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Archives seem awfully boring, don’t they?
They conjure images of creaky office filing cabinets with old financial records spilling out of them, all thoughts of order lost, and leave us weak-kneed and quailing before our own folders and files full of old bills or tax returns or contracts, swirling amidst connotations of posterity, formality, redundancy, and the dread of filing.
They stand for problems that have been dealt with, covering yourself in case they ever come back, and busy work that needs to be done (or for which there’s never time).
Though our stomachs may sink at the sight of our stacks of unorganised papers we ought to store, what it means to archive is so very much more powerful than we tend to think.
To archive is to organise and store information, grouping similar sorts of information together to improve efficiency and specialization. Archiving is the storage of selected and aggregated content for the purpose of preservation, especially as delayed distribution. This tends to involve a significant commitment to acquisition of selected material (usually original) on the relevant topic, and publishing it in a sense: taking it from the private to the public (which, Derrida repeatedly states, is not the same as taking it from the secret to the non-secret), ensuring its physical safety, quality, and preservation into the future, and conducting responsible, appropriate distribution.
Digitisation has changed the aptitudes and potentialities of archives, sweeping away old barriers and creating new limits, but has not changed its nature. In a converged world, a filing cabinet is still an archive, but so is a text with multiple authors, an MP3 player, and everything even peripherally connected to the internet.
Archives do not simply store but create a record, the record, which Derrida describes in Archive Fever as an “eco-nomic archive”, for “it keeps, it puts in reserve, it saves, but in an unnatural fashion, that is to say in making the law (nomos) or in making people respect the law. … It has the force of law, of a law which is the law of the house (oikos), of the house as place, domicile, family, lineage, or institution.” (1995 p12). Law in this context leans more towards the idea of a standard way of recording things: in effect, a standard way of doing things, though both Derrida (1995) and Steedman (2005) identify archives and standardizing as integral to the formation of the Western legal tradition, and vice versa.
Like the State’s, the force of the law of archives is a violent one, carried out through selection (“an unnatural fashion”, for it’s inconsistent to create a record by rejecting information: it can never be complete this way). It constrains the boundaries of acceptable form and content, forcing the fat belly to be sliced from of the subject’s recorded body.
Derrida believes that an archive, “every archive … is at once institutive and conservative. Revolutionary and traditional.” (1995, p12). Conservative, in the sense of conservation of records, yet institutive in the authority over selection and inclusion given to the archivist.
The media of the archive, however, plays a stronger role in the institutive aspect of the record. It has the power to dictate the content included and its form. Technology, communication technology, has strengths and limitations.
As Harold Innis wrote, “Each medium has its significance for the type of monopoly of knowledge which will be built and which will destroy the conditions suited to creative thought and be displaced by a new medium with its peculiar type of monopoly of knowledge.” (1949, p5). The written word is excellent for explaining thoughts and ideas, and can cause readers to feel emotions, but can only describe, not capture, sensory perception. It is only accessible to those literate in its language, who can access it, and are so inclined. The radio resolved, and long monopolised, the transmission of live sound, but could not broadcast images, or smells or tastes. Films moved from silent to sound to colour, and now to digital and 3D projection. These limits must be adjusted to in creating.
When we communicate, through whatever media, we have a meaning in our minds that we want to make apparent, which we encode in language to allow it to be clearly and simply conveyed to and decoded by a reader/viewer/listener. George Orwell (1949) best demonstrates the importance of unbounded language and the fullness of personal expression in 1984, when he describes the State’s method of diminishing dissent by removing the words to convey the feelings from the lexicon, frustrating them into silence and quashing the spirit of rebellion.
Structure is the language of archives. By defining the structure of records, archives can dictate the structure through which content must be created, if it is to become part of the record, and in doing so is able to define records themselves. The bounds that exist upon our recordings, then, impact upon our thinking and our creating. As Derrida puts it, “the archiving, printing, writing, prosthesis, or hypomnesic technique in general is not only the place for stocking and for conserving an archivable content of the past which would exist in any case, such as, without the archive, one still believes it was or will have been. No, the technical structure of the archiving archive also determines the structure of the archivable content even in its very coming into existence and in its relationship to the future. The archivization produces as much as it records the event” (1995, p17).
