Tag Archives: politics

reposted from fibreculture journal


Geert Lovink
University of Amsterdam

Ned Rossiter
University of Nottingham, Ningbo


The internet turns out to be neither the problem nor the solution for the global recession. As an indifferent bystander it doesn’t lend itself easily as a revolutionary tool. The virtual has become the everyday. The New Deal is presented as green, not digital. The digital is a given. This low-key position presents an opportunity to rethink the Web 2.0 hype. How might we understand our political, emotional and social involvement in internet culture over the next few years?


News media is awash with ‘economic crisis’, indulging in its self-generated spectacle of financial meltdown. Experts are mobilised, but only to produce the drama of dissensus. Programmed disagreement is the consensus of daily news. Crisis, after all, is the condition of possibility for capitalism. Unlike the dotcom crash in 2000-2001, when the collapse of high-tech stocks fueled the global recession, the internet has so far managed to stay out of the blame game. Web 2.0 only suffers mild side effects from the odd collection of platforms and services, from Google to Wikipedia,PhotobucketCraigslistMySpaceFacebookTwitterHabbo and so-called regional players such as Baidu Despite its benign existence, there still is hyper-growth wherever you look. Web 2.0 applications and platforms remain ‘new’ but show a tendency to get lost inside the boring, stressful and uncertain working life of the connected billions.


Social networks are technologies of entertainment and diffusion. The social reality they create is real, but as a technology of immediacy you can’t get no satisfaction. We initially love them for their distraction from the torture of now-time. Networking sites are social drugs for those in need of the Human that is located elsewhere in time or space. It is the pseudo Other that we are connecting to. Not the radical Other or some real Other. We systematically explore weakness and vagueness and are pressed to further enhance the exhibition of the Self. ‘I might know you (but I don’t). Do you mind knowing me?’. The pleasure principle of entertainment thus diffuses social antagonisms—how does conflict manifest within the comfort zones of social networks and their tapestries of auto-customisation? The business-minded ‘trust doctrine’ has all but eliminated the open, dirty internet forums. Most Web 2.0 are echo chambers of the same old opinions and cultural patterns. As we can all witness, they are not exactly hotbeds of alternative sub-culture. What’s new are their ‘social’ qualities: the network is the message. What’s created here is a sense or approximation of the social. Social networks register a ‘refusal of work’. But our net-time, after all, is another kind of labour. Herein lies the perversity of social networks: however radical they may be, they will always be data-mined. They are designed to be exploited. Refusal of work becomes just another form of making a buck that you never see.


Social networking sites are as much fashion victims as everything else. They come and go. Their migration across space signals the enculturisation of software. While Orkut disappeared in G8 countries, it is still Big in Brazil. Is anyone still seriously investing in real estate in Second Life? What the online world needs is sustainable social relations. The moving herds that go from one server to the next merely demonstrate an impulsive grazing mentality: once the latest widgets are installed, it is time to move on. Sustainability is connected to scaleability. Here, we see lessons from the major social movements over the last 50 years. The force of accumulated social-political desires manifest, eventually, in national and global forums that permeate back into policy discourse and social practice: think March on Washington, 1963 (Black Civil Rights), Rio, 1992 (Earth Summit), Porto Alegre, 2001 (World Social Forum), Geneva and Tunis, 2003-2005 (World Summit on the Info-Society). None of these examples are exempt from critique. We note them here to signal the relationship between sustainability and scalar transformation. We are familiar with formats such as barcamps, unconferencing and have participated in DIY techno-workshops at those seasonal media arts festivals. But these are hardly instances of sustainability. Their temporality of tinkering is governed by the duration of the event. True, there is occasionally resonance back in the local hack-lab, but such practices are exclusive to techno-secret societies, not the networked masses. Social networking sites are remarkable for their capacity to scale. Their weakness is their seeming incapacity to effect political change in any substantive way. The valorisation of citizen-journalism is not the same as radical intervention, and is better understood as symptomatic of the structural logic of outsourcing media production and election campaign management.


