For a first
approach on this cf. Laszlo Barabasi, Link. La scienza delle reti, Torino,
Einaudi, 2004.


-----------------------------
Translated by Patrice Riemens
This translation project is supported and facilitated by:
The Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
(http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/portal/)
The Antenna Foundation, Nijmegen
(http://www.antenna.nl - Dutch site)
(http://www.antenna.nl/indexeng.html - english site under construction)
Casa Nostra, Vogogna-Ossola, Italy


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