Social media platform Facebook, for a more current interpretation, has repeatedly caused short-term international frustration among its users whenever it has changed its archiving structure. It has changed its user page layout several times, most recently to Timeline, and reconstructed the home page and widgets. Increasingly, Facebook takes data entered by users and uses it to personalise their Facebook experience, by personalising Photo Memories, ads, and content that appears in a news feed. While users contribute to the overall Facebook archive, they personalise their own individual Facebook archives by exerting control over distribution through privacy settings, friend ‘culls’, and friend lists, deleting older content, and self-censorship: archival violences. The emotional reactions to the changes speak to the importance of knowing how to contribute to and access this particular archive.
Facebook itself marks a significant shift in the nature of archiving. Firstly, it moves from the exclusion of content by default, to inclusion by default. This is a particular advantage of digital archives: all content is easier to find, access, replicate, store, and distribute that physical information. Multi-platform accessibility makes that last task particularly simple. Its peculiar archive monopoly is that of social relations: the total archiving of the entire history of the first major social media. Facebook as an archive, though, stifles privacy, transports socialising into space from place and time, and changes our notions about conception of the self and others and the relationships between.
I believe these examples substantiate, to some extent, Innis’s belief that each particular archive destroys the conditions for creativity. The idiosyncrasies of communication platforms are in and of themselves the destroyers of creativity. They channel open minds into closed formats, and known, tried, and tested ways of acting. Whilst the broad scale of media technologies, and their impressive convergence, lessens the specificity of the curios of each medium.
Archives are the source of much of the power combined in the linked notions of ‘public’ and ‘record’. Whilst archives have an inherent power to define the way they themselves are used, they have more explicit means of affecting the world around them through the power they enable in others. First, and most basically, archives contain information, of one sort or another. We presume that this information is, or at least may be, of use to someone, given our still-traditional sense of archives as storers of important and pertinent knowledge, and if this information is useful then it gives power to those it informs. Secondarily, in an exclusive archive, where content is not included by default, the archivist has great power to define the makeup of the information in the record of the archive and hence the nature of the record itself, in that they can directly select or reject content for inclusion: again, archival violence. In the modern online archive, where information is stored by default, this power is reduced and transferred, to some extent, to the content producers - the consumers of the website. Thirdly, archivists have control over the linked powers of access and distribution.
By harnessing “the nature of an archive [which] is to be both authoritarianly transparent and authoritatively concealed” the discord between private/public and secret/non-secret that Derrida emphasises is highlighted. The archivist can choose the archivists methods of distribution, open hours, requirements for entry/access, price of access/distribution, etc.
Foucault (1982) describes power as existing in action; something that withers when held too long, if not exercised. Archives represent the collection and curation of information-as-power, a slow, quiet process of amassing the influence necessary to exercise power. Private property and intellectual property laws, in particular copyright, reproducing, plagiarism, and freedom of information legislation, are the primary mechanisms for exerting power over, or through, an archive.
Failing to adhere to these laws is seen to represent the unfair and improper use of archiving, by taking the power of the content’s information and distribution from its legitimate source, the archivist. That fairness in archiving is so well protected in law goes to the importance of archives to society By recording information and distributing it through generations we allow ourselves to learn established facts, rather than having to determine individually the roundness of the world or the sun’s centrality in the solar system. This allows us to standardize knowledge so that the world at large can advance more efficiently, and in turn create more intuitive and efficient archives (among other, presumably also noble/awesome, things).
Consumers can take some control over their access to information. For example, they can ensure their literacy with the communication mechanisms they interact with - the written and spoken word, understanding of visual and auditory language, symbols, and technological literacy. The most secure computer can be hacked and the most secure building broken into, but your average consumer doesn’t appear isn’t comfortable with that level of legal transgression, and will settle for basic illegal downloading or ‘piracy’.
