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<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium, Part III (secti
Patrice Riemens on Mon, 11 Aug 2014 19:13:08 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium, Part III (section 4)

Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium Part III

The Freedoms of the Net

Beyond the net of empty nodes: autonomous individuals and organised
networks (section 4)

Becoming member of a social network costs next to nothing. Therefore,
on-line involvement has become an inherent part of the global spectacle.
The underlying issue, once again, is about the articulation of individual
and collective identity. Just like relationships that cost nothing (in
effort, etc.), zero-cost identities have zero value and fall apart at the
first gush of wind. This of course, only in terms of necessary skills,
invested time, and passion spend to create a shared something, not in
terms of money. In more 'Huxleyan' societies, where good citizen are
tasked with consuming, not only goods, but also the social groups they
belong to, this is what signals someone's (social) status. With respect to
on-line, social media activism, it is clear that it is practised more so
as to impress friends than to put one's personal motivated desires and
deep political convictions into the line. Membership of (special)
interests groups is also largely brought about by narcissism, need for
self-promotion, and the requests for attention so manifest in the
elaboration of personal profiles.

This dynamic is not new and does not only concern online networks. To
impress one's peers by defending noble causes (protest against a genocide
going on in some far-away country or campaigning to save baby seals) is
one of the ways to understand social commitment. Off-line activism is just
as much corrupted by this same phenomenon of group fetishism which makes
that an individual is inclined to participate in as many groups as
possible, to follow as many trainings as possible, and to commit
her/himself to as many causes as present themselves, even at the cost of
suffering of contact & information overload afterwards and to feel
powerless despite all energy spend, and emptied (burnt) out. But the true
personal mover there is often an identity deficit at the individual level
coupled with a need to feel part of a larger whole, a collective identity
that makes sense to the exhausted single person. And it is on this
individual subject, the hero-actor on the free market so much cheered by
anarcho-capitalists, that we must focus our attention. Now the individual
subject is not a rationally given, realized in a single identity, but a
permanently on-going process, shaped by the relationships sHe maintains
with her/his environment.

One could think that, in the era of profit-maximizing, it would make no
longer sense to seek free co-operation and collaboration with mutually
appreciative people. Not to speak about conviviality: who has still got
the time, or the wish, to settle down comfortably to chat, make plans,
create something, or simply to have a leisurely break with like-minded
folks? Setting up a place of conviviality has nothing to do with becoming
member of a group supporting some shared, but so distant cause as to not
touch us directly at all. Conviviality presupposes the existence of a
stable 'we' that would be at least able to tell its own history, to
represent and to take care of itself by building up collective spaces and
sharing common moments of life. But nowadays, as soon as it corresponds to
something that is more elaborated than a generic 'Like', as soon as it is
not in the service of some reactionary tinted identity-related call, the
pronoun 'we' becomes almost an insult: it evokes a community in the
old-fashioned sense, the provincialism of parochial fights. It is far
better to gossip on, to 'manage' a mass of commitment-weak contacts,
rather than to waste one's time in just a few (true) inter-personal

It is a very flat 'me' that takes the centre stage in the performance
society. The successful 'me', is the general idea, does not need strong
links with a particular community: personal ambition, sustained by
appropriate skills (the ability to sell oneself well, for instance) is all
what is required. These personal resources have been accumulated during
the continuous disruptions 'me' has experienced and adjusted to in her/his
working life: company reorganizations and management overhauls, periods of
work overload and stress, followed by slack times and (re)training. The
time not at work is probably even more subjected to this structural
instability: serial relocations so as to 'seize the right opportunity' ,
and friendships maintained on Facebook or by instant messaging: such is
the (professional) record that shapes the flexible 'me'. No wonder then
if, after thirty years of 'weak links', angst, euphoria and depression
follow each other in quick succession. 'Holiday' is not a valid concept in
the performance society.

No wonder either that the Web, as a reality [#] that favours this type of
flexibility, is also the favourite metaphor of the gurus of mass
participation, of those who extol flexibility as the universal cure for
social ills, and also of those who pontificate on the (endless)
opportunities of the digital. Often this is the handiwork of eager beaver,
pushy managers who love to use terms like 'networking', 'distributed',
'horizontal', ínterconnected', 'outsourcing', 'crowd-funding', etc etc, as
if networking has as sole goal to augment profits and diminish costs.

