Saturday, December 29, 2012

The tragedy of the common internet

Often when discussing file sharing, the notion of the tragedy of the commons is invoked. Often as an argument against it - the one person having access to most of human culture is no big deal, but as more and more entities gain this access, stranger and stranger things start to happen. In the end, tragedy occurs.

For those of you who for whatever reason might want a reminder of what the tragedy of the commons is all about, here's the gist of it: imagine a public space, open for everyone. Any one person using it won't make that much difference, so the implicit imperative for any one parcitular person is to use it to the max. Which, eventually, leads to a critical mass of people using it to the max. Which, in turn, ends in tragedy, as the usefulness of this public space is diminished or even destroyed, due to everyone overusing this public space.

The implied relevance to the issue of file sharing being that even though the one person engaging in it can be written off as collateral damage, the effect of the multitude of people doing it is a radical shift in consumer behavior that will destroy the common good. Which, according to this logic, means that any and all cultural activities that also happens to be a commercial enterprise will in effect shrivel and die because no one is willing to pay for anything anymore.

Why pay for anything when everything is free, right?

Wrong. Evidently wrong, too. My proof for this claim is as follows: the internet exists.

This is the entirety of my claim. The alpha, omega and all in between. Nothing added, nothing subtracted - this is it, in sum total.

So, what does it mean that the internet exists? And, moreover, that it has existed for so long that those born on this side of the millennium bug don't know what a world without it looks like?

It means that the fact that people are still willing to pay for culture is a brutal argument against the validity of the invocation of the tragedy of the commons. Because - and be sure to notice my stressing of this point - even though most of what's produced in terms of commercial culture is available for free these days, people still pay for it. And, moreover: if you ask them about it, they will most likely tell you that this is the right and proper thing to do.


Can we get past this moot point now, and get back to the business at hand? There's a whole lot of business going on on this internet thingy, after all, and I dare say that most of it has something to do with culture -

Friday, December 28, 2012

Overcoming everyday life

I am having a womancold.

A womancold is exactly the same thing as a mancold, only with less sympathy and more pain, responsibility and missed opportunities.

The thing about being sick is that things that things that are usually very easy to do, suddenly become an epic struggle of stupendous proportions. And getting these things done is a project of intense management, juggling the ever decreasing amount of resources in a manner that makes most work places seem like a fun place of relaxed relaxation with optional amounts of actual work - in comparison.

In short, it's somewhat of a challenge.

In a way, this challenge is something of a relief from the ordinary state of things. Suddenly, you know what to do, and you know that it is within your reach to do this thing - in contrast to ordinary life, where the default mode is not having a clue as to what is to be done or how to go about doing it.

So, here I was, barely able to stand up, my head spinning like any number of electrons on a mission, and the most primal of all urges told me to get thing done.

Being out of toilet paper is no laughing matter.

What to do, you ask?

There are several options. One is to brutalize oneself through the sickness and stumble to the store to get some new paper - no matter the protests of the body. Another is to ask someone for help. Another is to soldier through this lack and make do with whatever substitute might happen to be around -

Options abound.

It does make you view the default mode of your everyday life in a new light, to be sure. Suddenly, taking things for granted is not an option, and this renegotiation of your relationship with the world is an imperative to appreciate what you have once health is restored.

Like, for instance, the ability to get a womancold without having to worry about life and limb. Thanks to the actually existing socialist utopia I live in, I know I can just retreat from the world until the sickness fades away, without having to worry about anything bigger than the lack of certain necessities.

On the one hand, life sucks - womancold, you know. On the other hand, life is pretty good, all things considered.

Once I'm back on my feet, I'll be sure to remember this.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Text me

There are two kinds of text in the world.

The one is where the different parts of the text serve as parts of a coherent whole, where each and every part provides you with some aspect or detail of a greater whole, and where the ultimate goal is that you as a reader navigate these parts in order to grok the more overarching theme and structure of the work.

The other is where the author draws your attention in various ways and directions in order to make you think in new and interesting ways.

I sometimes forget that these two types exist. For some reason, I imagine that there is just the one, and that anything I write will have to measure up to some sort of Platonic yardstick of textiness. If the parts don't measure up - well, then shut up.