Beyond simply offering routes around barriers to access to archives, the internet (which does throw up its own barrier to access - BYO internet connection and connective device) is swiftly shifting the balance of power from suppliers of archives/information to consumers.
Goldharber (1997) identifies the end of the information age, as we move beyond a time where information was a scare resource. He believes we are moving into an attention economy, where the finite resource of human attention essentially becomes currency, and is suitable because “it is a fundamental human desire and is intrinsically, unavoidably scarce”. In a world where journalists strike to protest outsourcing of editing departments, and a world class education can be gained for free online, through open source information and learning projects like Wikipedia and Khan Academy, the communication supplier’s market is finding it increasingly difficult to capitalize on the new order, if it indeed can within the traditional economic market. This being the case, the role of the archive - to preserve important information - needs to adapt, as its purpose moves towards attracting consumers, and collating items of interest.
Archives, much like the content we imbue them with, are very forgettable. Sort, file, ignore until relevant. If ever. That means that when we examine issues through their frame, we come out the other side with a newer frame of reference for interaction and communication and everyday life, and the next frontier in information democratisation.
Archive Fever (2009), accessed 12 June 2012 via <http://otherreality.wordpress.com/tag/jacques-derrida/>
Collins, R., (2000) The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change, cited in Camplin, T., (2012) ‘The social conditions for creativity’ in Austrian Economics and Literature, accessed 13 July 2012 via <http://theliteraryorder.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/social-conditions-for-creativity.html>
Day, H., & Langevin, R., (1968) ‘Two necessary conditions for creativity’ in Education Resources Information Centre, accessed 13 June 2012 via <http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED026673&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED026673>
Derrida, J., (1995) ‘Archive fever: A Freudian impression’ in Diacritics, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Summer, 1995), pp. 9 - 63, accessed March 27 2012 via <http://beforebefore.net/149a/w11/media/Derrida-Archive_Fever_A_Freudian_Impression.pdf>
Enszer, J., (2008) ‘Archive fever: A Freudian impression by Jacques Derrida’ in Julie R. Enszer, accessed 26 March 2012 via <http://julierenszer.blogspot.com.au/2008/11/archive-fever-freudian-impression-by.html>
Steedman, C., (2002) ‘Dust: The archive and cultural history’ cited in Howard, S., (2005) ‘Reposted: Archive fever: A dusty digresson’ in Early Modern Notes, accessed 27 March 2012 via <http://emn.sharonhoward.org/2007/09/reposted-archive-fever-a-dusty-digression/>
Stokes, J., (2003) ‘Reading notes: Archive fever’ in Ars Technica, accessed March 27 2012 via <http://arstechnica.com/uncategorized/2003/06/130-2/>
So, to skew the topic of this week’s blog, I found what I read of the excerpts of Paul Edward’s A Vast Machine (2010) to be a fascinating history of the globalization of climate data and the challenges of massaging different data sets collected in different ways into compatible formats. However, in effect I clearly missed the point of the text as I dropped out at the first hurdle. It lost me at the first mention of the International Panel on Climate Change.
I’m sure we all remember 2009’s Climategate, just before the much-vaunted Copenhagen climate summit, when something something was hacked something climate scientists are liars something something faking the data something.
See, I don’t really remember the end of 2009. I remember reading a lot of news, but mainly it was a strange and glorious time of youthful post-graduation unemployment. One thing I do remember that what I took away from the Climategate scandal, and what I hold somewhere in my subconscious, is that the data going in and coming out of the highest levels of climate science is not accurate.
Most people I know are climate skeptics, and Climategate reinforced that. Even when many logical explanations have been proffered, that doubt has been implanted, and there it stays. On the other hand I think most people would agree that the climate skeptic’s case rests on misinformation or misunderstanding, and others might argue it is in part outright lies on behalf of vested interests. Yet both sides of the climate change debate are sizeable.