From social to socialism is a small step for humankind ­ but a big step for the Western subject. What makes the social attractive, and socialism so old school and boring? What is the social anyway? We have to be aware that such postmodern academic language games do not deepen our understanding of the issues, nor widen our political fantasies. We need imagination, but only if it illuminates concepts that transform concrete conditions. The resurrection of the social after its disappearance is not an appealing slogan. Some ideas have an almost direct access to our body. Others remain dead. This in particular counts for insider jargon such as rent, multitude, common, commons and communism. There’s a compulsion to self-referentiality here that’s not so different from the narcissistic default of so many blogs. What, then, are the collective concepts of the social networked masses? For now, they are engineered from the top-down by the corporate programmers, or they are outsourced to the world of widgets. Tag, Connect, Friend, Link, Share, Tweet. These are not terms that signal any form of collective intelligence, creativity or networked socialism. They are directives from the Central Software Committee. «Participation» in «social networks» will no longer work, if it ever did, as the magic recipe to transform tired and boring individuals into cool members of the mythological Collective Intelligence. If you’re not an interesting individual, your participation is not really interesting. Data clouds, after all, are clouds: they fade away. Better social networks are organized networks involving better individuals—it’s your responsibility, it’s your time. What is needed is an invention of social network software where everybody is a concept designer. Let’s kill the click and unleash a thousand million tiny tinkerers!


We are addicted to ghettoes, and in so doing refuse the antagonism of ‘the political’. Where is the enemy? Not onFacebook, where you can only have ‘friends’. What Web 2.0 lacks is the technique of antagonistic linkage. Instead, we are confronted with the Tyranny of Positive Energy. Life only consists of uplifting experiences. Depression is not a design principle. Wikipedia‘s reliance on ‘good faith’ and its policing of protocols quite frequently make for a depressing experience in the face of an absence of singular style. There ain’t no ‘neutral point of view’. This software design principle merely reproduces the One Belief System. Formats need to be transformed if they are going to accommodate the plurality of expression of networked life. Templates function as zones of exclusion. But strangely, they also exclude the conflict of the border. The virus is the closest thing to conflict online. But viruses work in invisible ways and function as a generator of service labour for the computer nerd who comes in and cleans your computer.


The critique of simulation falls short here. There is nothing ‘false’ about the virtuality of social networking sites. They are about as real it gets these days. Stability accumulates for those hooked to networks. Things just keep expanding. More requests. More friends. More time for social-time. With the closure of factories comes the opening of data-mines. Privacy is so empty of curiosity that we are compelled to slap it on our Wall for all to see. If we are lucky, a Friend refurbishes it with a comment. And if you are feeling cheeky, then Throw A Sheep! You would be hard-pressed to notice any substantive change. But you will be required to do never-ending maintenance work to manage all your data feeds and updates. That’ll subtract a bit of time from your daily routine.


The Network will not be Revolutionized. What does this mean for Indymedia 2.0? The question of why indymedia.orgfailed and did not further develop into an active and open social networking site or clearly take up a position in the Web 2.0 debate is something that needs to be addressed (see the nettime debate of May 2009). Have media activists already learnt enough of the Brechtian Indymedia Lehrstueck that started in the late nineties? Is global branding and branching, as in the case of Indymedia (one name, often similar design, sharing of servers, some syndication of content, etc.), still as important as it used to be? Indymedia met the challenge of scaleability in amazing ways only to discover its limits. Contamination seems key for transnational social-political networks. As do regular face-to-face meetings. Let your network connect with the concrete and adaptation and transformation will undoubtedly kick in. Then try reconnecting across networks (and other institutional and organizational forms) on the global scale. Conflict will already have multiplied and the primary condition of sustainability will be underway.


Web 2.0 is not for free. ‘Free as in free beer’ is not like ‘free as in freedom’. Open does not equal free. These days ‘free’ is just another word for service economies. The linux fiefdom know that all too well. We need to question naïve campaigns that merely promote ‘free culture’ without questioning the underlying parasitic economy and the ‘deprofessionalization’ of cultural work. Pervasive profiling is the cost of this opening to ‘free market values’. As users and prosumers we are limited by our capacity as data producers. Our tastes and preferences, our opinions and movements are the market price to pay. At present, Facebook‘s voluntary and enthusiastic auto-filing system on a mass scale represents the high point of this strategy. But we cannot succumb to the control paranoia and to the logic of fear. Let’s inject more kaos in it! So what if you have your anti-whatever Facebook group? What does it change other than expanding your number of friends? Is deleting the radical gesture of 2009? Why not come up a more subversive and funny, anti-cyclical act? Are you also looking for rebel tactical tools?


