[iDC] The difference between community and voices

Lucia Sommer sommerlucia at gmail.com
Thu Oct 1 07:11:19 UTC 2009

Dear Jean, John, and all,

Jean said:

I think I share your view at least in part, but could you say a little more
> about what you mean by "a lack of attention to action"? Do you mean a lack
> of discussion about what actions might be made possible by the theoretical
> propositions raised in discussion, or do you mean a lack of attention to
> actually-existing cultural and social practice?

Both. I find it perplexing that there are few discussions (or even simply
posts) on the list about often glaring current political
contradictions/crises affecting every day life, OR articulations of the
relationships between possible interventions in these and the often
brilliant theoretical discussions, as you so lucidly note:

Rather, I feel that the materiality of lived experience (or even the
> specificity of case studies) is constantly backgrounded in favour of the
> most astounding (but at times, really stimulating) abstraction; and an
> at-times visibly strained mode of competitive discourse.

(Agreed this isn't reducible to the gender of the actual participants, but
it seems often to correlate to such...)

And it is quite interesting to consider together your points here, and
John's observation about the network labor and time required for "big"
theoretical voices/texts, and how this can sometimes override focus on

Perhaps it is not so much a question of there being actually "two" lists -
one more abstract/theoretical, the other more concerned with praxis, as it
is a question of lack of articulation between the two concerns -- how can
these theoretical insights enable praxis, and vice versa?

For this of course, as a participant, I must assume equal responsibility. I
had (perhaps erroneously) come to the conclusion that this list was more
"academic" than I am really interested in, and so had assumed a less-engaged
role -- until John's post struck me in raising some compelling questions,
ones I've never seen raised before on a list.



> On 01/10/2009, at 9:22 AM, Lucia Sommer <sommerlucia at gmail.com> wrote:
> Dear John,
> As one of the "smaller" voices, who has nonetheless enjoyed a number of the
> threads on this list, I appreciate the spirit of this post, in asking
> important questions.
> I'm not sure, however, whether the problem is really one of "too much"
> seamless theory - or whether it is simply a relative lack of attention to
> action, that can't necessarily be blamed on the "big" voices.
> I do also think it would be important to examine the gender dynamics
> involved in the question of "big" and "small" voices. I have noticed a
> dynamic on this - and many other - lists, wherein women's contributions to
> discussion tend to be overlooked / ignored, etc.
> Similarly, posts of people newer to a list tend to be ignored to a greater
> degree. This latter may be at least somewhat unavoidable, due to the
> nonrational bonds in friendships or acquaintances formed off-list.
> Not surprisingly, people find this discouraging and will choose to focus
> their energy elsewhere, thereby diminishing the multiplicity of voices on a
> list.
> Regards,
> Lucia
> On Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 6:08 AM, John Hopkins < <jhopkins at tech-no-mad.net>
> jhopkins at tech-no-mad.net> wrote:
>> > Social control is real, that's the problem. It is organized by elites
>> > and imposed on the different classes, regional groups, ethnicities etc.
>> > There are many forms of it. I am claiming that one of them, which has
>> Dearest List
>> I am coming to wonder about the presence of powerful authorial voices on
>> mailing
>> lists, and the radical departure from the traditional set of BIG voices
>> pre-internet that The Network promised, a utopia of pluralism.  Has it
>> come to
>> pass?  I don't think so.
>> As I troll my personal archive of lists (nettime, spectre, 7-11,
>> microsound,
>> x-change, etc), I find that all of the lists that I have "participated" in
>> have
>> numerous subscribers (most list admins will not divulge the actual
>> numbers,
>> though I hereby invite Trebor to), along with a very short tail of
>> posters,
>> dominated by a very small clump of BIG voices.  Without hard numbers, but
>> doing
>> a sort on poster names in my 15-year Eudora archive on a number of lists
>> the
>> percentages run around 1-2% or less are BIG posters (80%+ of all content),
>> with
>> another 3-10% taking up the balance and a minor number of single posters.
>>  These
>> numbers are calculated on the total number of all posts, and would
>> therefore be
>> MUCH more rarified if compared to all readers and subsequently, all
>> subscribers.
>> What about all those other potential voices out there?
>> As I was reading yet another soaring post from Brian, I suddenly got the
>> feeling
>> I was reading a NYT best-selling novel, a page-turner, compelling,
>> seamless,
>> complete in both its content and its style (sometimes self-deprecating,
>> sometimes bold, provocative, inviting the reader to question (rhetorically
>> or in
>> fact) the conclusions), a FORCE to silence competing views if only through
>> the
>> eminent readability, completeness, and intellectual coherence and
>> seam-less-ness.  You can read nothing else except through the long text,
>> consuming in the process, a largish piece of irretrievable life-time.
>>  Time
>> subtracted from embodied praxis.  The network labor of paying attention to
>> BIG
>> voices. When the reading is done, the time for action is also spent.
>> Theory-as-text or text-as-theory soaking up valuable life-time for praxis,
>> action.  And because the reading of this cannot simply stop in mid-word,
>> mid-phrase, mid-sentence, mid-paragraph, mid-tome, mid-thread, mid-list
>> subscription, more and more life gets absorbed in reading.  One long
>> socially-constructed text which keeps action limited to eye-and-finger
>> twitch
>> for the duration.
>> And, by default, then, a dominant, BIG voice talking about action but
>> obstructing the actuality.  Is a mailing list a community?
>> If community is a situation dominated by a small number of BIG voices and
>> minor
>> actions, I guess it is.  Is this a subtle form of social control?  what's
>> the
>> difference between that and subtle coercion?  (if I don't read, if I don't
>> give
>> attention to the BIG voices, is there a bite-back from the social system?
>> I
>> think so.)
>> What does the health of "community" mean if community is literally not
>> more than
>> a handful of BIG voices within the collective? (community in quotes
>> largely
>> because of this historically repeated suspicion at the illusions of
>> techno-democracy (or just distributed creativity) that was embedded at the
>> outset of such online "communities")...
>> Wednesday morning non-threaded meditation commentary.
>> jh
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