This is not a good thing. It means I go silent for a longer while than is healthy for an aspiring blogger.

What is a good thing, though, is that I'm sometimes reminded that I don't have to be the newest, edgiest, wittiest or bestest of anything. I just have to be the one who nudges you and your thinking in a direction neither of you have been nudged before.

This is a more managable goal.

I nudge you to ponder it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Why end the world when we can change it?

So. The world ends today.

Or, well. It doesn't. But I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in having a blast bonding with people in the hyperbolic and utterly ironic preparations for this supposed end of the world. I've talked to people I rarely talk to otherwise, met some new people, and on the whole been on a socializing binge.

Good times, these endtimes.

It's hard not to think of the saying that it is easier to envision the end of the world than a minor change to the modes of production. That it is easier for everything to end than to change.

Somehow, this idea lingers, even though the world as we know it has changed radically over the last years. You already know the list - the Soviet Union fell, the internet arose, cell phones happened and so on and so forth. In short, we moved from a world based on the active (and, to be sure, passive) restrictions on what people could communicate, to one based on the fact that these restrictions do no longer apply.

This is a brutal change in both the means and the modes of production. And most of us remember living through it, and can still feel obligated to know the answer to questions such as: when was the first time you used a computer?

We've been there, done that, got the scars. And remember the time before that.

Despite this brutal revolution in the ways to go about things, it still seems like it's easier to imagine the end of the world than a minor change to the state of things.

Why is this the hegemonical thought? And how do we remix this into something more realistic?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Songs for the end of the world

According to sources, the world will end tomorrow. This being quite a pivotal even for us all, I figured we could all sit down and discuss the important things. Such as, say, the soundtracks the end of our particular lifeworlds might have.

I am going to share with you - right now, before it all ends - the four soundtracks of the end of all my things. Along with a short motivational string of words, to put the end times in context. Are you ready?

Here goes.

One might think the passing of a world is a big, sorrowful thing. But, in the words of Silver Mt Zion:
Let's have a parade
It's been so long since we had a parade, so let's have a parade!
Let's invite all our friends
And all our friends' friends!
Let's promenade down the boulevards with terrific pride and light in our eyes
Twelve feet tall and staggering
Sick with joy with the angels there and light in our eyes
Brothers and sisters, hope still waits in the wings like a bitter spinster
Impatient, lonely and shivering, waiting to build her glorious fires
It's because of our plans man; our beautiful ridiculous plans
Let's launch them like careening jet planes
Let's crash all our planes in the river
Let's build strange and radiant machines at this Jericho waiting to fall

It is a big thing, indeed. So let's go out with a parade. The last thing we will se is a multitude of smiles reflected in each others eyes.

I did mention that smile, didn't I?

Sit down, friend. You are among your peers. You, me and everyone we know. The world might end tomorrow, but there's nowhere else I'd rather be than right here, right now.

And, yes, I know. The very essence of the world ending is that we won't be here tomorrow, and that some sort of transition between now and then will be required. So I propose we make it in style - 747 style. The one last careening jet plane to close off the parade.

Smile, friends. The world is over. And now, it's time to do something else. -

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Having fun with discourse

In their fun but somewhat overwrought book Contingency, hegemony, universality: contemporary dialogues on the left, the three authors Butler, Laclau and Zizek discusses contingency, hegemony and universality. At some length. For our purposes, we only need to extract their sense of hegemony, which goes something like this: of all the things that is theoretically possible to think, only a few of them are actually thought, and those things that are actually thought constitute what might be called hegemony.

They go on quite a while about it, but that's the gist of it.

This notion of hegemony opens up for the notion of certain people being pariah. People who, for whatever reason, are not accepted in a certain social setting, yet which are for that very reason a part of that same social setting. As Hannah Arendt described so acutely in her work Rahel Varnhagen, there is very much a difference between being present in a society and being part of it, and never is that difference more pronounced than when one is a visitor in them.

As any guest worker can tell you.

While it might, in theoretical fact, be very possible indeed to conceive of a notion of (actual) citizenship that includes those who are at present excluded, the presence of hegemony precludes this possibility from undergoing the formality of actually occurring. It may be a good idea to go through with this expansion of citizenship for the community in question, but, again - hegemony.