But here is a big difference between 'networked organisations' and
'organised networks'. A hierarchical organisation may well find advantages
in networking, because by formally taking away some power at the top and
kicking some control downstairs, it becomes possible to leverage
employees' passions, appealing on their group-feel (in a working project
or one under construction), and on their perception of autonomy. Flexible
capitalism remains hierarchical and authoritarian, but 'networks' with a
whack load of bonusses and pats on the shoulder, and the faking of a,
otherwise disparaged, 'us' feel in the brief moment and short encounter of
a (work) project.

Free networking platforms are the latest invention of capitalism to
enhance productivity. Each and every minute spend on corporate social
media is actually work time. Users are rewarded for their continuous
activity by the so much vaunted complimentary character of the service.
Where LinkedIn and similar services are explicitly geared towards
professional life, Facebook is also used for work-related activities: it
is a kind of office, but then full of entertainment gimmicks, with the aim
to have us spend as much time as possible - at work (for FB). It comes as
no surprise that a lot of marketing applications are developed and
launched on social media, the idea being to combine production networks
with affinity ones, with merger of the two as ultimate aim. Yet it is
crucially important to be able to benefit from non-work time, and not to
be constantly obsessed by the productivity imperative.

In reality the majority of the time spend on so-called networking is made
up of 'down-time', misunderstandings and attempts at gathering,
reconciling, or at least managing differences popping up as conflicts: (in
one word) phatic time [23]. All in all, it turns out that a network only
works if it is hierarchically organised. Decentralised networks on the
other hand, are neither suitable for work, nor for unlimited expansion. A
networked organisation might well enable to produce more and better, but
an autonomous network will do none of both since it does not distribute
resources in a market-economy way, especially when the whole relationship
interface is entirely virtual [#*]. On-line collaboration is challenging
and often tiresome if one never meets 'in real life'.On-line work can be
extremely slow and inefficient because it requires far more listening
effort and patience than work done in physical presence (off-line).

On top of this, and contrary to networked organisation which can count on
solid and well-established linkages with technocratic structures,
autonomous networks encounter great difficulties in getting recognized by
institutionalised instances. It is the case with entire sectors like
literature, the arts, and academic research. Participative science is a
domain that could be very interesting for the development of collaborative
dynamics. We are not talking here about part time sharing one's computer
or one's connectivity for the benefit of astronomic or genetic research,
but to take real interest in the world around us. Curious people
harbouring a keen enthusiasm for a specific issue could collaborate with
experts and academics and together come to a top-level scientific study
that nevertheless would be intelligible to the non-initiated. Experts,
confined in their specialist knowledge, are rarely able to express
themselves in a simple way without lapsing into banality: often, for them,
sharing their knowledge amounts to giving away their (hard-earned)
competences. Conversely, non-expert curious persons, who do not have a
position at stake, could translate the discourse of their expert friends,
making a complicated issue approachable. Naturally, this translation of
specialists' talk into a language more amenable to a larger audience
carries with it the risk of a certain amount of approximations and
simplification of the original, but this is the only way to get started if
a large scale, wide coverage scientific education is aimed at [24]. In
this sense, the elaboration process of shared knowledge must be made
transparent. In order to arrive at genuine participation, the processes of
diffuse self-information need to be put into action, something that
requires the direct implication of the interested persons [#**].

This is even more obvious in politics: the Indignados movement, Occupy and
Anonymous' action show once more than institutions really hate to deal
with structures without clear configuration, without leaders and
hierarchy, because, as they see it, when nobody is responsible, then
everyone is [25]. In which case it becomes easy to approach the
institution under a false pretense, by devising a fake identity (as an
association for instance). Yet for an autonomous network, the bureaucratic
burden associated with a public identity is a heavy one: who  wants to go
through all the motions, administrative and financial, just to obtain
public recognition? The alternative then is to forefront an individual who
will pass of the creation of the group as her/his own. Call it the
Wikileaks approach: one takes the in-charge stance, the position of
author, leader in fact, so the media have a juicy /success story/ to run
away with. For this scenario to work, a total two-way trust is essential,
and still it remains a double-edged sword, especially for organised
networks taking an radical position because the person at the top might
well fall foul of the law or get trapped by the /star system/.

