[iDC] Knock yourselves out

tt tterra at fastwebnet.it
Thu Jul 6 03:53:41 EDT 2006

hi everybody

my name is tiziana terranova and trebor has invited me to join the 
architecture and situated technologies symposium in October. He also 
knows some of my writings (as collected in /Network Culture, /a book I 
published a couple of years ago for Pluto Press) and knows that I would 
be very interested in this idea of a networked public sphere.

I found the quotes below v. interesting, especially in the light of some 
pretty intense readings I have been doing lately as part of a research 
project I am doing on something that could be called 'information and 
orientalism' (more about this in the future . but basically is about how 
digital communications affect the unfolding of the war on terror, but 
substantially it is about the globalization of network communication in 
a neocolonial mode - including exit strategies from it).
Anyway, my intense readings which I find quite relevant to this debate 
have been a bunch of really interesting unpublished lectures by Michel 
Foucault at the College de France about security, markets and 
neoliberalism, and some recent work by Maurizio Lazzarato on the 
difference between philosophies of the subject/object and philosophies 
of differences and the event.
So a few points about Benkler's quotes:

a. Without making this into a capital (!) sin, it is v. clear even from 
these few quotes that Benkler is addressing the recent globalization of 
the Internet from the perspective of neoliberalism. I am aware that this 
word has come to be associated (thanks mostly to the no global /no logo 
movements of the late nineties) to a kind of ideology that masks an 
intensification of capitalist dynamics of exploitation. Remember all 
those discussions on nettime and beyond about how the self-organizing 
system was just Californian (i.e. neoliberal) ideology (what he really 
meant was Californian bollocks, I think sometimes... :-) )? And yet, I 
think that it is still v. interesting to discuss what is the 
relationship between the Internet (or better the networked environment 
that rides on internetworking protocols) and the market - beyond the 
notion of ideology. The merit of these really fascinating lectures by 
Foucault is to show how neoliberalism is actually not simply a 
continuation of liberal laissez affaire but something actually 
different. The market for neoliberals is not something natural, whose 
laws can be deducted from natural laws (this is how liberalism got 
started, as a recognition that some things that came later to be 
recognized as economic phenomena constituted a field of spontaneous 
effects which governments could not control by decree). For neoliberals, 
the market is a formal mechanism (early neoliberal theorists from the 
Wien School thought of this as a husserlian eidos, a formal structure, 
an 'intrinsic process' ? which exists without being natural) which once 
induced through a set of formal rules (protocols?) will produce 
beneficial effects (that is equilibrium and growth). It is not so much a 
laissez faire economy, as an formal mechanism that in order to work need 
not only to be induced, but also actively supported by hyper-regulating 
everything that happens around the market so that the market can happen. 
There is nothing utopian about this - for neoliberals there will always 
be some people who fall behind, the 'poor', but that is considered as 
kind of inevitable - as a phenomenon that cannot be eradicated only kept 
to a minimum according to a familiar calculus of risks. I found this 
idea by Foucault v. interesting in relation to how the self-organizing 
nature of the Internet is conceptualized. Not simply as something 
natural, but as a kind of formal mechanism, a space that is spanned 
through the interplay of a set of rules (protocols as alex galloway 
calls them) - something that is artificial without being instrumental, 
exactly because of its capacity to self-regulate.
In the extracts Trebor chose, it seems as if the networked public sphere 
referred to something like a space where 'nonmarket' actors and forces 
can usefully capitalize that which the market economy cannot (a 
productivity of the social as such in what has now become a familiar 
argument in Internet discourse); and also as a kind of spontaneous 
corrective to a mass media system which, in the end, appears not to be 
liberal enough (it is too top down, it makes people passive and inert 
etc.) Interestingly enough, the notion of civil society or public sphere 
emerges around the same time as political economy - almost as if civil 
society and the public sphere constituted a space of moderation but also 
support of the free market. Is the network a kind of extreme, active 
limit of the neoliberal economy? And if so, what is it producing?

