Geert Lovink on Thu, 18 Jun 2009 18:20:56 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> The Digital Given--10 Web 2.0 Theses by Ippolita, Geert Lovink & Ned Rossiter

The Digital Given
10 Web 2.0 Theses by Ippolita, Geert Lovink & Ned Rossiter

0. The internet turns out to be neither the problem nor the solution  
for the global recession. As an indifferent bystander it doesn't lend  
itself easily as a revolutionary tool. The virtual has become the  
everyday. The New Deal is presented as green, not digital. The digital  
is a given. This low-key position presents an opportunity to rethink  
the Web 2.0 hype. How might we understand our political, emotional and  
social involvement in internet culture over the next few years?

1. News media is awash with 'economic crisis', indulging in its self- 
generated spectacle of financial meltdown. Experts are mobilised, but  
only to produce the drama of dissensus. Programmed disagreement is the  
consensus of daily news. Crisis, after all, is the condition of  
possibility for capitalism. Unlike the dotcom crash in 2000-2001, when  
the collapse of high-tech stocks fueled the global recession, the  
internet has so far managed to stay out of the blame game. Web 2.0  
only suffers mild side effects from the odd collection of platforms  
and services, from Google to Wikipedia, Photobucket, Craigslist,  
MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Habbo and so-called regional players such  
as Baidu and Despite its benign existence, there still is  
hyper-growth wherever you look. Web 2.0 applications and platforms  
remain 'new' but show a tendency to get lost inside the boring,  
stressful and uncertain working life of the connected billions.

2. Social networks are technologies of entertainment and diffusion.  
The social reality they create is real, but as a technology of  
immediacy you can't get no satisfaction. We initially love them for  
their distraction from the torture of now-time. Networking sites are  
social drugs for those in need of the Human that is located elsewhere  
in time or space. It is the pseudo Other that we are connecting to.  
Not the radical Other or some real Other. We systematically explore  
weakness and vagueness and are pressed to further enhance the   
exhibition of the Self. 'I might know you (but I don't). Do you mind  
knowing me?'. The pleasure principle of entertainment thus diffuses  
social antagonisms – how does conflict manifest within the comfort  
zones of social networks and their tapestries of auto-customisation?  
The business-minded 'trust doctrine' has all but eliminated the open,  
dirty internet forums. Most Web 2.0 are echo chambers of the same old  
opinions and cultural patterns. As we can all witness, they are not  
exactly hotbeds of alternative sub-culture. What's new are their  
'social' qualities: the network is the message. What is created here  
is a sense or approximation of the social. Social networks register a  
'refusal of work'. But our net-time, after all, is another kind of  
labour. Herein lies the perversity of social networks: however radical  
they may be, they will always be data-mined. They are designed to be  
exploited. Refusal of work becomes just another form of making a buck  
that you never see.

3. Social networking sites are as much fashion victims as everything  
else. They come and go. Their migration across space signals the  
enculturisation of software. While Orkut disappeared in G8 countries,  
it is still Big in Brazil. Is anyone still seriously investing in real  
estate in Second Life? What the online world needs is sustainable  
social relations. The moving herds that go from one server to the next  
merely demonstrate an impulsive grazing mentality: once the latest  
widgets are installed, it is time to move on. Sustainability is  
connected to scaleability. Here, we see lessons from the major social  
movements over the last 50 years. The force of accumulated social- 
political desires manifest, eventually, in national and global forums  
that permeate back into policy discourse and social practice: think  
March on Washington, 1963 (Black Civil Rights), Rio, 1992 (Earth  
Summit), Porto Alegre, 2001 (World Social Forum), Geneva and Tunis,  
2003-2005 (World Summit on the Info-Society). None of these examples  
are exempt from critique. We note them here to signal the relationship  
between sustainability and scalar transformation. We are familiar with  
formats such as barcamps, unconferencing and have participated in DIY  
techno-workshops at those seasonal media arts festivals. But these are  
hardly instances of sustainability. Their temporality of tinkering is  
governed by the duration of the event. True, there is occasionally  
resonance back in the local hack-lab, but such practices are exclusive  
to techno-secret societies, not the networked masses. Social  
networking sites are remarkable for their capacity to scale. Their  
weakness is their seeming incapacity to effect political change in any  
substantive way. The valorisation of citizen-journalism is not the  
same as radical intervention, and is better understood as symptomatic  
of the structural logic of outsourcing media production and election  
campaign management.

4. From social to socialism is a small step for humankind – but a big  
step for the Western subject. What makes the social attractive, and  
socialism so old school and boring? What is the social anyway? We have  
to be aware that such postmodern academic language games do not deepen  
our understanding of the issues, nor widen our political fantasies. We  
need imagination, but only if it illuminates concepts that transform  
concrete conditions. The resurrection of the social after its  
disappearance is not an appealing slogan. Some ideas have an almost  
direct access to our body. Others remain dead. This in particular  
counts for insider jargon such as rent, multitude, common, commons and  
communism. There's a compulsion to self-referentiality here that's not  
so different from the narcissistic default of so many blogs. What,  
then, are the collective concepts of the social networked masses? For  
now, they are engineered from the top-down by the corporate  
programmers, or they are outsourced to the world of widgets. Tag,  
Connect, Friend, Link, Share, Tweet. These are not terms that signal  
any form of collective intelligence, creativity or networked  
socialism. They are directives from the Central Software Committee.  
«Participation» in «social networks» will no longer work, if it ever  
did, as the magic recipe to transform tired and boring individuals  
into cool members of the mythological Collective Intelligence. If  
you're not an interesting individual, your participation is not really  
interesting. Data clouds, after all, are clouds: they fade away.  
Better social networks are organized networks involving better  
individuals – it's your responsibility, it's your time. What is needed  
is an invention of social network software where everybody is a  
concept designer. Let's kill the click and unleash a thousand million  
tiny tinkerers!

