Thursday, July 06, 2006

The forms formerly known as things unknown

The self-congratulatory esprit of early blogging was nothing if not fecund in the production of mantras, and there is much to be said for the repeating of a theme or set of key ideas, encoded in such a way as both to pique attention and to convey to the already clued-in that a certain set of assumptions about speaking, writing, community formation, were in play, harboring large shifts in power, control, and dominance. From the bottom up, new groups, new communities told themselves they were organizing, cross-connecting, learning to act in new ways.

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.

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.
There is more -- read the whole thing.

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?

18 Comments:

Blogger Euan said...

You might not write often but when you do it is really rather good.

;-)

7/07/2006 2:29 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Effing good.

In my own little blogging circle the mood has changed to looking for things to do together or apart beyond talk. Same happened for sure at Omidyar.net. People got excited about creating a better world by talking about it - two years and hundreds of thousands of post later we can say, "Well talking about it didn't have a big effect, now what?" But we wouldn't have even come to that action-orientation at all had we remained completely atomized or massified.

7/07/2006 6:05 PM  
Anonymous bmo said...

Thanks for dose of skepticism. The mantras can often have the same effect as the choirsters at football (soccer) matches. Also, the reminder (somehwere in there) that political action is first and foremost resistance - often physical - and begins with the word no.

And yes, the writing, as always is excellent.

7/07/2006 6:24 PM  
Anonymous tom said...

euan: If I wrote more, it would simply be redundant.

Phil: Agreed. Point is not wetblankethood. One does get the sense that much of what has so far been blogged is somehow a preliminary stage. Throat clearing. Making sure the channels are open. Action is always the goal, and often seems to be occuring when it just isn't. You've been the one saying this and dragging us will-nill to the brink.

bmo: A certain skeptical air seems to hover over certain of your observations. But you link to a post about progressive discourse defined as:

Sharing, questioning, and revising of opinions helped students develop a strong understanding of the given topic. They were engaged in “intentional learning” (Scardamalia and Bereiter, 1994), an active, purposeful search for meaning.

Another word for this is "conversation" as used among bloggers. If there's something other than mere skepticism here, I think it's to do with the observation that (a), much of the conversation so far has been about the value of conversation, and (b), it might be time for the conversation to engage some critical perspectives that so far seem to have been underrepresented. This could, perhaps, count for a semblance of what Jon and others mean by "progessive discourse."

I trust Jeneane's instincts on these things. Recently she's begun attending certain conferences.

7/07/2006 10:15 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

I'm only in it for the money and the aggrandizement of seeing my name next to my words in pixels. The fact that I'm permitted to rub shoulders with geniuses and brilliantly positive activists is simply value added.

Oh. Also, blogging is the only genre my sugar addled consciousness, my chronic ADD mind-hopping personal style is suited for.

This was a post I couldn't leave uncommented, but the rich and complex feelings, the thought-melange screaming for some order in this pounding skull won't find an outlet in the c-c-c-c-comments here.

When I worked for a corporation, I would be treated by senior management to one or two conferences and/or trainings per year to the tune of maybe $3,000 each. The scope of opportunity was limited to the flavor of the month management or techno fad, and I had little power in selecting my own opportunities. Since I became self employed I have taken advantage of the opportunities abounding across the net to develop relationships in this emerging world. I doubt I'll ever find work here. I believe my value will always be measured in my ability to remember to reenable the serial ports on an IBM PC when some yahoo buys a discounted electronic whiteboard that he wants to scribble on to feed his laptop and his ego.

But seeing you all face to face sometimes, sharing a meal, yakking about the utter ridiculousness of this-or-that has a value that exceeds any $2500 ISO 9000 seminar granting two CEUs.

At the last BloggerCon I hugged Jory des Jardins, took a picture of Mary Hodder's feet while basking briefly in the genuine warmth of her presence, and I picked up a few business cards from earnest young men who wanted me to have them.

