[-empyre-] the netopticon

Christina Spiesel christina.spiesel at yale.edu
Thu Jan 13 16:45:53 EST 2011

Dear Marc and all,

Thank you for such a thoughtful and dialogic response! I would like to 
pick up on a number of threads:

Efficiency: In one scenario, corporations of all kinds seek both to make 
their lives predictable and to reduce friction as a cost. (If time = 
money, then art-making is truly inefficient, Leo Castelli 
notwithstanding.) Facebook members/users find "broadcast" relating to 
friends to be efficient.  Is this listserve an aspect of efficiency or 
just group formation and maintenance and gift exchange of thinking? In 
economics, efficient markets are ones where the price is right (in 
multiple meanings of that term). Is efficiency also a spiritual term 
where we believe that if we remove inner  impediments to creativity we 
will produce more and more fully with less inner friction?

Networks as a means of resistance.  The top layer of the Internet (where 
the users start) rides on many other layers, so if we use open source 
applications, they are still using network technology that isn't open 
source and, in fact, isn't open -- it is opaque. Does open source 
software protect us from the government assigning us each a unique 
identifier?  Will it ameliorate the effects of the lack of net 
neutrality? (Here's a link to Corey Doctorow 's(he maintains BoingBoing) 
essay on the importance of net neutrality to content creators:
He sees this as the great issue for our time.  I am inclined to believe 
that is the case, although it is perhaps better to say that it contains 
many important threads, and that working for that one litmus issue is 
efficient because it touches on so many other issues. It, too, is 
interested in efficiency for artists in access to markets, in his case, 

So I am wondering how the net neutrality issue connects to the large 
trends recently outlined in two talks two talks I heard at the 
Technology and Ethics Working Group at Yale this fall, both given by 
extremely well placed (on one axis, anyway) people: David Rose, Rose 
Tech Ventures & Track Chair, Finance and Entrepreneurship, Singularity 
University,  followed the next month by Dennis Bushnell,  Chief 
Scientist at NASA-Langley.Research Center.  [Singularity University is 
funded by Google-NASA, btw.) In some ways they were saying the same 
thing, although Rose was very upbeat and enthusiastic and  Bushnell  
gave a grimmer picture. They both spoke with airs of inevitability -- 
"it is going to be this way," which I found both troubling (because it 
assumes no objection is possible) and disturbing (if it is inevitable, 
then who/what can be held responsible? Human beings are making 
decisions, engaging in behavior, making plans, building stuff. It is a 
conceptual error, I believe, to assume that no responsible choice can be 

Rose was optimistically envisioning "a world without work" (which is 
very efficient), where people contract with each other, "right-sizing, 
outsourcing, off-shoring, etc." He maintains that anything can be 
outsourced.  Using crowd sourcing and Amazon's Mechanical Turk, 
individuals will be their own companies.  The problem with this vision, 
of course, is that there is no stability for anyone with regard to 
putting food on the table, and many will fail in the perpetual bidding, 
their services not desired at any price. What will millions of crazed 
and bored and hungry people do? When pressed on this question, he 
answered, I paraphrase, "the government will take care of that." A 
government controlled by corporations? Nevertheless, we can all see the 
signs of changes like this in the work place and we have poor 
understanding of the meaning of work in people's lives -- at least 
American culture does for all its work ethic mythology.  All of us on 
this list, whatever our complaints, have found ways to make meaning.

Bushnell described a coming world in America where we are significantly 
falling behind other nations (Now we are 29th in life expectancy, 72nd 
in overall health, 8th in global innovation index. 44% of our 
engineering is done off-shore, to name a few symptoms.)  He then went on 
to describe environmental challenges -- global warming, overpopulation, 
etc. He sees some solutions in real alternative energy, IT etc. Advanced 
robotics will replace most human labor. And having acknowledged that 
humans are "becoming psycho" , he proposes saving money by eliminating 
teachers using the web, instead, and very inexpensive "superb virtual 
education." Why is it that there is this belief that educating a person 
is just training?  I have dashed through a presentation from each 
speaker of facts, figures, and ideas that went on for more than an hour, 
so this really isn't in any way a complete summary. But it leads to this 
generalization, fair or not:These are thought leaders who have no 
positive social vision for humankind beyond the merely instrumental. I 
think it is no accident. The Singularity posits the convergence of our 
technology with artificial intelligence greater than own own. Never mind 
that machine intelligence is not the same as human intelligence and to 
believe that it is requires defining only certain mental activities as 
"intelligent."  So it seems to me that there is a very big job to be 
done to reinvigorate humanness as valuable. It doesn't mean being a 
Luddite, but it does mean taking on the conversation, maybe even 
educating others to the issues.

