Book Out: Digital Condition (Polity Press)

I'm very happy my new book (a translation of Kultur der Digitalität) has just been published by Polity Press.

In the book I argue that referentiality, communality, and algorithmicity have become the characteristic cultural forms of the digital condition because more and more people – in more and more segments of life and by means of increasingly complex technologies – are actively (voluntarily and/or compulsorily) participating in the negotiation of social meaning. They are thus reacting to the demands of a chaotic, overwhelming sphere of information and thereby contributing to its greater expansion. It is the ubiquity of these cultural forms that makes it possible to speak of the digital condition in the singular.

The goals pursued in these cultural forms, however, are as diverse, contradictory, and conflicted as society itself. It would therefore be equally false to assume uniformity or an absence of alternatives in the unfolding of social and political developments. On the contrary, the idea of a lack of alternatives is an ideological assertion that is itself part of a specific political agenda. Indeed, advanced democracies are faced with a profound choice, to continue their long slide towards post-democratic authoritarianism or reinvent democracy for the digital condition.

You can get it from the publisher (UK, US), from Amazon (UK, US), or you local bookseller (UK, US).

The great cover image is by the Dutch artist Bernaut Smilde, from the series Nimbus, Probe #6, 2010.

Updates

Anti-communication and fictious commodities

15 years ago, Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook, then still called thefacebook, as a network for students at Harvard University. Today, almost 2.7 billion people use its services. And for 15 years he has been stressing like a prayer wheel that "connecting" and "sharing" make the world a better place and that Facebook stands for the epochal transition from oppressive hierarchical bureaucracies to liberating horizontal networks.

Today, he's pretty much on his own with that statement. On the one hand, Facebook Inc. has grown into an overpowering, opaque company that has incorporated 72 companies to date, including Instagram (2012), WhatsApp (2014), and virtual reality developer Oculus VR (2014). Moreover, the ownership structure is such that Zuckerberg can exercise almost unlimited power. On the other hand, Facebook is accused of facilitating the dissemination of false or manipulative information and thus contributing to the division of societies and the intensification of conflicts, for example in Great Britain, Sri Lanka, the USA, and Myanmar.

How could a harmless idea - people should be able to communicate easily and quickly with their friends and acquaintances - unfold such a destructive force? The answer is less to be found in the idea of horizontal communication itself or in digital media in general, but in the specific way Facebook implements this idea.

Anti-Kommunikation und Wertschöpfung

Vor 15 Jahren lancierte Mark Zuckerberg Facebook, damals noch thefacebook, als Netzwerk für Studierende der Universität Harvard. Heute nutzen knapp 2.7 Milliarden Menschen seine Services. Und seit 15 Jahren betont er gebetsmühlenartig, dass «connecting» und «sharing» die Welt besser mache und dass Facebook für den epochalen Übergang von unterdrückenden hierarchischen Bürokratien hin zu befreienden horizontalen Netzwerken stehe.

Mit dieser Behauptung steht er heute ziemlich alleine da. Zum einen ist Facebook Inc. heute selbst zu einem übermächtigen, intransparenten Konzern gewachsen, der sich bis heute 72 Firmen einverleibte, darunter Instagram (2012), WhatsApp (2014) und und den Virtual Reality Entwickler Oculus VR (2014). Zudem sind die Besitzverhältnisse sind so strukturiert, dass Zuckerberg fast unbeschränkte Macht ausüben kann. Zum anderen wird Facebook beschuldigt, der Verbreitung von falschen oder manipulativen Informationen Vorschub zu Leisten und so zur Spaltung der Gesellschaften und zur Intensivierung von Konflikten, etwa in Grossbritannien, in Sri Lanka, in den USA und in Myanmar beizutragen.

Wie konnte eine eine harmlose Idee – Menschen sollen einfach und schnell mit ihren Freunden und Bekannten kommunizieren können – eine solch destruktive Kraft entfalten? Die Antwort darauf ist weniger in der Idee der horizontalen Kommunikation selbst oder in den digitalen Medien im allgemeinen zu finden, sondern in der spezifischen Art und Weise, wie Facebook diese Idee umsetzt.

Knowledge, Confusion, and Manipulation (Talk, HKW, Berlin)

In this talk, I try to make sense of our current techno-cultural moment in which reality is disappearing and reappearing in confusing ways. I point out two major developments relevant here. First, as capitalism expanded, it has created a system of communication that cannot, and does not want to, deal with meaning. And, second, as the complexity of the socio-techno-biological connections of society increases, the old ways of organizing knowledge have become increasingly unable to provide an accurate understanding of the world we are living in. In their place, a new type of knowledge regime is emerging that produces its own form of meaninglessness.

