Patrice Riemens on Mon, 12 Jul 2010 16:09:21 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Ippolita Collective: The situation with the social media - a position paper

Hi Nettimers,

After their book on Google (see N3 underneath) the Italian Ippolita
Collective is embarking on a study of the social media (aka web 2.0, or
whatever). They have written this as a starting shot. Comments welcome.

Cheers from a very silent Groningen, patrizio & Diiiinooos!

(in the pipe-line: update to the Google book)


The situation with the social media - a position paper

										"Open is not Free, and publishing is not the same as to make

Many years have passed since the Ippolita Collective started making a
distinction between 'opening up to the free market', as is propounded by
the gurus of the Open Source movement, and the freedom the Free Software
movement posits as the bedrock of its vision of the digital world (N1):
"Free software is a matter of liberty, not price" (N2).

Open Source as a concept is solely devoted to finding out the best methods
to spread a product in an open manner, where open is to be understood
purely within the logic of the market. The hacker attitude, based on play
and sharing amongst peers, has been co-opted therein by an approach that
is based on the logic of exploitation of time and labor with profit as the
driving motive, and not individual and/ or collective welfare.

Following upon "Open does not mean free", Ippolita's inquiry into Google -
the very embodiment of an attempt to reach total hegemony "on all the
world's knowledge" -  proceeded from the same approach (N3). Which is to
show how the logic of 'Open', combined with a Californian philosophy of
academic excellence, saw in the motto "Don't be evil", the perfect excuse
to let itself be corrupted and enter the service of 'abundance
capitalism', the illusory fast-forward capitalist belief in
the-sky-is-the-limit growth (cf. the 6th tenet of the Google gospel: "You
can make money without doing evil" (N4). The catch phrase (and trap) is
"more, bigger. faster" - as if that is always better by default. "Tomorrow
Is Another Day", and it's gonna be a Better Day as there is the faith
glowing in the bushes, a faith embodied by the "I am feeling lucky"
button. The message is that this is a technology that is good by
definition, as it originates from impartial scientific research, and the
satisfaction of all our needs and desires is there, at once, and without
effort - just a mouse-click away.

Unfortunately, this pretense of 'totalitarian informationism' is less
ridiculous than would appear at first sight. Because if one would come to
the conclusion that there is actually nothing left to produce, and
especially that unlimited growth is a perfect delusion, and that even in
the digital world, then the rush toward the next gadget as dazzling as it
is useless might well petter out. A collapse of growth would be the next
thing. Then a spark of consciousness could arise in our exhausted world,
and instead of driving full speed towards the abyss with the loudspeakers
turned on to the max, we might well start looking around us, and look our
neighbors into the eyes, and talk to each other, share and exchange what
we need, and imagine and build something that is really meaningful.

Well, not so. Once this gigantic technological machine was put in place
with the help of data-centers, first class brains and open source code -
those being rapidly foreclosed with NDAs (N5) - the need for content
became pressing. Any content. content that was as cheap as possible, or
better still: for free. The industrial production of absolute trash could
take flight, with zero costs and super-profits for the unknown
celebrities, but how?

Meanwhile the Net was becoming mainstream. Slowly, broadband connections
became less asymmetrical (mostly thanks to subsidies and deficit funding
by the public sector aimed at closing 'the digital gap' - yet another form
of corporate welfare ?) Connectivity fees have gone down (but not nearly
enough) and upload volumes have increased. And here comes the solution to
all our problems: transferring all users data (that is what is stocked in
their PCs, laptops, mobile phones, cameras, etc.) as low-hanging fruits of
the opening of the 'free market', that is to publish everything, and make
it accessible to anyone. Here we see what must be the most powerful
'Weapon of Mass Distraction' ever deviced (N6), or how to spread
satisfaction amongst the various users of so-called 'Web 2.0' services who
harbor an irrepressible urge to post, tag, comment, or link pictures,
videos, tweets, SMSs, being it their own of those of their 'friends', in
the wide ocean of the social networks. And why would that belong to them
since it is hosted by somebody else: FaceBook, Flickr, MySpace, Twitter,
Netlog, Youtube - you name it. Users are over-joyous and excited to have
on their desk and in their pockets the very latest expensive
self-snitching device, which is forever online and includes an embedded
GPS. Thanks to the latter, they'll soon be able to go shopping and leave
their credit cards at home, so that 'those-who-should-be-in-the-know' do
indeed know what pleases us, where we are, what we buy, and what we are
doing, with whom. Or whatever.

