Faking yourself as resistance

by Rob Horning

7 January 2011

 

Fibreculture journal posted 10 theses about Web 2.0 by Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter. I think the term Web 2.0 is starting to seem dated and inadequate to describe what they are talking about with these; something like network culture or social media might be more apropos. It was probably forced on them by the journal’s theme, which illustrates the disconnect between how fast the internet changes and how fast scholars can organize to discuss the change.

The authors are primarily concerned with how social media diffuses social conflict: “Where is the enemy? Not on Facebook, where you can only have ‘friends’. ” And: “The virus is the closest thing to conflict online.” Instead of dispute and critique, there is sheer surfeit as a mode of dissent

They ask rhetorically, “How does conflict manifest within the comfort zones of social networks and their tapestries of auto-customisation?” and suggest that time spent with such media anesthetizes us; they haven’t proved useful in organizing social movements. They have allowed the mere fact of participation masquerade as collective social action in the tallied wisdom of crowds. Lovink and Rossiter argue: “«Participation» in «social networks» will no longer work, if it ever did, as the magic recipe to transform tired and boring individuals into cool members of the mythological Collective Intelligence.” In other words, simply participating in social media doesn’t mean that one’s voice is helping direct the “general intellect” that Marx writes about in the Grundrisse and has since become a key concept in theories (like Hardt and Negri’s) about the revolutionary potential of the Multitude. Some see the rise of social media as confirmation of what Hardt and Negri prophesized, that the new sorts of subjects fostered by globalized capitalism inherently participate in some new kind of democratic association simply by virtue of their being, by instinct. This spontaneous collectivity is destined to overthrow capitalist Empire in favor of the expanded commons and peer-to-peer sharing and the end of profit and alienated work and all that sort of thing. Lovink and Rossiter are skeptical.

The authors also make the point that social media are simultaneously a form of consumption and a form of labor, so it makes no sense to talk about them as “free.” We pay for them by consuming/using them—that’s their essential nature, their defining quality.

These days ‘free’ is just another word for service economies. The linux fiefdom know that all too well. We need to question naïve campaigns that merely promote ‘free culture’ without questioning the underlying parasitic economy and the ‘deprofessionalization’ of cultural work. Pervasive profiling is the cost of this opening to ‘free market values’. As users and prosumers we are limited by our capacity as data producers. Our tastes and preferences, our opinions and movements are the market price to pay.

The internet makes us feel entitled to voice our opinion about anything, as Paul Ford argues in this essay. Ford writes as though this is an innate human tendency, but arguably, the Web instills it in us, encouraging an irrepressible irritation to speak because of how frequently our opinion is solicited. What’s important to remember is that inciting this irritation and giving it an impotent forum is a mode of control. The Web serves to vent off dissent, preoccupy our critical faculties on trifles when we are not caught up in the positivity of social networking. (“Hi friends! Let’s share! Rainbows! Puppies!”) Lovink and Rossiter’s advice: “We need to promote peer-education that shifts the default culture of auto-formation to the nihilist pleasure of hacking the system… If you must participate in the accumulation economy for those in control of the data mines, then the least you can do is Fake Your Persona.”

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