I sit squarely in the middle, knowing only that I know nothing and won’t live to see the worst of whatever happens. I am rationally ignorant. Not knowing either side to be correct, but taking into account the passion, rhetoric, scale, and number of participants, it looks an awful lot as though truth, facts, lies, damned lies, and statistics mean nothing: that perception will always win out over reality.
The human mind is capable of ignoring or believing anything it puts itself to, to the point of literally losing touch with reality. Jonah Lehrer points out that “we come equipped with all sorts of naïve intuitions about the world, many of which are untrue”, such as the historical belief that the sun revolves around the earth, and that therefore “science education is not simply a matter of learning new theories. Rather, it also requires that students unlearn their instincts, shedding false beliefs the way a snake sheds its old skin”.
Lehrer points to a recent study of cognition by Andrew Shtulman, which noted, “When students learn scientific theories that conflict with earlier, naïve theories, what happens to the earlier theories? Our findings suggest that naïve theories are suppressed by scientific theories but not supplanted by them”.
The brain, Lehrer points out, then uses different pathways to answer questions that augment our intuitions to those that go against them. It is literally more difficult to accept some truths than others. People who aren’t noticing any changes in climate trends more specific than seasonal change in their daily lives can find it easy to reject claims that they are indeed occurring, meaning that whoever wins the PR war, pulls the best Climategate, or terrifies the most people gets to define the frame of the discourse and the way most people consider the issues.
That should probably be a terrifying thought, but for someone who wants to work in PR it really is quite comforting.
I notice in myself a tendency to long for the old, divergent world of broadcast media, where distribution channels lay separately, clearly, guarded by gatekeepers. It manifests in my attitude to study, where I’m more comfortable considering the newspapers I’ve read since childhood than Twitter, which I started using consistently in February, or something like China’s Sina Weibo, which I’ve never used and am not really familiar with. I try to look on the shift in publishing with eyes that are open, and without the weight of dread that uncertainty brings in the pit of my stomach. I do wonder if this upheaval is anywhere as tumultuous as it’s painted, though.
At its core, publishing takes private information and makes it public. It takes meaning and encodes into a form designed so that intended recipients can easily decode and interpret that meaning. The story of publishing so far identifies the use of tools, through which to express meaning, and gradually destroying the limiting factors of our various technologies. In the early days of our ancestors, communication was inherently bodily. It relied on verbal and physical/non-verbal variance to convey meaning, with storytelling being the primary available method of publishing cultural, religious etc histories and stories.
Storytelling will always be at the core of communication - a well-drawn narrative commands attention - but physical transmission is inherently limited by human memory, its only form of recording. This first limit was dealt with as humanity swiftly moved to the use of tools to record publication by making art/images, early character-based scripts, and later phonetic alphabets. Tomes were printed by hand by scribes, meaning distribution then became the limiting factor (alongside a largely illiterate public). The pen is not so mighty. This is why the print press (in conjunction with the spread of formal education leading to improved literacy) was hailed as a revolution in the same way digital technologies are now.
Digital technologies are now breaking down temporal and spatial boundaries of traditional distribution, and simultaneously increasing and decreasing restrictions of access (computer and internet access cannot be assured, but if a computer and the internet can be accessed all the content of the internet can be accessed) but I don’t think this is a digital revolution, per se. It’s a digital wave in the same communication revolution that has been ongoing since sentience, alongside every other revolution human innovation and lack of desire to adapt oneself to one’s surroundings, preferring to adapt one’s surroundings to oneself, has set in motion. The first instance of tools as a communicative medium reduced the human element of encoding, and while it resolved other limits of human-as-publisher it created other limits to encoding. Every step since then has been aimed at removing the limits of the superseded technology, so that only their elements that enhance the human ability to communicate and publish information remain. We use phrases like ‘slick’, ‘intuitive’, or ‘user friendly’ to describe the usability of Apple’s iOS, particularly in comparison to Google’s clunkier but more customisable Android operating system, but what we’re trying to describe is the way Apple’s architects predict human function, the way the human mind prefers systems to work, and tailoring their designs to best suit it.
