Wendy Chun, “Imagined networks”

I will read quickly and show you more than I read. (Warning to readers: so this trans/re/scription will not be adequate.)

Threat that internet will be turned to a series of gated communities. Spam is another way to say I love you. This danger can be attenuated not through more security but through a wary embrace of the vulnerability that is networking.

My packet-sniffer has been quietly running in the background; software program that analyzes local traffic, developed to diagnose programs that are always failing, but reveals that interactivity can’t be reduced to user-generated mouse-clicks. Many packets simply read ‘can you read me?’

Promiscuous mode is the default: your network called reads in all packets and then deletes those not addressed to you, so you’ve downloaded illegal materials without you know it. Your computers always act promiscuously, then delete our promiscuous actions to make it monogamous. This normalization makes us vulnerable to back-orifice attacks. Your computer becomes a host or server without intending. A personal computer is an oxymoron.

Our perception of networks is linked to a political imagining of networks that is contradictory, public/private divide, open/closed divide. Internet as a mass medium to end the possibility of mass through US gov selling its backbone to private corporations. Public domain vs open source.

Early internet: “no one knows you’re a dog” (how on earth did we ever think this?). Now: a semi-private space of true names and true images, the authentic stems from the privately authenticating.

Pt. 1: Imagined networks

Power of networks: Manuel Castells, Duncan Watts, Hardt & Negri, Tiziana Terranova, Swarm Theory, militarizations, D & G’s rhizomes, Latour’s ANT. Networks encapsulate everything allegedly new about our current era, the new global formation, contagion, capital.

This assertion of networks has spawned predictable controversy & debate (are they really new? etc.). The debate assumes we already know what a network is. What do we mean when we say we’re connected? To what extent is a connection temporal rather than spatial, circulation rather than infrastructure? Our maps always projections rather than traces, too early rather than too late?

Networks have moved from planning tools to actually existing human and nonhuman systems. Ecologists study animal social networks. Network analysis is itself an abstraction, mathematical model. Data is too late and too early. To map is both to plan and to solve. Network analysis fosters networks; networks are themselves contagious, generating other networks.

Networks make porous the disciplines that employ networks, they find each other. To employ ANT one must become an ant. No end to networks, only more webs to be spun.

To make “it’s the network” the beginning rather than the end of the story I’ve been thinking of them as imagined. Not that they don’t happen, but that the force of networks stems from their figuring of connections that link and breach personal & social, biological & machinic, by their spatializing of the temporal. I’m revising Benedict Anderson on nations as imagined communities: networks allow us to imagine or to trace the unimaginable: global climate change, global capital, as they create unforeseeable futures.

Networks replace the postmodern pastiche with the zoom and the overview.

Pt. 2: Mapping the unimaginable

Networks key to neoliberal empowerment. Jameson’s diagnosis of postmodernism: the truth lies elsewhere, discontinuity between authentic and true, unmappability, suppression of distance; saturation of empty voids, no sacred spaces; barrage of immediacy. New dilemma: discontinuous realities makes cognitive mapping impossible.

Repeated across disciplines: Beck’s risk society. The unimaginable, unthinkable. Mark Granovetter on personal experience and larger systems, weak ties. Maps & mapping as key to resolving dilemma. Jameson called for not-yet-imagined form of cognitive mapping (refers to cyberpunk as degraded figure of it). It’s a strange formulation: we’re called to map unknowable global capital through another unknowable, technology.

Networks were to enable us to map the movement of unseeable entites: affects, capital, enviro toxins, global climate change. Very different understanding of networks: for Jameson & Granovetter they were key to reconnecting; for D & G they were promising because they frustrated, in their hetereogeneity, all transcendental and totalizing discourses. The map is performance.

Now new dilemma: we are forever mapping, deciding, empowered, but no less able to intervene into global formations. Mapping follows network logic, forever moving, never changing. A new dependency, the tools to map reality have supplanted reality. GoogleMaps are symbolic authority (Zizek). Facebook’s obsessive documentation defines what happened. Facebook is theory. To be is to be updated.

Performance of desire and deterritorialization has become basis of neoliberal capitalism. What’s the difference between neoliberal empowerment discourses and these calls for resistance?

Consider ‘risk-free’ complex network assets that spread risk everywhere. NEtworks thrive on an ignorance. Global climate change models: try for unverifiability, to defer the future they predict, to make themselves untrue. The space between prediction and what will happen shows the productive power of imagined network. Uncertainty opens up moments of decision, but not outside networks. Through mapping we are more tightly enmeshed in the system.

Climate is inconceivable without computation. This analysis of networks as tools of resistance needs an analysis of networks as central to capital (Castells, Terranova). New forms of control based on reductive notions of freedom.