5. We are addicted to ghettoes, and in so doing refuse the antagonism  
of 'the political'. Where is the enemy? Not on Facebook, where you can  
only have 'friends'. What Web 2.0 lacks is the technique of  
antagonistic linkage. Instead, we are confronted with the Tyranny of  
Positive Energy. Life only consists of uplifting experiences.  
Depression is not a design principle. Wikipedia's reliance on 'good  
faith' and its policing of protocols quite frequently make for a  
depressing experience in the face of an absence of singular style.  
There ain't no 'neutral point of view'. This software design principle  
merely reproduces the One Belief System. Formats need to be  
transformed if they are going to accommodate the plurality of  
expression of networked life. Templates function as zones of  
exclusion. But strangely, they also exclude the conflict of the  
border. The virus is the closest thing to conflict online. But viruses  
work in invisible ways and function as a generator of service labour  
for the computer nerd who comes in and cleans your computer.

6. The critique of simulation falls short here. There is nothing  
'false' about the virtuality of social networking sites. They are  
about as real it gets these days. Stability accumulates for those  
hooked to networks. Things just keep expanding. More requests. More  
friends. More time for social-time. With the closure of factories  
comes the opening of data-mines. Privacy is so empty of curiosity that  
we are compelled to slap it on our Wall for all to see. If we are  
lucky, a Friend refurbishes it with a comment. And if you are feeling  
cheeky, then Throw A Sheep! You would be hard-pressed to notice any  
substantive change. But you will be required to do never-ending  
maintenance work to manage all your data feeds and updates. That'll  
subtract a bit of time from your daily routine.

7. The Network will not be Revolutionized. What does this mean for  
Indymedia 2.0? The question of why failed and did not  
further develop into an active and open social networking site or  
clearly take up a position in the Web 2.0 debate is something that  
needs to be addressed (see nettime debate of May 2009). Have media  
activists already learnt enough of the Brechtian Indymedia Lehrstueck  
that started in the late nineties? Is global branding and branching,  
as in the case of Indymedia (one name, often similar design, sharing  
of servers, some syndication of content, etc.), still as important as  
it used to be? Indymedia met the challenge of scaleability in amazing  
ways only to discover its limits. Contamination seems key for  
transnational social-political networks. As do regular face-to-face  
meetings. Let your network connect with the concrete and adaptation  
and transformation will undoubtedly kick in. Then try reconnecting  
across networks (and other institutional and organizational forms) on  
the global scale. Conflict will already have multiplied and the  
primary condition of sustainability will be underway.

8. Web 2.0 is not for free. 'Free as in free beer' is not like 'free  
as in freedom'. Open does not equal free. These days 'free' is just  
another word for service economies. The linux fiefdom know that all  
too well. We need to question naive campaigns that merely promote  
'free culture' without questioning the underlying parasitic economy  
and the 'deprofessionalization' of cultural work. Pervasive profiling  
is the cost of this opening to 'free market values'. As users and  
prosumers we are limited by our capacity as data producers. Our tastes  
and preferences, our opinions and movements are the market price to  
pay. At present, Facebook's voluntary and enthusiastic auto-filing  
system on a mass scale represents the high point of this strategy. But  
we cannot succumb to the control paranoia and to the logic of fear.  
Let's inject more kaos in it!  So what if you have your anti-whatever  
Facebook group? What does it change other than expanding your number  
of friends? Is deleting the radical gesture of 2009? Why not come up a  
more subversive and funny, anti-cyclical act? Are you also looking for  
rebel tactical tools?

9. Soon the Web 2.0 business model will be obsolete. It is based on  
the endless growth principle, pushed by the endless growth of  
consumerism. The business model still echoes the silly 90s dotcom  
model: if growth stagnates, it means the venture has failed and needs  
to be closed down. Seamless growth of customised advertising is the  
fuel of this form of capitalism, decentralized by the user-prosumer.  
Mental environment pollution is parallel to natural environment  
pollution. But our world is finished (limited). We have to start   
elaborating appropriate technologies for a finite world. There is no  
exteriority, no other worlds (second, third, fourth worlds) where we  
can dump the collateral effects of insane development. We know that  
Progress is a bloodthirsty god that extracts a heavy human sacrifice.  
A good end cannot justify a bad means. On the contrary, technologies  
are means that have to justify the end of collective freedom. No  
sacrifice will be tolerated: martyrs are not welcome. Neither are  

10. 'Better a complex identity than an identity complex'. We need to  
promote peer-education that shifts the default culture of auto- 
formation to the nihilist pleasure of hacking the system. Personal  
exhibition on web 2.0 social networks resembles the discovery of  
sexuality. Anxiety over masturbation meets digital narcissism  
(obsessive touching up of personal profiles) and digital voyeurism  
(compulsive viewing of other's profiles, their list of friends,  
secrets, etc.). To avoid the double trap of blind technophilia and  
luddite technophobia, we have to develop complex digital identities.  
They have to answer to individual desires and satisfy multiple needs.  
Open-ID are a good starting point. 'Steal my profile'. It's time to  
remix identity. Anonymity is a good alternative to the pressures of  
the control society, but there must be alternatives on offer. One  
strategy could be to make the one ('real') identity more complex and,  
where possible, contradictory. But whatever your identify might be, it  
will always be harvested. If you must participate in the accumulation  
economy for those in control of the data mines, then the least you can  
do is Fake Your Persona.

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