Tuesday, January 22, 2013

22 of 95: How do you measure a user experience?

22. Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.

[Part 21]

The question that most likely lingers from the last thesis is - how do you become accessible, relevant and/or useful?

This all ties back to the beginning, all the way back to thesis #1: markets are conversations.

What makes someone work in a conversation?

As you might imagine, this is not a question with a simple straightforward answer. It's all about context, situation, moods, relationships, power relations, subtle dynamics of the social world - and, more often than not, if food has been eaten recently.

Bring food to the table. It's guaranteed to be both relevant and useful.

Conversational piece aside, what is accessibility? What is relevance? What is usefulness? What are these things that people so unerringly search for?

It depends.

And it depends to such a degree that the best way to find out is to stop being an external part of the process that is your businesses business. To stop being a service provider that simply shows up, services and then leaves, and start being one of the users.

Don't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins; don't judge a customer until you've run the gamut of your customer service.

What's accessible? - Well, what are you providing? What are you not providing? What are you counting on the customers to bring? What are the demands that your providance make on the provided?

If what you provide demands the patience of an angel, the technical knowhow of a bored hacker and the time represented by a well done legal study - then that is the opposite of accessibility.

What's relevant? - Well, who are you? Who are your customers? Who are you in relation to them? Why are you in relation to them? What genres are at play when you say what you say? What can make you relevant in and to this genre?

Nothing exists in a vacuum. The closest thing to that is the secluded workplace that does what it has always done, no matter what. Don't be that - or you'll suddenly find yourself a maker of irrelevant widgets and popup ads for 404d casino pages.

What's useful? - Well, what are you doing? What are people doing? How are things done? How do these things relate to each other?

We've all seen the disconnect between the one and the other here. Many a times, if we happen to like software updates. Especially those that include features that doesn't make any usable sense at all, but were made anyway -

It all depends. And the only way to show you're dependable is to be a part of the community of people you call your customers.

Or, for that matter, voters.

I'll see you tomorrow for part twentythree.

Monday, January 21, 2013

21 of 95: This isn't just your grandfather's internet

21, Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor. 

[Part 20]

I'm a big fan of first principles. Those things that you can't give any particular reason for, but which lets you get on with doing thing once you've noticed them and started to use them for doing things.

Like, say, the notion that the shortest distance between two points is a line. Nothing surprising about it, but once you state it, it becomes something useful, usable. It goes from being something you know to being something you think about - and this transition is far from trivial.

Let's do some firsting. With the simplest, most straightforward and least particularly reasonable principle we can imagine:

The internet exists.

Again, nothing surprising here. We all knew that. But do we really think about it?

The internet exists. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. - The basic mode of travel on the internet is teleportation.

Shit. Geometry is going to be quite anxious when it hears of this!

The internet exists, and it exists for everyone. That means that you have to take this into account if you want to be a player - no man is an island, as it were, and your fellow fellows are no exceptions. They are as interconnected, communicative and tired of the overabundance of nonsense as anyone else, and the only thing that can get their attention are those things worthy of attending.

This is bad news bears if you are not worthy of attending.

What makes something worthy of attending? is the question we suddenly ask ourselves, with the internet in mind. The answer is, again, not surprising: it is as always the accessible, the relevant and the useful. Especially those things that manage to be all three in combination.

So I ask you, dear company: are you accessible, relevant and/or useful?

There's a whole world wide web out there of things that are. And you are in a business relationship with all of them - mostly competitive ones, with attention being the word of the day. Because people are busy. Busy dealing with the lives they happen to be in, the problems they happen to be facing and the questions they happen to be asking - and they are facing these questions with every web page you can think of available.

The Ancients got to work on the straight line principle. May I suggest we take a que from them and get to work on the internet principle?

I'll see you tomorrow for part twentytwo.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

20 of 95: The laughter that could be

20. Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them.

[Part 19]

Let me mention a few things. Just to see if you catch the general drift: the Office, JPod, Office Space, Horrible Bosses, -

Yep, you caught it. Office based comedy. Good call.

Why do we laugh at the doings, goings and ons of office life, you ask?

Because most of it is absurd, is the obvious answer. It makes no sense, reason or rhyme, produces nothing of value, eats the living guts out of the creativity of men and women alike, and is as close as you can get to a declaration of war upon the very essence of humanity without having a manifesto to spell it out for you.

It also makes money. Both in the abstract sense of creating profits somewhere else, and in the very much more concrete sense of monthly pay checks.

Both of these senses works doubletime as reasons for these places to exist.

Which serves as a reminder, both to us and to the companies affected, that the world we live in right now could be a different one.

One could say that that is no laughing matter. I disagree. It is.

Try laughing in a regular office environment, and you'll see exactly what I mean.

I'll see you again tomorrow for part twentyone.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

19 of 95: Don't take my word for it - the world is bigger than that

19. Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance.

[Part 18]

You do have to love the hyperbole in these theses. Not just because of the rampant "yo, old guys!"-factor in it, but also because it is true.

If a company can't make itself relevant in the world we live in, it's doomed. And the world we live in is determined by those we talk to, interact with, take advice from and create meaning with.

Each other.

This is a game changer. Every post up to this point has, in any number of ways, said the same thing: in the past, when an ordinary life was overdetermined by the general lack of information, the only people who actually knew what was going on were those who did them and those who administered them. Everyone else were in essence left in the dark, and had to take the words of those in and/or with power for it. Whatever "it" happened to be.

When information goes from being a scarcity to being overabundant, the notion of just taking someone on their word for anything is a strange notion indeed. Most of the time, any given statement can be verified or falsified by available information, and the company who simply says "we're the best, cause we say so!" are not in the business of business any more.

I need not remind you that the same goes for politicians.

If you want to talk business, you have to take into account that those you talk to have access to at least as much information about what you do as you do. Probably more, by virtue of them not wanting to spend money on second-rate goods. Or votes, for that matter.

If you want to talk business, you have to talk to people. Because they do indeed talk about you, and if you're not there to give them your side of the story - well, then you're a stranger.

Don't be a stranger. There's too much at stake for that.

Hi, Market. How are you?

I'll see you tomorrow for part twenty.

Friday, January 18, 2013

18 of 95: A company of partners past

18. Companies that don't realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.

[Part 17]

Back in the olden days, it was hard to find someone who shared your interests. If you were odd in even the slightest of ways, chances were that you didn't find likeminded people. Especially if you happened to be interested in the sophisticated and educated parts of our cultural heritage - books were rare, and those who had read them rarer still.

1998 were the strangest of times.

It is easy to think that this is an exaggeration of how much things have changed. That it is a simple glorification of the present, and an underestimation of the communicative capabilities of the past. A digital native's mental construction of an inferior Other that makes the present look that much better in comparison.

That might be. But I want to remind you all that I was there, back in the days when it was a hassle to get together with people. Back in the days when such a simple thing as "meet me at this place at this time" was a complicated business of logistics, probability and intentionality. Especially if one of the parties were late, and thus not at the place at the time. Were they not there because they didn't want to be there? Were they not there due to traffic?