There is a further problem: the conscious or unconscious religious 
underpinnings of the technological divine (remember, the 
Singularitarians are dreaming of achieving immortality by uploading the 
contents of their brains -- just theirs or everyone's? Just "the 
elect"?)  See David Noble's /The Religion of Technology. /Also, Jaron 
Lanier/'s "The First Church of Robotics" /


Certainly giving one's life over to an imperative can have this aspect.

I have gone on probably longer than is polite but let me end by asking this: Does building a panopticon make us feel godlike?

 From snowy New Haven (30" or more in the drifts)


On 1/12/2011 10:53 AM, marc garrett wrote:
> Hello Christina & all,
> I was thinking about your question...
> >But I am wondering whether Foucault can really help us here.
> I do appreciate what you mean. Although, Foucault may not 
> 'necessarily' be able to directly inform us in relation to our present 
> day, (digital) networked experiences and more recent political shifts; 
> what I have found useful is that, he has layed out for us an 
> approachable body of investigation, where we can define (earlier) 
> examples of where certain power relations have existed. As in 'where 
> this all fits', psychologically and instrumentally in the past tense, 
> and how it has evolved. His writings on power and knowledge, his 
> critical studies of institutional behaviours, and psychiatry, 
> medicine, the human sciences, and the prison system; allow us to delve 
> into 'an underworld, a background world', where readers have a chance 
> to consider matters concerning power and these type of influences on 
> everyday people's lives.
> >We may all ultimately be complicit in systems we live amongst
> >because we just want to get on with life quite aside from what
> >self-interest is served, but the fact remains, there are huge
> >power asymmetries here and for any one person to take
> >responsibility for the military-industrial complex we are
> >living under is absurd -- because our range of action is always
> >limited in a variety of ways.
> Of course, this is so true. Domesticity and consumerism dictates our 
> relationships with others and the larger, stronger power structures 
> and its various processes - in which we are all entwined.
> Sometimes, I feel that many expect a revolution when really what we 
> perhaps need is something less absolute or rather - I feel that many 
> are distracted with the romanticism of a revolution. My own 
> perspective on this is that, we can experience mini-revolutions and 
> these may be personal realizations, locally shared with small groups 
> forming their own independent contexts; with progressive and 
> critically engaged strategies beyond top-down orientated attacks on 
> particular freedoms. In my world, this includes building shared 
> structures (online and offline) with artists, thinkers, hactivists 
> etc. Building collective platforms using open source methodologies and 
> free code. And, whoever decides to engage in these matters (or not), 
> at least try to explore alternatives beyond the structures already in 
> place, whenever possible. Whether at home, at work, or in leisure.
> Getting back to your comment regarding asymmetries and how...
> >one person cannot take on or take "responsibility for the
> >military-industrial complex we are living under."
> Perhaps one way around this, is to not view it as an absolute. We all 
> have our own small parts to play and can only do so much. As 
> individuals we are weak against Goliath, but with others we are 
> stronger and can re-arrange things accordingly. We do not necessarily 
> need to fight fire with fire. We can (and do) re-hack our way around 
> problems in relation to our human-scale intentions.
> >Efficiency is a term that calls to me as a term to be
> >grappled with. Efficiency is a relative term even if
> >"they" try to elevate it to a category. So what is
> >efficient for one set of goals may be highly inefficient
> >for another...
> Efficiency is an effective default for weeding or filtering out 
> (supposed) mess and subjectivity. With Efficiency, we can also clear 
> away nuances, adventures, stories and content. I get extremely 
> perplexed when ever I hear or read the word 'mankind', I usually 
> prefer 'Humankind', yet we are stuck with 'mankind' being fed to us 
> through so many different portals of communication and history. Deemed 
> efficient for convenience rather than challenging why we use it.
> >But if one doesn't want to engage in the use of power