b. Since I started working on this puzzling phenomenon that is network 
culture (as defined in the book), I have been fascinated by what we 
might call the behavior of the interconnected many. It seems to me that 
hypernetworked communication (nonlinear, distributive, interconnected 
communication) cannot be understood as simply constituted by the 
interaction of connected individuals - it cannot be understood starting 
from the ontological position of the subject/object divide. There is an 
extra, a surplus to hypernetworked communication that cannot be found 
neither in the individual nor in the collective (as a transcendent 
entity which subsumes the individuals within it). I find the theme of 
the October symposium interesting because it addresses exactly this 
feature of this type of communication that I am interested in - 
communication not as an exchange of messages between subjects, but 
communication as an environment - a field of interacting effects. There 
is a whole set of terms that have been used historically to talk about 
the many - peoples, mobs, masses, crowds, populations, publics, 
multitudes. I have come to believe that the interconnection of 
bodies/minds present some really interesting features which are 
biological without being reducible to what we might call a 'human 
nature'. An inorganic biological, feeling, sensing, perceiving, 
intelligent mass (?) - a biomass that constitutes on the one hand the 
field of interacting effects with an autonomous logic not reducible to 
individual actors and also a surface for experimenting with strategies 
of manipulation of affects, percepts and ideas (for publicists, 
marketing experts, but also activists, artists, engineers, architects, 
designers etc). The weak point of the notion of a new public sphere has 
always been for me this attachment ot a philosophy of the subject and 
the search for transcendentals of communication that allow for the 
emergence of that ever elusive consent. But this informational biomass, 
the flesh of the planet, artiticial and natural at the same time, it 
seems to me to be something different. I have been reading with extreme 
interest, Lazzarato's work on Gabriel Tarde - the French sociologist who 
lost to Durkheim the early battle for the determination of the new 
science of sociology. I cannot go into details here, but Tarde was very 
interested in the emergence of the 'public' as something that was 
constituted by the interaction of what he called not subjects but open 
'monads' (reworked from Leibniz). Through Tarde, Lazzarato sketches this 
model of subjectivity which is open to the succession of events in ways 
that involve a kind of double, parallel, interacting series - one 
affecting the spiritual, the incorporeal, what he calls the brain - and 
another which involves the relationship between bodies, their 
concatenations, their actualizations of possible worlds.

anyway just some thoughts, hopefully clear enough to attract some 
attention (attention is a name for the desire/conatus of the brain for 
Lazzarato!) and confused enough to set some thoughts in motion...



trebor at thing.net wrote:

>Does the Internet democratize the public sphere or is it 1998 all over again?
>What is meant by the networked public sphere anyway?
>Let's try to make the lions roar.
>First, I excerpted Yochai Benkler's chapter on the public sphere in "The Wealth
>of Networks;" then I grouped these short quotes in shameless ways.
>Many arguments brought up by Danny, Mett, Rob, Julian, Jonah, and Ksenija are
>addressed in this clustered mashup.
>I have never done this before, but why not try to drape our posts around a few
>of these *short* quotes from the long list of text segments below.
>Networked public sphere?
>Europe, Asia, and Africa-- much more than the United States-- experience a huge
>growth in mobile communication with SMS becoming the 'e-mail' of mobile phones.
>The wireless Internet and physical space converge.
>"The network allows all citizens to change their relationship to the public
>sphere. They no longer need be consumers and passive spectators. They can
>become creators and primary subjects. It is in this sense that the Internet
>democratizes." (p.272)
>"..., we need to consider the attractiveness of the networked public sphere not
>from the perspective of the mid-1990s utopianism, but
>from the perspective of how it compares to the actual media that have dominated
>the public sphere in all modern democracies." (p.260)
>"... the networked public sphere responds to the core failings of the
>commercial, mass-media-dominated public sphere [it considers] the critiques of
>the Internet as a platform for a liberal public sphere." (p. 220)
>The wireless Internet facilitates "...the spatial and temporal ubiquity of basic
>tools for observing and commenting on the world we inhabit." (p. 219)
>"There never has been a complex, large modern democracy in which everyone could
>speak and be heard by everyone else. The correct baseline is the one-way
>structure of the commercial mass media. The normatively relevant descriptive
>questions are whether the networked public sphere provides broader intake,
>participatory filtering, and relatively incorruptible platforms for creating
>public salience. I suggest that it does." (p.247)
>"Public sphere in liberal societies relies on the information and cultural
>production activity of emerging nonmarket actors: individuals working alone and
>cooperatively with others, more formal associations like NGOs, and their
>feedback effect on the media itself. These enable the networked public sphere
>to moderate the two major concerns with commercial mass media as a platform for
>the public sphere: (1) the excessive power it gives its owners, and (2) its
>tendency, when owners do not dedicate their media to exert power, to foster an
>inert polity. More fundamentally, the social practices of information and
>discourse allow a very large number of actors to see themselves as potential
>contributors to public discourse and as potential actors in political arenas,
>rather than mostly passive recipients of mediated information who occasionally
>can vote their preferences."
