[iDC] How does social media educate? :: a playlist in response to danah

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Wed Feb 14 22:39:51 EST 2007

H Ulises,

This is a useful list, I took the liberty to add some of my own answers.

On 2/14/07, Ulises <arsalaan1-idc at yahoo.com> wrote:
> danah poses a challenging question:
> What values are embedded deeply into the web 2.0/social media ethos that
> we are
> perpetuating by 1) building these systems into the infrastructure of
> social
> life; 2) idealizing them as the great equalizer?

Technology is the product of multiple social struggles, creativity and
compromises (Andrew Feenberg).  In particular  it is also the consequence of
the thought-forms and value-systems of the 'hacker class' that designed
them, that is both true for the internet (book: when the wizards stay up
late), and the web 2.0 designers (multiple interviews with founders of
various services), tempered and modulated by the commercial forces, but also
user expectations and demands.

I can by no means attempt a full response, but maybe I can 'mashup' one from
> various contributions to the discussion as well as from my own. Think of
> the
> following as the Playlist for a Critique of Social Media (i.e., it's the
> list of
> the songs to be included, but not the full melodies):
> 01. How Much Is That Doggie In The Window? :: sociable web media (even
> when
> operating within 'open' models) exists in a capitalist economy; it cannot
> exist
> prior to its commercialization

I'm not sure that is completely true. Web 2.0. is totally under-capitalized
and  not many venture-backed projects are making any money. The remarkable
thing for me is tha the social web 1) started to thrive after the failure of
the first commercialization phase (2001 crash); 2) thrives and uses open
source technologies and communities and the pre-existing network (which does
not exist, would not have existed following a commercial model). More and
more, capitalist intervention and monetization strategies are a posteriori.
It would be much better to say that there is mutual interdependence between
the social field and the commercial field. But I agree that the reason Web
2.0 takes a commercial path, because of the difficult viability of other
means under current conditions.

02. Can't Buy Me Love :: the architectures of participation in sociable web
> media are determined primarily by the dynamics of a market economy, which
> raises
> ethical questions because capitalism is inherently anti-social

Again a very one-sided thesis. I want to make a more general remark here.
What is the process that makes even critics, bow to  the current supremacy,
self-censoring any alternatives as a matter of principle, even though the
continued existence of an infinite-material-growth system is a logical and
physical impossibility? A system has truly won, when even it's critics think
they can only think within its premises. The last phrase, 'inherently
anti-social', should be qualified, in the sense that capitalism promotes
certain kinds of socialities against others.

03. If I Knew You Were Coming (I'd've Baked A Cake) :: yes, social media
> objects
> operate in both a market and a gift economy, but the 'gift' is always
> subordinate to the opportunities to derive profit from it; the best we can
> hope
> for is hybrid capitalism

The gift is only subordinated to the commodity in the eyes of those wanting
to make profit from it; from the point of view of the gifters, the
commodified reality is a means to perpetuate the gift. If your statement
were true, that would mean that the behaviour of the majority of people is
commodity-oriented, and that simply isn't true. How do you know the best we
can hope for is a hybrid capitalism? I would qualify that, in the sense
that, for the survival of teh biosphere and the human community, the best
system is more likely to be a pluralist economy that has markets for scarce
goods, submitted to peer arbitrage, within a steady-state economic context
and with the dominant immaterial processes following peer to peer dynamics.

04. This Unavoidable Thing Between Us :: sociable web media *can* be
> potential
> resources of anticapitalist struggle; however, the actualization of these
> resources cannot be framed in terms of bridging the 'digital divide' in
> order to
> grant everyone access to the 'marketplace' of the public
> 05. It Smells Like Teen Spirit :: sociable web media controlled by
> corporations
> produces plural monocultures, which should not be confused for diverse or
> authentic social spaces

The affinity logic is the basic network logic, but does that 1) preclude
interconnections?; 2) the result of corporate control? Does that mean that
communities operating outside corporate control automatically go beyond
plural monocultures?

06. Where The Hood At :: the network is a limited model for organizing
> social
> realities; nodocentrism can be particularly corrosive to local
> connections, as
> it makes anything not plugged-in to the network virtually invisible
> (despite the
> hype, the hyperlocal does not enhance but subordinate the local and the
> social
> to a market economy)

Previous media developments have similarly caused the non-literate, non-TV
watching people to be marginalized in  certain senses. So the trend and
danger is certainly real, though again we note that in the prhasing above,
this is all  subordinated to the market again, which  I think is a
simplification. Is there an alternative to the work that allows the
marginalized to be connected, just as it was the priority of the labour
movement to get worker's children alphabetized and educated? Now, saying
that there is a danger to nodism is one thing, but saying that the
hyperlocal automotically destroys the local is another. Amongst the great
revival of the localization movement nowadays, you will notice that they are
all hyperconnected, so the latter does not seem to automatically destroy the
former. Rather hyperlocal technologies can also serve to revive the local.
I've seen this personally at work in Brest, French Brittany, where the
municipality is leading a revival of local cultural life, thanks to
hyperlocal technologies.

07. Alone Together :: the social scripts of networked individualism leave
> people
> more alienated and prone to control by state and corporate interests,
> monopolizing social and personal desire

Just as participation explodes and people are more and more autonomously
navigating and building their lives through the hyperlocal interstices ...
Just when people are abandoning their reliance on institutions and mass
media (see the massive shifts documented by the Edelman Trust Barometer) and
rely more and more on their peers. What a way to miss the essential elements
of what is going on.

What is needed in thinking is an ability to hold contradictory and
paradoxical elements together, not inflate one part of reality to the whole.

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