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<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium, part III,
Patrice Riemens on Tue, 19 Aug 2014 16:48:18 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium, part III,

Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium Part III

The Freedoms of the Net

Beyond technophobia: let's build convivial technologies together
(section 6)

Worldwide congenital blather, the 'global tribe' imagined by McLuhan, is
now with us. Our world is now balkanized, fragmented into individual circles
managed by corporate mega-machines. Technical apparatuses are like anatomical
extensions making human organs more powerful. This because "technology is now
part of our body" and it is impossible to do without or even to get rid
of it. McLuhan's analysis should then work as a canary in the coal mine when
faced with such a threatening form of domination:

"Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private
manipulation of those who would try to benefit from taking a lease on our
eyes and ears and nerves, we don?t really have any rights left." [36]

One loses one's civic rights there, but first and foremost, one loses
one's personal autonomy, in terms of forfeited competences which never
will be developed again. Forty years after such a clear-sighted by the
Canadian sociologist, while the costs of this maimed ubiquity should be
definitely unmistakable, the technological drift has folded itself around
us in its ever more stifling coils, to the effect that we delegate more
and more. We are all willing termini of a global network and this
integration process does not look like as it could be stopped. Even when
one is aware of the enormous problems the use of these technologies
causes, there are very few
possibilities to opt out of them: several tracks pursued by various people
to escape the predicament have not led anywhere.

But one should not be deceived by the pressing demands for viable
alternatives, especially when the demand is for alternatives that work
at once and are fit for all. One's personal needs should be queried first:
the individual desire and if and how, in reality or imagination, it can be
fulfilled. It is obvious that no alternatives exist if the quest is about
something as big and as powerful as Google. Only another Google could work
as fast and as well as Google does, just as the alternative functioning
the way Facebook functions would be another Facebook and nothing else.
Therefore, what is needed are many niche alternatives, and many local and
solutions. Gigantism simply does not work. Neither does the vacuous ideology
of unlimited growth. And radical transparency will definitely not set us

McLuhan's most famous dictum "the medium is the message" cannot be taken
seriously enough. The same message circulated by different media undergoes
changes. Fact is, that in the digital (networked) society, we are the
medium, and hence the message. while discussing the for and the against of
digital technologies we lost track of the depth of the changes that have
occurred in the meanwhile. We have to go back to basics: our body, and
accept (the consequences of) the fact that if our memories are stocked on
line, then our bodies will show a tendency to materialise in those same
places. To adapt oneself to the virtual world means, literally, to be
absorbed and 'teleported' as it were, on line. The bits' intangible
lightness cannot be dissociated from the server-banks' heaviness - data
centres strewn around the planet, preferably in its colder regions, as
computers heat up and need chilling [37]. Data centers are gigantic sheds
with interconnected hard disks stacked up to the ceiling. These fragile
total recall mausoleums consume phenomenal amounts of electricity (3% of
the US' total consumption in 2011 [38]), taking an equally phenomenal toll
on the environment. /Cloud computing/ will do nothing to mitigate the
latter, since the exponential growth in data will undo any attempt to
limit this wastage. Each time we log into our profile to check whether we
exist, somewhere another computer lights up, connecting our request over
thousands of miles of cable, all this so that we can 'connect' to our
on-line body.

The astounding capacity of the human body to adapt made it possible to
transform millions of users into willy terminals, and completely
ill-adapted to a Web-less world, and that happened in next to no time.
Till the twentieth century, physical strength was an important criterium
in the assessment of someone's employability. The technological promise of
a world free of physical exertions has been realised for the richer part
of the planet, by now completely adjusted to a life amidst screens and
keyboards. Meanwhile, the rest of the world aspires to partake big time in
this walhalla substantiated in the form of tens of thousands consumer
goods you only need to choose from. The consumer cult demands that one
constantly embodies oneself in available goodies, functioning as identity
markers. Even the space one claims on far-away servers becomes an identity
marker. Holding a lot of on-line space results in having to manage a
'body' that stretches beyond the limits of physical space, and in
corporate social media this means to be subjected to 'by default power'
claiming possession of your body, subjecting it to mandatory, unrequested
modifications. Users then may only manage it according to the rules
imposed (upon them) from the outside. And furthermore, the 'analog' bodies
have also been reformatted by the demands of the technological realm,
privileging brain work against no longer required physical strength.
Google Earth has become our all-seeing eye, but we may only use it, for
free, within the limits granted to us. Meanwhile, our eyesight
deteriorates as we keep sitting in front of a screen ...

