Newmedia on Thu, 16 May 2013 16:09:33 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Jaron lanier: The Internet destroyed the middle class

Thanks -- I was hoping (okay, anticipating) that you would reply!  <g>
1) Castels: "Manuel Castells immediately springs to mind" -- of course
he does and I've read your excellent review/analysis of his work. How
has he been received among his peers? I've talked with a few of them
and they all said that his "tour" of various sociology departments
in the late 90s was a flop. Has he picked up any traction? It is
interesting that Berkeley has been involved in multiple attempts to
deal with the "ignoring" of technology by social scientists, including
the effort to "endogenize" tech in economics.
2) Concreteness: "But even technological development always takes place in  
concrete historical settings."  Indeed.  As someone who once followed  20 
companies on Wall Street, I'm convinced that the *very* peculiar details of  
every situation must be known to have any intelligent ideas about  outcomes. 
 However, for-better-and-worse, nowadays that sort of  behavior can send 
you to jail.  Btw, McLuhan's "business" consulting  was always someone else's 
idea and fly-by-night at best.  Perhaps my record  of giving such advice 
would be a more "organized: example -- including my "price  target" of $2000 
for Google. <g>
3) McLuhan:  "The trouble with McLuhan-style analysis is that in order  to 
avoid these complexities, one has to resort to extreme abstraction."   Not 
really.  Frameworks like McLuhan's -- which was only published  posthumously 
in the 1988 "Laws of Media," and which few have read and fewer have  tried 
to use -- only make sense when applied over-and-over to the specifics  at 
hand.  Derrick de Kerckhove, who seems to be the primary path-to-McLuhan  for 
Europeans recently noted that he *never* uses the Tetrad (i.e. the  heuristic 
presented in LoM) -- so, based on the score-or-so Continentals with  any 
interest in McLuhan who I've met, I'd suggest that there is very little  
"McLuhan-style analysis" going on.
4) Soviet Union:  "Castells bases his analysis of the collapse of the  
Soviet Union on its inability to move out of an industrial and into a networked  
mode."  Yes, that's an important insight.  Or, alternately, to use a  
McLuhan phrase, they failed to shift from "hardware communism" to "software  
communism."  To this day, there is no viable Silicon Valley equivalent in  
Russia.  The final "straw" in the Cold War, "Star Wars," was a joint  
DoD/DARPA/Valley project and that same military-information complex is now  responsible 
for yesterday's Google I/O keynote.
5) China:  "Yes, life was different in the 'East' and in the 'West'"  -- 
especially if you keep on trucking down the Silk Road.  In particular,  given 
the historic importance of "Needham's Dilemma" (i.e. how could the Chinese  
"invent" everything but not allow any of it to shape their society?), the  
deliberate efforts now to build a "ubiquitous society" based on networked  
technology, combined with a detailed "roadmap" for scientific research for the 
 next 40-years, taking us into quite different technological realms, has no 
 historic precedent and no counterpart in the West.
6) Scale:  "So, if you shrink the scale, things become more  difficult."  
Absolutely.  However, micro-without-macro only compounds  those difficulties. 
 If you don't have any "theory" to work with and are  simply, or let's say 
robotically, collecting data until some handy "pattern"  emerges -- ala 
today's Big Data efforts -- you will rarely get much  insight.  As Kurt Lewin 
said, "There's nothing as practical as a good  theory."  Without a theory 
about how technology shapes society -- which  certainly need not be the *only* 
way you try to understand and anticipate events  -- you are operating without 
the benefit your own critical facilities and, in  the process, resembling 
the very technologies that you set out to comprehend  (just as McLuhan 
predicted you would <g>).
Mark Stahlman
Brooklyn NY

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