[iDC] Introduction: The Internet as Playground and Factory

Gabriella Coleman biella at nyu.edu
Sun Jun 7 12:16:42 UTC 2009


I thought I would join the train and add some thoughts and questions for 
the conference. I have introduced myself before to the list, but a short 
recap: I currently an assistant prof at NYU department of Media, 
Culture, and Communication. Trained as an anthropologists, I have worked 
primarily on the ethics and politics of FLOSS. In terms of labor, I am 
interested in the renaissance of craft within FLOSS and putting it in 
conversation with other forms of aesthetic impulses (in the case of 
hacking, Romantic ones). I also examine the intersection of hacking and 
liberalism as well as the more radical, (though certainly not explicit 
or purist critique) that FLOSS brings into being, one that speaks to and 
against the idea of aliened labor often through a practice of pleasure.

There are a number of issues/questions I want to raise, but I will limit 
myself to just a few that follows from Joe's response to others and it 
has to do with nature of political labor on and through the net today.

Whether organizing happens through corporate sites like Facebook, or 
new, seemingly liberally informed sites like http://www.amazee.com/ or 
radically anti-capitalist collectives like Riseup (who are furiously 
hacking away at a new, pretty robust--though not quite ready-- work 
collaboration site, Crabgrass https://we.riseup.net/crabgrass/about), I 
am pretty amazed at the depth and ubiquity of online based networked 
politics. If there is a cause, there is a group. Actually if there is a 
cause, there are probably multiple ones.

That said, I think what concerns me the most is fragmentation. The 
topography, it seems to me of politics on he web, is one of silos, 
ponds, and pods. While there is strength in these autonomous nodes, 
there is also massive competition for attention (a lot seems to boil 
down to attention when it comes down to it).

FLOSS has not fallen to these sorts of problems, or as much, as there 
are points/sites for centripetal cohesion (large hacker cons like HAR, 
shared web portals etc etc) and the glue that is cultural mores that 
also binds.

I think it would be interesting to discuss in terms of fragmentation and 
networked politics how we got here, what the strengths and limits of 
this fragmented space are and how/what it can be addressed.

A second, related line of inquiry has to do with cost and labor of the 
network. While it is the case, as many have argued, that getting people 
online and participating and publishing is cheaper/easier than with 
older broadcast media, the cost/labor is not insignificant. Think of all 
the servers whirling away in data centers. It requires a lot of a/c, a 
lot of upkeep, a lot of time. Think of all the plumbers of the Internet, 
the sys admins (as I like to think of them) who are constantly 
up-keeping the servers.

The labor and cost of networks should also be taken into account. I 
raise this issue somewhat for selfish reasons as I am looking for 
citations/work/studies that have uncovered the cost, from electricity to 
system administration pay, that goes into maintaining part of the 
network or an organization. I realize that the request is a bit vague 
but if anyone knows of something that fits that general bill, I would 
appreciate a heads up.

Look forward to the ongoing conversations,

Joe Edelman wrote:
 > I thought I'd chime in a response to Frank, Trebor, and Howard about
 > this stuff.
 > For me, it's about power.  Are these corporations giving private
 > individuals, especially the disempowered in society, more power to
 > change their communities and circumstances, or are they taking it
 > away.  And how do these power dynamics compare to what governments,
 > nonprofits, art projects, universities, and other non-commerce
 > organizations are doing?
 > While this Web 2.0 stuff is certainly not a panacea, it's clear to me
 > that social websites are having a profound and positive effect on
 > personal empowerment.  Universities, who have long claimed to elevate
 > and connect through scholarships and the like, are closed to most
 > participants, and can take six years and a great deal of expense to
 > effect the same power shift that can be accomplished by a disempowered
 > group on facebook or twitter in a few weeks.  The U.S. government this
 > year is distributing more economic power via grants than usual, but it
 > is hard to see exactly how this is panning out and who is benefiting.
 > Art projects sometimes pretend to talk about power but very seldom do
 > anything to shift or expand it.
 > Cautiously, I have to admin these corporate endeavors are doing better
 > than most social justice related nonprofits, and better than the
 > public school system, at slowly leveling the playing field.  We have
 > seen the ubiquitous availability of information, and the empowerment
 > that that brought, and we are now moving slowly toward the ubiquitous
 > availability of social connection.  I won't rest until we get to the
 > ubiquitous availability of physical resources like cars and trucks,
 > the availability of labor and in-person expertise, and ultimately the
 > availability of cash... to those who do not presently have access to
 > these things.
 > In the end, such an empowered, connected citizenry may well be bad
 > news for the advertising sector and for large corporations:  certainly
 > a lot of advertising and consumerism prays on isolation and
 > disempowerment.  But that's not going to stop internet companies, many
 > of them funded by advertising, from bringing us that future.
 > Indeed, it seems well on it's way, and I'm doing my part to keep it
 > going in that direction.
 > --
 > J.E. // nxhx.org // (c) 413.250.8007

Gabriella Coleman, Assistant Professor
Department of Media, Culture, & Communication
New York University
239 Greene St, 7th floor
NY NY 10003

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