[iDC] Writing about the sociable web

Christiane Robbins cpr at mindspring.com
Thu Jun 21 19:40:00 EDT 2007

There have been several instances in this discussion where I have  
wanted to make a timely contribution … if only the obligations of  
first life would ease up!   So ... please consider this response to  
not only Trebor but to other posts in this exchange as well.

Once again, it may well be beneficial to invoke an historical  
perspective on the culture of the Internet – the web 0.0, 1.0, 2.0,  
3.0 and so forth.  In response to Trebor’s earlier statement:

The ideology of most dominant Web 2.0 commentators is build on the  
logic of capital as a necessity. The fact that their writing causes  
mostly in entrepreneurs and business consultants shows that their pro  
free-market economics interests are well catered to by this group that
also often aims to teach business how to run a "smooth show,"  
understand the cultural habits of youth, and still profit nicely.

Ahhhh, yes … and no … as this has been the case on the dominant realm  
of the internet since approx. 1996-97 with, as we know, the advent  
and implemention of B-2-B.  To quickly re-cap:  this overwhelming  
force of entrepreneurship and commercialization eclipsed the  
ideologies (as neo-liberterian as most were) and idealism of web  
cultures.  Couple this with the concurrent rise of neo-liberalism  
( in the USA and globally ) as well as the regressive policies  
implemented and ideologies advanced by the Bush administration in the  
USA.  As such, there has been little-to-no advance  and even less  
cross-visibility to models that do not speak of an economic  
imperative. Conversely, there has been a retrenchment of spirit,  
ideals and viable infrastructures for the forms of the non-profit  
sector that advanced during the 60’s and 70’s and which gave rise to  
organizations such as KPFK/KPFA, etc.

These principles initially and visibly began to erode in the early  
80’s in non-profits with the introduction of corporate business  
principles and financial gurus such as Peter Drucker – to get things  
in order.  This new order quickly formed a Parthenon to non-profit  
administrators then dependent upon federal, state and local public  
funding, as corporate and foundation funding.  The public funders  
increasing sought matching funding from their corporate and  
foundation “partners.”  For organizations such as KPFK/KPFA - who  
were already marginalized as leftist’s threats to the viability of  
capitalist socio-economic structure – their ability to raise  
necessary funding in such a climate was clearly jeopardized.  Their  
abilities and support to do an end-run around the system is evidenced  
by their continued and principled existence.  The individual  
sacrifices necessary to such a commitment are self-evident.  The  
underliying questions are where else do we find that today … and how  
do we as a society/culture offer reciprocal due respect and value?

Getting back to the 80's reframing of the public realm - I do know  
this to be the case as I was a witness .  As a very young and naïve  
curator I attended a number of those management seminars as part and  
parcel of my “professionalization”  via the Museum Management  
Institute. Clearly, the stance of corporate America was to get those  
young, chaotic, upstarts in line or else all hell might break loose.   
This was especially true as Ronald Reagan initially took office in  
1980 in the USA. The relevant analogy here revolves around the same  
quest for control of the "chaos" inherent in the early days of the  
internet.  In the 21st c, it appears that the quest for control does  
not come neatly packaged under the  rubric of stereotypic  
governmental totalitarianism.  Rather, it insidiously appeals to an  
individuals' own self-interest and economic ambitions as a mode of  
self-control in the service of the dominant socio-economic realm.   
Rather old stuff on a grand scale to be sure!

In the USA and specifically for media (experimental) and individual  
artists, this flourish ( arguably ) of public support finally  
concluded for the most part in the mid 90’s.  The “old-fashioned”  
notion of Public Funding, Public Service was successfully undermined  
and often derided as anachronistic.  This then permutated into a  
collective form of a narcissism invisibly cloaked (maybe not so  
much!) by an economically driven careerism and the opportunities  
afforded by gold-rush days of .com … which extended  into the  
increasingly privatized public sector (including the academy.)

Such was the nascent growth of neo-liberalism.  One did not have to  
loose their principles – so to speak.  You just had to (re)frame them  
within an economic format that would make things operable within the  
dominant economic system.  It was practical, one could get things  
done relatively quickly and could “succeed,” leading to an increasing  
flow of capital into the non-profit sector. Certainly, the stinging  
echo of the 60’s phrase “selling out” took on a whole new meaning.

But the permutation into a more "refined" realm social and cultural  
entrepreneurship developed during the 90’s and is flourishing today –  
especially in California and the Bay Area.  Within a particularly  
American frame – it simply made sense.  Within a frame of 60’s  
ideology it simply was a mode of a well-fed survival – a compromise  
to be sure, but what other choice did one have?

However, now we find ourselves in an ever-present world of surface  
play – which unquestionably lends itself to the B-2-B underpinnings  
and profit margins of social networking.  The complexities, which  
contribute to this construct, range from the ever-growing power and  
agency of a rather perverse melding of the database, surveillance and  
consumerism. Could it be that our “products” – aka - “our selves”  
could be considered as cultural artifacts of digital media and  
technological practices that exist as yet another form of corporate  
branding?  I brand … therefore … I am.  And, if one were to accept  
this position, isn’t that in essence the most accurate reflection of  
digital media, cultural, social  visual practices today?

