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Bruce Sterling on Mon, 15 Jan 2018 19:33:23 +0100 (CET)

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*Dear nettimers: I have the warmest and kindliest feelings about Geert’s remarks and about the list itself, which is lively lately.  On mature consideration, I feel that I have to extensively annotate this Lovink post.

*I'll try to be constructive.

From: Geert Lovink

Dear all,

social media criticism is clearly reaching a new stage.

*I couldn't agree more. It's been a while coming, but here it is. 

 In the past months voices from deep inside the industry have made themselves heard, in particular in response to the fakenews/Russia media drama and the sneaky ‘behaviour science’ manipulations of social media users. 

*I don't think those guys are particularly "deep inside the industry," because they don't have billions in VC money and they're not seated on boards.  Mostly they're  veteran commentators, industry analysts and website entrepreneurs.  It's important and significant that they're critically speaking up, but they're not captains of digital industry.

None of these statements directly referred to the ‘classic’ critique
of the past years, let’s say from the nettime circle, Unlike Us, to
established voices such as Nicolas Carr, Andrew Keen and Sherry
Turkle. It’s as if we always have to start all over again. 

*There's no way that the likes of Doc Searls is gonna quote nettime's classic critique.   This is like expecting nettime list critique to show up on IEEE Spectrum or Technology Review. That may seem unfair, but I've never seen nettime waste much breath ardently paging through Technology Review, either.  

*So there's not much need to "start over" with groups that would never hear you.

*Also, if indeed "a new stage has arrived," then some starting over seems appropriate.  Are we to doggedly apply the critique of the 1990s to this radically transformed objective situation, decades later?  That's like complaining that a horde of rude YouTubers have cruelly overlooked your 16mm demo reels.

Most academic research on social media seems to have virtually no
impact on the current debate-at-large. Or am I wrong? 

*That's not wrong, but the academy isn't just "ignored," it's actively persecuted now.  Their academic research on Darwinian evolution and climate change isn't getting anywhere, either.  Social media critics shouldn't be snatching some special aura of victimhood from other intellectuals.

Why do Silicon Valley geeks and investors have so much authority in this case?

*Because they have the money.  Colossal hoards of money, and they also control the means of production, distribution and big data analysis.  Nobody before has ever had so much of all those.  Just look at Apple's new corporate headquarters and compare that to, say, the offices of "Mediamatic"or the ZKM.  Is that a big mystery?  

Insider-experts are not often seen as neutral observers. We all know

*I don't want to ‘whatabout' this issue, but nettime people are activists, they have never been "neutral observers."  If there's any "neutral observer" around in 2018, it would have to be somebody way, way out in weird cultural isolation, like, say, the Nazarbayev regime in Kazakhstan. If you're in Astana, then maybe you're "neutral."

These individuals kept their mouth shut for years and years,
and are still deeply involved as investors, employees, consultants
etc. Now that they worry the world should suddenly pay attention?

*That's not what worries them.  They assume they'll get more consultancy business from pointing out the rocks ahead.  What worries them is the fear that purges might ensue, that the majors, GAFAM, might get the Uber disease.  They're afraid that the Valley might succumb to the rot at the top, and become as blatantly corrupt as Trump Inc and Exxon-Mobil. Then, instead of being honored advisers, they'll be peons. 

*"The world paying attention" isn't their issue at all.  The world pays plenty of attention to Trump Inc and Exxon Mobil.  So what?  These Silicon Valley courtiers could conceivably try to rally the general populace, but they're not Vaclav Havel.  They're industry boosters in a troubled society and a business undergoing ruthless consolidation.

What should be the radical next steps?

*European Cyberspace Sovereignty.  Attack, tax, regulate, and aim to dismantle the majors.  Combat surveillance marketing across the board.  

*"Radical" would be Margarethe Vestager times a thousand.  You don’t cope with trillion dollar industries by merely writing essays about them.  Maybe Havel could pull off a superb feat like that, but even Havel had Solidarnosc and Radio Free Europe with him.  GAFAM is realpolitik now.

*Essays can have use.  There has to be some coherent idea, a program, for a post-GAFAM world.  That world has to be made glamorous and more appealing than Facebook et alia.  What they did to IBM and AT&T has to be done to them.

