Geert Lovink is (IMHO) one of the more interesting thinkers on “net culture”. Below find part of an interview conducted by Australian curator Victoria Lynn. The full thing (hint – well worth your time if you like thinking about these things) is here.
We know the claims that the techno-evangelists make, but what is the reality? What are the actual power games that are happening there? What are the commercial interests? What’s the role of the State and the new forms of censorship that are happening? What are the new enclosures, the new “walled gardens” as they are called? If everyone is your ‘friend’ how can there be a lively public debate? This ease of communication comes with the so-called ideology of trust. Trust is very important especially also for e-commerce, related to the whole rhetoric of safety and security. That implies and means guarding off a lot of these ‘open’ networks that are in fact the complete opposite of open networks.
They operate like enclosures. These information architectures are aimed at excluding outsiders. The participants themselves are trying very hard to manage themselves, in search of constant self-affirmation, trying to manage their busy lives. They have to wall themselves off against an overflow of information, files, impressions, invitations. You can also say that these tools design the ‘personal information autonomy’. That’s a positive way of looking at platforms most users get addicted to. They need to check the updates and check out what others are up to—simply because they can.
Is it the tyranny of the positive? You are everybody’s friend. That’s the iron default. There is no ambiguity or antagonism. You can’t have enemies or people you don’t like. Or people that you like but had a falling out with. It’s hard enough to ‘unfriend’. All the things that happen in the social world out there do not find a representation in the online world. It is a self-promotional happy new age environment that wants to create the feeling that we all feel good, that there is nothing adverse happening with ourselves. These environments are event free. You can’t just say that something serious happened to you. It is the last thing that you would express there
So they are peer sites of the Self, or as Foucault called it, technologies of the Self, and what you do there is you create or do self-management. I like very much the work of the critic Eva Illouz, and her book Saving the Modern Soul, Therapy, Emotions and the Culture of Self-Help. She has done a lot of research on dating sites. For instance, she writes about the tyranny of intimacy that you share with others online. Another book that I really like of hers is called Cold Intimacies, in which she writes explicitly about that type of self-representation that you find out there.
GEERT LOVINK: There is also a fundamental shift happening at the level of protocols and the very architecture of the internet, from the archive to the flow and the river. We see that in many metaphors (just think of Google Wave). Silicon Valley is gearing up for the colonisation of real-time, away from the static archive. Some have even said goodbye to the very idea of ‘search’ and that is interesting, because search is, in the end, a time-consuming activity with often unsatisfactory outcomes and one that originated in library science.
VICTORIA LYNN: ‘Search’ is a library-based model?
GEERT LOVINK: Yes, you go back to the archive and search a database. This could, potentially, be the point where the Google empire will start to crumble, and this is why they are at the forefront of creating Google Wave, which integrates all the feeds of your Facebook and Twitter accounts etc., into one real live event happening on the screen. It is an online tool for real-time communication. Wave is flow based, river based. It is no longer the case that you sit there and go back to the archive, which is a completely different approach. The internet as a whole is going live, which means that you’ll only see a segment. In this way the internet is trying to come closer to the messiness, the complexities of the social world.
VICTORIA LYNN: Even though the Facebook site, for example, was set up to mirror the social networking we do in our lives, could you say that the complexity of our life in a technological environment—with all the feeds etc.—is forcing the technology to change and adapt to a social networking that is at the same time real and virtual?
GEERT LOVINK: I would not put it that way. The virtual wants to penetrate and map out the real lives and social relationships to such an extent that the movement is going in that direction, not in the other way. There is no evidence that the world is becoming more virtual. There is all the evidence that the virtual is becoming more real. All the investment is there, and moving away from Second Life, and virtualisation and pretending to be someone else. We are not being encouraged to pretend to be someone else, but to be ourselves. You have to log in; you have to tell your name. The idea of the virtual where you could potentially become something else has broken down. When we are talking about the virtualisation of everyday life, we are referring to the fact that the technologies themselves are becoming smaller and more mobile.