I had lunch with the guy from CNet who made the infrastructure for the conference work. I had Hunan spiced pork.

The conference was free, the travel expense was discounted to the tune of a write-off on my bottom line, and I did have to forego a few billable hours to be there.

Some day I may have a good idea and, if I do, I may need help actualizing it. By working online and face to face in these circles, I've met people I would trust to help, and screened out a lot of power-mongers and bullshit artists.

This is all more than I intended to write, but I felt that I needed to offer an apology for being at four BloggerCons and never having struck it rich.

My blog does have a cute picture of bunnies on it though.

7/07/2006 11:25 PM  
Anonymous bmo said...

my skepticism is of the tech not the peeps and the need to meet, to be clear. The conferences and meetups seem to be compensation for the distancing over the distances.

7/08/2006 5:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cheese!

In the conference I shall
convene
the miserable mass shall all
shout out
as if wired through their
shoes

Cheese!

Goud-a. For-a. You-a.

(your pal, flipper)

7/08/2006 11:28 AM  
Blogger Jon Husband said...

It's a very good question. As you pointed out, the prescription didn't carry a print-out describing potential side effects. But then again, only licensed experts can prescribe ...

As bmo points out, resistance is paramount. Without other bloggers and blogging this isolated mass (me) would not have come into contact with so many other forms of alienation and isolation (them).


What it's made me realize is that today, other than cloaked meetings where people would have to have the purpose, the time and the secret-enough place, there's lttle left other than electronic connection and sharing as space in which (or with which) to inform, to educate and to agitate - or even just to salve feelings of isolation and alienation

The rest is all just an image floating in front of us .. go try to engage with it. It's always the same .. real life consists of organizations and institutions, and its your other graphical user interface now.

Spot on about the conferences ... only quasi-business place left where you can go and pretend not to be in service to WB whilst being transparent about how it all comes down to money, and finding ways to pry it out of peoples' pockets.

7/10/2006 12:00 AM  
Blogger Kombinat! said...

Tom, a wonderful find in Rosen's post and Mejias' comments. I shall have to sleep on your analysis of these and I will get back to you for there is so much richness in this post. -

Mejias asks "Is production the new consumption?" and I point to Kombinat! Manifesto.

Listen. You are not a consumer. You are a Producer.
Listen. In Kombinat! you are the Actor and Kombinat! is the Audience. Kombinat! consumes you.

Your post is very rich.

7/10/2006 5:10 PM  
Blogger Kombinat! said...

I think I try to make a point when pointing at Kombinat! that the structural participation has not been altered, that Blogging has not altered Structural Participation.

It could be said that Consumers are now Producers of all that they consume but the Frame is provided by the same old Powers. The Broadcasting Corporation that used to create content and vomit it on us has morphed itself into a Frame Shop. You supply the content, they Frame it and give it back to you. The business is in creating Frames no matter what the content inside of them. MySpace.com is a Frame Shop. Kombinat! gladly embraced by the masses.

The most powerful movement to alter the FRAME was NAPSTER. it was shut down becuase it literally took power away from the 'business as usual'. There has not been anything like it since (yes, there are many other networks of course but nothing like NAPSTER which altered the very structure of participation.)

Actually,Blogosphere, its shape, size, mythology, references to A-list, blogrolls etc.. etc.. reminds me of Borges "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius". Perhaps this is what I am seeing.

7/11/2006 10:02 AM  
Blogger Jon Husband said...

1. The most powerful movement to alter the FRAME was NAPSTER. it was shut down becuase it literally took power away from the 'business as usual'. There has not been anything like it since (yes, there are many other networks of course but nothing like NAPSTER which altered the very structure of participation.)

Exactly ...

2. Actually,Blogosphere, its shape, size, mythology, references to A-list, blogrolls etc.. etc.. reminds me of Borges "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius". Perhaps this is what I am seeing.

Pretty much ... extrapolating into the future from there, whether linear or in some kind of Borgian fractal, seems pretty depressing to me.