*I know this form of "radicality" is rather detached from the delightful post-89er radicality of the nettime heyday, but that was then, while this is now.  That's why an openness to "starting over" is a healthy idea.  

*I'm describing the struggle of another generation, but another generation is indeed at hand.  Of course they've got contemporary problems.  Google-Apple-Facebook-Amazon-Microsoft may be even their milder problems.  Baidu-Alibaba-Tencent, and maybe Aadhaar, those may be the genuine front lines of the struggle now.

 Finally the social media
debate is heating up and becoming mainstream. What do we have on
offer from the perspective of old-school community informatics (RIP
Michael Gurstein), German (!) media theory, NL tactical media
activism and or ISEA-type of digital arts? Was this a topic in
Leipzig at 24C3? It seems pointless to say: “We told you so.” 

*I disagree.  I'm all in favor of "I told you so." Instead of nettime README! this would be nettime YOUSHOULDHAVEREADME!  

*Either such a volume can really exist, in which case it should certainly be put in the hands of younger people who never saw it, through no fault of their own.  Or else, maybe there really wasn't much commentary of any lasting relevance, which would be a good thing to admit.  Certainly that's better than a sullen reaction claiming that nettime used to be brilliant only nobody ever noticed.

*I actually think that SHOULDHAVE README book would sell.  It's got genuine commercial potential, because, yeah, people hate and fear GAFAM now.  GAFAM employees would buy that book.  Ideological Californians are demoralized.  They're in awful shape in 2018.  They need help, rather than scoldings about how stupid they were back in their gold rush when they were young and happy.  

How can we scale up and democratize all the debates and proposals of
the past 5-7 years of those that worked on alternative network
architectures? Is the reasonable, noble and moral appeal a la Tim
Berners-Lee the only one on offer?

*Get some European grant money and go out and build something that works.  Okay, nettime's never going to do that since it's not made of tech developers, but nettime could find some, and maybe say some kindly things about them.

*Radically distributed mesh nets are probably never gonna work, because people expire of compassion burnout.  But Europe is rich and the EU satraps know perfectly well that GAFAM and BAT want to reduce them to the abject state of Brazil.  They’re not Brazil.  Not yet, anyway.

*There's a million EU-funded digital projects that nobody outside of Brussels has ever heard of.  Nettime could at least list them, and maybe try to pick a winner or two. If you want to "scale up and democratize," go find some existent product of democracy that has some scale-able potential.

 Going offline is one thing, (and
in fact an option only elites can afford). Self-mastering a la
Sloterdijk is a marginal reform effort from a hyper-individualistic

*I happen to be quite the Sloterdijk fan, and the luxurious merits of going offline are much underestimated, but no, that's not gonna work at all. No way. We could have all gone offline to read philosophy 40 years ago. Some people did that; did they get anywhere with it, have you ever heard of 'em?  It's self-indulgent rubbish.

I still believe in vital methods to mass delete Facebook accounts.
This is in the end what Silicon Valley tries to prevent at all cost:
resistance and exodus.

*"Resistance" worries them not at all, because "resistance" merely forfeits all strategic initiative to whomever or whatever is being "resisted."

*"Exodus" is scarier, but only if it's exodus to a rival.  If it's merely an exodus back to the pre-Internet 1980s, that's not any more of a problem than wacky eccentrics on Soundcloud doing 8bit soundtracks.

*What truly worries them is disruption.  Becoming MySpace, becoming as moribund as IBM, which makes all the public-relations right noises while shrinking away horribly and inexorably, quarter by quarter.  

*I personally don't mind "resistance" and "exodus," but frankly it's not much different than being dead.  If you're in your grave, then you don't follow anybody's orders.  If you have exited the world of the living, you're very effectively gone for good. From that exodus, you don't have any second thoughts, you never start over, you never come back.

*Epic struggle is coming.  The chirping complaints that we here now will be mass political struggles. The digital means, the motives, the opportunities, they're all colossal now, planetary. We all saw that coming.  It's not surprising to anyone on nettime. It would be a pity not to own up to it.

Best, Bruce S

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