>(p. 220)
>"Information overload.
>A basic problem created when everyone can speak is that there will be too many
>statements, or too much information. Too many observations and too many points
>of view make the problem of sifting through them extremely difficult, leading
>to an unmanageable din. This overall concern, a variant of the Babel objection,
>underlies three more specific arguments: that money will end up dominating
>anyway, that there will be fragmentation of discourse, and that fragmentation
>of discourse will lead to its polarization." (p.233)
>"In the networked information environment, everyone is free to observe, report,
>question, and debate, not only in principle, but in actual capability. They can
>do this, if not through their own widely read blog, then through a cycle of
>mailing lists, collective Web-based media like Slashdot, comments on blogs, or
>even merely through e-mails to friends who, in turn, have meaningful visibility
>in a smallish-scale cluster of sites or lists." (p.272)
>"Rather than succumb to the ‘information overload’ problem, users are solving it
>by congregating in a small number of sites." (p.241)
>"While the Internet, the Web, and the blogosphere are indeed exhibiting much
>greater order than the freewheeling, ‘everyone a pamphleteer’ image
>would suggest, this structure does not replicate a mass-media model. We are
>seeing a newly shaped information environment, where indeed few are read by
>many, but clusters of moderately read sites provide platforms for vastly
>greater numbers of speakers than were heard in the mass-media environment.
>Filtering, accreditation, synthesis, and salience are created through a system
>of peer review by information affinity groups, topical or interest based."
>"Money will end up dominating anyway.
>... in this explosively large universe, getting attention will be as difficult
>as getting your initial message out in the mass-media context, if not more so.
>The same means that dominated the capacity to speak in the mass-media
>environment—money—will dominate the capacity to be heard on the Internet, even
>if it no longer controls the capacity to speak." (p.234)
>"The literature on network topology suggests that, as long as there are widely
>distributed capabilities to publish, link, and advise others about what to read
>and link to, networks enable intrinsic processes that allow substantial ordering
>of the information." (p.261)
>"Russ Kick, is able to maintain a Website, The Memory Hole, with documents that
>he gets by filing Freedom of Information Act requests. In April 2004, Kick was
>the first to obtain the U.S. military’s photographs of the coffins of personnel
>killed in Iraq being flown home. No main stream news organization had done so,
>but many published the photographs almost immediately after Kick had obtained
>them." (p.260)
>"Intense interest and engagement by small groups that share common concerns,
>rather than lowest-common- denominator interest in wide groups that are largely
>alienated from each other, is what draws attention to statements and makes them
>more visible. This makes the emerging networked public sphere more responsive
>to intensely held concerns of a much wider swath of the population than the
>mass media were capable of seeing, and creates a communications process that is
>more resistant to corruption by money." (p. 242)
>"Government and corporate power is large, and individuals, no matter how good
>their tools, cannot be a serious alternative to a well-funded, independent
>press that can pay investigative reporters, defend lawsuits, and generally act
>like the New York Times and the Washington Post when they published the
>Pentagon Papers in the teeth of the Nixon administration’s resistance,
>providing some of the most damning evidence against the planning and continued
>prosecution of the war in Vietnam. Netanel is cognizant of the tensions between
>the need to capture large audiences and sell advertising, ontheonehand,
>andtheroleof watchdog, ontheother. He nonetheless emphasizes that the networked
>public sphere cannot investigate as deeply or create the public salience that
>the mass media can. These limitations make commercial mass media, for all their
>limitations, necessary for a liberal public sphere." (p.262)
>"However, the degree of engaged readership, interlinking, and clustering
>suggests that, in fact, being exposed to a certain message in one or a small
>number of highly visible places accounts for only a small part of the range of
>“reading” that gets done. More significantly, it suggests that reading, as
>opposed to having a conversation, is only part of what people do in the
>networked environment." (p.259)
>"The central desideratum of a political campaign that is rooted in the Internet
>is the capacity to engage users to the point that they become effective
>participants in a conversation and an effort; one that they have a genuine
>stake in and that is linked to a larger, society-wide debate. This engagement
>is not easily purchased, nor is it captured by the concept of a well-educated
>public that receives all the information it needs to be an informed citizenry.
