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Re: <nettime> More Crisis in the Information Society
Florian Cramer on Tue, 22 Jul 2014 05:44:23 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> More Crisis in the Information Society

On Mon, Jul 21, 2014 at 8:46 PM, t byfield <tbyfield {AT} panix.com> wrote:

> Felix is absolutely right that this is all at root political -- and not
just politicized, in the way noted above, but political in the sharply
defined sense of people's will and ability to recognize where they stand in
structural terms and to act effectively on that understanding.

The problem is that such an argument can also be used to kill off
discussion or engagement; the problem is political-economical, so it needs
to be solved through some larger political action. This paints a rather
simplistic picture of politics (and economics) that ignores micropolitics,
and it also paints a reductive picture of the arts (including the messy
in-between-disciplines such as media art/design/studies/technology) because
it implies that their very practice cannot be political. - With that, I do
not just mean political in a descriptive or reflective sense, but also in a
constructive and experimental sense. All avant-garde arts movements that
deserved their name, from Russian futurism to present-day afrofuturism,
have been political in that sense.

> In 'digital' fields, this ambiguity or ambivalence is completely concrete
in ways that were exemplified by the recent ruckus over the Facebook
'manipulation' study. From a certain, very idealized standpoint, the FB
study shocks the conscience, violates important ethical norms and probably
many laws as well, and so on. At the same time, I think many people working
in these fields are utterly befuddled by the ruckus, because that woolly
combination of study and intervention is the *point* of design; and from
that parochial perspective, the academics who are upset by it seem like the
village green preservation society, hopelessly naive nostalgists. Worse,
that nostalgia prevents them from seeing as clearly as they should the ways
in which the FB study exemplifies a profound shift in universities, where
declining public funding and prestige is forcing them to seek out
alternative sources of funding and prestige.

I only see an issue of critical media literacy. The same experiment could
have been conducted, just with different triggers and measuring methods, 30
years ago using network TV as a medium instead of Facebook. There would
hardly have been the same outcry because it was common wisdom that TV
manipulates its viewers. Today, this outcry only speaks of complete
naiveness, even of educated people, towards media like Facebook.

> That shift from public to private sources of funding is another area
where regional differences will express themselves *very* clearly.

Again, I fail to see a fundamental difference. And the field of media
studies always has been tainted. To quote the introductory paragraph of the
1969 Playboy interview with McLuhan: "His free-for-all theorizing has
attracted the attention of top executives at General Motors (who paid him a
handsome fee to inform them that automobiles were a thing of the past),
Bell Telephone (to whom he explained that they didn???t really understand the
function of the telephone) and a leading package-design house (which was
told that packages will soon be obsolete). Anteing up $5000, another huge
corporation asked him to predict ??? via closed-circuit television ??? what
their own products will be used for in the future; and Canada???s turned-on
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau engages him in monthly bull sessions designed
to improve his television image." [

> The political, economic, and cultural traditions that have shaped higher
education -- again, in part, as a mediator -- as a *national* phenomenon.
Historical experiences in the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany have
varied dramatically in the postwar period, to say nothing of the countries
I mentioned above that we haven't heard from. So I think it doesn't make
much sense to spend time on particular national studies about the economic
prospects of any given 'creative' practice -- in particular, *photography*,
as though it were a useful historical constant or reference on any level.

Ted, this is a plainly ridiculous statement if you only think of the
cultural and media history of photography, and to which degree it has
shaped critical thinking on media from Walter Benjamin to Roland Barthes.
And photography ranks, next to fashion, as one of the most globalized and
internationalized 'creative industries'. The $2000 average sales figure of
Dutch photographers also reflects global star photographers like (Dutch
nationals) Anton Corbijn and Rineke Dijkstra. And, last not least,
photography is one of the main selling points for smartphones these days.
If you compare the stated decline of the average wage of photographers to
the $715 million Facebook paid for Instagram - a company with only 13
employees - then photography is just a powerful example for contemporary
shifts in media and economy.

If we look at the larger picture, we see a major (and I would argue:
global) economic shift from visual 'creative' practices - no matter whether
photography, graphic design, illustration, moving image - to IT. Your
example of 'digital design', which in most cases is interaction and UI
design, is another proof. Anyone who still believes in an "iconic turn" (as
do many art historians) and a dominance of visual culture obviously doesn't
live in these times anymore.

> But if every single thing about photography has changed since, say, WW2,
we can at least note that it *existed* before that war. The same cannot be
said of 'digital' fields, can it?

I'd argue that neither has every single thing about photography changed
since WW2 (neither technically, where aperture and shutter speeds have
remained aperture and shutter speeds and a camera is a box with light
hitting some photosensitive medium through a lens - nor critically if we
read Walter Benjamin's essays on photography), nor are the 'digital' fields
a pure post-WWII invention. I'm not even referring to Leibniz or Babbage;
if you analyze, for example, search engine ranking algorithms than you see
that they're the contemporary manifestations of much older findings of
library and information science.

> So we can talk about what 'other' sectors will be made redundant by
computationalism or about the experiences of people in our fields and our
graduates, but of course the elephant (or gorilla or whatever) in the room
is when and how computationalism will, in effect, make faculties redundant.

The way you phrase it is problematic and contradicts your previous
statement about politics: "make redundant" implies some kind of automatism
and logical consequence. It is not, since these are political decisions
disguised as technological factuality. Even the economical logic behind is
bogus because it involves no political reflection of what is valued how in
society. Politics means to address these systems of value.


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