[iDC] old social architectures

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Sun Feb 11 02:36:46 EST 2007

A few random remarks:

 - one often hears indeed, from Bollinger, but also from the libertarians
who are so actively working on producing the communal software and media,
that it is a marketplace. I believe this is either an ideology or a
strategic discourse to be heard in American public discourse. Because, in
fact, free software, peer projects, the blogosphere etc... are not markets.
There is no production of a rare resource with tension between supply and
demand, no rivalness. It is only the derivative aggregation of attention
that can be marketed. So, to talk about the free marketplace of ideas is
really contradictory

- there is a lot of complaint about the digital divide, and a lot of it is
empty rhetoric. It is rather more interesting to do something about it, as
for example we can witness the many initiatives in Bytes for All. Some of
these projects combine access with education, while others, and I believe
that is fine, assume that the people will find their own usages, and the
logic of social media leads to certain results. I'm not sure we always need
to assume that an elite needs to 'instruct' the users about how to do and
use things. I also wonder if the skills needed are not exagerrated: of
course, a basic literacy is needed, and access. But that access can be
modular, for example through local NGO's or through cheap cybercafe's, or
provided as a public service. Once that happens, you see intuitive usage.
Here in Thailand, there is both a huge gaming and blogging community for
example. Again, I do neither want to underestimate the problems, nor the
usefullness of training, but just point out that there is the danger of some
kind of unconscious elitism, that holds that 'they' cannot use social media
without 'us' (our enlightened help).

- I must also disagree that gifts has no benefits. Of course, altruism and
sacrifice exist, but it is rather exceptional behaviour. More interesting,
and this is what contemporary social media seem to have discovered, is to
design the media in such a way that there is convergence between collective
and individual interests. As I read somewhere, there are about 10%
altruists, and 25% who want to take advantage of the collective without
giving anything in return. The trick then is to design in such a way that
the remainder 50% of 'contingent cooperators' are drawn in the collective
endeavour. A design that does that, is bound to be stronger than one that
relies on altruism to function.

Furthermore, as far as I understand the literature on the gift economy, I
mean the real one based on reciprocal human relations, was all about
obligations. The giver gains prestige, the recipient want to restore the
equality in the relationship by in turn attempting to, at some point, return
an at least as important gift. If a family/clan/tribe gives in a potluck,
the recipients of the largess will at some point reciprocate. Occasionally,
it can descend into the kind of calculations that are not so different from
commodity exchange.

Now if we enter the realm of the commons or pure non-reciprocal exchange
typical of peer production, there is also value exchange, even though it is
impersonal (rather than the personal aspects of the gift economy propre). By
contributing to a common project, for a little investment, you get the
benefits of the whole commons, even mere users and lurkers, because of the
digitalized participation capture, provide benefits to the whole. Though
often the giving is the receiving (because of the passion or 'flow' involved
in the participation), the participants  get knowledge, relationships, and
reputation, all of which can be eventually 'marketized', even though that
may not be the primary motivation.