I remind you that there were no cell phones back then. For most of human history, texting someone to ask where they are - or to tell them that you will be five minutes late due because of reasons - wasn't an option.

Things have changed. Mostly for those who suddenly find others who share their interests.

The past was a lonely place. It is a good thing it's over - only having companies for company is a poor life indeed. -

I'll see you tomorrow for part nineteen.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

17 of 95: Get with the times, new roman

17. Companies that assume online markets are the same markets that used to watch their ads on television are kidding themselves.

[Part 16]

Remember television ads?

Yeah, me neither. I do get a rather unpleasant sensation whenever I encounter them, though. They speak at me, in a voice that presupposes the strangest things. Such as me thinking that the purchase of a random item will somehow be a religious experience, bringing me closer to the Essence of Being and fulfilling the void that is my life without these items -

Like I said, the strangest things.

I'm one of those people who do not have a television set. At all. I stopped watching as a child, and never got around to start again. When I move out of my parents home, I didn't bother to bring or buy something that could talk television at me - I didn't need one, after all.

And the strangest thing isn't that I went about life without television. The strangest thing is that I'm not the least strange these days. I am legion - one of many who can't be bothered with doing it old style.

There's something new going on. Let's keep it on, and the telly off.

I'll see you tomorrow for part eighteen.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

16 of 95: Making sense, making money - what's the difference?

16. Already, companies that speak in the language of the pitch, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.

[Part 15]

Since this is a bit of a repetition of #14 and #15,  there is some room for going freestyle and doing something impromptu. And since I've gotten reactions to my focus on capitalism, I'm going to impromptly answer the question: what's the deal with capitalism?

Or, rather, what's my deal with it.

The thing about it is that it defines so very much of the world we live in. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the societies we live in - they are all produced by the means, methods and logics of capitalism. That is, the food you're eating isn't made for eating, but for profit. The clothes you're wearing weren't made for protecting you from the wind and the cold and the gazes of others - but for profit. And more and more of the society you live in is geared towards the making of profits rather than anything else - which makes it a big deal in the grander schemes of things.

Understanding this is key to understanding a whole range of other issues. But you can't get from a to c without taking a gander at b.

What these theses do - among other things - is to point out that the logic of capitalism has gone a tad bit too far. That there is a telos other than the "let's make money!" of capitalism. And that we can take the institutions of capitalism - companies, especially - and transform them into something better. Something that is socially relevant, rather than just of relative interest when the profit margin is concerned.

Or, to paraphrase the thesis of today: if you only speak in the dog-and-pony language of money, you're not making any sense at all. No matter how much profit you're making.

The difference between making sense and making money is more subtle than it would seem. But we will return to that as we continue forward.

I'll see you tomorrow for part seventeen.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

15 of 95: Don't outsource the news - be the news

15. In just a few more years, the current homogenized "voice" of business—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.

[Part 14]

Remember what has been said so far. There are two parallel discourses going on, the one among the people and the one inside a company, and they seldom interact. When they do, it's traditionally called 'marketing', and marketing could care less about what the people are up to. They are more interested in saying something that will make the most number of people react in a particular way, using the old formula of stimuli-response. And while you do have to know a certain minimum about what you subject to stimuli in order to get the proper response, the word 'subject' is a little more feudal than not in this sense.

Let's not reiterate this further. Let's, instead, look at how businesses presents themselves as news.

If you are monitoring any kind of live feeds, you probably get news faster than the news services. The new default mode is that Twitter knows about new developments pretty much as they happen, and if you happen to keep a watching eye out at that moment, you know about them too. After a while, the news catch up on events and gives an authoritative summary of what you already know.

The business model of the news is not to be new - it is to be authoritative, reliable, quotable.

This is somewhat of a game changer for those news services who market themselves as fair and balanced reporters of truth. You no longer hear it from them first, and their assertion that you do seems all the more strange as time passes. You no longer take their word for it - you've already heard the word, and the counterword, and the words of the negotiators in between. Instead of hearing about it on the news, the more relevant question is: of all the things they could have said, they said that?

You are the subject of this narrative.

The same goes for press releases, brochures and other formal informalia from companies. You already know more than their marketing discourse presumes, and from this informed position, the notion of giving consent based on their word alone is alien, to say the least.

Le roi est mort. Vive le roi!

I'll see you tomorrow for part sixteen.

Monday, January 14, 2013

14 of 95: Spectacular guilt, and why it could use a remix

14. Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.

[Part 13]

Have you had a bad day? Are you tired of having bad days? Are you thinking that there might be more to life? Now there is! The ultra mega home appliance 2000 is and as everything you need for a better life! Forget bad days, bad hair and dusty corners - the ultra mega homa appliance 2000 takes care of it all! And if you call within the next fifteen minutes, you get the Mitzu knife for free! That's right, free! So don't hesitate - call now!

If you are even remotely contemporary, then you are more likely to think about various creative uses of knives than anything else.

And, if you are in the habit of talking back at the screen, you might be saying such things as "you don't know shit about bad days, don't tell me what I need and don't need".

Somewhere around here, the thought that the words "successful marketing strategy" are non-applicable to this situation might be formulating itself. Mitzu knife or no Mitzu knife - just telling people that something is a good thing is not enough anymore. Something has changed.

When reading things of my own writing, I sometimes invoke the voices of teachers past. That is, asking myself what these teachers would say about the writing in question. One of them has been particularly useful, due to only having one method of critique: asking why I've wasted his time, and why the implicit payoff from the beginning failed to materialize in the middle or the end. "Don't start something good without finishing it", he'd say, handing back the writing with a very unmissable notation about the good thing that should have been but weren't.

And a smile. Just to put courage into the encouragement.

So. Harking back to #5, we saw the words spectacle, normalization and alienation. And then we didn't see much more of them. Which is a shame - they are good words, better than Mitzu knives. But they are only good as long as they are used, and thus it is time to use them.

Companies traditionally operate within the spectacle. Especially the bigger ones, where communication has to be scaled up to literally inhuman sizes; the marketing strategists will tell you all about how important it is to create an image (a literal image, as it were) of the company that people can relate to. Relating to the company is out of the question - there's not enough manpower for that, and the manpower on hand is busy doing internal stuff - but relating to the image. That can be done. That can even be done within the margins of the budget, which is all that matters.

Ergo, ultra mega home appliance 2000. The very image of the image.

I can't imagine what it must be like to be them. Finding out that a whole generation of kids turned out to be iconoclasts, all of them, not giving too much of a care about the imaginings of marketing. Worrying about what the kid hackers will do with the thing itself once they get their hands on them - which they will, being kids and hackers.

Spectacular indeed.

If you will excuse another bad pun, these kids are a new normal. Or, rather, they've normalized to a new set of standards. The new game is that there are two ways to go about things: you can do them yourself, or you can pay someone else to do it faster. The choice is between doing and paying, and both are legitimate options: sometimes, you just need something done fast, and at other times you need those experience points.

The big example of this is computer games. It is an easy thing to get a hold of just about any computer game for free these days, but you are more than likely to have to put in some extre effort in the getting. It begins with finding a torrent with decent speed, and continues with the application of cracks, installation of patches, digging through settings, not being able to start the game, troubleshooting, finding that error, fixing it, trying again, seeing that it still doesn't work, fixing another error, slowly realizing that the solution might be to learn to read code language -

It turns out that you on average are better off just buying the game, experience wise.