>Instead, it is precisely the varied modes of participation in small-, medium-,
>and large-scale conversations, with varied but sustained degrees of efficacy,
>that make the public sphere of the networked environment different, and more
>attractive, than was the mass-media-based public sphere." (p.259)
>"The peer-produced structure of the attention backbone suggests that money is
>neither necessary nor sufficient to attract attention in the networked public
>sphere (although nothing suggests that money has become irrelevant to political
>attention given the continued importance of massmedia." (p.258)
>"However, network-based peer production also avoids the inherent conflicts
>between investigative reporting and the bottom line— its cost, its risk of
>litigation, its risk of withdrawal of advertising from alienated corporate
>subjects, and its risk of alienating readers." (p.265)
>"Fragmentation of attention and discourse.
>... the ubiquity of information and the absence of the mass media [are]
>condensation points [that] will impoverish public discourse by fragmenting it.
>There will be no public sphere. Individuals will view the world through
>millions of personally customized windows that will offer no common ground for
>political discourse or action, except among groups of highly similar
>individuals who customize their windows to see similar things." (p.234)
>"This body of literature on network topology suggests a model for how order has
>emerged on the Internet, the World Wide Web, and the blogosphere. The networked
>public sphere allows hundreds of millions of people to publish whatever and
>whenever they please without disintegrating in to an unusable cacophony, as the
>first-generation critics argued, and it filters and focuses attention without
>re-creating the highly concentrated model of the mass media that concerned the
>second-generation critique." (p.253)
>"In addition to time-insensitive superstars, there are also flare-ups of
>connectivity for sites depending on the activity and relevance of their
>community of interest." (p.253)
>"Users self-organize to filter the universe of information that is generated in
>the network. This self-organization includes a number of highly salient sites
>that provide a core of common social and cultural experiences and knowledge
>that can provide the basis for a common public sphere, rather than a fragmented
>one." (p.256)
>"According to this critique, attention is much more concentrated on the Internet
>than we thought a few years ago: a tiny number of sites are highly linked, the
>vast majority of ‘speakers’ are not heard, and the democratic potential of
>theInternet is lost." (p. 238)
>"Noam’s prediction [followed the argument] that money would have to be paid to
>reach visibility, effectively replicating the mass-media model." (p.239)
>A descriptively related but analytically distinct critique of Sunstein’s was
>that the fragmentation would lead to polarization. When information and
>opinions are shared only within groups of like-minded participants, he argued,
>they tend to reinforce each other’s views and beliefs without engaging with
>alternative views or seeing the concerns and critiques of others. This makes
>each view more extreme in its own direction and increases the distance between
>positions taken by opposing camps." (p.235)
>"It has consistently shown that the number of links into and out of Websites
>follows power laws." (p.245)
>"Lada Adamic and Natalie Glance recently showed that liberal political blogs and
>conservative political blogs densely interlink with each other, mostly pointing
>within each political leaning but with a bout 15 percent of links posted by the
>most visible sites also linking across the political divide." (p.248)
>"These findings are critical to the interpretation of the distribution of links
>as it relates to human attention and communication.There is a big difference
>between a situation where no one is looking at any of the sites on the low end
>of the distribution, because everyone is looking only at the superstars, and a
>situation where dozens or hundreds of sites at the low end are looking at each
>other, as well as at the superstars. The former leaves all but the very few
>languishing in obscurity, with no one to look at them. The latter, as explained
>in more detail below, offers a mechanism for topically related and
>interest-based clusters to form a peer-reviewed system of filtering,
>accreditation, and salience generation." (p.252)
>"In 1999, Albert-Laszlo Barabasi and Reka Albert published a paper in Science