And so, welcome to the present! But Unlike those times when Ippolita was
shouting in the desert of geek enthusiasm that it might be preferable not 
to 'put everything on Google", since allowing for this marks the beginning
of technocratic domination, now there are many voices raised against
'social networks'. They stand accused of stealing people's private life,
and of being the outcome of a bogus revolutionary ideology. Maybe the
Internet itself is a social movement, but then a very elitist one, and
riddled with contradictions (N7). As some influential commentators have
noted, FaceBook in particular has a business model based on 'radical
transparency' (N8). It is thus in the very nature of Facebook to publish
everything, period, as can be seen from its latest policy developments
(N9). It should also be remembered that Facebook's sponsors are members of
the 'Paypal Mafia', that they maintain close links with civil and military
intelligence services, and that they support extreme right-wing
libertarian politicians (to wit, these same people thought that Bush Sr.
was a 'moderate') (N10). There is even somebody at Harvard who dares to
mention from the height of his chair that there might be something like a
social media bubble, and that has also economic aspects. Nobody has yet
been able to prove that social media do push sales of personalized
products thanks to targeted advertising (N11). Yet even fans are starting
to fret about Facebook's ambitions (N12).

Now something worse is happening to Facebook than a few concrete, but
fairly minority propositions (The Suicide Machine for mass profile
deletion, the Diaspora Project for building a 'truly free' social network,
as well as complaints and petitions filed with various regulatory bodies -
who are famously unable even to regulate themselves ?): the public starts
being restive for real (N13). It is exactly the same as in "opening the
code does not mean to make it free", and "publishing does not mean to make
(it) public". Rather the opposite, in fact. But for all practical
purposes, now, let's continue with Facebook. There we see the exact
opposite of 'making public', as everything that gets posted becomes the
exclusive property of the Facebook enterprise - just read (again) the
terms of use. But how is that possible? What does mean "all what is
published does not automatically become public"? Well indeed so. In almost
all instances, anything happening on a 'Web 2.0' site turns into a
multinational corporation's private ownership. What happened is that you
have actually worked, for free, for companies which seek to make money
without you knowing about it, using personalized adds which contaminate
you more and more. Don't any longer complain you didn't know!

The current situation is bad. But that is an old story. we have not ended
up in this situation out of the blue. If you have been following the
discussions in the tech world, on iPhone then iPad, Android,  Windows7,
Facebook and Chatroulette, you'll only wonder about the bottomless naivety
of net-gurus, tech-fans, and men-on-the-street alike. And you can also
hear a bitter chortle, coming from far away Italy (but our own home, at
least as 'forma mantis' - mindset) where videocracy rules against our
wishes, and where at least it is entirely obvious that our rights will not
be protected by the so-called democratic institutions, and that it won't
be the ministrations of some charitable, progress-oriented multinational,
that will bestow upon us, free of costs, an open spirit and the benefits
of freedom.

What was true yesterday is today even more. And we are certainly not the
first one to state that one must be able to imagine one's future in order
to understand one's present, while remembering one's past. And this (we
add) should take place within the process of creating a collective
history. Memory is a collective device, as nothing ever repeats itself
again in the same form, and yet the differences look very much alike, and
yesterday's bland broth, hardly stale today, might well be dished out
to-morrow under the guise of a radical innovation. If it happens that our
mental world is mostly constituted by what adds, television, and such like
outfits are telling us, and which finds its concretization in the 'freedom
to choose' between 70.000 different iPhone apps (if you have really
nothing better to do, you could go at it: at the rate of ten a day, it
will merely keep you busy for the next twenty years), or the opportunity
to have more than 500 'friends' on Facebook (one dinner each will barely
enable you to meet every one of them once every two years), well then,
maybe be didn't stress enough the necessity to desire and to imagine
something better after all.