The Friend (friend, free = dear). Emergence of chattering you’s, viruses, spams, I love you. Benedict Anderson’s imagined national communities arose via print. Now we are imagined networks, glocal collectives, series of “you’s” rather than collective “we.” The communal as a network weapon, depending not on mass ceremonies but on asynchronous events that perpetuate through a series of crises, nows, bubbles in time. Old constantly rediscovered as new. Individuals respond in their own time to singular yet connected events. Series, information as undead, constant perpetuation.

Bing.com search overload commercial. Hardly a decision engine. Seeks to end all decision by deferring to Microsoft.

Pt. 3: Friends and frenemies, or it’s not us(e) it’s you(se)

Value online is an open question. Data mining. Info is commodity, so value is generated. But remember that it was unclear that markets would emerge on internet. Freedom stemmed from anonymity not authentication. Obsessive politics of storage: now newness doesn’t determine value. Archived versions cost money: we pay because we missed it. References to things that have been taken down signify their importance, value marked as worth downloading/visiting. Value generated not by you but by plethoras of yous.

Yochai Benchler “Wealth of Networks,” Pierre Levy’s collective intelligence, Paolo Virno’s general intellect. But: traces of involuntary movement. Data richness stems from linking to others, affiliation networks, traces of interactions incorporated to understand yous, data analysis. Alan Sekula: body and archive related through separated systems of inscription; now these processes are inseparable. Amazon wants to predict and encourage future behavior.

Only works if we’re authenticated online: one login, one person; authenticating structure of friends. You are hailed in ideology (Althusser), hailings rarely missed their mark.

Richard Dienst: ideology as event, neither hails nor nails its subject in place, not perfectly destined, but this grounds the force of ideology. Ideology requires short circuit between singular and general, so reception of a representation becomes a representation of a reception. = Friending.

Transformation from default user to lurker to friend, in web 2.0. The authentic is the authenticated. ‘Anonymous’ is an intriguing exception/example. Provinelli: liberal fantasy of intimate love, claims to produce new form of social glue. Intimacy demands an expanding market.

Friendship is not love, but even stronger mark of sovereignty because it’s an equal relation. Friends negotiate middle ground, circulation that enmeshes others into networks. Virus warnings spread more effectively than viruses. Retroviruses spread through efforts to foster safety, endangering our security.

Internet as series of gated communities: we’re most vulnerable because we think we’re safe. Portals: enclose us in a seemingly private space.

Story of an iPhone phishing attack. No innocent web surfing. Outed her as stupid and maybe paranoid. Public embarrassment amplified by tweeting about it. From now on: only friend people you really hate (laughter). Spam as reaching out to say I love you. The difference between semi-automatic “Happy birthdays” and emails about dodgy Canadian pharma companies: involuntary messages remind us we are connected to them, they care enough about us to put us in danger. Slashdot’s “IT’s not a DDoS, it’s a hug. From a mob”.

Friendship can be reciprocal but fundamentally isn’t. J-L Nancy: freedom is an experience, attempt executed without reserve. A force that breaks bonds that enables friendship and destruction. A moment of having to act and respond without knowing how.

Q & A:

Q: 2 notions of networks: connection, capital. Information becomes valuable in proportion to its capacity to distract you. How does time come in?  WC: NEtworks as crisis-crisis-crisis, moment to decide, but defers the action it enables. Search engine syndrome: distracted and attentive at once. Time punctuated by actions. The event is central: networks are never as stable as appear. Old ecosystem models based from ordinary (ordinal?) differential equations to partial differential equations. Data remains because it’s repeated.

Q: fragility, catastrophe – internet might be part of unsustainable petroleum-based industrial system, may go down this century, leading to reversion to agricultural society. Will networks be ephemeral? Can lessons from this scenario be extracted forward to that scenario where we will need to resist feudalism?

WC: Global climate change is the catastrophe I’m concerned with. The catastrophe question is interesting, but maybe not most helpful way of thinking. Anarchism: Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Mars” collectives. “Is the technological central to the network?” is an excellent question, an open question.

Q @ systems theory, granularity as problem of Forrester’s (?) model. How far down do we go in resolution to satisfy us?  WC: Network analysis is different from graph theory because it enables a movement between scales. Nodes, edges: fundamental unknowability about them. Relation between causality and correlation question. Relationality, but not causality.

Q @ loss of reticence (Philip Rieff?).  WC: I would ask the question differently: what forms of gaps or ways of withdrawing are practiced online? If you want privacy you need to multiply yourself, conflicting multiple traces of yourself. What reticence gave us is now being worked at differently.

Q @ etymology. Radical Philosophy article about piracy and open-access. ‘Peiron’: limitless formation that creates all the opposites. Network architecture. Formlessness (Dao de Jing). Maybe we should be thinking about deliberation, removal from the wave. What’s a thing? (ding, parliament).

WC: Formlessness – networks as fundamentally open, but question of decision is key. Is it a formlessness or a form of temporality at stake? We can’t stop with open-access, open-source.





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