Felix Stalder on Fri, 17 May 2013 19:35:12 +0200 (CEST)

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

On 05/16/2013 03:55 PM, Newmedia@aol.com wrote:

> 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.

Marc, I had the Tetrad explained and demonstrated to me by Eric Mcluhan 
himself and I was, I admit, suitably unimpressed. It's basically a set 
of four general purpose questions (what does a thing obsolesce, 
retrieve, flip, enhance) to help you examine the thing's relation to its 
environment (a.ka. the ground). It's interesting in as much as it is a 
very unusual forms of theory (it's actually more of a method), but as 
with any such general question, you can basically stick any answer to 
it. For example, we discovered in one of our sessions that the (frozen) 
pizza had obsolesced the house wife and retrieved the butler (home 
delivery). At this point, I really had to excuse my self from the 

> 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.

Darpa etc ended up creating the infrastructure on which the US 
transition was eventually engineered, but it did not cause the Soviet 
collapse. This is a Reaganite myth.

If you follow this analysis, both systems entered a phase of stagnation 
and decline in the 1960s because they could no longer manage the rising 
internal complexity with the old procedures. The US went on a path to 
transform itself into a system capable of organizing higher degrees of 
complexity by using, yes, new technologies. The Soviet Union simply got 
stuck and when it attempted a belated reform, it collapsed.

Are you still with me? Because in this view, it was not technology which 
transformed society, but the root is a social crisis -- the old model 
exhausting itself -- that generated the need to look for new models 
which, as these things go, are often based on new technologies. So, 
there was a problem looking for a solution, and new technologies seemed 
to offer them, thus creating a market for it. Once these new solutions 
started to pay off for the first adopters, the coercive laws of 
competition made sure that they spread with increasing velocity across 
society (because competition is not restricted to the economy but plays 
out across all sectors).

A similar argument can be made, and has been made, by James Beniger in 
"Control Revolution" about the first phase of computerization, and by 
Joseph Weizenbaum about the second phase.

Of course, this had all kinds of unintended psycho-social side-effects 
and it did affect what McLuhan called the ratio of the senses, but it 
also, clearly, had a number of intended consequences, namely, to 
preserve and extend the power of those large scale organizations, say, 
the US military, major industrial corporations etc, which managed not 
only managed, but really, shaped the transition. Sure, enough, not all 
managed this transition well, but overall, many did. Perhaps, in the 
long run, the unintended consequences will outweigh the intended ones, 
but that, I think, can always be said.


-|- http://felix.openflows.com ------------------------ books out now:
*|Cultures & Ethics of Sharing/Kulturen & Ethiken des Teilens UIP 2012
*|Vergessene Zukunft. Radikale Netzkulturen in Europa. transcript 2012
*|Deep Search. The Politics of Searching Beyond Google. Studienv. 2009
*|Mediale Kunst/Media Arts Zurich.13 Positions. Scheidegger&Spiess2008
*|Manuel Castells and the Theory of the Network Society.Polity P. 2006
*|Open Cultures and the Nature of Networks. Ed Futura / Revolver, 2005

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