I fully realize that this is nothing new, artists have been raising  
these issues for 20 years +.  Barbara Krueger’s “ I shop therefore I  
am”  was created when – in 1985?  However, the more salient question  
is – who has been watching and who has been listening to them amidst  
an ever shrinking support and audience for “ that type of work? “  
When will we  have a public sector which supports (through funding)  
sustained forms of critique as one of many forms necessary to  
advancing understandings of the world.  Quite simply, we are left  
with surface play – with decoration – which is always fun and whose  
nano-second shelf-life is well-suited for our ADD attention spans.   
When we become so totally dependent upon the industries, the tired  
clichés and intimidations associated with of biting the hand that  
feeds you, become so relentlessly obvious as to render them mute.   
But even in their muteness, can the neo-conceptual strategies so  
evident in digital art practices save the day or do they simply  
extend the surface curvature?  These conceptual practices have been  
evident in digital media /art practices – but have they been evident  
in the spheres of digital communication practices, analyses and  
social networking?

Fernanad Braudel has written “ Multinational corporations (some  
significantly larger than many countries) and the blind market forces  
of late capitalism have fabricated a borderless accelerated space  
based solely around the transformation, manipulation and flow of  
capital.  Silently the world has slipped out from under us as we  
dreamt our televised dreams, our souls shanghaied by a culture of  
greed that is adrift on a reality that has become severely  
overexposed.  We now confront a reality that has become psychically  
overstuffed; a mad accumulation of reality that is bifurcating  
between the real as we know it, and the teleschizoid assemblages that  
we have yet to fully formulate.”

No longer do we have the utopian notions of the buddy system which  
seemed to proliferate during the days of the early Internet where  
anything went – at least for a couple of years.   However, we do have  
a memory of a time past which gnaws at a future… a future that has  
been burdened by our own creations …creations  that may have been  
absconded with and nullified by our own ambitions, greed and  
carelessness.   At the same time our conscience pulls at us back.  We  
have been faced with a system in which culturally embedded protocols,  
signs, referents, are endlessly being recycled with the hope that  
some overlooked freak mutation might catch fire…. again … and again …  
and again. But to what end is the ever-ready question.  Is the social  
play only as viable as long as the money holds out to support its  
technological infrastructure? Or do we rediscover that “old- 
fashioned” notion of public service – despite the seduction of  
possibly making millions ( yes, the ante is certainly up – at least  
seemingly for guys in the 18-33 demographic ) When  ( and how ) do we  
collectively give value to the currencies embedded in public service  
and alterity that will be necessary to not only establish but to  
maintain it's centrality.?

All to say, in response to Trebor’s question What would it take to  
build a public, independent, non-profit MySpace?  One reply might be  
Idealism, an idealism that takes on the material form of a nourishing  
infrastructure and public initiative to secure long-term committed  
public funding – without purse strings attached to congressional or  
corporate oversight – and to clear and unfettered channels of  

Now … I’m hoping that this might engender any number of varied  
responses.  Your move.

All best,


On Jun 21, 2007, at 10:43 AM, Trebor Scholz wrote:

> Hi Alex,
> I really appreciate that you bring up the issue of social class and
> I'd add gender--difference in general, alterity.
> The ideology of most dominant Web 2.0 commentators is build on the  
> logic
> of capital as a necessity. The fact that their writing causes interest
> mostly in entrepreneurs and business consultants shows that their pro
> free-market economics interests are well catered to by this group that
> also often aims to teach business how to run a "smooth show,"  
> understand
> the cultural habits of youth, and still profit nicely.
> Much of the most visible writing about the sociable web reduces
> networked publics to their function as consumers, ignoring them in  
> their
> role as lovers, parents, citizens, or working poor. In the few cases
> that people are addresses in these roles, the commentary comes from a
> market perspective.
> The sociable web can do more to represent people's lives and rights  
> and
> their well-being; it is not merely an engine for wealth production. We
> should not give up on fundamental human desires. On the contrary, we
> should formulate and collectively demand ethical ground rules of the
> social web!!
> I’m not talking about ethics in the sense of religion and also not  
> about
> ethics as an overarching set of moral norms that can be arbitrarily
> plugged in to manipulate people toward ideological ends. An ethics
> rather, that grows out of specific situations and leads to a call  
> to the
> right not to be mistreated. What constitutes betrayal or even evil in
> relationship to the corporate social operating systems that we partake
> in? For me, the impotence of Facebook users with respect to their
> communal captivity is deeply puzzling.
> Online social life can also be supported by public, independent
> initiatives or hybrid forms. How can we apply the principles of public
> broadcast media (i.e. KPFA or even NPR) to social networking? What  
> would
> it take to build a public, independent, non-profit MySpace?
> I'm sorry that this note lacks examples. I'll also not be able to
> respond right away as I'm off for some time in the woods but I look
> forward to your response.
> -Trebor
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Christiane Robbins

... the space between zero and one  ...
Walter Benjamin


The present age prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to  
the original, fancy to reality, the appearance to the essence for in  
these days illusion only is sacred, truth profane.

Ludwig Feuerbach, 1804-1872,
German Philosopher

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