If we want to understand this hegemonic power over what is and isn't thinkable, we could do worse than to turn to Michel Foucault. In the Archaeology of Knowledge, he talks about the discursive conditions that form and inform our social practices, which in turn forms and informs what is thinkable and what isn't. Depending on what contingent (there's that word again) factors once served to shape our discourse was, our present takes on forms they wouldn't have taken on otherwise.

(As any who has studied anything at all about ancient Greeks know, there's really no getting around the fact that you have to know the context of the Ancients to really understand their thoughts. Socrates didn't die due to lack of a will to live, after all, and this death has inspired many a possible thought into hegemony -)

Well. Back to our times. From Foucault, we can take two directions. We can either go with Bourdieu, and discuss the habitus as the ultimate expression of hegemonic being - whatever you happen to be, you are in some sense a hegemonic being, and cannot be otherwise. Not due to personal failings, but due to the limitations of the human body - you do have to be someone, no matter how many indecisions you commit in a daily basis.

Or, we can go with Hanna Fenichel Pitkin's notion of the anti-blob. Which is to say - society is not a blob, and regardless of how brutally hegemony may affect our lives, change is  possible. Society may be big, slow-moving and prone to mind numbing inefficiencies, but it is possible to make things happen. In spite of and indeed because of these very things.

I usually return to Nancy Fraser's Rethinking the public sphere at this point. There is hegemony, yes, and there are things that simply cannot be said and/or done in society as we know it today. The solution to this - the correct answer, if you will - is not to despair, but to build our own hegemony, where new things are thinkable and new ways of being are made possible. Not a global hegemony, to be sure, but a small one, a local one. One where we, the local people, can talk to each other as the people, about the people we really are -

And thus, reforming our respective habituses into something new.

There is, of course, somewhat of a risk of becoming pariah in the course of building this subaltern discourse of ours. But as any fan of Doctor Who can tell you - it won't matter.

So go out there and have fun. Remix that discourse with a smile, and prove the current hegemony wrong once and again.

Not once and for all, though. We do still want change to be possible, after all. -

How to make a new year's resolution last longer than four months

A new year approaches, and with it, a new round of #95theses.

I've already invited you all to come join me in this festival of a blog series, so I'm not going to do it again. Instead, I'm going to muse for a bit about what we will see in the coming months.

First off, the first thesis: Markets are conversations.

Right there, we have the basis for a radical re-evaluation of what it means to be an actor on the market. And, with it, a re-evaluation of what it means to be an actor in what we tend to call human life. As the logic of capitalism and market exchanges encompasses ever larger areas of our daily life, so it becomes ever more important to understand how and why this logic has changed.

Only in the twentieth century could you get away with talking about the free flow of goods and services as if they had nothing to do with people. Suddenly, communication becomes that much easier to do, and suddenly you have to care about what you say to your customers.

Saying that communication has become easier is a backward way of saying that it was harder back in the days. Harder both in terms of getting the word out to the people, and in terms of getting the word to you. If you were a small business, you had to work like a dog in order to make people notice you - at all. And if you were a regular customer, chances were you went with your standard option (i.e. a big corporation) rather than attempt the complex task of finding things out the hard way.

Or, to put it yet another way: how do you find things without using a search box?

It can be done, to be sure. People made whole careers out of being able to find stuff that way. But most people didn't, and this tendency made it all to easy for the big established players to get away with not talking very well with its customers.

Why would they? They were the standard option, after all. Old faithful. Tested and true.

This changed.

This has consequences for our daily lives in two ways. First off, we do seem to have more choice regarding where to spend our money these days. We can easily find those previously hard to find places and give them the benefit rather than the doubt. We may not have more money, but we can do the research and determine if we are using it well.

Secondly, it wreaked havoc with the notion of getting a job and staying there for the rest of the career. As it turned out, the big, old, true and tested companies didn't know what to do when their customers suddenly started to talk back at them, and continued to talk badly. Too big to fail and all that. And suddenly, the customers went away and did something different. They still bought stuff, to be sure, but they bought them from someone else - because they knew there were other actors on the stage, and because these actors both walked the walk and talked the talk.