Soon the Web 2.0 business model will be obsolete. It is based on the endless growth principle, pushed by the endless growth of consumerism. The business model still echoes the silly 90s dotcom model: if growth stagnates, it means the venture has failed and needs to be closed down. Seamless growth of customised advertising is the fuel of this form of capitalism, decentralized by the user-prosumer. Mental environment pollution is parallel to natural environment pollution. But our world is finished (limited). We have to start elaborating appropriate technologies for a finite world. There is no exteriority, no other worlds (second, third, fourth worlds) where we can dump the collateral effects of insane development. We know that Progress is a bloodthirsty god that extracts a heavy human sacrifice. A good end cannot justify a bad means. On the contrary, technologies are means that have to justify the end of collective freedom. No sacrifice will be tolerated: martyrs are not welcome. Neither are heroes.


‘Better a complex identity than an identity complex’. We need to promote peer-education that shifts the default culture of auto-formation to the nihilist pleasure of hacking the system. Personal exhibition on Web 2.0 social networks resembles the discovery of sexuality. Anxiety over masturbation meets digital narcissism (obsessive touching up of personal profiles) and digital voyeurism (compulsive viewing of other’s profiles, their list of friends, secrets, etc.). To avoid the double trap of blind technophilia and luddite technophobia, we have to develop complex digital identities. They have to answer to individual desires and satisfy multiple needs. Open-ID are a good starting point. ‘Steal my profile’. It’s time to remix identity. Anonymity is a good alternative to the pressures of the control society, but there must be alternatives on offer. One strategy could be to make the one (‘real’) identity more complex and, where possible, contradictory. But whatever your identify might be, it will always be harvested. If you must participate in the accumulation economy for those in control of the data mines, then the least you can do is Fake Your Persona.

Authors’ Biographies

Ippolita is an Italian Collective.

Geert Lovink is a Research Professor of Interactive Media at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam (HvA) and an Associate Professor of New Media at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). Lovink is the founding director of the Institute of Network Cultures, whose goals are to explore, document and feed the potential for socio-economical change of the new media field through events, publications and open dialogue. He is the author of many books, including Dark FiberUncanny NetworksMy First Recession and Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Studies.

Ned Rossiter is Associate Professor of Network Cultures, University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China and Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney, Australia. He is author of Organized Networks: Media Theory, Creative Labour, New Institutions (2006) and co-editor of numerous volumes, including (with Geert Lovink) MyCreativity Reader: A Critique of Creative Industries (2007).

Excerpts from the original text. Click on the title below to find the original essay by Ramesh Srinivasan.

Local-Global: Reconciling Mismatched Ontologies in Development Information Systems


‏This paper extends pre-existing digital divide conceptualizations to further investigate the important issue of mismatches between the ontologies of state-created information systems and local, community preferences. We argue that the reconciliation of these diverse logics and framings is critical for the effective engagement with communities as well as formulation and implementation of development policies around information systems. We suggest several paths toward overcoming mismatched ontologies that would enable communities to be directly involved and productively engaged in developing shared ontologies. These mechanisms would also help policymakers to avoid ‘information loss’ of ontology mismatches while preserving their ability to develop scalable, comparative perspectives to guide policies.

1. Introduction

“Waterlogging” is a perennial complaint in cities in Karnataka, India. A few hours of rain can turn a dry street to a rushing torrent, while a burst pipe or a blocked drain can turn a pedestrian crossing into a treacherous lake. Local newspapers are full of photos, bus stops and public places full of discussion. Yet city data on public grievances contains no record of “waterlogging” – instead there are recorded incidents of storm drains in need of desilting, storm drains in need of repair, leaking pipes, choked underground drains. These are the categories that citizens can choose from to report the puddles – which may very well look the same regardless of origin – via cities’ Public Grievance and Redressal Systems. [65]

Communities may in fact form and self-define around shared ontologies, constructed and re-constructed fluidly [50] through shared social and cultural activities and the ever-changing lived experiences of their members. Our use of ontology does not imply a reified nor exoticized model of ‘pastness’ or ‘locality’ that ignores flows of interaction that shape communities over time [2], but merely implies a distinction between groups’ mental maps of their surroundings.
The information loss between communities’ and states’ ontologies, on the other hand, is likely to be greater. The state ‘meta ontology’ sheds much of the local context in order to ensure tractable management for policy purposes including, especially, taxation, defense, provision of infrastructure and services, and economic management.[68,1,46]

Mismatched ontologies contribute to: (a) ineffective delivery of information services to communities; (b) insufficient participation and interaction with local communities; and importantly, and (c) ‘information loss’ that affects states’ abilities to effectively deliver goods, services, and development-supporting interventions.