I use the analysis of the crisis of meaning as a starting point to also think about some of the "counter-measures" that might be appropriate to overcome this crisis.

Anyway, here's the talk which I gave as part of the "New Alphabet: Opening Days" event (10-13.01, 2019) at HKW in Berlin.

Following this was a great presentation by Kate Crawford and Trevor Paglen on how machines are trained to "see" and how this creates what they call "predator vision". You can see their talk (starting at 00:33:00) and the discussion (starting at 01:05:00) on HKW's Facebook page.

Rethinking the Public Sphere under the Digital Condition

This text was written as a contribution to the workshop Public in the Making, 18-20 October 2018 İstanbul, part of the project Trans making: art, culture and economy to democratize society. A well layouted PDF is also available. Thanks to Fatih Aydogdu for the invitation.

atxt_header

Democracy, even in its most rudimentary definition, contains two elements.1 The first is that of public deliberation and contestation of the issues affecting the “demos” (the people) as a collectivity. The precondition here is the availability of an easily accessible, shared space in which different opinions and attitudes can be expressed, compared and peacefully fought over, as a way for the members of the collectivity (the “citizens”) to form their opinions and plot out diverging futures. The second element allows to express those opinions and interests in a way that leads to a decision regarding the future that is binding for, and accepted by, all. Usually, this is done by voting either “yes” or “no” to a specified proposal for action, or by selecting representatives from a group of pre-selected candidates, often, but not necessarily, organized as political parties that stand for competing visions of the future. If the first element is weakened, voting is transformed to a ritual of submission and propaganda in the machinery of dictatorship, if the latter is reduced, democracy turns into post-democracy where issues are debated but decision making is outsourced to “experts” or “the market” (Crouch 2004).

Datensouveränität - jenseits des Datenschutzes

Radio Organge: Sendung vom 29.10.2018:

Katja Mayer und Felix Stalder auf der PrivacyWeek #3

Datensouveränität wird oftmals mit Datenschutz gleichgesetzt, dabei öffnet der Begriff vielfältige Möglichkeiten den Umgang mit Daten neu zu gestalten. Besonders interessant sind Ansätze die neue Institutionen hervorbringen um kollektiv Daten zu nutzen und so eine gemeinschaftliche Form von Souveränität zu stärken. Die Soziologin Katja Mayer und der Kultur- und Medienwissenschaftler Felix Stalder erörtern die Thematik anhand von Beispielen aus den Bereichen Open Science und Gesundheit sowie städtischen Technologieprojekten.

Im Website-Player abspielen (pop-up)
Archivierte Sendung im cultural broadcasting archive

Interview by Clemens Apprich for First Monday





The (Post-)Digital Condition — An Interview with Felix Stalder.
First Monday, Volume 23, Number 8 - 6 August 2018
http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/9409/7574
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v23i8.9409

Das Portrait: Felix Stalder

Alexander Grau hat ein Portrait über mich geschrieben, das versucht die Entwicklung einiger meiner Ideen nach zu zeichnen. Tönt in der Rückschau viel gradliniger, als ich das über letzten 20 Jahre erlebt habe :) Auch als PDF. TV Diskurs. Nr. 3, 2018, S.78-81

Intellectual Property (Marx from the Margins: A collective Project from A -Z)

Marx has never, to the best of my knowledge, dealt directly with intellectual property, which is the relations and dynamics of ownership established through copyright, patent and trademark law. Rather, he focused on science, in particular on what we would call today “research and development” (R&D), which is those elements of techno-scientific innovation most directly related to the production process. He understood science as a social phenomenon organized under capitalism as wage labor, like most other activities in the production process. This, to some degree, reflects the historical circumstances of the mid 19th century. The distinction between basic and applied science was not yet fully developed, and the copyright industries were economically relatively insignificant and trademarks barely established.

Still, within a broadly Marxist viewpoint, three main perspectives can be mobilized to help understand the current role that intellectual property plays, both in the expansion of capitalism as well as in challenges to it: accumulation by dispossession, alienated labor, and general intellect.

Download full article as PDF, or read it at online at Krisis.

Source: Krisis: JOURNAL for contemporary philosophy. Issue 2, 2018 p.83-85

Bias in Algorithms

Talk at A1, Vienna. 26.06.2018. Organized by Frauennetzwerk, A1.

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