It could be argued that the dot com boom (and bust) were due to the fact that more talking than walking went on. That does not change the fact that markets - now more than ever - are conversations, and that this places other kinds of demands on corporations and on people than the old style standardization of production did.

I'm going to explore this theme (and others similar to it) in the months to come. If you want to tag along and be a part of the discussion on this, then by all means. I start out on January the first, going through one thesis at a time until I run out of them at the beginning of April.

It's going to be a fun ride. And I look forward to receiving your input along the way.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tell me why (this is the party of confusion)

I'm hearing rumors about Mr Assange. Rumors suggesting that the formation of a Wikileaks Party is on the horizon. And the one question I keep asking myself is -


First off, it's very much a duplication of efforts. I may be somewhat partial here, but the Pirate Party exists, and it exists in some fifty-odd countries. And if you want to make a dent in the political realities of these countries, you could do worse than suggesting to these parties that they should go ahead and do what they are already doing anyway.

To say that there would be somewhat of an overlap between the actually existing pirate parties and the eventual Wikileaks party, would be to break new grounds when it comes to understatements. To say the least.

Secondly - why would you want to destroy the impartiality of Wikileaks? If a party comes into being,  all future leaks will be seen in the light of the question "how does this benefit the party?". The notion of just putting the truth out there is brutally undermined when you become someone who stands to benefit in a very direct way from releasing some pieces of information and withholding other pieces. Being impartial is a hard thing to do when one is blatantly partial.

I do not understand this line of reasoning. At all.

Do you know something I don't? Do tell!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What to do with this post-rational virtue of ours?

What does it take to be rational these days?

The disconcerting answer to this question is that it takes more than personal virtue. Much more. And that it takes more than personal rationality. Much more.

Let's consider the case of pollution. Pollution in and of itself is never rational - no one wants pollution to happen. Yet it happens anyway, and it happens for rational reasons.

Or, rather, as an aggregate of rational reasons.

You see, for any one particular agent, the polluting act is a rational thing to do. For instance, any one person not using a car in order to get around won't make that much of a dent in the overall pollution situation. That one person may, on the other hand, face a wide range of discomforts as a consequence of not using a car. To any one rational person, the tradeoff between not making a dent in the order of things on the one hand, and making clear and significant improvements in the here and now, is in fact not a tradeoff at all. As evidenced by the positively humongous number of people in cars.

The sum total of a large number of rational decisions is an irrational outcome.

It is somewhere around here that the proponents of free market ultra liberalism run into trouble. What do you do when the very thing you base your entire ideological enterprise on - the rational individual - isn't enough to produce the rational outcome we need?

Because - and I'm going to go radical on you all - we need to get a handle on pollution. And a whole range of other issues where the rational thing to do for one person isn't what we need to see in mass effect.

It isn't personal virtue - one person doing the right thing isn't enough. And it isn't personal rationality - that's what's gotten us into this mess, after all.

So. What to do? What's left of virtue and rationality now that the individual aren't the prime shakers and movers of this world we live in?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The political divide: socially mediated opinionmaking and you

It would seem there is something of a catch 22 when it comes to politics. Or, rather, the relationship between citizens and their politicians.

On the one hand, we have citizens who actively want their politicians to make and take stances against the current order of things. There is no shortage of the sentiment that the political process is too slow, and that it would do well to speed things up in terms of getting things done. The citizens are waiting for the people to do things, to make a difference – to be the difference, as it were.

On the other hand, we have politicians who feel that they cannot act because they perceive a lack of public interest in a certain issue. While they might be ever so ready to bring out the political big guns when the time is right, they won't do it as long as the public is less than storming the proverbial barricades.

Which is the whole crux of the catch. The one hand waits for the other, and vice versa.

Clearly, this is a less than optimal situation.

The reasons for things being this way are many. One of the biggest one being that citizens and politicians live in different lifeworlds. Citizens see the issues in the abstract concreteness of ordinary life, where a problem is a problem. Politicians see the issues in the concrete abstractness of the political world, where problems are divided between separate political entities and where you have to navigate the intricate webs of institutional inertia in order to get things done.

