The forms formerly known as things unknown
- The People Formerly Known as the Audience (TPFKATA).
- Stowe Boyd: “Once power migrates to the edge, the edglings are unlikely to give it back.”
- World of Ends
- "Dave Winer, one of the founders of blogging, said it back in 1994: 'Once the users take control, they never give it back.'"
But the theory behind the social transformation -- not to speak of the theory of communication that would encompass this momentous shift from passive consumption to massive production -- oftimes remained tacit. One could never be sure that the same understanding of social modes, of power, and of the act of writing suddenly taken up by hoards of persons who, until blogging came along, mainly limited their writing activities to shopping lists and professional publications, was shared even by attendees to BloggerCon, let alone by anyone less immediate to the core coterie of early Bloggers.
But mantras are not required to bear the burden of explicating and demonstrating the truth of their pronouncements. They merely need to dispense themselves with the proper aplomb to infect with credence those who attend.
All this by way of just wishing to point to some comments by Ulises Ali Mejias of Cornell and Columbia University Teacher's College, directed to Jay Rosen's eloquent thinkpiece.
Ali Mejias introduces a note of skepticism from the start:
My argument is that TPFKATA function as a mass of producers, and that this has everything to do with technology (or more specifically, with how technologies are being applied in a technocracy. Citing an intriguing theory of how nationhood develops via media, he adds: the kinds of sociality that these "virtual communities" prescribe are actually more aligned with the dynamics of a mass than with a community.
There is more -- read the whole thing.
Masses are not sites of rich social interaction. Masses foster an alienated form of individualism, making it difficult for people to come together meaningfully. Because of their large numbers, masses may give the appearance of robust communities, but a closer look reveals that people feel irreparably alone in a mass.
Technocracies engender masses by commodifying the interactions between people. The blogosphere is a perfect example of how interaction has been commodified and reduced to the exchange of attention. In an attention economy, attention is capital, and bloggers with (bigger) audiences can capitalize on that attention —quite literally, if they are using things like Google ads. But a blogger with lots of readers can be said to have rich social interactions with them in the same impoverished sense that a person in MySpace with lots of contacts can be said to have many good friends. In fact, I would suggest that the more attention capital is accrued, the less opportunities for meaningful social interaction are engendered, and the more entrenched one's position in a mass becomes.TPFKATA are content to believe that blogs are "First Amendment machines." That might be the case in a few instances, but not for the mass. From the perspective of a technocratic hegemony, what could be more perfect than a system where all is talk and no action? TPFKATA, armed with the new technologies, are ascending to power, we are told. But the meaning of this form of power revolves around commodification, which in the end neutralizes and domesticates it. TPFKATA have gone from being massified, pacified consumers to being massified, pacified producers.
Don't get me wrong: I am very appreciative of good citizen journalism, open content projects, etc. But to assume that the mere use of the technologies is enough to liberate the old audience is unwise, and not warranted by the majority of the current examples.
My one meager point, for now, relates to the fact that Ali Mejias's analysis takes some of its inspiration from the analysis presented by Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, which he cites.
Anderson argues that national identities have been shaped more by print than by anything having to do with actual commonalities of patria. In other words, without the discipline and ordering of the imaginary via realms of media, there would, in many cases, be nothing especially necessary binding together random assortments of humans. Without the invention of printing, the world's map would look rather different, as might the complexion of loyalties found among the various bodies politic.
Whither then blogging?
Clearly over time many bloggers have discovered substantial communion with others for as many reasons as there are bloggers. Deep and varied friendships have formed, and the mere fact of blogging has seemed to compel bloggers to gather at restaurants and gatherings. (I haven't been a conference attendee, but will cop to sometimes wondering if the entire purpose of blogging isn't to give rise to conferences at which formerly imagined social formations can be concretely tagged with a local, if temporary, habitation and a name.)
Whether the prognosis of an actual change in reality, as promised by the mantras, is warranted by the invocation of many speakers speaking of community, is still to be determined. Are we at the beginning of a new mode of genuine community, or do we -- "we" -- share an aberrant dream -- produced like nationhood as an uncanny side-effect in the mass -- of a new wrinkle in technology?