Patrice Riemens on Sun, 26 Apr 2009 22:38:03 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Ippolita Collective: The Dark Side of Google (Conclusion)

Hi Nettimers,

There has been a ca. one week interruption in the translation flow,
due to various circumstances, prominent among them besides laziness,
my re-transfer to Europe causing a severe reverse culture and climate
shock ;-) But may the sight of the legendary Tor, and the manes of
King Arthur, and generally the spiritual vibes emanating from this
Holy Isle of Avalon where I am presently (albeit very temporarily)
settled see the end of this exercise! (And if everything else fails,
we can always go out and look for the Holy Grail, allegedly also to be
found somewhere in the surroundings..;-.)

So cheers to all,
patrizio and Diiiinooos!
(Glastonbury, on the Hill, but the Windmill one, 25th of April, 2009 AD)


NB this book and translation are published under Creative Commons license
2.0 (Attribution, Non Commercial, Share Alike).
Commercial distribution requires the authorisation of the copyright
holders: Ippolita Collective and Feltrinelli Editore, Milano (.it)
Ippolita Collective: The Dark Side of Google (continued)


We have now arrived to the term of our exploration, having unearthed {and
hopefully shed light on} a number of the more or less substantial secrets
of the Mountain View giant...

We have seen that Google profiles itself, with some pride, as the device
that is able to integrally manage the complexity of what knowledge is
available on the Internet.  It 'sells' answers as objective truths which
are nothing else than {the outcome of} subjective trajectories filtered by
search technologies. We should be careful not to fall in the trap of an
'esoteric' perception of this mechanism, and let ourselves be fascinated
by the speedy returns to our queries. These almost mythical portals are in
fact {no more than smart} strategies combining the use of  advanced
systems collecting, stocking, retrieving, and ordering data, together with
direct and indirect profiling and personalisation of advertisement

And on top of that, state-of-the-art marketing and sophisticated
communication management are the hallmark of Googolian 'evangelisation':
see for instance the use of primal colors in the logo /'s visual
identity/. Add to this the spread of highly configurable interfaces, which
{all the same}keep the firm's distinctive outlook under all circumstances
- and the trick always works: the firm can enjoy the milking of the
relational economy at all the levels {of the interface} thanks to
correlation between users. And finally, Google has adopted the
co-operative forms of development that are typical of F/OSS communities,
cutting on the costs of its services while at the same time appearing to
champion the cause of open access and distribution of knowledge.

Yet to refuse the hypocrisy of 'the perfect search engine' does not mean
calling for a boycott. Was it only because members of the Ippolita
Collective themselves have often used of Google during their research for
this book!

In the same way, recourse to large common and {freely} accessible
resources such as Wikipedia has proven to be very useful from an
(en)cyclopedical viewpoint. This is because, if one knows {something
about} the issue at stake, one can verify the correctness of information
in an independent manner, by rationally blending together bits and pieces
from the Web [and doing so without fascination, letting the Web speak for
itself [?] - French text unclear]. The critical use of sources hinges on
people being able evaluate the trustworthiness of information {by
themselves}, not upon the inherent 'goodness' of digital technology.

Information technology is not merely a device for the automatic management
of information. It has its own logic, meaning that it constantly adapts
and transform its own basic structures. IT is at the same time material,
theoretical and experimental: it works on the formalisation of language
(and hence of knowledge) , applies {the results}  to the material
components of computers, and out this come languages which influence in
their turn the theories of knowledge, making for a feedback loop type of

Google pushes this feedback loop logic to its extremes: it is an
extraordinary machine that manufactures itself through the {very} use its
users make of it. In this sense it is an 'autopoetic' machine, which
accumulates all base information millions of users insert daily into the
Web (such as names, pictures, e-mails, search preferences, membership of
forums, blog writings and readings, filling  in of forms and surveys,
browsing trajectories, etc.) and uses it for targeted, 'capillary'
advertising. The data furnished by users have come to represent a gigantic
human, social and economic capital. A capital that surely needs
protection, but constitutes also a {fantastic} territory for questioning,
experimenting, and giving free reign to curiosity.

Google responds to users' search intents in a flexible manner, and this
response surrounds itself with a bevy of ever more sophisticated and
customisable services. But this multiplicity is just a facade, and its
only aim is to spread a form of consumerism that conforms to the
relational economy, by way of mass personalisation of products and
advertisements thereof. The abundance capitalism of Google springs forth
from a carefully crafted branching at all levels of the imaginary of the
consumers-producers, a.k.a. 'prosumers'. This as users are delivering
their personal data, but also their impressions and suggestions about the
use of these services free of costs; developers, {from their side},
contribute to the development of 'open tools' which have been provided to
them {with the sole aim} to spread the Google standards, and which remain
under the strict {purview and} control of Mountain View; {and finally,}as
the employees of the Googleplex and other {subsidiary} data centers fully
endorse the 'philosophy of excellence' as championed by the firm.

The profiling of the imaginary is but the last phase of the process of
capitalist colonisation of the networks, something we have called
technological masturbation. A mercantile spirit guides statements in favor
of "individual free expression", itself conditional upon being
subsequentially able to exploit these "expressions" in order to sell
trinkets and other useless {but personalised} goodies.

