[iDC] How does social media educate?

tobias c. van Veen tobias at techno.ca
Sat Feb 3 18:47:10 EST 2007

Hi Ulises & iDC,

I'm drinking a lot of coffee right now & this topic just happened to
correlate with my daily reading and writing, so argg, here goes an ongoing
explosion of words, as I don't write much here anyway, I thought why not,
anyway, caveat emptied.

So just to clarify, I'm not asking for a definition, by way of
predefinition; rather, on the one hand, I couldn't help but ask for the
object of discussion on a very pragmatic level, as if you and I and everyone
else were sitting around and you said "let's talk about social media" and I
said -- wait, what do you mean exactly? with a grin on my face as we raise a
pint -- a point of clarification as to whether the idea was to discuss /
critique what is commonly known as Web 2.0 or the more specific angle of
social *software* or, on the other hand, whether there you had something
else in mind, such as the entire (global?) history of _social media_.

Indeed, from your cues in response, the latter raises its head, and thus it
would appear that the term itself is a rather open, negative concept, which
is why it calls for asking an ontological question -- what IS social media?
-- as well as a historical one (and we know the two are related through
politics: what ought to be from what is) -- today (in the digital)?

Hinchcliffe's ground rules, I assume, are discussing digital technologies in
online environments -- but this is nowhere apparent in his 5 points. We
could be discussing the dreams of multidirectional radio or the latest in
Socratic dialogue. The key terms are: conversation, unorganized people,
honesty & transparency, "pull" (as in bidirectionality, which is really just
saying "conversation" again) and distribution. As we are discussing the
social, then we should note these are the same attributes one finds in core
praxis of direct democracy: say for the kind of committee elected every 24
hours during an emergent situation wherein no organized political party
members are allowed to run; wherein each point is conversed at the general
assembly; wherein the actions are distributed in transparent and honest (!)
fashion and bidirectionality is assured by regular re-election of (a)
committee. I raise this point because "social media" often claim to add to
or somehow recreate in a digital medium the kind of general will or dream of
a general discussion found so often in the theorizing (and unfortunately,
less often in the praxis) of direct democracy. That it is less often "in
praxis" and that "praxis" here implies some real outside of the digital
realm we will just have to gloss over, but it should be asked that if these
5 points face significant difficulty throughout history, then why would a
specific technology somehow enable the realization of these values? Are the
what IS going on (the ontology of social media), or what OUGHT to go on
(the, even future, politics of social media)?

But there are several assumptions to Hinchcliffe's 5 points that are already
political decisions upon the nature of the social: every person is an
individual, not a collective; that one can isolate conversation from
monologue; that transparency is a value (yet what of all the advantages of
tactical media?) and honesty (but what does it mean to be honest, say, when
confessing one's "crimes" to the State or when the State calls for the
betrayal of one's peers? -- honest and transparent to Whom? the Tribunal?
the People?); that distribution is somehow more valuable than centralization
-- actually this would be better worded if Hinchcliffe said self-producing
rather than distribution, for centralized systems also distribute, by
necessity, such as the distribution of a newspaper, or even of radio and
television or the distribution of an IP as it propagates as a webpage from a
centralized server; another distinction here would be distributive systems,
which I believe Galloway uses: distributive systems distribute themselves as
systems, governed by protocol -- and self-producing systems are, in fact,
distributive, such as the blog, which copies itself everywhere -- such would
be a meme-system, if one wished to grant it some kind of coded agency.

Distributive systems also bear resonance to rhizomatic systems, such as
nonhierarchical semi-autonomous cells whose effects we witness daily in the
media reports from Iraq -- such cellular systems are also self-producing (or
of distribution as Hinchcliffe would say) bur limit their conversation to a
need-to-know basis and are transparent and honest only to their perceived
cause -- in fact don't terrorist cells fulfill all 5 points of producing the
most deadly and yet effective of social media? They certainly produce a lot
of media.

To these last points I am reminded of John Durham Peters who writes in
_Speaking into Thin Air_ of the advantages of centralized dissemination (one
can think here of viral propagation), and goes some way to question the
supposed advantage and value of "decentralization." There is something to be
said for the mandated *actions* of the Committee once its mandate has been
approved: the conversation ends between the Many and the Few move to act.
Likewise CAE might have something to say about a few of the other points
concerning when and how to be transparent (to whom and why?) and in praxis,
what person isn't part of an organization and always acting out of
motivations that are complex desires for all kinds of (social) groupings?

And where does eBay and YouTube fit into all of this?

You tell me -- but don't the Web 2.0 style applications or the dot-commerce
sites simply reduce all the myriad differentiations of the social above into
something rather simple and sexy, that is, consumer desire? Or rather, the
desire for something that would really be a turn on, social media, is
rechannelled endlessly into the latest and newest online space of
self-celebrity iconoclasm -- and MySpace is (the?) turn-on for today's
"youth," it's all about a sexual revolution going on right underneath most
of our screens, the excitement of becoming propagated into endless "adds" of
friends and distributing selectively provocative digital images of the self,
traded for the other, if not toward the limit of the obscene or wanting to
become the obscene (the burgeoning "just 18" pornography industry.. is porn
social, media?) -- shouldn't point 6 be that social media _affects_ us
somehow, that it generates affect (and wouldn't porn be a shoe-in, now)..

And what does social media teach us -- teach us by its effects, or attempt
to teach us? What MySpace attempts to teach us about what *it* believes is
really valuable, is this what social media has to teach us? -- and how does
it teach us? -- but isn't the "how" less interesting here than the framing
by which social media attempts to tell us about itself (its "transparency"
and "honesty," its values) and thus what slips by under the radar of its 5



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