Normalization comes into this picture once we take a step back and realize that both options are equally valid. You don't have to feel bad for not wanting to bother with getting a particularly badly written game to work - or for getting it to work. The logic of normalization doesn't apply at this level. It operates somewhere else.

I.e. you cannot guilt trip these people into buying things. Or, more generally, appeal to their self image when trying to sell them things - their relation to things/tools doesn't work that way. When you create your own tools, you are just that much less likely to take someone else's word for it. And you don't necessarily feel bad for not having a particular tool - the hacker ethos has a special love for those who manage to get things done with the least user friendly tools imaginable.

Que the guile theme.

This is a rather backwards way of applying the notion of normalization. But I do believe you see where I'm going with this.

To return to the image we began this tirade with: the consumer who passively accepts imaged objects into their lives is a thing of the past. The end-user turns into a remixer, who happily nulls warranties, copyrights and user guides in order to turn the word "alienation" on its head.

From passive to active; from alienated to community-driven point of experience. As if the sage advice to always follow up on the good starting conditions is heeded on a larger scale than my reflexive writing/thinking -

I'll see you again tomorrow for part fifteen.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Aaron Swartz and the society of death

I hear words such as innovation, creativity, new ways of thinking, growth, initiative, engaging, effectivization, - you know the whole range of economic buzzwords. you've all heard those words to death.

That's what I hear when those words. Death, death, death, death.

Aaron Swartz is dead.

And with him, many of the buzzwords mentioned above.

We live in a society that de facto doesn't want or approve of the fulfilling of any of these words. That actively punishes those who by any feat of accident or intent happens to do something that could be described by these words.

No, rightists, it's not about the poor being lazy unworkable people who need to be incentivized to work.

No, leftists, it's not about the incessant attacks on labor unions by big capital.

It's about the fact that those who do anything worthy of those buzzwords is actively punished for it. With the least innovative, creative and forward looking of questions in mind:

How shall those who benefit from people living in a situation of low information density continue to get paid for distributing information?

Aaron Swartz is dead.

Pressured to death by a society that is perpetuated, strengthened and armed by those who want anything but innovation or forward thinking. Or any other buzzword that is so often invoked.

Death, death, death. If the present society has anything to say about it.

Let's remix it. Let's build something better. Let's turn the society into our society.

It is the only thing to do. Not only in memory of Aaron, but also as a preventive measure. How many other innovative, creative and forward thinking humans out there aren't there who at this very moment contemplate suicide because society makes its darnedest to imprint on them that they are criminal vermin?

It could have been you. It could have been me. It has most likely happened to someone you loved and lost.

Death, death, death. Enough!

Originally published January 13, 2013

13 of 95: Your Google-fu is no good here

13. What's happening to markets is also happening among employees. A metaphysical construct called "The Company" is the only thing standing between the two.

[Part 12]

Here's a radical thought for you: what if Google simply vanished one day?

I'm quite fond of this thought. Not because of any particular animosity towards Google, but because the notion of millions upon millions of bots doing billions of pings into the void of eternal 404s is a brutal and profound visualization of what transience means. And of what it really means to move from a centralized system of communication to a radically decentralized one.

The internetional botnet you are trying to reach is no longer available.

Right now, at ths very moment, an uncountable number of coders count on the continued existence of the Google for their codemunching. SEO mystics write their arcane formulas, trend analysts tune their bots for certain keywords, any number of back-end applications attaches a string to the one node that answers all pinged queries -

Hey, even lazy writers code for Google, using the always-already tired formula of "a search for the words x gives n results..."

Imagine all of this simply breaking down. 404, page not found, connection timed out. All dependencies are severed, are supply chains are cut off, all lines of communication are returned to All businesses based on the Google doing its magic - dead. All consultants based on condensing the Google experience into what the customer need to head - out of work. All possibilities of making money - no more.

Hyperbole alert? Well, yes.

But I imagine this is in the spirit of how those who fear the advent of the internet, file sharing and the other new forms of communication. Being as dependant as they are on the one logic operator - capitalism - the notion of doing it without the immediate medium of money is as frightening as frightening can be. Suddenly, everything that has been proven to be right in both theory and practice is said to be both null and void, and it is only natural to go on the defensive in response to that. Especially

There is a reason hackers are routinely pictured as either socially maladjusted misfits living in their mom's basements or as supermegahyperdangerous geniuses with almost magical skills. Those who defy a given paradigm are either all out crazy or outright dangerous - if they are wrong, they are wrong, and if they are right, then all bets are off. Those criminals can't be up to no good, ignoring the rules that decent people follow.

I want you to ponder the image of the suddenly disappearing Google for a while. If you are anything like me, it will eventually give you some insight into the worldview of those who just can't seem to get what the while deal with global instant communication is. A sense of that confused asking of the question: if not this, then what?

Like a bot pinging the Google that suddenly wasn't there. Wanting and needing only a Googled response, no matter how many ducks are a go go.

It is only appropriate to end this with a Pink Floyd quote. I'm pretty sure you can Google yourself to the song in question, so here goes:

All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.

I'll see you tomorrow for part fourteen.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

12 of 95: You can have secrets or profits, but not both

12. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.

[Part 11]

This is brutal. In a good way.

Back in the by now quite mythological ages of information poverty, you could get away with selling sub-par products by virtue of the market not knowing that they were in fact sub-par. The cost of researching the alternatives were either too high or our of reach completely, and this fact was exploited by the various actors on the market. Due to the logic of capitalism - make money - corners would be cut, and cut in such a way that what you got was the cheapest possible produced unit with the lowest possible standard of quality acceptable. Cheap, bad and mass-marketed - those were the days.

No more of that now.

A tangible example of this is bike locks. Just take a gander at this here hyperlink for the longer version.

If you gandered, you'll no doubt have gotten to the point by now: if something is broken, it will remain broken, and people will know all about just how broken it is. No ifs, no buts, no secrets - if it is broken, fix it. There will be no mercy if you don't.

Returning to the dialectic between the inter and the intra, we see that the tremendous increase in the communicative ability of ordinary people cannot but have effects on the logic of ordinary workplaces. Or, put in another way: if you keep selling broken bike locks on a market where thieves, customers, bloggers and every mom of every one of these persons know just how broken these locks are, you're done.

That is an ex business model. It has ceased to be.

What you want and need to do is to get out there and talk to these people. The customers and experts. Because they will tell you all about what you're doing. What you're doing right, what you're doing wrong and what you're doing that they don't like. And I hope I don't have to venture into a long diatribe about how you want to keep doing the right things, fix the wrong ones and deal with the unliked ones.

You can't please everybody. That never changed.

This goes for everything. The quality of goods produced, the expedience of services rendered, the everything of everything. Advertising, working conditions, the eco-friendliness of the supply chains, the bonuses to the high bosses, the things that the internal discourses of the workplace has developed a fond blind spot for - nothing of that is secret, and people will find out about it. By virtue of caring about what you do.

