august on Thu, 16 Feb 2012 22:32:44 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> [Fwd] A Spit in the Ocean (or the limits of social network paranoia)

> Ultimately liberism has won the masses to socialism by constructing
> the dream (American) and means (Capitalism) for an open society purely
> based on quantitative, axiomatic relationships. Capitalism has been so
> far a viable system of governance because has been able to embed this
> dicotomy while still providing a rationality to its existance.
> I agree that the challenge now should be to imagine new forms for open
> societies rather than regressimg to the idea of walled gardens. Still
> it holds true that the instinct of planning a walled garden and to
> share the information on how to do it can be the pre-condition for the
> creation of new territories, the experimentation of new rationalities.
> In so far there are no open spaces that offer such conditions (nor it
> looks like the industrial reconfiguration of culture will facilitate
> their creation and existance), but I love your indefatigable attempts
> to imagine them.

Speaking of quantitative and axiomatic relationships, I thought nettime might
want to have a look at Facebook's Securities and Exchange Commission document.
Zuckerberg's registration statement is particularly interesting.  You can read
it here:

Besides highlighting the ways FB hopes/boasts "to change how people relate to
their governments and social institutions", I find this particular gem to be

"At Facebook, weâre inspired by technologies that have revolutionized how
people spread and consume information. We often talk about inventions like the
printing press and the television â by simply making communication more
efficient, they led to a complete transformation of many important parts of
society. They gave more people a voice. They encouraged progress. They changed
the way society was organized. They brought us closer together."

So, I guess it is no surprise that he sees FB more like the old centralized
technologies and less like the telephone or even the internet.  That's the
imaginary future we can look forward to - straight out of the middle ages and
early 20th century.  What exactly did television make more efficient is what I
am wondering to myself. 

Users continue to lend their eyeballs and attention to centralized systems like
gmail, g+, and FB even though there are existing technical alternatives such as
irc, email, and a plethora of social networking initiatives in varying degrees
of technical stability.  Some of these technologies pre-date FB by decades.

Why do users do that?  I'm sure it has to do with a number of non-quantitative
reasons related to the details of the technology itself (e.g. text-only email
doesn't have images inline and tagged with your friends contact info), the
convenience of having everything in once place with little visual clutter and
unified interfaces, but also with social mechanics and economics that make
those centralized services arguably more sustainable at larger scales.

What's worse is that there really isn't a technical way to  opt-out of these
central services.  Declining to be part of G+ or gmail doesn't preclude your
being a part of their system.  If a non-gmail users communicates with a gmail
user via email, their email address, a somewhat unique identifier, and the
content of their communication are also entered into google's private
algorithmic system of actuarial surveillance.  The same holds if friends upload
and tag photos of you.  This public email forum  and my post are also trackable
in a similar vein.

I'm personally less worried about the surveillance, but am more worried about
the ways these centralized systems expose users to cultural persuasion and
manipulation (based on the surveillance).  So far, this mostly happens through
more-or-less traditional advertisement, which  many users simply accept and
even welcome ("Finally, it knows exactly what I want to buy"). Other users have
good adblock software or are perceptually immune to the ads after years of
tele-visual bombardment.  This exposure is technically unnecessary even though
it sometimes appears as if it is desired by a large portion of users.
So, what's the real alternative if any?

The alternative, I think, is perhaps too difficult to even imagine.  The
technical problems of building an open, stable, and user-run communication
space are minuscule compared to the massive amounts of economic pressure from
the larger macro-structures of our social machinery.  The cause and effects of
this pressure seem to be created and adapt faster than anyone can study or
analyze them.  The only thing I can really see from my lay-man's perspective is
that a certain x% of the population has their finger on the algorithms that
generate and sustain certain economic behaviours, policies, and expectations.
Another (x-30)% percent seem to be thankful and eager to support the system
that creates the x%, in hopes of moving up the hierarchy.

My somewhat naive suggestion for the time-being is to find or invent funds to
build and support this kind of infrastructural development.  Social
organizations already do it to build roads and schools, to fund art, science,
and education. Some even do it to support transportation and health. Surely
there is room to build and sustain user-centered social communication networks
and software. The US already did it for the internet.  Why did they (and
everyone else it seems) stop the R&D at the top layer of the World Wide Web,
leaving the decentralized and distributed nature of the internet to be
centralized by commercial parties?  Or, more importantly why did the
well-funded academic engineers and computer scientists loose interest in the
research?  Is the problem of the internet solved already?   

-August Black.

GPG: 0A8D 2BC7 243D 57D0 469D  9736 C557 458F 003E 6952

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