The brain, just like the rest of the body, has undergone spectacular
alterations in the way it is being perceived. Just a few decennia ago the
general idea was that, once its growth phase was over, the brain had
become static as an organ. Now we know that, on the contrary, the brains
is extremely adaptive, and stays that all our life. Even though neurones
keep dying, fresh linkages are constantly being assembled between the
remaining ones. The sensations we feel going through the same experience
over again, gel physically and creates new neuronal circuits whereas those
circuits that are not or little used deteriorate, just like
little-threaded paths in the countryside do. Better still: even figuring
out one is acting in a specific situation, to live or re-live that
situation, provokes changes in the brain's make-up. And once it has taken
place, it is nearly impossible to reverse such a change. In the case of
on-line (Internet-mediated) sociality, only the eye, an organ with a
privileged access to certain zones of the brain, is called upon - the rest
of the body becomes weaker. Thus, the brain changes in no small way, and
so does our perception of the world [39].

The brain is a muscle which, if fed with too many superficial connections,
develops unhealthy growths while at the same time losing some other
capacities. Just like trash food is a drug that upsets the metabolism,
'trash communication' pollutes the body (and brain), making it difficult
to recover its lost capabilities [40]. Deep thinking concentration demands
quiet and attention. It has also been proved that cognitive capacities
increase when in a natural environment [41]. The most complex imaginative
faculties, like empathy and compassion, need time and attention to develop
and hone. Thus the sight of someone else's physical pain, which is clearly
visible through the way the body looks like, causes reflexes of emotional
proximity much faster than the sight of psychological pain, which is
indeed far more complex to figure out [42]. In terms of creativity,
developing a common moral and aesthetic vision demands considerable time
and an enormous listening capacity. It is easy to be angered and outraged
by the injustice in the world, but it is near-impossible to share dreams
and utopias with the help of technological tools which produce
/attention-distraction/ only.

(to be continued)
Next time: Another communication and information is possible!

[36] Marshall McLuhan, /Undermining Media: the Extension of Man/ Cambridge
(mass) MIT Press, 1994, p 68.
The quote is copy pasted from: http://www.popmatters.com/post/145204-mcluhan/
[37] Iceland, due to its massive geo-thermal and hydro resources, has
become a location of choice for big IT players to build their data
treatment centers:
[38] See the report by the independent analyst firm Verdantix, 28
September 2011:
(abstract, full report is paywalled)
[39] Cf. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Amir Amedi, Felipe Fregni & Lofti Merabet:
"The plastic human brain cortex", /Annual Review of Neurosciences/ 28
(2005) pp 377-401. Downloadable at:
[40] This is Nicholas Carr's take, and he is a techno-enthusiast, in his
book /The Shallows. What the Internet is doing to our Brains/, New York,
Norton (2010). See:
[41] Marc G Berman, John Jonides, Stephen Kaplan, "The Cognitive Benefits
of Interacting With Nature", /Psychological Science 19 (2008) pp 1207-12:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19121124 (abstract, full article under
[42] Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Andrea McColl, Hanna Damasio & Antonio
Damasio, "Neural Correlates of Admiration and Compassion", Proceedings of
the National Academy of Sciences 106, 19 (2009) pp 8021-26:
http://www.pnas.org/content/106/19/8021.full.pdf+html  (Full text)


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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