On 2/10/07, tobias c. van Veen <tobias at techno.ca> wrote:
> greetings// -- from another context -- an essay,
> Danah Boyd finished her post by writing,
> > So i guess what i'm saying is that i'm all down for education but
> > what are we educating towards?  Old architectures and old social
> > norms or collectively building a new set of social norms that takes
> > into consideration new architectures?  For the most part, we seem to
> > be doing the former and it's not working out so well.
> How are we caught up in the logic of this former? Bollinger's work seems
> to
> demonstrate some of these tensions between the "old" social and whatever
> "new" emergent social. Yet things are not so easy -- as Trebor writes, "
> How
> can students navigate the seas of the sociable web in an ethically sound
> way?" And what of the adults that do the unethical things on the web --
> surely there is education -- critical questioning -- for them too? The
> question is, then, if the "new social" is social at all -- or, in other
> words, if it is a kind of social that is "ethical."
> Again I feel there is a divide between offline and online when speaking of
> both the social and of ethics: the offline concept does not simply carry
> across into the online domain -- though "we" and the language and most
> significantly the law continue to act in such fashion. A good example is
> piracy. Whereas respect for private property is something of a norm
> offline,
> we are all well aware of the extent of online piracy of "property." People
> don't feel that it is "unethical" to share privatized property
> online.  This
> blatant disregard for the "proper" far exceeds the "home taping is killing
> the music industry" hype of the '80s. If concepts such as the proper are
> getting out of bent online, then certainly are the concepts of the social
> and thus what is ethical. To address Bollinger then:
> > In a recent conference about media reform, he [Bollinger] was talking
> about
> > the barrier to public discourse that new media such as YouTube represent
> for
> > those without broadband:
> To cut to the chase: at its extreme this kind of argument (which is a
> discourse, not about personal claims) assumes that a) public discourse
> exists in YouTube and b) perhaps even solely in such digital online forums
> and c) that the problem is merely access. As Trebor pointed out, the
> "digital divide" is a complex variform with mobile technologies and cannot
> be reduced to merely "access to one website on the Web" as essential
> component of public discourse!
> To which it seems important to only begin backing up and pestering: at
> which
> point did not having certain technologies mean not having public
> discourse?
> But more seriously we can ask: *is* the "public" only expressed through
> online, digital telecommunications in the 21C? Has the offline become
> secondary (and to whom)? What assumptions of "public," then, are we
> bringing
> to this online realm?
> I feel there are a whole series of questions here: from this kind of
> assumption, such as Bollinger's, it is important to ask from where "public
> discourse" arrives. I get the feeling that there is there a sense of
> public
> discourse (a general concept) which is trying to be translated into the
> telecommunications sphere, and this translation can be writ as "social
> media." If so, what are we inheriting from this concept and where are we
> inheriting it from? What are its roots and histories?
> It's worthwhile rereading Bollinger in this light:
> > "We are certainly left with a fundamental problem: commitment to robust,
> open,
> > and free speech, but with an overlay of economic effects which create
> > disparities of access and therefore not a full rich marketplace of
> ideas."
> Underline that last bit: "full rich marketplace of ideas." For Bollinger,
> it
> is not a library or agora but a marketplace. The marketplace is a
> fascinating term in "liberal" discourse as it is both concrete and
> abstract.
> The market is, or was, a real place on the street, and it is this
> romanticism it invokes. Yet its reality today is abstract: corporate
> global
> control patterns on the edge of ecological chaos. Nor is the model here
> drawn from the online realm: the chatroom or p2p network, for example. It
> is
> drawn from the old social architecture.
> Just a thought, then, on where this kind of thinking came from and from to
> where it leads: toward the assumption that those without access to the Net
> are somehow lacking in public discourse and that to solve the problem is
> to
> give them access.
> (Yes, I would agree, that this is preferable -- for example teaching Linux
> and computer assembly in the Brasilian favellas, as the Salvador members
> of
> the Upgrade network do -- http://www.midiatatica.org/upgrade/ -- but there
> is another issue at stake here: the framework in which access becomes not
> the means but the ends themselves; and even insofar as it is the means, it
> already excludes the multiplicity of the social.)
> On the contrary it could be argued that there is no public here, that such
> technological access perpetuates antisocial behaviour or nonsocial tedium
> --
> in this space, this list of digital letters distributed, or MySpace, or
> blogs, or chatrooms, or P2P this-or-that -- and no discourse, and none
> possible, in this kind of technosphere.
> This might appear extreme, but we must ask if granting access is not also
> giving away the tools of indoctrination if there isn't something more than
> mere access -- and this is why we all probably persist in this engagement
> with "education."
> To educate in "social media" might be to pry it open as a negative concept
> that only names the gap between the heritage of liberal humanist ideas
> about
> the public, discourse, free speech, etc. that dominate "the West" and the
> resistance -- the blackhole or statemate -- it faces online.
> Thus a pedagogy which then persists from the old social architectures
> comes
> along to saying:
> > People need to be able to articulate the benefits of contributing to a
> gift
> > economy, and develop the technological skills to be able to do so.
> I see two questions here that follow from the above.
> a) A gift has no benefits: this is the point -- that there is no exchange.
> You don't get anything back in the potluck. What one gets is the
> perpetuation of the potluck. In this sense, there is a *kind* of economy
> --
> that perpetuates giving (and yes, receiving, but to give in expectation of
> receiving will implode the "economy"). So we know then that there can be
> no
> pure gift, that it always involves exchange (for those interested,
> Derrida's
> readings of Mauss are invigorating here), but that "economy" might be
> given
> a more nuanced reading: not as expectation of benefits but of perpetuation
> of giving.
> b) In this kind of pedadogy, "technological skills" are needed to
> participate in the gift economy. The gift is now a privileged item of
> technology which requires skills -- which says a lot about the status of
> the
> gift in the 21C, that it is no longer a gift, no longer capable of being
> given, say, from the heart, but a "technology" which requires "skills" in
> order to "contribute" so as to reap the "benefits." What is the gift then
> once the skills are developed -- ? Entry into the New Public Discourse, or
> "social media" of what might be termed the virtual class.
> But for a public discourse to open its promise it must be open to -- and
> the
> mention of Freire is worthy -- the oppressed. And specifically, the public
> discourses already at work in the oppressed and the possibility that the
> oppressed will reject entirely this technosphere with its new "public
> discourse" that calls for the "education" of the oppressed in order to
> foster "participation."
> Thus from such an alternative perspective, it is not a case of
> differentiating between open and proprietary platforms -- it might be of
> thieving both. On "our" parts, the "skilled technoclasses," it becomes a
> case of realizing that the discourse which proclaims certain technological
> spaces as spaces of public discourse requiring all manners of skills and
> education in order to participate in its gift benefits also (and perhaps
> intractably) speaks the language of entry, control, barrier, passport,
> border; skills, economy, benefits. The old social architectures.
> So to return to Freire,
> > If Freire was alive today, what do you think he'd say of the educational
> > affordances of MySpace? Would he be posting video manifestos on YouTube?
> Or
> > would he be arguing that the digital divide is nothing more than a
> > reincarnation of the White Man's Burden?
> Freire is alive today : in Iraq, Iran, Palestine... and she blogs in
> Arabic;
> or in the favellas, and they pirate this or that, including electricity
> and
> hardware; Freire is everywhere -- but do *we* have the skills to
> participate? To read what Freire is writing today?
> best,
>     _t
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