To take this to the streets: if there is a pot hole somewhere, the ordinary person will think to himself that it needs to be fixed. The pathway from problem to solution is as straight as the street itself. The politician, on the other hand, will think about which department or institution that has authority over street fixing, what their budget is, what their current order of business is and who one should talk to in order to get them to get to work. And, moreover, how one should talk to that person.

Not quite the straight and narrow.

The thing here is that the politician way of thinking isn't wrong. The world we live in is governed by an intricate network of institutions, and being able to navigate these is a necessity for getting things done. Short of a major governmental overhaul, we are stuck with the institutional setup we have, and knowing who, where and why is a large step in the process of making change.

Needless to say, the sentiment of the people and the political situation within and among these networks of governmental bodies - don't always align. There may be a gaping hole in the street, but if the deciding body is in uproar over something completely different, the chances for fixing that hole are slim. And, conversely, that very same body might be on the cusp on launching the biggest street fixing campaign ever, eagerly awaiting a popular support that is nowhere to be seen - support it would need in order to amend the budget.

I believe you're seeing where I'm going with this. The divide between the public will and the necessities of actually existing institutions.

There are of course moments where these two align perfectly. I would be committing a great sin if I didn't mention ACTA in this context. It is the one, best example of when the two worlds unite in singular action -when public opinion and institutional logic speak the same language.

For every such victory, there are thousands of losses happening in the dark. Not because they don't matter, but because it's hard to make complicated bureaucratic matters of brutal subtlety matter to those who do not know the first thing about the institutional makeup of their government.

Sometimes, the two worlds meet. More often than not, they don't. Remember Occupy.

If you happen do be thinking  "but how does blogging relate to this", now is the time where you will get your answer. I propose, suggest and support the notion of the blogging politician. Not only because it brings them closer to their electorates, but also because it brings the intricate world of political necessity down to an understandable level. The networks of governmental organizations is not impossible to understand, it's just darned hard to get a grip on it when coming from the outside. (Especially for those who spend their lives doing the necessary hard work of the working people - not everyone reads up on constitutional theory after working eight hours in the factory.)

If the politician plays their blog right, they can invite the people to take appropriate action when the time is right - i.e. organizing demonstrations coinciding with important votes, building opinion before important sessions, those kinds of things.

Coordinating what happens inside with what happens outside, as it were.

What do you think about this? Is it something I should be pushing on the politicians I know - and, more importantly, something you would be willing to recommend to yours?

Do tell!

The right to link

Is it a crime to link to something?

Some would say the answer is yes.

"Some", in this case, being the judicial system, which apparently is about to try a certain Barrett Brown for the crime of linking to certain information. If you want details on what, you can crime your way over it from here.

"Some" is also, believe it or not, the Swedish copyright law. It is in fact a crime to link to things, under certain conditions. Not because of malign intent, mind you, but because of something that is about to become very common in the years to come: changed circumstances.

You see, the relevant laws regarding this were written back in the early 1900s. As you may well know, things were different back then. The laws say that 1) copyright is automatically given to someone once they have created something, that 2) they have the right to choose when and how they make their creation public and that 3) to make something public without the creator's permission is not allowed.

Under the conditions of early 20th century, this was as good a copyright law as one could make. No fuss with paperwork, no fuss with different types of works, and in general less fuss than one would expect from copyright regulation. If you created something, you got the copyright to that thing, and that was that. Simple, plain and easy to understand.

Back in those days, the means of production were not quite what we know today. Whatever any one person could do was of limited scope, and couldn't in any relevant way threaten those who mass produced copyrighted works. If you typed out a whole book on your typewriter, you had to put in a lot of effort just to produce that one copy. If you copied a painting, you essentially had to paint it by hand, which again took a long time for that one copy. And so on and so forth - things took quite a while to do back then, and if one person did it it didn't really have an impact on the market as such.

Or, put another way: it's hard to set up a factory cranking out pirate goods by accident. You really needed to know what you were doing and do it on a large scale in order to be relevant for copyright law back then.