>showing that a variety of networked phenomena have a predictable
>topology: The distribution of links into and out of nodes on the network follows
>a power law. There is a very low probability that any vertex, or node, in the
>network will be very highly connected to many others, and a very large
>probability that a very large number of nodes will be connected only very
>loosely, or perhaps not at all. Intuitively, a lot of Websites link to
>information that is located on Yahoo!, while very few link to any randomly
>selected individual’s Website. Barabasi and Albert hypothesized a mechanism for
>this distribution to evolve, which they called “preferential attachment.” That
>is, new nodes prefer to attach to already well-attached nodes." (p.244)
>"In that study, Adamic and Glance showed that only about 10 percent of the links
>on any randomly selected political blog linked to a site across the ideological
>divide. The number increased for the ‘A-list’ political blogs, which linked
>across the political divide about 15 percent of the time. The picture that
>emerges is one of distinct ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ spheres of
>conversation, with very dense links within, and more sparse links between
>them." (p.257)
>"Each cluster of more or less like-minded blogs tended to read each other and
>quote each other much more than they did the other side." (p.257)
>"High-visibility nodes amplify and focus on given statements, and in this
>regard, have greater power in the information environment they occupy."
>"Only polarization of discourse in society as a whole can properly be considered
>a challenge to the attractiveness of the networked public sphere."
>"2. Centralization of the Internet.
>Sadly, from the perspective of democracy, it turns out that according to the
>concentration concern, there are few speakers to which most people listen, just
>as in the mass-media environment." (p.235)
>"The implication for democracy that comes most immediately to mind is dismal.
>While, as the Supreme Court noted with enthusiasm, on the Internet everyone can
>be a pamphleteer or have their own soap box, the Internet does not, in fact,
>allow individuals to be heard in ways that are substantially more effective
>than standing on a soapbox in a city square. Many Web pages and blogs will
>simply go unread, and will
>not contribute to a more engaged polity. This argument was most clearly made in
>Barabasi’s popularization of his field, Linked: ‘The most intriguing result of
>our Web-mapping project was the complete absence of democracy, fairness, and
>egalitarian values on the Web. We learned that the topology of the Web prevents
>us from seeing anything but a mere handful of the billion documents out there.”
>"At a micro level, sites cluster—in particular, topically and interest-related
>sites link much more heavily to each other than to other sites. Second, at a
>macro level, the Web and the blogosphere have giant, strongly connected cores—
>‘areas’ where 20–30 percent of all sites are highly and redundantly
>interlinked; that is, tens or hundreds of millions of sites, rather than ten,
>fifty, or even five hundred television stations." (p.248)
>"...He accepted Nicholas Negroponte’s prediction that people would be reading
>‘The Daily Me,’ that is, that each of us would create highly customized windows
>on the information environment that would be narrowly tailored to our unique
>combination of interests." (p.238)
>"From this assumption about how people would be informed, he spun out two
>distinct but related critiques.The first was that discourse would be
>fragmented. With no six o’clock news to tell us what is on the public agenda,
>there would be no public agenda, just a fragmented multiplicity of private
>agendas that never coalesce into a platform for political discussion. The
>second was that, in a fragmented discourse, individuals would cluster into
>groups of self-reinforcing, self-referential discussion groups." (p.238)
>"The media-concentration type argument has been central to arguments about the
>necessity of open access to broadband platforms, made most forcefully over the
>past few years by Lawrence Lessig. The argument is that the basic
>instrumentalities of Internet communications are subject to concentrated
>markets. This market concentration in basic access becomes a potential point of
>concentration of the power to influence the discourse made possible by access."
>"Under competitive conditions, as technology makes computation and
>communications cheaper, a well-functioning market should ensure that outcome.