My creative side has never been my strongest, but it’s difficult to envision how much further publishing can be pushed until it’s as natural as speaking. My guess is, magic.
It appears people reblogged that last post of mine. I don’t know if they realised it was a blog post for a media course but there it goes, into the blue nowhere.
(This is another one. Whatever else I post today or tomorrow will probably fall under that heading too.)
Normally, the content I produce stays right where I leave it, but this time someone, somewhere, who isn’t my tutor, read it. Voluntarily. People took the time to share it and add a comment about how they were reblogging for the picture mostly (faith in humanity rising). However little is read or distributed beyond myself and my networks, a whole lot is produced. If I ever do anything interesting with my life the record of my youth and beyond is going to be dragged up from the depths of my Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and a bunch of old Myspaces, Xangas, etc I have attempted to delete or hide. I google myself every so often to perform image-reconnaissance and have found digital petitions I signed when I was around 10 to get rid of Bonsai Kitten or save the rainforest or something. That’s a solid record of my life, actions, feelings, beliefs, hopes, fears, and problems over the last seven years; the tumultuousity (now a word) of mid-to-late teens and young adulthood.
That doesn’t even consider what kind of data third parties are recording, but here were are, living life as data among data. Doesn’t it just seem so much easier than real life? There are rules for online communication that strike me as so much clearer than the rules of social etiquette which, above all, require live performance. Maybe that’s why so many of us prefer to do our socialising online. The restraints of temporality and location are minimized, replaced by restrictions of network access, with an increased compulsion to moderate oneself in the reality of automatic logging.
What we interpret in daily physical interactions, we interpret through sights, sounds: information we perceive. What we interpret online is nonetheless information, but in the form of raw data. Take the number of hits your page gets, determine where they came from and how long was spent there, whether they stayed on your site, followed a link of yours, commented, and track where else they go online. Watch who shares, likes, retweets, reblogs, reports, complains about, or links to your content. See how it’s remixed. Interpret those numbers, and suddenly we’ve quantified social relations.
This is what I believe to be my most popular tweet. It was favourite by 5 people and retweeted 10 times, including once by Derryn Hynch. The current total followers of myself and all retweeters is 31,672, so when I tweeted it on March 30th it might have had a potential reach of ~27,000 twitterers and might have been seen by ~2000 people (both estimates). I doubt anything I’ve ever communicated has had that reach. People facebooked me to tell me about it. It was exciting and a little disconcerting, in the same way as the reblogging of my last post.
We can map our distribution simply using a number of tools, some of which are ridiculous. Klout rates your content’s popularity and it is so, so douchey, but aren’t you just aching to see your number? I have so far resisted. I have, however, used Klouchebag to determine that I was a bit of a douchebag but have now been downgraded to a bit of a prat. More serious analytic tools include Google Analytics, Clicky, Piwik, and Site Meter, and I expect I’ll use them if my traffic seems to pick up, but right now I’m pretty comfortable with the knowledge that it’s mainly my friends who are interested in what I distribute online.
"One can dream or speculate about the geo-techno-logical shocks which would have made the landscape of the psychoanalytic archive unrecognizable for the past century if, to limit myself to these indications, Freud, his contemporaries, collaborators and immediate disciples, instead of writing thousands of letters by hand, had had access to MCI or ATT&T telephonic credit cards, portable tape recorders, computers, printers, faxes, televisions, teleconferences, and above all E-mail.
… this archival earthquake would not have limited its effects to the secondary recording, to the printing and to the conservation of the history of psychoanalysis. It would have transformed this history from top to bottom and in the most initial inside of its production, in its very events. … the technical structure of the archiving archive also determines the structure of the archivable content even in its very coming into existence and in its relationship to the future. The archivization produces as much as it records the event.”
Derrida didn’t have time in his speech to follow his premise through to the actuality of his conclusion. So, that’s what I did, or tried to do.