These laws are, by and large, still in force. And they produce strange results when they are applied to the current state of things. Linking to something, for instance, has been compared to making something available to the public, which (as we saw in 3 above) is a crime. There actually was a big case a while back where someone was charged for linking to an unencrypted access point for a digital television stream. The stream itself was unencrypted and open for anyone who knew it, and the one thing this guy did was to link to it - therefore making it (more) available to the public.

An extension of this line of reasoning is that it may, in fact, be illegal to tell someone the names of things. If you know the name of something, you can search for it in a search box, and the person who told you the name made the search results available to you. Absurd, yes, but laws don't have to make sense - they just have to cohere.

Again - this state of things is not due to malign intent. It's just the result of good lawmaking not quite remaining good in a society where people have weapons of mass productions in their homes.

You and I take our right to link for a given. But there are forces in the world out there trying to make it something less than given. Good legislation turned bad is one thing, and the interests behind the case of poor Barrett is another.

Let's keep this right a given. Let's keep fighting those things that tries to take this right away from us. With legislative reform where possible (the Swedish Pirate Party is hard at work on that), and through ever more awesome feats of cryptography where it isn't (Telecomix and others are hard at work on that).

Don't let the dead hand of history take away the most potent weapon you have: the right to talk to your fellow human beings.  If we lose that, we lose everything.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The secret, sneaky message hidden in computer games

By playing such games as Dishonored and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I have learned a thing or two about sneaking. One of these things is that it is of vital importance to know the terrain before you try to be stealthy in it. After all, no amount of stealth in the world helps you when you suddenly find yourself in a brightly spotlighted alleyway surrounded by hostile people with very loaded guns.

I've also learned that the best way to gain information about the terrain is a five-step method that looks like this:

1. Arrive at a place where sneakiness is required.
2. Save the game.
3. Kill any and all enemies in the place, in any way. Do not be stealthy about it.
4. Gain information about the terrain. Be sure to take note of any helpful features.
5. Load the game. Use you newly acquired information about the terrain to great advantage.

I have this nagging suspicion that this might not be the best way to go about being sneaky in the real world. And, moreover, that this might not be the only computer game strategy that works wonders in a game setting while being utterly dysfunctional in any kind of real setting.

If you are worried about kids becoming violent, don't fret about the computer games. What they learn from them is that you want a save point before you do anything important, and that it is precisely those moments that don't have a save point where you have to be the most careful. And that if you are not careful, all is lost.

Stop and think. Gather information first, but be safe about it. Then act.

What you should be worried about is the rest of the world that the kids are inhabiting. For one thing, it does not include the option to save the current state of affairs. For another, it does include a whole range of situations that actively tries to teach them that violence is indeed the answer to problems. And - as is the case with the war on terror - that violence is indeed THE answer to the problem at hand.

Leave the computer games out of this. They are positively pacifistic, in comparison.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Wifi ethnography

Every now and then, I check up on the status of wifi networks in and around my apartment. This for two reasons. The one being that I'm kind of lazy when it comes to moving files around, and if it can be done without me actually having to move actual things around, then I will prefer that option. The other being that it is interesting to see what kind of names people assign to their networks.

So far, two things has revealed themselves to me. One is that there's a definite increase in the number of networks around here. Two is that there is less randomness in the naming than one might expect.

There are, of course, the default names. The "we never bother to name our network, so now you know what router o mobile phone we use" names.

The name name. A name that's also a name. Sometimes combined with the above - especially when it comes to phones, where the resulting name is a variant of the [name] [device] formula.

The family names. The x family. Often with an added explanatory word, like "network". Just to make sure to both family and neighbor friends that it's indeed a network that is indeed belonging to the family.

The local entrepreneur, who uses their company name. (If they are smart about it, they don't bother with passwords. Free is good advertisement.)

The local wannabe hacker, with the leet skills and the üb3r1337 haxxor name.

The local real hacker, who comes around to ask you to please stop trying if you show up too many times in the logs.

And, of course, there's always IPREDIA. Which is shorthand for "yarr! welcome, pirate friend!". A clear example of how legislative efforts sometimes backfire into more of the unwanted behavior, and of countercultural reactions to perceived threats to their way of being. -

From the basis of this, I feel as if it might be warranted to suggest that there might be more to the naming of wifi networks than one might initially think. That there might be more things to say if one but takes the time to invest them with discourse.

