xaf@interport.net (Jordan Crandall) (by way of Pit Schultz ) on Mon, 30 Sep 96 07:42 MET

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nettime: Community of Things?

Community of Things? 

Thoughts of community are taking strange detours into the
world of things, things that go beep in the night, dancing,
singing, buzzing, flashing across the screen, advancing
toward ubiquity in cellularity, promising to connect us in
globality.  Things testify.  And so do CEOs, often on their

Like in _Wired_, upon whose pages things and businessmen
frolic.  In the October issue, the writer, David Kline, is
quoting the CEO, David St. Charles Integrated Systems Inc.,
as he breathlessly heralds that "'This is the next
stage...where we make the Internet real.  And I mean, as
ubiquitous as electric motors or telephones, where all sorts
of devices and systems are linked invisibly together.  Where
people and devices easily and automatically communicate with
each other with no one having to know anything about
computers or software or TCP/IP stacks or anything else. 
It's everywhere, it does everything, and it's absolutely a
no-brainer to use.  The push-button Internet!'"  (Well, SIGN
ME UP!)  Kline, beside himself, can hardly contain his glee: 
"Here, at last, is a vision of the Internet for the masses"-
-and, making sure not to omit the size of this potential
market, he adds--"in their hundred of millions and
ultimately in their billions."  Reeling with utopic
delirium, Kline continues to gush:  "Here, at last, is an
Internet finally set free from its PC-centric
straightjacket--a cyberspace transformed from just another
platform into an omnipresent glue that binds the whole of
society, with all its trillions of daily social and economic
interactions, into a truly connected civilization." 

What is all this excitement about?  Reading deeper, mouth
agape, one encounters not only one of the most ridiculous
scenarios ever to dance across the magazine's pages, but a
stunning example of how this strain of business-jargon, from
which all critical consciousness has been evacuated, is
swallowing up the discourse like the Blob.  Kline explains
that "the starting point for tomorrow's great
technologically-induced social changes must be the masses of
technologically unsophisticated ordinary consumers."  The
way in which we might endeavor to hook up this great unwired
is not to sell them PCs, but to embed the Internet inside
the everyday devices and systems that they already use. 
This invisible, "embedded Internet" would link up, say,
washing machines, garage doors, cars, heating and AC units,
CD players, TVs, gas meters, home security systems, and
emergency response media.  These last would be "more
reliable than today's phone-based 911 system" and, if  they
were hooked up to smart sensors on your heart and you had a
heart attack, they "could even be self-actuating."  (What
does THAT mean?)  This embedded Internet *would even connect
to the workplace,* enabling "automated monitoring and
reporting on factory-floor production," allowing production
processes to be remotely managed.  The secret to all of
this, insists St. Charles, is invisibility. "'If you want
the Internet to be everywhere,' he says, 'it has to be
visible nowhere.  It has to be unseen, unnoticed,
undiscussed.'"  In other words, it must ascend into the
higher ranks of the  apparatus, where it can operate--
operate *on*--out of sight, leaving only its disciplinary
effects.  At the same time, it must operate locally in
minute, surgically precise placements, which give voice to
the object (forcefully or not, we'll never know)--our new
community member.  Perhaps it comes naturally to the thing,
which, at Marx taught us, only "has" value anyway, something
which never exists in and of itself, like information, and
as such is always communal.  To allow humans into the
community of things would at least offer more bodies-as-
conduits, and therefore more CEOs to speak for the necessity
of their reproduction.   

What is left, then, for our dear laborer, mired in this
"omnipresent glue" that connects home, heart, and factory
floor, colonizing every last shred of private life under the
guise (gaze?) of liberation and animating--forcefeeding--
things with agency (www.placing.com to the nth degree) while
breeding them?  The wig!  According to de Certeau, "la
perruque"--whose origins are ancient ("duping the master")--
refers to the ways that traditional workers in France trick
their employers into thinking they are working, when in fact
they are engaged in personal tasks or ways of making their
work less burdensome.  They are not avoiding work, but
working at keeping up the appearance of work.  Engaging "the
wig" is a way of disappearing under the authoritative gaze
of the employer, momentarily reversing the vectors of
control.  La perruque is not productive per se, but takes
place within "production" as an acting-out, a mimicking of
that order from within.  Since there is no stable division
between actually producing and appearing to produce, it
exists in a tensional field, an oscillating gap in the
spacetime of the workplace.  

Objects don't really matter, you know, until they've first
proven themselves as information.  Think of it as the
inverse-drag-effect.  You have to mean business, Miss Thing. 
(You better WORK.)  But remember:  as the workplace shifts
from the public space of industrial labor to the intimate
space between body and monitor, so do its regimentative
functions, which constitute a kind of boot-camp for the "new
mobility," which seeks to tuck away the mainframe, evacuate
the hardware, leaving it visible nowhere, "unseen,
unnoticed, undiscussed."  Launched into the stage of a
reality-made-virtual, while locating agencies in virtual
spaces, the community member flips back and forth in the


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