I once again want to return to the main point of yesterday's post: you can either view this as a bad thing or a good thing. If you're in the good mood, then you're probably thinking about how everyone's life is improved by the discontinuation of bad practices. If not -


Why would anyone want to keep these bad practices around, I wonder?

I'll see you all again tomorrow for part thirteen.

Friday, January 11, 2013

11 of 95: Not so fast, mister!

11. People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.

[Part 10]

There is an easy way to write this thesis, and that is to just write "file sharing". Just those two words.

I sense we might need to be indirect about this. For reasons of clarity and pedagogy.

What is information? one might indirectly ask. And should you choose to venture out into the vastness of literature on the subject, you would find that you can pretty much pick and choose among the various definitions. There's enough of them for everyone, and then some.

The fact that you can venture out there (most likely starting on Wikipedia) is in and of itself a revolutionary thing. You no longer have to wait for the company, the experts or any particular institution to provide you with a prepackaged morsel of information. You can venture, instead.

File sharing is the transfer of information. Communication, if you want. Don't let the fact that it is faster, cheaper and more efficient than other forms of information transfer/communication cloud your mind - it's exactly the same thing as it's always been.

Only faster, cheaper and more efficient.

This is bad news bears for those businesses relying on the premise that communication will remain slow, expensive and inefficient. At least slow, expensive and inefficient enough that ordinary people like you and me won't bother with the whole venturing business. Slow, expensive and inefficient enough that those who deal in prepackaged morsels of information are perceived as the only feasible mean of getting the word out there.

Tell me, have you bought a CD lately?

Ten (or twenty) years ago, CDs were the de facto standard of moving music around. You could compress a whole lot of audio quality into a small package, and you could do it on such a scale that it made economic sense to do so. And, since no one else could do the same thing at the same scale, you could charge a whole lot of money for it - the prize of a CD has very little to do with material costs, to be sure. Especially at larger scales.

These days, the sales of CDs are down. Due to the fact that they are inefficient carriers of information - no matter how many of them you haul on to an ever so fast airplane, the speed of light is faster than that. And the speed of this internet thing of ours is pretty much working at such speeds, especially as you get closer to the network backbone.

And why should people buy CDs? Other than the nostalgia value, no value is added to the physical object other than the physical object in itself. And you can get a piece of plastic a lot cheaper than what they're charging.

Should you like a particular musician enough, then it is well within your venture capabilities to look them up and give them a donation. Not just once, but as many times as you like.

It goes without saying that if you base your business on the sales of CDs, this might pose a problem to your business model.

For the rest of us, who suddenly are able to venture far and wide into the collected writings and recordings of humanity, this increase the speed of information transfer is a good thing. And it takes a certain kind of slowness to not see it as such.

Even if a few business models may have to change along the information highway to the future.

I'll see you tomorrow for part twelve.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

10 of 95: Context is both king and revolutionary

10. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.

[Part 9]

I feel as if it is time to do something I don't do that very often. That is, talk about what I do when I'm not a blogger, tweeter or a general web presence in some other form.

I sleep.

But other than that, I make it easy for myself. I go to organizations and pretty much apply the advice given in the 95 theses (and in the probably less read but more wordy part of the Manifesto). Often, this is radical and/or different enough to blast many institutional (inertial) practices that just seems to hang around because that's what's always been done.

(Here I could say "hire me", but - that's not why were here. Though I suppose you could draw some conclusions about the whole marketing angle from this - I'll just leave this part in as an illustrative yet incoherent and parenthetical example.)

Anywho, institutional change. As you can see from the thesis up above, it's yet again one of these referrals back to the earlier numbers. Both to #8 and #9, as it were, and this is important. Because much of what I do consists of taking this thesis and applying it onto the actually existing framework of the institution in question. Mostly to see where these effects of more smart, more informed and more organized don't happen.

That's where the change is needed. Most of the times.

If you've read ahead in the theses (or the very helpful cheat sheet over at Wikipedia), you've kinda noticed that the authors place a strong emphasis on the relationship between internets and intranets. Or, rather, the tendency of organizations to think that it is enough to communicate amongst themselves in order to get things done.

As I've argued before, this is enough if all you want to do is transform raw material into money. If the one and only thing you have to do is make a profit at the end of the month, you can pretty much ignore all the communication with the outside world that is not the delivery of contractually agreed results. Money talks, as it were.

This has been the default mode for corporations for the last couple of hundred years or so, give or take with any given definition of capitalism. And there's a lot of institutional inertia going on, to be sure - discourses layered in and on discourses and so forth.

Things are changing, though, and this is where the "smarter, more informed and more organized" part comes in.

If you're working at a workplace where the only lines of communication are internal ones, you're most likely experiencing two things. One is that the communications along these lines tend to take on a certain characteristic of their own after a while, and the other is that this characteristic more often than not tend to get strange features that cannot be removed no matter how much better things would get if they did.

Cue sexism.

It also tends to happen that [other] blind spots appear. Some things don't get done, some things are ignored, some things are constantly left to the interns - some things are left in the eternal category of "we'll do that later".

The traditional (yet domestic) example of this is the meat loaf that gets its two ends cut off.  A family makes meatloaves on a regular basis, and always cuts off the ends before serving. Not because of any particular reason, but because its always been done that way. One day, one of the younger kids bring a friend from school over, who asks about this particular meat loaf style. Not knowing why, they decide to ask old grandma what the deal is. Who says: why, it's because when we lived in that small place oh so long ago, the oven was only yea big, and we couldn't fit a bigger meat loaf in it!

These things tend to outlive both their usefulness and their employees. The bigger and older the institution in question, the more of these things there tend to be. And the more they tend to be like the infamous TPS reports: much fuss about not that much at all.

The general cure for these things is to open up new channels of communications. Not just for one person knowing about different ways of doing things, but for the workplace as a whole. Opening up the black box, as it were, and letting the content take part of a lighter setting. Or letting those friends from school in and encourage them to ask questions.

Not just as a onetime thing, but continually. Enough to change the dynamic of discourse in a direction where the old "just because we've always dunnem" just won't cut it anymore. Because it won't. But we will return to that as we proceed.

This may or may not be what the authors meant by their theses. It's what I make them mean when I go about and do things in the world, though, and since I'm kind of important in this context, this is relevant to our purposes.

Though I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

I'll see you again tomorrow for part eleven.

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.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

8 of 95: That's a capital idea, old chap! I'll retweet it at once!

8. In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.

[Part 7]

Now, I know what you might be thinking. Isn't this something of a rehash of thesis #6, whose only apparent reason for being is that it introduces the divide between inter and intra, the networks of humans vs the networks of employees?

In a word, yes.

Since this theme will recur at some length as we go along, this is a perfect time - kairos - to return to the theme of capitalism. It has been declared vital and then kinda been indirectly forgotten. Let's remedy this.

There is no denying that capitalism produces results. Economists of the ideological bent might tell you it's because the free flow of capital by means of invisible hands unleashes the human spirit or some such descriptive handwaving. Which is interesting if you need a description of results, but tautological to a fault if you want to delve into reasons of why. (It goes without saying that the explanation "this produces this result because it produces this result" is tautological. I'm saying it anyway, so that you can point to this spot and say that I said it here.)