Below we encounter Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, v3.1.1, in the age of the twitter. Just a couple of bros philosophising in real time.
freuddood: Religion is an illusion & it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires! Thoughts guys?
windividuation: @freuddood nah dude, religion is a defense against the experience of God.
freuddood: @windividuation devout believers r safeguarded in a hi degree against the risk of certain neurotic illnesses (the ‘pressure’ of ‘God’) (1/2)
freuddood: @windividuation their acceptance of the universal neurosis spares them the task of constructing a personal one. (2/2)
freuddood: @windividuation in the long run, nothing can withstand reason and experience, and the contradiction religion offers to both is palpable. word.
windividuation: @freuddood look okay
JoyceyJ: I was Jung and easily Freudened
Retweeted by @windividuation
windividuation: @freuddood anyway a man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them
freuddood: @windividuation i passed though the inferno of your mum
windividuation: @freuddood aaaaaahahahaha
windividuation: @freuddood bro no one would get all up on you even if they were collectively unconscious
windividuation: @freuddood anyway no one wants to catch the inferno in your pants
freuddood: @windividuation your humour is as infantile as your psychosexual development
freuddood: @windividuation how’s that oral fixation going?
windividuation: @freuddood oh my god, #gay
windividuation: @freuddood you are so so #gay
windividuation: @freuddood #supergay
freuddood: @windividuation ask your mum about that yeah?
freuddood: @windividuation anyway look man it’s the sex drive
windividuation: @freuddood “sex” “drive”
freuddood: @windividuation look
freuddood: @windividuation just look okay
freuddood: @windividuation it’s integral
freuddood: @windividuation can’t do nothing about it
freuddood: @windividuation also way to prove my point bro
windividuation: @freuddood wat
windividuation: @freuddood …wat
windividuation: @freuddood oh ffs get your mind out of the gutter. you are too retarded for words.
windividuation: @freuddood someone’s got a mad #freudian preoccupation, HIYOOOOO
freuddood: @windividuation yes carl we all know you agree with me ‘collectively’
windividuation: @freuddood whatever bro YOU’RE NOT MY REAL DAD
windividuation: @freuddood anyway unlike your clone army of students I am actually capable of individual thought
IntPsyCon: @freuddood @windividuation lol you’re gonna have a great time around here with that attitude #eyeroll
windividuation: @freuddood @IntPsyCon well you know what
windividuation: @freuddood @IntPsyCon #fuckyouveryverymuch
windividuation has unfollowed @freuddood (Sigmund Freud)
windividuation has unfollowed @IntPsyCon (International Psychoanalytic Congress)
freuddood: @windividuation hurr durr
freuddood has unfollowed @windividuation (Carl Jung)
Isn’t it amazing how they’re almost as immature as me? :P
The archive as foundation, as the definer of content, is incredibly intriguing.
I imagine that an intense, and speculatedly sexual, friendship of six years was probably aided by the tyrannous temporality of distance, not diminished. Robyn and Barney of How I Met Your Mother attributed the breakdown of their relationship to there being two much competing ‘awesome’. Same deal here. When Jung moved from student to independent philosopher it upset the power dynamic and was inevitably traumatic for the relationship. Imagine removing the space to deal with that conflict; moreover, that space that allowed ideas about each other to grow and progress without harsh reality intervening in the initial stages of relationship building. Twitter’s immediacy could quite possibly be of detriment.
To take it in another direction, though, more time spent discussing ideas and less time contemplating could quite easily have led any thinker down a totally different path. Ideas challenged too soon, or too many interruptions, or simply not enough reflection could have derailed integral thought processes (though I do imagined seasoned theorists might be less pervious to derailment than your average modern undergrad).
Yet in the end, the archive may provide the foundation of the future (and the conception of the past and present) but it is by no means the source. I think the last word here belongs to Carl Jung:
Who has fully realized that history is not contained in thick books but lives in our very blood?
Latour’s actor-network theory and De Landa’s Deleuze-inspired assemblage theory are both (very reductively) the fairly common idea that things are made up of other things. It’s not at all satisfying to think of them in those terms, of course, but I find it difficult to rationalize them in any other way.
