Date: Mon, 30 Sep 1996 07:23:34 +0100

From: (Jordan Crandall)

Community of Things?

Jordan Crandall

Thoughts of community are taking strange detours into the world of things, things that go beep in the night, dancing, singing, buzzing, flashing across the screen, advancing toward ubiquity in cellularity, promising to connect us in globality. Things testify. And so do CEOs, often on their behalf.

Like in _Wired_, upon whose pages things and businessmen frolic. In the October issue, the writer, David Kline, is quoting the CEO, David St. Charles Integrated Systems Inc., as he breathlessly heralds that "'This is the next stage...where we make the Internet real. And I mean, as ubiquitous as electric motors or telephones, where all sorts of devices and systems are linked invisibly together. Where people and devices easily and automatically communicate with each other with no one having to know anything about computers or software or TCP/IP stacks or anything else. It's everywhere, it does everything, and it's absolutely a no-brainer to use. The push-button Internet!'" (Well, SIGN ME UP!) Kline, beside himself, can hardly contain his glee: "Here, at last, is a vision of the Internet for the masses"- -and, making sure not to omit the size of this potential market, he adds--"in their hundred of millions and ultimately in their billions." Reeling with utopic delirium, Kline continues to gush: "Here, at last, is an Internet finally set free from its PC-centric straightjacket--a cyberspace transformed from just another platform into an omnipresent glue that binds the whole of society, with all its trillions of daily social and economic interactions, into a truly connected civilization."

What is all this excitement about? Reading deeper, mouth agape, one encounters not only one of the most ridiculous scenarios ever to dance across the magazine's pages, but a stunning example of how this strain of business-jargon, from which all critical consciousness has been evacuated, is swallowing up the discourse like the Blob. Kline explains that "the starting point for tomorrow's great technologically-induced social changes must be the masses of technologically unsophisticated ordinary consumers." The way in which we might endeavor to hook up this great unwired is not to sell them PCs, but to embed the Internet inside the everyday devices and systems that they already use. This invisible, "embedded Internet" would link up, say, washing machines, garage doors, cars, heating and AC units, CD players, TVs, gas meters, home security systems, and emergency response media. These last would be "more reliable than today's phone-based 911 system" and, if they were hooked up to smart sensors on your heart and you had a heart attack, they "could even be self-actuating." (What does THAT mean?) This embedded Internet *would even connect to the workplace,* enabling "automated monitoring and reporting on factory-floor production," allowing production processes to be remotely managed. The secret to all of this, insists St. Charles, is invisibility. "'If you want the Internet to be everywhere,' he says, 'it has to be visible nowhere. It has to be unseen, unnoticed, undiscussed.'" In other words, it must ascend into the higher ranks of the apparatus, where it can operate-- operate *on*--out of sight, leaving only its disciplinary effects. At the same time, it must operate locally in minute, surgically precise placements, which give voice to the object (forcefully or not, we'll never know)--our new community member. Perhaps it comes naturally to the thing, which, at Marx taught us, only "has" value anyway, something which never exists in and of itself, like information, and as such is always communal. To allow humans into the community of things would at least offer more bodies-as-conduits, and therefore more CEOs to speak for the necessity of their reproduction.

What is left, then, for our dear laborer, mired in this omnipresent glue" that connects home, heart, and factory floor, colonizing every last shred of private life under the guise (gaze?) of liberation and animating--forcefeeding-- things with agency ( to the nth degree) while breeding them? The wig! According to de Certeau, "la perruque"--whose origins are ancient ("duping the master")-- refers to the ways that traditional workers in France trick their employers into thinking they are working, when in fact they are engaged in personal tasks or ways of making their work less burdensome. They are not avoiding work, but working at keeping up the appearance of work. Engaging "the wig" is a way of disappearing under the authoritative gaze of the employer, momentarily reversing the vectors of control. La perruque is not productive per se, but takes place within "production" as an acting-out, a mimicking of that order from within. Since there is no stable division between actually producing and appearing to produce, it exists in a tensional field, an oscillating gap in the spacetime of the workplace.

Objects don't really matter, you know, until they've first proven themselves as information. Think of it as the inverse-drag-effect. You have to mean business, Miss Thing. (You better WORK.) But remember: as the workplace shifts from the public space of industrial labor to the intimate space between body and monitor, so do its regimentative functions, which constitute a kind of boot-camp for the "new mobility," which seeks to tuck away the mainframe, evacuate the hardware, leaving it visible nowhere, "unseen, unnoticed, undiscussed." Launched into the stage of a reality-made-virtual, while locating agencies in virtual spaces, the community member flips back and forth in the gap.