And finally, if an autonomous networks wishes to maintain a really
horizontal organisation without flattening (itself) out, limits in terms
of numbers come into play. For the empowerment that comes from variation
to work, every participant needs to be able to be heard, with consequence
that the number of 'human nodes' must remain relatively low. Hence chances
are slim such autonomous groups will achieve the critical mass needed to
be seen as 'movements'. Their ambition (anyway) is not to trigger
historical events nor to seek hegemony. They do not make use of
advertising techniques since even the most subversive publicity stunt will
be immediately recycled by the spectacle society where the performance
knows no end of the day. They are more concerned about each other, their
relationship, their plans, etc.

The autonomous network's time is a non-work, no productivity time [26]. It
is a freed and free time ? and liberty is (by definition) not productive.
Liberty can be creative in certain circumstances. But then it is essential
for each node in the network to be as autonomous as possible. Nodes need
to be competent and hence relevant to other nodes ? but also keen to
share. The exact opposite of Huxley's brave new world's obedient citizen.
/Socialbots/ will not be able to infiltrate an organized network (the way
they do on social media), at least not as long as it remains impossible to
reduce every of its members to her/his digital profile.

Conversely, social networks like Facebook's are the ultimate example of
network capitalism, which manages to render even out the time spend on
playing /Farmville/ productive. Indeed, when playing in the (digital)
space offered by Facebook we do not exercise a creative activity, nay,
this activity of ours creates more profiling-linked profit. We massively
engage in the erection of a privately owned world in which we are (mere)
guests getting their work implements for free.

The conversion of libido into a profit generator has been made already
long time ago. Proponents of the gift economy on the Web always forget to
mention that the real gift is the one internauts bring everyday by
spending time on the platforms of private companies making money out of
their data. No doubt millions of individuals are quite unaware of their
gifting activity, and yet it represents a humongous economic value, was it
only in terms of mass.

(to be continued)
Next time: Mass participation (section 5)

[#] No doubt Manuel Castells would have written  'real virtuality' ;-)
[23] The phatic function, in Roman Jacobson analysis of communication, is
what establishes contact and verifies that the (communication) channel is
not broken. Saying 'Hello' when picking up the phone is phatic function.
All arrangements that need to be made when calling a group meeting with
its complex communication requirements (arranging a venue, making up the
agenda, etc) resort under the phatic function. And when groups make use of
digital technologies, system (functionning) checks often take much more
time than in 'analog' situations ...
[#*] Yes, I'll check with the authors what they mean here ;-)
[24] See Beatriz da Costa /Amateur Science. A threat after all?, 2005.
Downloadable at:  http://rixc.lv/reader/txt/txt.php?id=149&l=en
also: Brian Martin "Grassroot Science" in Sal Restivo (Ed.) /Science,
Technology & Society: An Encyclopedia/ Oxford, OUP, 2005 pp 175-81,
downloadable at:
[#**] Though this part is indeed not entirely clear to me ? I'll check ?
it does resonate with some pretty awful experiences I had interacting with
(social sciences) researchers who treated everybody who did not belong to
their peer group (or social class) and yet was essential to the
advancement of their research with an intellectual disdain bordering on
fascist des-humanization ? the word 'informant' being the least insulting
in this context.
[25] In fact, this impossibility to assign responsibilities is the real
reason for the massive occurrence of networked, virtual interface
organisations. The /call centers/ tasked with monitoring consumer
satisfaction are the most blatant example: if your Internet connection is
broken, you phone a /call center/ for assistance, where nobody is actually
responsible for the failure (of the connection). It will always someone's
else fault: for instance the telco which flunked the cable-laying. Hence,
networked organisations present themselves to users as if they had no
leadership, as if they were for all practical purposes amorphous
structures, where nobody is answerable (especially when they go bankrupt)
whereas they are, for the institution which fund (and own) them, very
solid realities, well-structured and dependable.
[26] Geert Lovink, /The Principle of Notworking/, HvA, Amsterdam, 2005:


Translated by Patrice Riemens
This translation project is supported and facilitated by:
The Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
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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