Brian Holmes on Fri, 3 Apr 2015 20:33:03 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> net.critique in autumn

Many fascinating things are coming out of this sudden burst of self-reflexivity on nettime, and I appreciate the listing of issues that Eric just did. It's also fabulous to hear from so many people who rarely post, like Sean or Peter or Claire or Helen with her fabulous poem. Now that we are collectively able to admit we are not so important, we are obscure, we are mortal, we are really just a collection of far-flung friends who only partially know each other (y saludos a los compas del Cono Sur!) it would indeed be great to go back to use of the list as a more spontaneous sounding-board for ideas, questions, observations about the world in which we live, so influenced by networked communications. Nettime lives because we post on it, so feel freer.

David Garcia brought up the idea that embodied meetings make for virtual happiness, which is definitely true (it's the corner bar concept), but the very big question is, what would such meetings be about? If the "summer of the net" is over, and lamentation for the past is just a drag, then what is the most intense net debate one could have "at this moment on the clock of the world," as our dear Detroit (r)evolutionary Grace Lee Boggs likes to say?

There are many many answers to that, but here is the beginning of one. Those who actually built the net and experimented with its early uses loved the thing in itself, which became their world. In the meantime, however, the Internet has become a key articulating structure of *the* world, which is a very different thing. The net has reached deeply into social life all over the planet, as an enabling and constraining technology. It did this through a great wave of capitalist expansion which occurred in three phases: first in the 80's, with national telco and US military research and development; then in the 90's, with the tremendous investment in consumer hardware companies, software startups and net.infrastructures of all kinds (local networks, routers, undersea cables and so on); and finally in the 2000's, when both the corporations and the intelligence goons started getting serious about controlling the beast they had helped to create. This "long hot summer of the net" was really a whole phase of capitalist development, which also happened to coincide with the youth, or at least the utopian years, of many early internet users. Yet this phase of development has come to a turning point since sometime around 2008, since the saturation of the planet with networks is now complete, the negative consequences are obvious, the problem of networked-society-and-the-state is now explicitly on the table, and capitalism is desperately looking for something new to invest in.

So how would we practice net.critique in autumn?

One of things I really love this list for is the collectively generated capacity to come at a question from very many sides in succession: technology, art, philosophy, economics, sociology, daily life, humor, satire, poetry, protest, pointed observation, geographical dispersion, cross-culturalism, you name it. At the heart of that kind of debate is the realization that society works intricately, materially, with precise, hard-wired articulations, and at the same time it works metaphorically, through dreams, aspirations, historical prejudices, impassioned collaborations, hopeful beginnings, missed encounters and all the deliberately produced illusions and generative gaps in understanding that create the dynamics of mediated "democracies" (the definition of that last word being the very core of the issue). I find that capacity for multi-sided debate most enlivening when it turns, as it often does, around a very urgent question: What are the networked societies becoming? How does the saturation of the planet with digital technologies condition the evolution of the mediated "democracies," as these - including the societies of Africa, Asia and Latin America - begin facing a looming array of problems that have only come into focus *after* that long hot summer of the net?

For this kind of debate, gray hair is neither a requirement, nor a disadvantage. You have to get at what's new and cuttting edge, from a very particular angle - networked communications - and you have to place those developments within a far-reaching synthesis that takes time and experience to put together. Looking back over relatively recent discussions, there was a thread about "dissensus within the Bay Area elites" that led to some very strong debates about how core actors in the communications industry were positioning themselves, and what consequences this might have on global societies. This corresponds to the question about "netarchical capitalism" that Michel Bauwens and friends have been developing at the p2p foundation. How are the emancipatory possibilities of networked communications being systematized into extremely pervasive operating routines, and where are the cracks in that architecture of control? Because we have lots of sys admins and hackers/software developers on the list, some of whom work for those very companies, we can go into that with technical precision. We can also use overarching social theory, situated knowledge from different sites on the globe and different positions within the class structure/division of labor, as well as intuitive insights from artistic experimentation and from daily life. We can ask about exactly what happens as the clock of the net goes on ticking.

The point is not just trendspotting in Silicon Valley. The point is to look into the steering functions of the mediated democracies, at a time when uncertainly prevails and one can only dimly sense the coming of a new set of orientations. Remember that kybernetes in Greek means nothing other than the rudder of a boat, or indeed, the steersman. With a twenty-year old interpretative community, approaching something like maturity, I think we have a lot of capacity to explore the new directions that cybernetic society is going to take in the autumn of the Internet boom.

best, Brian

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