> >through warfare, assymetrical or not, what are the options?
> Well, hopefully we can explore some of the options on this list. I 
> think we have already begun...
> >Living inefficiently might be seen as a form of rebellion.
> >And what could be more inefficient than art-making?
> Yes, artists, anti-artists, imaginative explorers, or similar types 
> choosing to explore in and around the social constructs, loosen the 
> bolts.
> >So now I will quote Foucault back: "What strikes me is
> >the fact that in our society, art has become something
> >which is related to objects and not to individuals, or
> >to life. That art is something specialized or which is
> >done by experts who are artists. But couldn't everyone's
> >life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the
> >house be an art object, but not our life?" Art in this
> >sense is conceived as a process and attitude and less a
> >subject or strategy. (1982, 83: "On the Geneology of
> >Ethics: An Overview of A Work in Progress."
> Since the Internet & with some networked art before the Internet the 
> argument posed in "On the Geneology of Ethics: An Overview of A Work 
> in Progress.", by Foucault, has definitely become more real, and there 
> are so many examples now. In fact, many are asking (artists) 
> themselves, how to make physical works which exist in real-space, the 
> everyday world; whilst imaginatively exporting their knowledge and 
> skills learnt from experiences using technology.
> To touch upon "Living inefficiently might be seen as a form of 
> rebellion." - one of the problems I can see with this is that, when 
> one is not formally 'culturalized' or part of a socially accepted 
> grid, and when something troublesome occurs, outsiders rarely get much 
> support. Especially when they are not connected within certain 
> hegemonies that carry on regardless and fit around structures 
> exploiting centralized power sources, in traditional modes. This is a 
> typical issue in the established arts arena, as well as with more 
> recognized media art portals whom demand monetary relationships with 
> their user-base, rather than shared values.
> The positive side of this in respect of artists and similar types of 
> individuals and groups who are discovering alternative processes 
> together in creating art experience and systems, beyond reliance on 
> mechanized, top-down orientated 'efficient' frameworks and portals. Is 
> that, they are engaged at the forefront of an art that brings about 
> future possibilities for themselves and others which link to ideas 
> that do not just reflect the mono-cultural and (far) too singular 
> trapping of being dependent on unimaginative ventures around growth. 
> Growth is not sustainability. A recent book I have been reading which 
> I recommend (if you have not read it yet) is 'Prosperity without 
> growth? The transition to a sustainable economy.' Tim Jackson.
> "[...]this report challenges the assumption of continued economic 
> expansion in rich countries and asks: is it possible to achieve 
> prosperity without growth? Recession throws this question into sharp 
> relief. The banking crisis of 2008 led the world to the brink of 
> financial disaster and shook the dominant economic model to its 
> foundations. It redefined the boundaries between market and state and 
> forced us to confront our inability to manage the financial 
> sustainability – let alone the ecological sustainability - of the 
> global economy. This may seem an inopportune moment to question 
> growth. It is not. On the contrary, this crisis offers the potential 
> to engage in serious reflection. It is a unique opportunity to address 
> financial and ecological sustainability together. And as this report 
> argues, the two things are intimately related." Tim Jackson.
> I think it's obvious that Wikileaks, and various other factors are 
> forcing many to realize that there other ways 'to be'; beyond the 
> market forces of 'tiresome' unregulated capitalism, but it is not just 
> an economical or an environmental issue. It is also about who is brave 
> enough to step out into the darkness, the unknown? I would say that 
> some writers and artists are doing so, but unfortunately on the whole, 
> the art system just like the governments and administrations 
> controlling their cultures, are not brave enough to critique their own 
> actions, and prefer to rely on what is already given.
> Wishing all well.
> marc
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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