Sunday, January 27, 2008

Networks without Organs

Geert Lovink concludes Zero Comments by critiquing "the idea that decentralized networks somehow dissolve power over time" and pointing out how networks actually can be used for "coordinating new forms of power." It's a different take from Siva Vaidhyanathan's anarchy vs. oligarchy argument in The Anarchist in the Library, although it similarly has a lot of explanatory power. Lovink points out some of the challenges to collaborative efforts in these chapters, which I have argued can become even more challenging in digital environments. As an American born-and-bred who also happens to be fascinated by "group dynamics of failed collaborations," I was amused by Lovink's characterizations of this kind of "negative thinking" as something "deeply Old European."

The final two chapters in the book on "distributed aesthetics" and "organized networks" describe a kind of manifesto that he introduces in the chapter before by asserting, "We cannot merely praise collaboration as if it were a product -- or deconstruct it as just another ideology (which it is)." Although Lovink is clearly interested in work being done in information aesthetics, he is also critical of those who equate maps and networks or who produce "allegorical readings of networks." He's also wary of the corporate capitalism of valuing "growth" rather than "persistence" and the way that our "Prozac society" embraces facile social networks based on "anxiety, gadget addiction, and attention deficit disorder."

He closes the book with an introduction to "organized networks" and lists some of the actual topics that I have taught in the Humanities Core Course over the years as examples: "the Jesuits, the Italian mafia, druf-smuggling rings, or global terrorist networks." He also suggests that "organized network" is a much better term than the phrase "virtual community," which has caused so much dissent in anthropology circles and among other social scientists.

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Blogger Lupton said...

Thanks to your review, I spent much of the weekend reading Lovink's book. I really admire his deep analysis of sticky nihilism, digital demographics, and the need for new business models to support content producers. I didn't always recognize my own blogging practices in his descriptions. As an academic, blogging is often a means, not an end -- a form of pre-writing, a way to review or preview books like Lovink's, and a middle style for teaching. All in all, though, I found myself moved by Lovink's insights into global trends, and I kept catching uncanny glimpses of my own Americanism in the cosmopolitan picture he presents.

8:10 PM  

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