If you want a why, here's one: capitalism works because it reduces existential anxiety. Any and all practical strategic questions about what to do are given a prefabricated answer by default, and this answer is: make money.

This goes for whatever it is you're thinking about doing. Want to be a farmer? Make money. Want to run a newspaper? Make money. Want to run a global consortium of patent trolling with a vast array of lobbying interests in an equally vast number of countries? Make money. No matter what you're about to do, the answer to the question of why is always the same: make money.

This reduction of teleological complexity serves to increase productivity in human endeavors. It reduces the amount of discussion that can take place, and focuses the organizatorial spirit onto this one goal in such a fashion that getting along ultimately turns into an optional feature. You are, as it were, not on the job to make friends, but to - yep, you guessed it - do a job.

Make money.

One doesn't even have to think of an answer to the question what one is going to do with all the money that's being made. That question, too, is pre-answered: make more money, of course!

This capitalization on the cutting of bullshit is indeed a force for increasing production. The ever present need to make excuses, have reasons for what you're doing or explain why this absurd thing has to be done is removed, and as long as the main goal is fulfilled, anything goes. People don't even need to know each other, or indeed know that their partners in capitalization exist - ask any stock trader about their shareholder's interest in the companies they happen to own a part of at this given moment, and you'll see what I mean.

This anonymization of business is a general feature of capitalism. Just think about the transactions you do any given day - how many of them depend on you knowing anything about the person on the other end? When buying things in the grocery store, the fancy phone store, the subway toll booth - how much of the ritualized customer/salesperson relationship depend on you as an individual actor relating to another being-in-the-world?

This is indeed a rhetorical question.

Now, there's no force of increased production that doesn't have side effects, and this general sense of not having to know things about others in order to be a functioning and productive member of society is one of them.

If we return to the starting point - the division between networks among humans and networks among employees - we'll see how the implications of what's been said in earlier posts might make themselves brutally painful. People form communities around things, ideas, values, beliefs, particular human beings - anything you care to mention. Employees, on the other hand, can get along just fine without any sense of community whatsoever, and this shows in their top-downed intranetworks of profit-maximizing ambitions. The mandated goal? Why, to make money of course!

New tools of community are co-opted into new tools of profit making. Regardless of any human factor involved. Not because of malignant intent, conspiratorial conspiracies or even political ambitions, but because that's what capitalism is and does to everything. And everyone.

I'll see you again tomorrow for part nine. Do co-opt Les and Eli's thoughts.

Monday, January 7, 2013

7 of 95: Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy

[Part 6]

The primary mode of transportation on the internet is teleportation. The time needed to travel from the one place to the other is getting ever closer to zero, not including the amount of time a click of the mouse entails. Which is a fact with many implications, most of the summed up by the thesis of today:

7. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.

And they subvert hierarchy precisely through this immediacy. When there's time between act and result, then there's also time time for regulation, bosses telling you you're not allowed to do that - and administrations denying access to whatever it is you're looking for.

It is hard to deny access to something available at a thoughts notice.

One of the biggest reasons that employers restrict internet access on their workplaces is the fear of employees finding out about things. Things such as the conditions under which they are employed, and the difference between these and the conditions on other workplaces. The fear being that an informed staff is a staff no more.

It's just as ridiculous as it sounds. Yet it happens anyway.

One of the biggest reasons politicians can get away with doing the most outrageous stuff is that these things are buried behind impenetrable walls of bureaucratic routines and procedures that takes time and effort to get past. So much time and effort, in fact, that by the time the affected citizens manage to effort through it, the time for discussion, debate and change is passed - things are already set in motion, the shovels have already hit the ground.

Time is a democratic resource.

One of the biggest reasons people who fundamentally agree with each other fail to organize lies in the slowness of communication. The current events that make them realize that they are indeed in agreement fade during the time it takes for messages to go back and forth - the issue goes out of the public's eye and the people involved get less involved. And none of this is helped by the tendency of organizers to get stuck in a web emergent hierarchy that a general lack of information generate spontaneously, out of necessity.

Time and information. Information and time.

It goes without saying that the immediate access to information - the teleportation, the (hyper)linking - brings with it a radical change. It gets that much harder to keep things secret to employees when things can be tweeted, tumblred, blogged or in other ways shared with minimal effort. As soon as the word is out, it's available to everyone. Everyone can teleport to it at the speed of light, without any regard to any business plan based on the notion of not having to invest in worker's conditions.

It's all the more difficult to keep a secret secret. All it takes is that one (1) person discovers that something is up for the world to know about it. The whole world is watching - and any attempt to hide behind the timelag of bureaucracy or administrative procedure is doomed to fail.

And since everyone can be everywhere, they can also react everywhere - in blogs, newspapers, massive global street protests or what have you. The gap between information and action is shorter than ever - most due to not being restricted by complicated planning meetings, declarations of intent and other features of a state of lack of information. Things are happening now, and the time for action is now - the time between now and now is now.

It goes wihout saying that any attempt to insist on the hierarchies of old will be undermined by this. Undermined to no end.

The world is a link away. And we no longer have to ask for permission to go there.

I'll see you again tomorrow for part eight. Do peek over at what Eli and Les have to say on the topic.

Originally published 7 January, 2012

Sunday, January 6, 2013

6 of 95: The radical, the political and the internet's refusal to be either

6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.

[Part 5]

This is true to the point of banality. And I rather suspect you've heard this point been made many a time in the last decade or two.

Has the internet been around for two decades already? Gosh. The kids today must be all confused! Not with the internet, mind (to them, it's always been around), but with the genre of internet newliness.

By this, I mean the constant fascination with all the new things one can do with the internet. It's as if some part of our culture got stuck in 1993 and the glorious amazement with this new thing that just arrived.

Now, I'm all for 1990s cyberoptimism, but it comes a point in every culture's life where things stop being new and start to have brutal political, social, cultural and economic consequences. And where the language to describe these no longer new things change in accordance to this.

So, without further ado, I'm going to manifest a statement:

The internet is as revolutionary a force for social change as the process of industrialization. And it is no longer new - it has, in fact, had over two decades of brutal, ruthless, ceaseless, overwhelming and subversive effect on the world we live in. It has ravaged, transformed, made inprofitable and in any other imaginable way made the practices that depended on a few, well ordered and well controlled monopoly medias that much harder to maintain. It has empowered people and disempowered elites, and will continue to do so until we no longer recognize the monopoly of communication we call the past.

This statement can be read in either one of two ways. It can either be read as a radical political statement amounting to a declaration of war on the old order, or as a matter of fact statement without any political underpinnings whatsoever.

The difference between these two readings is not subtle, not trivial and not hard to detect in effect.

We can restate this difference as such: either you see the internet as a threat, or as a set of useful tools for getting communication done. And it tends to be that this 'either' is very depending on your relation to the old monopolies. If you're a part of them, it's very much a threat; if you're suddenly liberated from them, it's not.

We can restate this difference again: either you think it's a good thing that humans from all over the world suddenly have access to a very large percentage of the accumulated cultural heritage of the world, or you don't.

