[iDC] Table Tennis, Schmeb 2, List Dynamics, and Autonomous Uses of Sociable Web Media

Miguel Afonso Caetano miguel.a.caetano at gmail.com
Tue Jun 13 11:45:27 EDT 2006

Hello, everybody

I'm new to the list, but i've been following with a little scepticism
the Web 2.0 hysteria. The autonomous use of these social technologies
is very problematic because, on one hand, we can see that big
corporations like Google and Yahoo are becoming more and more
interested in Web 2.0, making a concerted effort to profit indirectly
from advertising - generated by way of personalized ads - in these
sites and, on the other hand, there's a growing mass of users with
very different interests and motivations that are deliberately giving
up their privacy without realizing the potencial repercussions of
their actions in terms of state and corporate monitoring.

Furthermore, one should not forget the voyeuristic alienation that is
connected to these networks. Everybody watches everybody, just for the
sake of it. In Web 2.0, there's no need for a Big Brother. It's like a
collective surveillance, instead of a collective intelligence. Nathan,
of Swarming Media (www.swarmingmedia.com) has been writing about this
for some time now - see his recent post

A paradigmatic and illustrative example of the passivity that Web 2.0
induces in the user can be seen, IMO, in a new firefox extension
called The Swarm (www.swarmthe.com), that lets people see in real time
what sites are the other users browsing in that moment
(www.swarmthe.com/go/swarm). In paper, the idea is great: to foster
serendipity, the accidental discovery of interesting sites. But in
practice, it is nothing more than a spectacle, a performance in which
we are drowned by torrents of thumbs of the same popular sites
(google, cnn, gmail, digg, slashdot, p0rn, yahoo, msn, etc). We can
see the screenshots of other people who are browsing through the same
sites that we tend to visit most often. And even when we find a new
site that sounds interesting the information that is given about it is
very scant. It makes me remind me of the second part of Win Wenders's
movie "Until the End Of The World" (1991) where all the characters
spend all the time watching the images of their own dreams in tiny LCD
PSP-like screens...