No wonder Joe Bageant wants to go live in a small shack in Belize and go fishing.

7/11/2006 12:23 PM  
Anonymous tom said...

I hope to have a chance to respond to these comments - thanks K!, Jon et al. In the interim, K!, I want to echo Jon's "exactly." I don't think anything else represented the potential of the Web as envisioned in the EB (early blogging) era as well, or even came close, as Napster. Lifting certain Intellectual Properties that had been purloined in turn through a series of legal and technical maneuvers by a bunch of corporate pirates was certainly a no-no. Everybody got that real fast. So now we're back to pallid imitations and corporate imitations of file sharing. The Net would appear to be of the same epoch as The Man in the White Suit (circa 1951). Back to narrow selections of the "most beloved melodies" of all time by people whose entire sense of music comes from scarcity-based purveyors of the top 40. What does it take to trash the frame?

7/11/2006 3:50 PM  
Anonymous tom said...

More on this thread on Searls.

7/11/2006 11:53 PM  
Blogger Kombinat! said...

Let me add a comment to the pot: This comes from Faucher at New Economics of Late Capitalism division of Exquisite Corpse:

"What has reality television taught us? Obsession with the minutiae of our very mundane existence, recast into a plasticized setting, starring the average individual who comes to represent the idealized being to be transmitted as culture-code, (...) Reality television succeeds where previous forms did not: in leveling the summits of individual difference, and by merging the celebrity and the average nobody into a cohesive mid-point unit--the creature that produces what it consumes, and distributes a diluted system of values under a more severe and surreptitious moral set that has its fount on the extreme right. Marketing cruel infantilism to the mores has never been more profitable as the tired old wheel of the dialectic keeps turning."


Now read above thinking of what has occured in bloggin in the last 2 years. One can say that "Blogging succeeds were previous forms did not by producing a creature that produces what it consumes. Kombinat! has never been more profitable"

What does it take to trash the frame? I don't think there is one answer but among the possible choices to trash the frame are:

1. Stand at a busy intersection downtown then quicly get naked and run around screaming "Potatos are brown. Potatos are brown. (alternatively you could scream "Strawberries are red. Strawberries are red")

2. Bring a table and two chairs to a busy intersection. Put a chair at each end of a table. Sit on one chair and invite other people to sit on the other end and ask them what would it take for them to run around naked screaming "strawberries are red"

3. Bring a chair to a busy intersection. Stand on a chair and read out loud Declaration of Independence of United States. Ask others to read sentences out loud with you.

4. Bring a freshly cut bush from your back yard to a busy intersection. Ask people to punish this bush for being such a bush. Demand this bush be beaten and burned. Have others protect this bush and adopt it instead. Observe the interactions. Tell them tomorrow you will bring a chair and copies of Declaration of Independence.

etc...

7/12/2006 11:27 AM  
Anonymous tom said...

Foucher is on to a lot there, K!. I think your analogy from reality TV holds true for at least one aspect of blogging, which I have long associated with the terminal tedium of the nursing home. That mode in which bloggers choose to blog about whatever is the deal of the day. Somnolent, bored, looking for any excuse to blog.

This is one large area of the sphere, but of course there is more. If one could map the totality of it, a picture of human preoccupations would emerge.

It probably wouldn't be flattering.

For me, your examples tend enforce the sense that the frame is strong.

7/12/2006 11:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Humbly, this, from this and this.

a.mole

7/13/2006 9:01 AM  
Blogger Jon Husband said...

This seems (to me) related as well, ref. the ongoing blogging for the sake of just saying something.

I often wonder about whether blogging is helping me understand how I connect dots or not, or whether it is helping me dissemble the dot-connecting I presumptuously think I may have accomplished.

Or both, which may, if I am lucky, get me onto the path of knowing nothing.

7/15/2006 1:12 PM  
Anonymous tom said...

continuing this thread here.

7/21/2006 12:49 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home