The truly radical thing about this is that it is the "don't" position that's the radical position. The sane, rational and analytical part of the world just concludes that, yep, the internet is here, and it has been around for two decades, and the only thing that will make it not be around anymore is a major infrastructural catastrophy or an all out nuclear war. The "well, let's see what we can do with this thing now that the kids have all grown up with it" position is not radical, not political and most of all not new - it's the default mode of anyone born after the age of informational empire.

When you have to commit large acts of sabotage or bring out the nukes - that's when the word 'radical' is appropriate.

For all the rest - file sharing, community building, blogging, cryptohacking, remixing, chatting, making friends, crossing borders, expanding the cultural and social horizons of billions, enabling the emergence of new cultural forms that both includes and transcends those of the past - well. We're living in a world where that is an everyday occurrence, and in truth most of you wouldn't recognize a world where this wasn't so.

The internet is a radical transformer. But it is not radical - it is, de facto. And what we do with it is up to us. So let's make it into something epic, shall we?

I'll see you again tomorrow for part seven.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

5 of 95: Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of many voices

5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.

[Part 4]

One of the features of these theses is that they relate grammatically to each other. This makes for a bit of hermeneutics - or, as it is called by regular folks, looking at what the previous thesis had to say for itself: Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.

'This', as you can see, relates the open, natural and uncontrived human voice.

Where does 'this' leave us, then?



Human voices.

Have you ever heard yourself played back at you? You never really sound right, and there's always that feeling that other people tolerate rather than listen to your voice. That the thing sounding through the air can't possibly be you, no matter how much you rationally know that it is indeed you.

Have no fear. First off, the strangeness is caused by you being used to hearing yourself from the inside. If you manage to keep listening to yourself long enough, the strangeness will disappear and you'll get some distance to yourself. And, secondly, what other people hear is not even remotely as wrong as what you hear - they just hear you, and they moreover know you from the unmistakable sound of, well, youness.


This - indeed, 'this' - is a source of hope. Because if you can get used to the strangeness of having a voice, then you can get used to the even stranger notion of using it in unison, cooperation or educational cordial disagreement with other voices.

The reason this is a source of hope is less hopeful, though. The reason for this being a source of hope is that people don't.

We've danced around  a couple of concepts these last few days, and I feel it's been enough indirection for us to go straight at them. Not to worry - you already know these words, without knowing it yet. They are, in fact, three aspects of the same idea.

Spectacle, normalization, alienation.

The society of the spectacle is the society we live in. Where our main mode of interaction is with images and items rather than people; where it is more important to live up to the image of what it means to be a true x [true man/woman/christian/liberal/whatever] than it is to be human. Where it matters more what choices you make in regards to consumption rather than morality - indeed, where the notion of morality is subsumed into the notion of consumer habits.

It's immoral to eat meat, you know? Only vegans possess the true ethos of the ethical. - Or any other image one might put up, for that matter. In the spectacle, the image is of greater importance than people, and thus it tends to turn out that discussions on ethics attack and defend various images rather than try to help actually existing human beings.

Consume ethics. Consume the image.

Normalization is what happens when a large number of people are expected to conform to the same norm. What happens is, inevitably, that some pass flawlessly, some fail, and most fall somewhere in between with various degrees of anxiety. Where the main question in mind is - am I good enough?

Most of you will remember this from school. Most likely, from the experience of preparing for, doing and having done a test of some kind, and not knowing how it went. While preparing for it, you worry that you won't pass; while doing it, you constantly think about what kind of answer is given by such people who pass these tests, and try to conform to this image of passing people; and afterward, you most likely remember your answers and endlessly ponder what you could have done differently to perform better.

Normalization is this whole process of preparing, playacting and worrying. This process in and of itself changes you more than the actual test itself - if it works, it transforms you into someone who prepares, performs and succeeds at predetermined things. If it doesn't work - oh, it always works. And it's always at work.

People are very acute when it comes to picking up who does and doesn't live up to the standard.

Alienation, thus, lastly. When your thoughts and actions don't conform, you're alienated. You do things, but they don't seem right - they are not you, as it were. You go to work, go through the motions of being a worker, all the while thinking that this is not what you do - or, rather, that the image acted out by you is not an image of you, and that the charade you put is only endured by yourself out of social necessity.

I.e. one has to have a job. And having a job means doing strange, incomprehensible shit that only serves to make someone else money, with you serving  as a very replaceable part.

If we, with these concepts in mind, return to the notion of the human voice, we get a rather bleak picture. First off, the spectacle teaches us that the image is more important than the reality of the thing - that it is indeed better to appear than to be. Then, we're thrown into a long process of trying to adapt to an external norm that doesn't give too much of a damn about whether you succeed or not, and more often than not cannot be bothered to give you the tools you need to adapt. And, lastly, even if you happen to succeed in this endeavor, you'll find yourself alienated from your actually existing acting self, enduring your daily life as if you didn't matter.

Image, adaptation, discontent. Spectacle, normalization, alienation.

What place does the human voice have in a society where humans are instrumentalized to the point of not needing voices anymore?

It is a source of hope that people recognize each other by the sound of each other's voices. It means that there's still a possibility of cutting through the normalized spectacle of alienation and saying something to the effect of:


I'll see you again tomorrow for part six. Do take a gander over to Les and Eli for their thoughts on this thesis.

Friday, January 4, 2013

And it is out of that inaccessible tower

I recently read a post. You can read it too, hyperlink style.

The reason I read it because someone brought it to my attention. And they did it using this quote: "Most argument[s] aren’t rational, they’re just clashes of opposing power centers."

Which is a lot more true than it should be.

The author describes the current ragefest that religious people and atheists are mutually engaged in. How the one side calls the other ignorant, irrational and a whole host of other things. How the discussions between them really ever only touches the surface, and the two sides are mutually refusing to address the real issues.

The title, "Terrain Pt II", makes me think of a plain where there are two towers. Two towers whose inhabitants are fervently at work building up ever better and better cannons to fire at each other, and are so busy with this that they miss two things: the point and each other.

Because, you see, the two towers lie too far from each other to be within cannon shot. And, thus, all the cannony buildup only leads to a lot of wasted effort and a lot of wasted rhetorical prowess.

I find that this is true for many a conflict in our present. Left vs right, conservative vs progressive, PC vs Mac, hammer vs screwdriver - there's a lot of towerbuilding and mutual cannoneering going on that really won't do more than making sure that the sellers of gunpowder stay in business for yet another year.

And they always use the same cannons, too. It's always the good, the true and the beautiful on the own side, and the bad, false and ugly on the other. In some cases, you can just switch the names around and get cheers from both sides; in other cases, you have to be a tad bit more subtle about it. But the general principle is the same: apply the god terms, add fire, back away and watch the fireworks.

This is, more or less, always a waste of time, space and gunpowder. Sure, you can get into it and get some fine-tuning of your atrophied "your mom" muscles, but let's face it: they're atrophied because you don't like to use them and have found a way to live your life without them.

Or have you?