Google advertises its 'economy of search' as if it were a new
cyber-democracy enabling hundred of millions of individuals to communicate
directly {among themselves}and manage their own organisation, escaping the
control of the state and other institutions in the process thanks to the
firm's technological implements. This simplistic message {unfortunately}
finds support with many 'democratic' media and intellectuals the world
over, who are victims of self-delusion. According to these, the Internet
is essentially democratic by nature: not only are individuals stimulated
to supplant institutions on the Web, but institutions themselves are
becoming the better for it. Technocratic enthusiasm even goes as far as to
represent the informatisation of public administration, a phenomenon known
as 'e-governance', as a form of ideology-free governance, mobilising the
commitment of 'net-izens?. This new {political} identity {actually} brings
about first person (digital) participation, and hence the emergence of a
{completely} diffuse public opinion. As if it was possible to remedy the
'crisis of representation' [of the classic forms of political
institutions] by a {networked} local, {but} globally connected democracy!
We have {attempted to} identify the major deficiencies of this approach,
which all amount to their ideological preconceptions. The basic idea being
that technologies are 'neutral' by definition, and that this alleged
neutrality stands for moral virtue, in so far as it is the outcome of an
objective scientific research {and practice}, which is able to give every 
individual what she wants, quickly and effortlessly.

The complex informational mediation performed by Google is presented as a
transparent, high-tech skein, which guarantees the
users/citizens/consumers' free choice, who use/vote/buy while surfing on
the 'free' Web managed by Google for the commonwealth.

Despite all these participative dreams, which are fed by cyber-democratic
fantasy but are devoid of concrete substance, it is actually impossible to
put really autonomous forms of direct democracy in place by centralising
information, knowledge, and power, and by putting all these in the hands
of a private company (e.g. Google) - and even less, in the hands of a
government body (e.g. the Telecom Regulatory Authority).

{Even} The more progressive margins of the alter-globalist movement have
not escaped the identity trap, as they call for a reformatting of class
identity through a new centralisation of work, this time of the telematic
kind. But they remain far removed of the sphere of individual desire,
especially when they advocate social networking, as if it were a magic
solution to all personal frustrations, achieved through a ritual of global
technological [auto-]solidarity.

Only a choice for self-education can really pave the way for escaping
technocratic domination. And a lot of work has to be done before it
becomes possible to 'put into the commons' something of one's own and
create synergies. Without sound technical preparedness, the so-called
community bonanza rapidly turns out into a solipsistic exercise. [Hello
Pranesh! ;-)]

The people who are administering networks, on their side, must learn to
protect sensitive data and start drawing the line between what they want
to make public and what they wish to remain private. Moreover, they must
be able to decide which information is 'correct' and which one is not,
based on their subjective evaluation at any given time. This as they must
be conscious that they are altering the information landscape at the very
moment they browse through it.

This is {the only way how} individuals can develop their autonomy: by
evolving rules for the journey through the virtual landscape, and by
developing a personal viewpoint.

Just like all technologies, the digital ones are neither good nor bad in
themselves, yet, as we have seen, they are not neutral either: it all
depends on the use that is made of them and the methods that have governed
their development. And since they are hybrids with a power to influence
upon real life, they surely also enable to highlight the contradictions
between 'nature' and 'culture'.

This makes it possible, in its turn, to conjure another danger: the idea
of the Web as a de-materialised experience, devoid of physical existence,
which often leads to a blind and reactionary rejection of innovation.

According to this perception, the 'virtual' reality of cyberspace is
replete with insignificant interactions,  triggered by an 'online crowd
blatantly unawares of the material disparities of real life: gender, race,
wealth, social position, all set aside in the fluid and frictionless flow
of fictional identities. This totally materialist idea is usually advanced
by intellectuals and other {elite} observers who dissect digital
technologies from the height of their pulpits without ever deigning to
have the modesty to ask for the opinion of the 'kids' who grew up with
these (same technologies).

But quite on the contrary, 'virtual' reality is so physical as to not be
able to exist without mechanical machines, the silicon sand and the
integrated circuits that make it up, and without biological machines, that
are the users.  Connection, multiplicity and de-territorialisation are not
the same as 'immateriality'. Moreover, this attitude betrays a fear to see
the world change and to be left behind, together with profound misgivings
about the ability of individuals to transform and enrich themselves.

Digital technologies hence are and will be an agent of liberation only if
they go together with the development of complex and conscious digital
alter egos who are able to interact in an unforeseen manner. It is
possible to use a multiplicity of languages to bring about a place where
we all can meet. Among other things, the Ippolita Collective has concluded
that it was essential to have recourse to the scientific method, to turn
to the inexhaustible richness of the humanistic tradition, to make use of
the dialogic force of political opinions, to benefit by the coherence of
the feminist narrative, and to head for the limitless curiosity that is
the hallmark of hackers. Trust in the possibility to tweak technologies in
accordance with the desire of individuals is essential if one wishes to
create networks that are really free, and not merely digital.

The chaos of contradictory messages, the at times ear-deafening noise
{amidst the signal}, and the near-inconceivable dimension of the Web may
well instill fear - and yet the voyage of exploration has only begun.


(To be continued with two appendices: (i) The End of the World in a
Cookie, (ii) The interzones between influence and domination in the
digital world(s); and a 2008 dated afterword. And then, sometime, the

Translated by Patrice Riemens
This translation project is supported and facilitated by:

The Center for Internet and Society, Bangalore
The Tactical Technology Collective, Bangalore Office
Visthar, Dodda Gubbi post, Kothanyur-Bangalore (till March 31st, 2009)
The Meyberg-Acosta Household, Pune (April 2-11, 2009)
The Bawa-Jonnalagadda Household, Bangalore (April 12-18, 2009)
The Haskel-Huley (London), Bunting (Bristol), and Zingas (Glastonbury)
Households (from April 19, 2009

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