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Re: <nettime> Will your insurance company subsidize your quantified self
Florian Cramer on Mon, 21 Apr 2014 03:24:15 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> Will your insurance company subsidize your quantified self?


Hello Alexander,

As for the meaning of the concept "netocracy" we could of course also speak
> of a "digerati" (to me though that term sounds like banal marketing speech)
> but why not of the "net aristocracy" Tyler Cowen portrays in his 2013
> dystopian bestseller "Average Is Over"?

Then we're stuck with a linguistic problem from the very beginning since
the suffix "-cracy" doesn't necessarily relate to aristocracy, but
generally signifies rule or power; like in the words "democracy" (rule of
the people) and "meritocracy" (rule of those who gained merit). "Netocracy"
can either mean "rule of the net" or "rule over the (Inter)net". Seems that
I misread your initial statement as one about who has the rule over the
Internet . Apologies for the misunderstanding.

The 'netocracy' seems to be a rather speculative notion of class. I don't
want to sound dismissive in any way, but it's hard to discuss such concepts
if they're based on simplifications and generalization. (Thinking of
classes as binary categories is the kind of generalization that also taints
Marxism - at least before the advent of post-marxism.)

His "net aristocracy" is the
> forthcoming 15% superclass of the United States ruling over the 85%
> underclass of consumtarians following the full onslaught of digital
> technologies and production processes over the next two decades.

See above. These are scenarios based on techno prophecies, rather the kind
of stuff 'futurists' like Ray Kurzweil write, only that this is obviously
written from a more critical point of view. It's hard to discuss the
validity of these kinds of scenarios in general. As speculative claims,
they're difficult to reasonably deal with on a list that focuses on the
present realities of Internet culture.

> The "net
> aristocracy" is driven both by attentionalist information flows and
> capitalist money flows and is perhaps the interim hybrid we should look out
> for first.

If you look at how stock markets work - from high frequency trading to the
economy of venture capital investment before IPOs, then it's often the
opposite of attentionalism that creates economic power: insider knowledge
and privileged access to markets. The same is true, for example, for
natural resource markets (oil, gas, metals, food). I'm not claiming that
the exact opposite of what you say is true, but that reality is more
complicated.

> Cowen finds its roots not only in Silicon Valley but also at
> locations like Williamsburg, places which lack the financial muscle of
> Silicon Valley but are already rich in attentionalist power.

With Williamsburg thrown in, this makes no sense to me except as an extreme
riff on the late 1990s/early 2000s meme of the "attention economy", and an
unbroken belief in material economies being superseded by information
economy.

> My point, again, is to try to see the picture in a slightly more complex
> manner, than classic Marxist analysis would take us, as to actually hit it
> right. Power is more than money these days,

Neither me, nor anybody else here that I'm aware of has claimed that power
is money. You seem to imply that power, these days, is post-materialist and
discursive; so that old elites are being replaced by new elites consisting
of digitally networked opinion leaders. In that scenario, someone like Ray
Kurzweil (to stick to the above example) would be more powerful than the
extreme opposite of an anti-attention seeker such as, let's say, an
ex-Soviet oligarch, a member of the Saud family or the U.S. Secretary of
Defense.

I would follow you to the point that Kurzweil is influential, and
ultimately powerful, as the guiding spirit of Google's 'Singularity
University', with the handwriting of his ideas being visible in Google
Glass and the company's recent acquisitions of robot and drone technology.
It's a similar kind of power that Rasputin had on the Russian Czarist
family, the Church of Scientology over some parts of Hollywood, or - to
choose less weird examples - Hegel on the 19th century Prussian state and
Leo Strauss on the American neo-cons. These examples also demonstrate
limitations of this model (because the influence worked never one way and
the opinion leaders were not the ones in executive power), and, as others
have remarked here before, some question marks behind the idea that the
Internet would create a fundamentally new state of affairs. (I.e. would
Hegel have been the most powerful person in the 19th century if he had had
Twitter?)

Another problem: The economy at large is neither just the Internet nor a
pure information economy. Even the Internet itself, with its consumption of
hardware and energy isn't. A world inhabited by seven and soon ten billion
people will continue (and likely even increase) to focus the largest part
of its economy on natural resources and manufacturing. These parts of the
economy are and will not simply be driven by the "attentionalist power" of
a "netocracy".

Aside from that, there is a problem of recursion - namely that the very
people who claim that this shift in power is happening are very often those
who belong (or picture themselves belonging) to these alleged new elites.

In any way, the concept of a "netocracy" as a class of opinion leaders that
will be in power in the future does not so much sound like a concept taken
from Foucault or Zizek, but straightforwardly from Plato's "Republic". This
is what I meant with my previous remark that you seem to advocate an
idealist notion of power.

especially as money
> increasingly flows where the attention already exists rather than the other
> way round.

If Nettime is part of the "netocracy", as you wrote in the beginning, then
we have a living proof to the contrary...

Bests,
-F


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