This I ponder myself. It would be a shame to find myself locked in a tower of my own making, to be sure. -

4 of 95: Pushing upstairs - these are my intentions

4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.

[Part 3]

Humans form communities. About everything. Music, ideas, software, cats, particular humans - you name it, and there's a community about it.

This in and of itself is not as surprising as it should be. Therefore, it's time for a short detour back in time. Not because I doubt your knowledge about history, but because the point I want to make will be made more clear if we go back to the beginning.

In the beginning, there were mammoths. Huge mammoths. Huge enough that if any one guy wanted to fight them, they'd be at a tremendous disadvantage. They'd just stare at each other for a moment, and then the mammoth would do what mammoths do best: be huge.

Clearly, one on one-battles favors the mammoths. They are too huge to fail.

But. If that one guy gathers some other guys and makes the fight into a cooperative venture, then suddenly there's a fighting chance. Where the one guy just had the option to run, the community had the option of digging a huge hole and then lure the mammoth into it.

As you can see, size only matters up to a point.

Jumping ahead a bit, we have agriculture. The biggest advantage of agriculture over mammoth-hunting is not that it produces more food, but that it allows the community to do more than one thing. That is, once the farming process is set in motion, there's enough food to allow for non-farming occupations. Thus, toolmaking, pottery, shipwrighting and so on could happen - but only for as long as the community as a whole held together. If the toolmakers and the farmers didn't get along, the toolmakers didn't get any food and the farmers didn't get any tools.

Cooperation is a powerful tool.

This goes on for quite a while. We could write a small tome on the history of cooperation through the ages, but I think you've gotten around to the notion that people working together can produce miracles. If and only if they get around to actually work together.

Enter capitalism.

Now, if you've spent any time at all with economists, you know their standard rant about free enterprise, freely entered agreements and free markets. If one spends too long around them, one might start to think that their idealized notion of rational free agents roaming about the world has anything to do with what happens in the world we live in. Which is a bad idea - almost as bad as getting into a one-on-one fight with a mammoth.

What actually happens in actually existing capitalism is that people get reduced to consumer patterns. Everything about their identity - what they eat, wear, listen to, read etc - is translated into the logic of consumerism. Everything is available on the market, marketed and assigned a recommended prize range.

If you're not in that prize range, then that identity is not for you. However strongly you might feel about it, and however natural the identification with it might be.

This is not the natural state of things. This is what happens when the channels of communication are monopolized by commercial interests trying to become interesting in order to commercialize. This is what happens when the logic of the market is allowed to colonize too much of what it means to be human.

You, as a consumer, are not part of a community. You are an individual playing at and paying into the image of a community, and once you stop the playact, you're out. If your worth as a human is defined by how much you've spent on making yourself appear to fit in to the malformed culture of market values - then your value is zero once you stop paying your daily fees.

Being part of a team of hunters taking on a mammoth is a communal experience. Feeling alone at an overpriced cinema with equally overprized popcorn as you only prize - isn't.

Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.

I may not have told you until now, but this is my default approach to Twitter. I'm not there to sell things, not there to drive home a point, not there to do anything else than to just say random shit with random people in a voice that - because it is devoid of externally impressed motives - is as human as one can be.

And, to be honest - I'd much rather make unintelligible subtweets about the Horse with my friends than wonder about if I should buy this thing or that.

 It might not be the most profitable thing I could do. But, then again: why would I want to autotune myself to the tune of what the market wants out of me? Why choose commodity when there's community?

I'll see you again tomorrow for part five. Do pay Les a visit - she has this most beautiful voice. Or call upon Eli for a piece of information theory.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

3 of 95: Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here's my number, so call me, maybe?

3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice. 

(Part 2)

When doing the obligatory preparatory research for this post (sometimes referred to as "procrastination"), I ran into some old timey television commercials. I wanted to see them in order to get a sense of where the old times where at, and how much they contrasted to the world of today.

To my surprise, my research showed that the world of 1950/60s seemed to be dominated by sex, drugs, kids and breakfasts. Or, as it is also called, traditional family values.

I did what any enthusiastic non-researcher do: I instantly shared my results on Twitter. And the following discussions, thoughts and lines of inquiry were far more interesting than what I originally had in mind. Conversations about communication, underground signal systems and gay rights. In that order.

Conversations among human beings sound human. Unless they don't.

A continuation of the logic of a few channels talking to a large number of people, is that a large number of people start to think in the same way. Not in identical ways, mind, but in similar enough ways that they can be predicted, controlled and marketed to. 

So if these commercials were anything to go by, the world was dominated by families where the main activity of the day were breakfast and snacking. Mostly cereals and processed chocolate, by the looks of it, and there were no question in anyone's mind about who did the kitchenwork. Or that the only proper way to go about life was, indeed, the family life.

A life where drugs (mostly sugar, cigarettes and alcohol), kids and breakfasts (with drugs) were the stuff that made up the essence of always.

I'm now imagining you're thinking two things. Two questions. To answer the first: kids do come from somewhere. And to answer the second: no, not all actually existing people were like that.

But there were enough force behind the thought that family life was the way to do life that the notion of doing something else became a non-option. Of all the possible ways a human can live, the happily married family (wo)man were the first and foremost in the heads of communities, politicians and marketers.

You can imagine that this was less than optimal for those who did not desire the happy family life. Like, for instance, homosexuals, who for obvious reasons don't quite view the institution of heterosexual marriage as quite the thing. But in the lack of alternative visions, and moreover of ways of communicating with those who shared these alternative visions, many were forced into submitting to these present imperfect images of the perfect.

One of the side effects of the channels of communication becoming more abundant, is that the number of alternative lives (life alternatives) have increased. Not due to anything changing in the human being - I find it hard to believe that humanity have become any more horny, depraved, desperate or deranged recently than it has ever been - but due to the fact that people can talk to each other rather than with and through the mediated image of what an ideal citizen/consumer ought to be. Suddenly, it's both possible and within reach to do something else.

Whatever that else might be. There's more than one way to be human these days, and more ways than one to have a socially acceptable conversation. Conversations between persons who sound quite more human now than the recorded voices from the 50s and 60s.

Which is why I'm going to end today's session with this link. Not only to justify the title, but also to give you something to feast your thoughts on - the difference between what is supposed to be and what is.

I'll see you again tomorrow for part four. Or head over to Les for more options of resistance. Or to Eli for some humanity.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2 of 95: Dear [Mr/Mrs/Ms] [customername], you've won our personal [target audience message #5]

2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors. 

(Part 1)

We do not live in a Borg collective. We are not cyborgs telepathically linked to each other with the latent ability to instantly and at all times hear the thoughts of our peers. And our peers cannot hear our thoughts, no matter how intent they might be.

Clearly, there are limits to our current state of communicative ability.

In order to cope with these limits, various strategies have been devised. Most of them makes use of these very same limitations. Since it can safely be assumed that perfect Borg connectivity will not be achieved within the time frame relevant to human communication, the general lack of available information in an average human being's life has been brutally exploited throughout the ages.

If we skip a whole range of historical permutations on this theme, we eventually find ourselves pondering advertising. (There's some interesting things to be said about these permutations, to be sure. They'll return later on.)