2. The power of ontologies, the problem of information loss

The problem is especially pervasive for economic development policy, in which states’ goals are (at least normatively) defined in terms of individuals’ utility, or sense of wellbeing. Some of the most prominent formulations of “development” measure progress in terms of achievements that only make sense with reference to individuals’ or communities’ ontologies.

Censuses often group individuals as employed or unemployed, there is no reason that they could not also include categories for happily employed and unhappily employed as well. Governments often base the relations in their ontologies on those derived by the scientific method; there is no reason that they could not also incorporate folkloric relations that guide community perceptions.

The limitations on how much information can feasibly be aggregated through group decision making to determine social choices have been formally and extensively explored in social choice theory. [3, 5]

Every explicit effort to document a territory, such as a census, is based on particular claims of how a community is to be measured, how the boundaries of a community are to be determined, what counts as an activity, and how these collected data points are to be connected and compared. [61, 55] These claims may be motivated by politics [43, 31] or determined by administrative and technological feasibility of data collection, storage, and retrieval.

Researchers and citizens are less able to challenge the meta ontology when they cannot model and demonstrate the validity of local restrictions, practices, events, and entities according to community ontologies. States’ dominant position in the supply of data will likely change over time as the costs of collection, compilation, storage, and dissemination of community-produced data continue to decline. But even then, states’ authority may privilege conclusions drawn from “official” versus non-state produced data.

This discussion, therefore, leaves us with some important questions concerning the extent to which data models and sociotechnical systems optimize between local sustainability and cross-community scaleability? Or, is there a way in which community activities can be viewed and monitored from the birds-eye by the states while still preserving the local nuances?

3. Bridging local and global

We close this paper by reflecting on several ways in which information loss can be reduced. This section offers three possibilities, each the basis of ongoing research:

1) Developing collaborative and inclusive ontologies. Systems that engage communities to dynamically model their relationship to the information they are provided, around local categories, and fluid relationships between these, have been used sustainably and innovatively in cross-cultural local community contexts [e.g; 34, 45, 37]

2) Harnessing technology to ensure more effective dissemination of existing information in a form that enables communities to engage with and reorganize data in accordance with local ontologies.

3) Rethinking policymaking to decentralize more decision making to subnational and local governments that may operate on ‘less-meta’ ontologies that lose less information relative to community ontologies.

3.1. Collaborative and inclusive ontologies

Fluid ontologies, in their most localized form, involve content creators and multiple stakeholders in the direct crafting of categories and data representations so as to ensure that the information they interact so as to ensure that information is presented, retrieved, preserved, and shared around relevant categorical and relational attributes that are sensible to the community in particular [50].

We believe that these creative and local uses of tagging, rating, and other types of Web 2.0 technologies present powerful opportunities to adapt and edit a meta ontology and reconcile it with local practices.

3.2. Improved and interactive dissemination

Technology is also important for ensuring that information dissemination is as flexible as possible, so that communities can interact with the data stored in meta-ontologies in the manner that they see fit.

3.3. Institutional design

Policy decentralization can mitigate information loss by empowering decisionmakers with ‘less meta’ ontologies to respond to community needs.

….dark side, however, in that it can allow locally powerful groups to unduly influence policies in their favor rather than the community interest. [Grindle])

3. Conclusions

We have argued that information loss due to mismatch between community ontologies and the meta ontologies that states act upon has serious consequences for the efficacy of state policies, especially those aimed at accelerating development.

We are not the first to point out the defects of centralized planning and the hubris of states.

The paper does offer a new perspective on this long-recognized problem, however, by re- conceptualizing information loss as a kind of communication failure that can be increasingly mitigated through technology as well as addressed through institutional redesign.

Normative considerations, aside, progress in reducing information loss ultimately comes down to understanding the positive political economy of states’ efforts to form, maintain, and rely on data organized in meta ontologies as the basis for action. What are states’ incentives to adopt recommendations such as those mentioned above, and can they find a point of reconciliation with community-driven, local ontologies? This remains the key question.

“For the moment, the survival of the new social movements—the occupiers, the indignados, the small European anti-capitalist parties and the Arab new left—demands that they sink deeper roots in mass resistance to the global economic catastrophe, which in turn presupposes—let’s be honest—that the current temper for ‘horizontality’ can eventually accommodate enough disciplined ‘verticality’ to debate and enact organizing strategies.”