>Under oligopolistic conditions, however, there is a threat that the network
>will become too expensive to be neutral as among market and non-market
>production. If basic upstream network connections, server space, and up-to-date
>reading and writing utilities become so expensive that one needs to adopt a
>commercial model to sustain them, then the basic economic characteristic that
>typifies the networked information economy the relatively large role of
>nonproprietary, non-market production— will have been reversed." (p.239)
>"The zeal to curb peer-to-peer file sharing of movies and music could lead to a
>substantial redesign of computing equipment and networks, to a degree that
>would make it harder for end users to exchange information of their own making.
>Understanding what we will lose if such changes indeed warp the topology of the
>network, and through it the basic structure of the networked public sphere, is
>precisely the object of this book as a whole. For now, though, let us say that
>the networked information economy as it has developed to this date has a
>capacity to take in, filter, and synthesize observations and opinions from a
>population that is orders of magnitude larger than the population that was
>capable of being captured by the mass media.” (p.261)
>"They are not a critique of the democratic potential of the networked public
>sphere, but rather show us how we could fail to develop it by following the
>wrong policies." (p.239)
>"The critique of concentration in this form therefore does not undermine the
>claim that the networked information economy, if permitted to flourish, will
>improve the democratic public sphere. It underscores the threat of excessive
>monopoly in infrastructure to the sustainability of the networked public
>sphere." (p.241)
>"3. Centrality of commercial mass media to the Fourth Estate function. The
>importance of the press to the political process is nothing new. It earned the
>press the nick name ‘the Fourth Estate’ (a reference to the three estates that
>made up the pre-revolutionary French Estates-General, the clergy, nobility, and
>townsmen), which has been in use for at least a hundred and fifty years."
>"It does, however, provide a context for looking more closely at the emerging
>understanding of the topology of the Web, and how it relates to the fears of
>concentration of the Internet, and the problems of information overload,
>discourse fragmentation, and the degree to which money will come to dominate
>such an unstructured and wide-open environment. It suggests a more complex
>story than simply ‘the rich get richer’ and ‘you might speak, but no one will
>hear you.’” (p.246)
>"4. Authoritarian countries can use filtering and monitoring to squelch Internet
>use. A distinct set of claims and their critique shave to do with the effects of
>the Internet on authoritarian countries. The critique is leveled at a basic
>belief supposedly, and perhaps actually, held by some cyber-libertarians, that
>with enough access to Internet tools freedom will burst out everywhere. The
>argument is that China, more than any other country, shows that it is possible
>to allow a population access to the Internet— it is now home to the
>second-largest national population of Internet users—and still control that use
>quite substantially." (p.236)
>"Media other than static Websites present substantially deeper problems for
>regimes like those of China and Iran. Scanning the text of e-mail messages of
>millions of users who can encrypt their communications with widely available
>tools creates a much more complex problem. Ephemeral media like chat rooms and
>writable Web tools allow the content of an Internet communication or Web site
>to be changed easily and dynamically, so that blocking sites becomes harder,
>while coordinating moves to new sites to route around blocking becomes easier."
>"...the materials made available on a ‘see for yourself’ and ‘come analyze this
>and share your insights’ model; the distribution by students; and the fall back
>option when their server was shut down of replication around the network."
>"The Internet does provide avenues of discourse around the bottle-necks of older
>media, whether these are held by authoritarian governments or by media owners.
>But the mechanisms for this change are more complex than those articulated in
>the past." (p.271)
>"The problem is approached through a self-organizing principle, beginning with
>communities of interest on smallish scales, practices of mutual pointing, and
>the fact that, with freedom to choose what to see and who to link to, with some
>co-dependence among the choices of individuals as to whom to link, highly
>connected points emerge even at small scales, and continue to be replicated
>with ever larger visibility as the clusters grow."
>"5. Digital divide. While the Internet may increase the circle of participants
>in the public sphere, access to its tools is skewed in favor of those who
>already are well-off in society—in terms of wealth, race, and skills. I do not
>respond to this critique in this chapter. First, in the United States, this is
>less stark today than it was in the late 1990s. Computers and Internet
>connections are becoming cheaper and more widely available in public libraries
>and schools." (p.236)
>"This is not to say that the Internet will of necessity in the long term lead
>all authoritarian regimes to collapse. One option open to such regimes is
>simply to resist Internet use." (p.266)
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