Actor-Network theory is, at it’s most basic, a method of mapping relationships between actors to identify networks, where an actor is a point; a person, an object, a concept, that is in any way capable of relating to other actors in the network at hand. Developed in the early 1980’s by Bruno Latour and Michael Cullen with input from John Law and other visiting academics, ANT quickly became a quite popular “material-semiotic method” of analysing the relationships between the various components of reality, be they material (physical; between people, things) or semiotic (between concepts), in order to better understand the way these relationships influence other relationships and to harness this knowledge to create and maintain relationships and networks.
I have always inexplicably, immovably preferred the term agent to actor or actant, and as they are more or less interchangeable I will draw from my preferred lexicon here.
Actor-network theory’s insistence on the agency of non-humans is oddly controversial. It’s inexplicable to me, but other theorists have some problem equating the worth or value of an object or concept with that of a human. Perhaps they consider diminishes the worth of a human to equate one’s value with a non-sentient object that was created and used by humans, despite their conspicuous roles and uses in networks. In my transportation networks my car is of greater value than my body; laziness/energy conservation is a more important concept than the self in this paradigm; this is not a reflection on my value but on the role of my car and my motivations in that network. “No offence; none taken.” The best explanation I can come up with is that an essentialist reading considers the core traits of humanity are exclusive to humanity and necessarily distinguish people from things or ideas in such a way that to equate them diminishes their very nature.
But! more on that later. Other criticisms include its descriptive rather than explanatory nature, or the absence of necessary morality in network assessment (though morality, and politics more broadly, is not excluded; it is merely not necessary).
Assemblage theory, built by Manuel De Landa on the back of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, has a similar goal of positing social relations across a broader spectrum that merely ‘individual’ or ‘social’. It uses a more complicated system of axes in three dimensions (in my conception at least) to define the roles of a component (agent equivalent) (material/expressive), the processes in which a component is involved (territorializing/deterritorializing), and the platforms and modes of communication that are able to communicate regarding the assemblage (genetic/linguistic).
Both strike me as overly complex ways of delivering a very specific account of a very broad idea that is more or less fundamental to interpreting perceived reality. Things make up other things to infinity, and in doing so they interact. It’s hardly revolutionary.
The use I can see for both theories then rests in their non-essentialist view of the world. While essentialists (or at least critics of non-essentialism) might argue that failing to define agents in a way that gifts them with a hard and fast conceptual core diminishes the meaning of being that particular agent, it’s precisely this property that allows both ANT and assemblage to consider all the component parts of a network as equally valuable and relatable. Exclusive, immovable, totalitarian conceptions of what a thing IS and does come value-laden and preclude the kind of relationships that ANT and assemblage are uniquely placed to consider. By liberating agents from prescriptive conceptions of being and imbuing their meaning, not their existence but their meaning, in their more perceptual state within the context of a network. As a result the two theories capture the vagaries of links between agents in more or less the neatest way that such a broad, incestuous, heterogenous, interrelated set of concepts can be captured.
That quote in the last post was the one part of this week’s readings which really jumped out at me. It worded the issue in just the right way to make sense to me, I suppose.
The problem isn’t the concept of a paywall, but what it represents; an unwillingness to participate in the online community on the community’s own terms, while attempting to profit from it.
I tend to see the internet as a great leveller of sorts, or perhaps even the new American dream, by virtue of the anonymity of users; it’s a place where everyone is of equal value and potential, where capabilities determine success, and where the traditional status quo of real live culture has no power. There is racism, but noone knows your race. Or your gender, or your bank balance, or your title.
Those are the terms of the internet, and exclusivity has no place here. The finely honed skills of the technological elite have shown too many individuals that once something is on the internet it is not yours anymore - it belongs to everyone and anyone, and they can and will access and use it.
When a non-digital company levels up and enters the digital arena, it needs to acknowledge that it’s no longer playing on its home turf and must kiss the ring of those it wishes to woo. A paywall is more like a sword in the abdomen; it limits your chances of success.
I can’t tell what news is news and what news is Onion news.
The line has blurred.
We live in the Onionverse now.