[-empyre-] [-empyre-} Consumer Technology as Revolutionary Technology?

Anne Balsamo annebalsamo at gmail.com
Tue May 29 04:10:23 EST 2012

Hello all,

I have been remiss as a moderator this month in not following up on the many interesting comments that have been registered here. As we're winding down the month of May, I wanted to revisit two important points of discussion, to ask the question WHERE DO WE GO NEXT?

I read the discussions with interest, and then I wonder:  What do I DO? 

I would hazard a guess, that the answer to this question is HIGHLY individualized:  it is a matter of the personal ethical investment that one makes to devote my life to some projects, and not others.  I wonder, based on the trajectories of these two conversations, how would the participants address the question:  WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?


The broad topic of this month's forum, Designing Culture, was very much about a "call" to consider the infrastructures of technoculture, and to reflect on how people and technologies collude to create "culture."

There have been accounts of creative collusion:  such as that which was posted by Jon Winet, Margaret Crane, Dale MacDonald…to work with the technologies-on-offer to make them do something different, something more liberatory, or in the service of different ideals (democracy, not profit).

Mark Meadows asserted though that "creative collusion" has limits:

> but by our artistic and social desire to publish our 
> lives we're unintentionally improving malevolent architectures so that they better funnel 
> and analyze us. the design of the culture is something that is herding us and i, for one, 
> do not welcome our new robotic overlords.

To which Jon Winet noted:

'The essence of being human involves asking questions, not answering
them,' JSB said."

I'm pretty sure I can hold onto that ray of hiope as well, as it certainly also identifies the heart and soul of avant grade creative practice, to operate and experiment working outside of the narrow
angle of too much of quotidian experience.


Julian Oliver built off of Cara Wallis' point, when she wrote:

> Btw, to get back to the Arab Spring, when I read about “revolutionary”
> technologies and how, to some, things like Facebook and mobile phones
> “created” the Arab Spring, I’m very skeptical. Not that new media didn’t
> matter, but when Egyptian government cut off the Internet, the protests
> still continued, using “old fashioned” social networking tools.

Julian replied that the "social media as revolutionary" argument is a grand delusion, and indeed, the internet itself is implemented on a deep corporate substrate:  

".. similarly there is no more a Cloud as there is any Data Center that escapes a
geo-political frame.  The Cloud is perfectly emblematic of a deep and
dis-empowering sublimation of the kind of critical footholds we need now into a
sort of delirious, Mythic and solvent approximation..

Julian  lays it out like this:  

I do believe that the Humanities, in habitual avoidance of technical vocabularies, are in danger of a sort of critical atrophy here - unable to meaningfully describe or engage a great many of the techno-political substrates upon which contemporary (urban) life is increasingly rendered.

One really sees this in discussions that begin framing a Network Politics around the idea that the Internet, at root, somehow belongs to The People. It doesn't and has never belonged to The People. It belongs to those that own and control the cables. If you control a network topology, you control the propagation
(route), distribution and ultimate form of the content received.

POINT # 3:  LOOK TO THE STREETS:  What propels critical engagement??

And then Davin heckman wrote:

> If we want a Hacker culture and DIY ethic.... we probably need to go right to the economic and political roots of the problem.  If we want liberating technologies....  it's probably best that we, as many as possible, form a collective discourse of human rights and start agitating for it.  Occupy is a good start.  When you want to be free and when you have companions in the struggle, you tend to use every tool at your disposal to make it happen in whatever way possible, small or large. 

Johannes Birringer asked:  

I'd venture to say, following Davin, if i understood his point correctly, that the social media technologies propel nothing.  

THe question from Johannes is about PROPELLERS:  how is social consciousness and the consciousness of the exercise of political power activated/engaged/incubated?


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