Wednesday, January 9, 2013

9 of 95: Hello, human. Is that your voice I hear?

9. These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.

[Part 8]

There is a game I like to play with my contemporaries, and that is the game of pointing out confounding things that gave happened both because and despite the recent advances in everything.

The confounding confusions of contemporary life are many and confoundingly confusing.

So we have all of these new technologies, all of these new social conventions and all of these new ways of making social interaction happen - that's an empirical fact. We have them, all of them, at once, available now. As in, right now, no extra effort required, all you need to do is to go use them.

Like public libraries. Only with better hours.

So we have all of these new thingamajigs. Yet the actual uses they are put into are more stupid than they need to, less human than they should, and all in all less enabling than they by any reasonable standard ought to. What gives?

There are two lines of reasons to this. The first is capitalism - you're already familiar with that, so I'll just subvert you with this here link. The second should be familiar to you as well, as it is the standard critique of liberalism: making something a formal right/possibility doesn't automatically confer the means or realistic life conditions to use these rights and possibilities.

You may have the right of free speech, but during your lifelong struggle to make ends meet in the slums of Sao Paolo you somehow never got around to acquire an education in the art of saying things effectively. Or anything else, for that matter.

Or, to paraphrase: there's no such thing as technological determinism.

We have the technology to do things in better ways. We have the technology do organize in radically new social ways, and to utilize the new means of discursive production in brutally efficient manner (hello, Wikipedia). We have the technology to make knowledge exchange (stack exchange) a thing of everyday life, in contrast to the traditional elite seclusion of the university institutions.

We have the technology to tear down any number of walls. But having the tech - the possibility - is not the same thing as this happening all on its own. It shouldn't be a political issue, but in terms of actually existing human beings, it is.

As is all possible change, until it has transformed into the always-already state of normality.

So people have the possibility to make something new. People such as you and me, here and now, today. The always ever present logic of capitalism will make sure that this possibility is turn into a profit margin, no matter how pervasive the surveillance of workers will turn out to be - Taylorism never ceased to exist, and it too relishes in its newfound capacity to do what it has always done. and the equally present logic of actually existing human beings will ensure that the various subreddits will continue their existence.

New tech, new possibilities. Same old humanity. The same old confounding confusion about the difference between what is and what could, should and ought to be.

The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. For better or worse.

I'll see you again tomorrow for part ten. Do tech over to Les and Eli for their thoughts on the matter.

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