It may be totally useless, yet writing is fun - and even enjoyable. To
write makes us feel good, even if it is an activity replete with
misunderstandings and difficulties, and it is tiring to boot. It is time
snatched from the necessity otherwise to earn a living. We enjoy imagining
escape lines, and we try to express them, to device tools to fulfill our
desires. To write is to make those available to a public made up of
individual people, yet without making use of a proprietary megaphone owned
by some intrusive multinational corporation.

There are many of us in the same situation: we don not want to
'co-operate', we do not want to be part of the social media's
crowdsourcing drive. But we are not part either of 'Multitude' or
'Empire', which are categories out of hegemonic thought identifying
classes and interests and organizing the struggle that in any case ends up
with (new) oppressed and (new) oppressors. It's not difficult to see the
parallel between an analysis of the network as a multitude and the theory
of NetWar. Liberal-fascist NetWar theoreticians - especially John Arquilla
- are far closer to Negri-inspired social network leftists for comfort.
Both parties' basic idea is the necessity to conquer hegemony. Whether on
the right or on the left, the issue the reticular space  of networks is
looked at from a polemical perspective: war and conquest. And even though
they may look to stand at opposite pole, they share the same way of
thinking (N14).  The network analysis terminology itself, including that
of social networks, is heavily militarized. And if you look at the basic
components computers are made of, you see metal-based semiconductors the
raw material of which is sourced from territories engulfed in a permanent
armed conflict because of them, eg. Central Africa.  The globalization of
markets means foremost the globalization of exploitation: our ergonomic
instruments are produced by armies of industrial workers in Asia, and more
specifically in China, a country where workers have to sign a legal
document affirming they did not commit suicide in the factory. Well,
thanks for letting us know, guys! And meanwhile, as we are purchasing the
latest in useless gadget technology, we might enjoy the thought that a few
rachitic trees have been planted to compensate for the discharge of CO2
their manufacture entailed. Alas, also green capitalism  is and remains a
daft pipe-dream, like each and every productivist ideology.

Despite our own immersion in this technology-driven world we would like to
try to maintain some distance and to write an ethnography of sorts of
social media. Not about how these work (there are handy manuals to that
effect), but about how we have ended up into this, and how to exercise
some influence, by injecting the heterogenous, chaos, and seeds of
autonomy into them. We too are involved and compromised (like everybody
else, in matters of ICT), but that does not mean that one has to give in
to everything without consideration. It is from out a collective
experience that individual inferences are made possible about an
alienation process that finds its origins in the inner self.  The savages
are us. We need a defiantly subjective viewpoint and not the pretense of
objectivity of an outside observer. Fortunately, the myth of academic
objectivity only survives in the second rate regions of scientific
vulgarization. More than a century ago, so-called hard sciences accepted
relativism, it is now time for the 'human sciences' to do the same in a
determined way. What we need is radical relativism, we need to take
distance from ourselves in order to understand what we are doing, to give
our actives a concrete signification in order to communicate it in a
public domain that needs to preserved, build again, and relentlessly
renegotiated. To use Hanna Harendt's terms: we need to develop a discourse
that  defines our action in research (N15).

So we have already a few ideas. If you have ideas too, do tell us!

Q&D translation by Patrice Riemens
Groningen 11 July 2010


(N1)	Ippolita, Open non è free - Eleuthera, Milano 2005 (free download at  - in Italian)

(N2)	cf. GNU project/ definitions

(N3)	Ippolita, The Dark Face of Google (original Italian 2007) free pdf of
the original Italian:  English translation (serialized on
Nettime-l, 2009, without notes):


(N5)	Non Disclosure Agreement, the corporate world's weapon of choice to
compete in the 'knowledge economy'.

(N6)	Critical Arts Ensemble, cf.

(N7)	N+1 magazine (New York):

(N8)	Danah Boyd, "Facebook and radical transparency":

(N9)	Check out the evolution of 'privacy' on Facebook (changes in default
profile settings over time) on:

(N10)  (Tom
Hodgkinson, "with friends like these ?")

(N11)	Umar Haque, "The Social Media Bubble":

(N12)	Robert Scoble, aka Scobleizer:

(N13)	Buzzmachine: Confusing 'a' public with 'the' public:

(N14)	cf. Alexander Galloway & Eugene Thacker 'The Exploit' (2007) for a
first draft isn this direction

(N15)	Hanna Ahrendt  The Human Condition (1958)

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