[iDC] Re: Collective Action

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Sat Jun 24 12:26:14 EDT 2006

>> Plural Monocultures (Amartya Sen)
>> Digital Cocooning
>> Cyber Archipelagos (Terranova)


>This is one of my greatest fears, perhaps partly because I know that  
>I am guilty of it.  My online, non-academic-research-related  
>discourse consist mostly of progressive media, lists such as this and  
>others, and e-mails with friends and colleagues.  My contact with  
>others outside of this very limited sphere are rather restricted.   
>What happens then when the collectives through which we interact are  
>not collectives in the real sense, but rather slightly differentiated  
>masses of similar people?

Whom do we talk to? To whom do we listen? 

The net enables total social filtering. How else would the infamous
German cannibal, Armin Meiwes, have found another man in a chatroom
sharing his obsession? Just imagine how much social filtering it must
have taken him to find someone sharing such particular and consequential

Whom do we talk to? From Barry Wellman I learned that we email more with
people who live in closer physical proximity. Most people link to others
with whom they are in agreement and whose status quo equals theirs;
government links to government, NGO links to NGO; to face the plural
monocultures of the web we should get out the band of brothers
mentality. Invite people to discussions whom you don¹t know, with whom
you share only few positions, link to people with whom you don¹t agree,
listen to music that you usually would not listen to, go to events that
you¹d normally attend.  

There is only so much time in a day, the argument goes, and so we have
to be picky about the people we hang out with, also online.

But while narrowly focused discussion groups are useful for some
purposes (i.e. affirming each others as pioneers in a field), such setup
often includes an exclusion of the supposed amateur  (What could
non-experts possibly have to contribute?), and can also have
connotations of racial, economic and class exclusivity. Complexity gets
lost in isolation.

How do we spend our time? 

The statistical hierarchy of time spent online: 1) communicating -- then
a while nothing -- then 2) playing games, followed by 3) general net
surfing, and lastly 4) shopping. But every minute spent takes away from
other activities.  

A while ago I wrote Download Dowtime:

 We repurpose trains, and airport lobbies into offices. The person next
to us becomes unwillingly involved. We pull ourselves out of the public
into the private networked space. We shift through the walkways of
airports, drive in taxis and trains. Networked devices keep us always
anchored, always in touch, consistently connected to myriads of social
networks. But the flickering screens to which we are hooked are not just
the bluetooth lifelines to the boss. We have all those with whom we
share our lives in reach nearly at all times. We cannot feel the warmth
of their faces. We cannot touch them. But in our "downtime" we can talk
or exchange text messages. And doing so may prevent us from talking to
the stranger right next to us. 


Downtime now is download time. Life is work. There is not enough time to
rest, cook, reflect, or walk in the woods. The insidious penetration of
the Internet into our every grain is hard to deny. Workers become
part-of-the-solution-nodes rather than full-time employees. Health
insurance can be done away with. Wages in the immaterial networked realm
don't have to bear resemblance to the work that was done. And, who ever
mentioned pensions? Also Unions get whacked when the work force is
geographically pieced together. Then there is all that sense of place
stuff that Lucy Lippard was so adamant about. But the uprooted lifestyle
seems like peanuts compared to what is happening now, -- the horror, the
horror. Passing through these airports, the net started to feel like an
itch that we can't scratch. 


The net enhanced Fordist dreams of productivity but does not give us
more time with friends. The term ³screen sucking² was recently
introduced. Groundcontrol to Major Tom: Take your protein pills and put
your helmet on. Teenagers in North America prefer computer screens to
TV; they get their news on websites, not from print newspapers. Japanese
teenagers even show signs of physical sickness when they are out of
range of cell phone reception.

Today, going for a walk in the park sounds radical: I¹m off. 





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