Who's up for it? Who's with me in thinking that wifi ethnography is a thing?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The theory of social media in practice

If you've seen the spoof on social media experts that the Onion recently made, then we share a certain thought space. If not, then by all means do go on and watch it. I'm going to refer to it later on, and it catches the general drift of a certain critique of social media experts that is all too common these days.

Go ahead. I'll wait until you return.

If you're more of a reader than a listener, then this article by Wasserman makes a fairly good job of explicating things in text form. Once again, I encourage you.

Are we on the same page? Good. Let's get down to business.

I do have to agree that most of what social media experts - both in terms of experts and "experts" - provide is old hat. Their ideas are, in fact, less new than one might imagine. The "experts" mostly copy found advice commonly occurring just about everywhere on the net these days, which may be curated in ever so efficient ways, but at the end of the day it's a slightly more advanced version of copy and paste. The experts, in their part, don't have anything new and original to say either.

This is where I will have to disagree with both the Onion and Wasserman. It's not that social media experts don't have anything to contribute to the world - on the contrary. It's just that just about everything they are saying was formulated back in the days of the ancient Greeks, and what the social media experts are doing is to apply the ancient wisdoms to the problems of today.

Not being new is not the same thing as not being useful.

Wasserman makes a case for the irrelevancy of social media expertise by pointing out a well known fact about consumers: they will crawl over broken glass in order to get a better deal. He may not have used those particular words, but a certain CEO of Ryan Air did. And as you might well know, the business model of Ryan Air is to make everything as difficult as possible for the consumer in order to make things cheaper. If anything can be outsourced to the consumer, it will be outsourced to the consumer - and for as long as the price is right, the consumers will remain consumers.

When it comes to a certain group of costumers, price is the one thing that matters. And, indeed, social media maneuvering won't make these people budge an inch in any one direction what so ever.

Enter Aristotle.

In his famous work on rhetoric, he goes on to define rhetoric as the art of finding the means of persuasion suitable to any situation. In some situations, these means are words and verbal actions. In others, it's a price tag.

Or, rephrased: sometimes, what you need is someone like the CEO of Ryan Air. Sometimes, a social media expert. Most times, you need both doing their separate things in parallel - the one making sure your business is competitive pricewise, the other making sure that those people who actually are affected by social media are affected in a positive way. So that both those with hard noses and those with sensitive browsers will take notice of you. And for the rest - well, if you can't make people pay attention, they're not going to pay anything else anyway.

As you can see, this is not a new insight. Aristotle has been around, so to speak, and while we may not want to take him at face value on all matters (things have changed somewhat over the last two thousand years), we do want to acknowledge that not everything is new under the sun. The rhetorical situation is still rhetorical, as it were.

Which does put those social media experts on the spot. If they don't provide anything new, what do they provide?

Mostly, something useful. Especially if an organization really don't know the first thing about being present on the internet, and needs someone to bootstrap them into existence. Even if what they are given is the most standardized and formulaic of unimaginative solutions, it's still way better than going about it blindly and hoping for the best. Sometimes, the most useful thing is also the least innovative.

Again, that difference between newness and usefulness makes itself known.

If there is to be made a case against social media experts - and, to be sure, the "experts" as well - then it is more fruitful to base it on the general lack of theoretical backing. There's a whole lot of running around in circles going on in social media circles, most of which could be avoided with a quick application of ancient Greeks. Yet the practitioners insist on reinventing wheels which the rest of the world has happily used for thousands of years.

I'm looking at you, dark social.

Social media experts need to be reminded that they are part of the same world as everything else, and that ancient wisdom proven through the ages has not simply disappeared only because internet phenomena such as lolcats has made an appearance. While there is much to be said about the workings of the discursive modes of production that enable lolcats to be a viable social strategy, these modes of discursive production were not invented by the internet, and the understanding of these should not be based on the assumption that they were.

In short, the whole notion of "it's all new, and the newer the better!" has to be replaced with something a tad bit more useful. Go back to basics, do your homework and read up on the Ancients. You'll be surprised about how much they really have to say about social media, once you really get to know them.

Like this.