Now, we might think we know what advertising is about. We've all seen it, been bored by it, laughed at it, switched channels at it and in general accepted that the world we live in is saturated with it. But as with all things familiar, advertising looks a lot less familiar of one gives it a definition. So, without further ado:

Advertising is the art of making people buy things they wouldn't buy otherwise.

If you're anything like me at all, you'll probably hear this phrase repeated in the back of your head every time you see an ad from now on. "They're trying to sell me something, and they're doing it like this? Who do they think I am, anyway?"

Most likely, a target demographic.

The limits to communication goes both ways. On the one hand, the limited amount of things you know about the world is a useful thing when it comes to pushing you around. On the other hand, the limited amount of information available on you means that some sort of shortcut has to be used. At least if the ambition is to sell to more people than you.

The shortcut is the use of target demographics. A picture of something that looks kinda like you, only without individual features and with the distinct undertone that you and everyone you know might well be reduced to one single image.

Now, as a strategy for dealing with limited knowledge, this is not a bad way to go about it. It is physically impossible for an actually existing human being to know every other human being, so some sort of thought process along the lines of "all asians look alike" will inevitably have to happen. You cannot know all christians, but you can make the reasonable assumption that they think Jesus the Christ is some sort of a good guy. You cannot know all Harry Potter fans, but you can make the reasonable assumption that they know who Hermoine is. -

In short, what is the minimal amount of common ground needed in order to make sure that the fact that I don't know anything about you doesn't matter when I try to sell you things?

This is how marketers, politicians and other humans who wanted/needed/had to communicate with a large number of people at once went about it. For the longest of times. Even today, there are binders full of women.

If you're thinking the words "means of discursive production" right now, then you're on the right track. Because the means of reaching a large number of people were traditionally limited to a few actors (newspapers, television stations, radio brodcasts etc), the discourse had to follow suit. Be vague, be unspecific - talk to the image of a human rather than a human.

"Hey, you, woman! Buy our stuff! It's for women, you are a woman. Womanly stuff for womans like you!"

There's a strange circularity to this. On the one hand, it was necessary to go about it this way. On the other hand, the only reason they got away with it is because there were no alternatives.

There is now. You're reading one of them right now. The fact that these words can come from my remote corner of the world to your reading eyes without me paying a fortune for it is proof enough that something has changed in the recent time.

Which brings us back (from the Borg collective, through the annals of history, through the social conditions of mass communication, -) to you and me. In more ways than one.

First off - hi! Nice to meet you. :)

Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors. We can talk to each other, instead of having to listen to rich people talking at what some market analyst thinks we are. We can talk, laugh, conspire - and we can get down to business and do business, bypassing the whole mechanism of advertisement and central-to-periphery communication.

We're not in a Borg collective yet. But the limits of knowledge and communication have changed, and this is not a change that happens without further changes. Conversations, markets, humans -

I'll see you again tomorrow for part three. Or read Les and Eli or Jakob for more thoughts on thesis #2.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

1 of 95: Introduction, method and why capitalism isn't dead yet

1. Markets are conversations.

This first thesis is three things. It's straightforward. It's a thing that's going to wreck all kinds of havoc upon all manner of things once you get around to thinking about it. And it's something that we are going to return to quite often in the months to come.

A strange thing about humans is that it really does not work that very well to just tell them something. It may be the most straightforward thing in the world, but you just can't make humans become fully human if you go straight to the point. Not because they are stupid in any way, but because they are human, and therefore process information and the world in general through the human mind.

And the human mind is all creative detours.

So. Instead of going on about markets, I'm going to play on your humanity and take the indirect route to what it means that markets are conversations.

Whenever I teach my nonstudents, I tell them to go about the whole process of citation by doing it as if they related two random people talking to each other. In the age old style of intellectual attribution known as "he said, and then she said".

This I do for two reasons. The one being that since they are indeed non-students, I can go about it any way I can get away with. No rules, regulations or retroactvely raging rulefollowing review ruckus - just the teaching of stuff. The other reason being that I want to make the act of saying "and then Foucault said this interesting thing I've been thinking about" a little less formal than it tends to be. A little less of getting the details right and a little more of getting the right details.

I of course don't tell them this. They are too busy grokking the Foucault to realize that they are grokking the Foucault, and it would be cruel to ruin their learning experience by pointing out how much they've learnt.

But in taking this shortcut, I do something heretic: I remind them that behind the Name there's just a guy, and that the difference between talking about this one guy and this other guy is less than written convention would make you believe.

So. Markets are conversations. What's that all about?

Well, it's people talking to each other, pretty much. Person A talks as if he wants to buy something, person B talks as if she wants to sell something. If and when they talk to each other, a transaction might occur, depending on the talk and the talkees.

There's a catch to this, though. Or, rather, two. And they are major enough to warrant their own introduction here in this first introductory post. They are - don't hit me for stating the obvious - capitalism and the modes/means of discursive production.

Capitalism is a societal way of being. It's described in different ways by different authors ("they say"), but the one brutal fact of it we need to focus on here is that the only thing you need to do in order to fulfill your role as a productive member of society is to make money. It doesn't matter how, when, why or with what level of theological intent - making money is the sine qua non. Without that, you are either nothing or less than nothing.

If you happen to be unemployed at the moment of reading, you know what I'm on about.

The productive means of discourse (conversations/communication) are what you would expect them to be. Anything that can make discourse happen. Pencils, typewriters, smoke signals, small mouth noises - take your pick. The modes are how these means are typically used, in terms of genres, formats, rituals, technical standards and the like.

The best example is of course the newspaper. Discourse could in theory happen in any number of ways, but due to historical circumstances, untold millions of people have started off their morning ritual by reading The News. Out of every communicative tool humanity has at its disposal, the newspaper reigned supreme for centuries.

Until it didn't.

I'm going to have a general theme in the parts to come, and that is that the market capitalism of the twentieth century was an exception, rather than the necessary and logical conclusion to the development of the western world. While we will not see the end of mass produced good for mass produced markets any time soon (we all need that daily bread, after all) we will see that the changes in the modes and means of discursive production brings with it changes in the way we do discourse.

Naturally. Wouldn't be much of a change otherwise, now would it?

What characterized the means of getting in touch with large audiences in the 20th century was that it was hard and expensive, and generally demanded blood, sweat, tears and toil in order to be worth it. If you wanted to reach a hundred people, you had to write a note a hundred times and deliver it to each and every one of these persons. Manually.

As of writing these words, I have 1181 followers on Twitter. Compare the one method with the other, and you will very soon think something along the lines of: how did ordinary people voice their opinion back in the days?

They mostly didn't. Couldn't. Limited by the means of production. And so we return once again to the statement: markets are conversations.

When the one side cannot speak, the word "conversation" is seldom used.

The way I will go about it from here on out I the same way I go about it with my non-students. Indirect. Going through the motions of how humans learn about things: by spending time in proximity to the ideas in question and questioning the ideas in proximity.

Without having to go all formal about it.

See you all again tomorrow for part 2 of 95. Or visit some of my cowriters for more thoughts on #1. Such as Les. Or Eli. Or Jakob.