Miguel Caetano

2006/6/12, Trebor Scholz <trebor at thing.net>:
> Activism, Web 2.0-- Schmeb 2.0, the future of the Internet, and many
> other big big topics: we discuss it all on this list. Arguments
> ping-pong back and forth: one person serves the ball and the other uses
> her paddle racket to hit it ... or take the ball and run off with it.
> <http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8079411349144989883>
> Now we are talking about technology¹s relationship to social change
> again. Yesterday a friend suggested that it might be useful for us to
> look for a typology of positions that resurface in this discussion. We
> could frame certain actors in relation to technology & social change: we
> can map our position and that of others, being fully aware that such
> positions shift over time.
> Andrew Feenberg in ³Questioning Technology,² my friend suggests,
> identifies a typology of actors, beginning with the technological
> essentialist, in the Preface of his book.
> ³Essentialism holds that technology reduces everything to functions and
> raw materials. Goal oriented technological practices replace practices,
> which embody a human meaning. Efficiency sweeps away all other norms and
> determines an autonomous process of technological development. From this
> standpoint any attempt to infuse the technical with meaning appears as
> external interference in a rational field with its own logic and laws.
> Yet rational though it may be, technology engulfs its creators,
> threatening both spiritual and material survival.²
> And the non-essentialist approach:
> ³This ... approach has political implications. Awareness of the meanings
> embedded in technology is more immediately available to ordinary users
> than to managers and technical personnel. The manager may see the new
> machine as more efficient, but the worker condemned to using it notices
> that it also removes skill and initiative from the shop floor. The
> polluter is less likely to see the relevance of environmental ethics to
> technology than the victim of pollution. And so on. Thus what
> essentialism conceives as an ontological split between technology and
> meaning, I conceive as a terrain of struggle between different types of
> actors differently engaged with technology and meaning.²
> Perhaps sketching a typology of different actors would help us in this
> debate.
> In addition, the topic of technology & social change is hard to really
> think through with fast writing on a mailinglist where, based on my
> experience, very long posts (with notable exceptions) rarely lead to
> discussion. The zestful dynamic of mailing lists is not the most
> suitable format to actually get to the core of this problem beyond the
> daily flicker of news feeds or even the latest policy debate. The
> strength of list discourse I see in collaborative learning and research.
> From my experience, lists are mainly fueled by shorter dialogical
> sparks, brief controversial statements, conflict, exchanges of
> references, reflections, personal anecdotes, comparisons, perhaps even
> flame wars.
> In contrast, the less dialogical format of the essay (or dare I say:
> book) allows for an argument to be cautiously formulated over as many
> pages as it takes. Admittedly, the audience for such publication format
> is different and limited by all means. But the reading of the text, on
> the other hand, is perhaps slower: people go back to a text more often.
> But, how many people read a book in comparison to the number of lurking
> readers on a medium-sized list such as this one?
> I appreciate mailinglists that have both: a little bit of noise and tons
> of signal.
> To some extent I agree with David Golumbia¹s call for the integration of
> technology into its social contexts. Jon Ippolito¹s proposal to ³insist
> on and maintain a critical distance between our research and our shiny
> gadgets² is of course also welcome.
> Nonetheless, a consequential debate about such arguments would be
> interesting if it¹d identify a range of common actors in relation to
> technology & social change. What do you think?
> Yochai Benkler achieves amazing complexity in ³The Wealth of Networks.²
> Sociology, economics, law, and political science inform his discourse.
> He patiently and passionately argues from a perhaps slightly too
> optimistic, techno-embracive point of view (but at least he does not
> hide his own investment). He takes on many often-heard criticisms,
> namely technodeterminism and network utopia and argues through them step
> by step and at a length that is hard to quote from in full as it really
> takes him many (deserved) pages to finish his argument.
> ³... it is important to keep in mind that the relevant comparison is
> always between the public sphere that we in fact had throughout the
> twentieth century, the one dominated by mass media, that is the baseline
> for comparison, not the utopian image of the ³everyone a pamphleteer²
> that animated the hopes of the1990s for Internet democracy. Departures
> from the naive utopia are not signs that the Internet does not
> democratize, after all. They are merely signs that the medium and its
> analysis are maturing.²
> These considerations connect to our discussion about imagined futures
> for the Internet (Web 2.0, Business 2.0, Internet 2, Lambda Rail, and
> Internet of Things).
> Kevin Kelly speculates that in 2015 ³the Web continues to evolve from a
> world ruled by mass media and mass audiences to one ruled by messy media
> and messy participation. How far can this frenzy of creativity go?
> Encouraged by Web-enabled sales, 175,000 books were published and more
> than 30,000 music albums were released in the US last year. At the same
> time, 14 million blogs launched worldwide. All these numbers are
> escalating.²
> Tim O¹Reilly is correct when he describes the use of the term Web 2.0
> ³I guess it's the old debate between language purists, and language
> pragmatists. The right words are the ones people actually use, and this
> word is catching on.²
> But the sea of Web 2.0 non-believers is growing by the day and it seems
> to now also include Mr. O¹Reilly himself.
> Nicholas Carr:
> ³Not long ago, the big-time tech publisher and conference impresario was
> talking up Web 2.0 as a means of achieving a "technology-mediated"
> higher consciousness. But a shadow seems to have fallen across
> O'Reilly's optimism. In a commencement speech last month, he cautioned,
> "If history is any guide, the democratization promised by Web 2.0 will
> eventually be succeeded by new monopolies [which] will have enormous
> power over our lives - and may use it for good or ill." A couple of
> weeks ago, after being mugged in abstentia by a hysterical blog mob,
> O'Reilly said the experience "has shaken my faith in the collective
> intelligence of the blogosphere."
> Craig Bellamy:
> ³Web 2.0, schmeb 2.0. For many of us, the term Web 2.0 induces a
> visceral response that is not at all dissimilar to hearing the word
> dotcom, social network, or blogosphere. We are sick of the associations
> with these words and tired of the endless babble and speculation
> surrounding an idea that is misconstrued and misunderstood by most
> people.²
> <http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2005/08/not_20.html>
> <http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.08/tech_pr.html>
> <http://www.craigbellamy.net/2006/06/02/postbubble/>
> <http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2006/06/hear_no_evil.php>
> <http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/06/11/business/web.0611recruit.php>
> <http://www.whak.com/off/?228>
> Call it whatever you like, sociable web media will be my term of choice,
> but the question of autonomous uses of these participatory web
> architectures despite their enormous potential to turn into a
> participatory panopticon, still matter a great deal.
> -Trebor
> Benkler, Y. (2006) Wealth of Networks. New Haven: Yale University Press,
> 215.
> Feenberg, A. (1999) Questioning Technology. London: Routledge.
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