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

Solidarität und digitale Gesellschaft: Impulse

"Welchen Einfluss hat die Digitalisierung auf die Solidarität? Die Stiftung Sanitas Krankenversicherung stellt Studien vor und bietet Experten und Think Tanks eine Plattform für Diskussionsbeiträge."

Mein Beitrag, ein Interview, beschreibt wie durch die Digitalisierung eine neue Infrastruktur für soziale Prozesse geschaffen wurde und welche Potentiale für neue Formen der Solidarität vorhanden sind.

Interview in De, Fr, It.

17 - 19.10. Deep Horizon: The Cultures of Forecasting (Vienna)

October 17-19, 2019. Kunsthalle Wien Karlsplatz. PROGRAM ABSTRACTS

OPEN SCORES. How to program the Commons

21 September – 12 October 2019
panke.gallery, Berlin
Open Scores

This exhibition brings together 16 practices through which artists articulate their own forms of (digital) commons. From online archives, to digital tools/infrastructure and educational formats, the projects envision a (post-)digital culture in which notions of collaboration, free access to knowledge, sustainable use of shared resources and data privacy are central.

For the exhibition, artists have developed a SCORE relating to their practice. A SCORE can have different meanings: It can be a general instruction, a working instruction, a performance instruction or an operating instruction. In any case, it is meant to lead to a realization of an intended action and as such is an interface between a human actor and an object/material/machine. And a SCORE can also be linked to a technical HOWTO document, in that it contains information on how to perform a specific task.

The Deepest of Black. AI as Social Power

This is my contribution to the catalogue for the exhibition "Entangled Realities – Living with Artificial Intelligence" showing at HEK, Basel 09.05.2019 - 11.08.2019.

In day-to-day life, most technologies are black boxes to me.1 I don’t really know how they work, yet I have a reliable sense of the relationship between the input, say pressing a button, and the output, the elevator arriving. What happens in between, whether simple local circuitry or a far-away data centre is involved, I don’t know and I don’t care. Treating complex systems as black boxes is a way of reducing complexity and this is often a very sensible thing to do. However, not all black boxes are equally black, and the depth of the blackness matters quite significantly, not the least in terms of the power relations produced through the technology. The application of artificial intelligence has a tendency to produce particularly dark shades of black. In order to find ways to deal with these applications so that they do not undermine democracy, it is important to differentiate between technical and social shades to avoid that these applications contribute further to an already high concentration of power in the hands of a few technology firms. Art, with unique ability to create new aesthetics, languages and imaginations, can play an important role in this battle.

Jenna Sutela, nimiia cétiï, 2018Jenna Sutela, nimiia cétiï, 2018

From inter-subjectivity to multi-subjectivity: knowledge claims and the digital condition

Beautiful and open accessAbstract: One of the consequences of digitization is a deepening crisis of epistemology, caused by the proliferation of social, biological and machinic actors that overwhelm established methods of generating and organizing knowledge. Machine-driven analysis of large data sets is introducing a new way of doing science. In this, it is answering to this crisis while, at the same time, deepening it. Continuing to claim ‘scientific objectivity’ is becoming ever more impossible and in practice is likely to serve as a way to abdicate responsibility for the actual research and its consequences. Rather, we should seek to highlight the positionality and partiality of any claim, also and in particular in data science, thus rendering more obvious the need to combine competing claims into an understanding of the world that is not so much inter- but rather multi-subjective.

Keywords: epistemology, digitality, data science, reproducibility crisis, multi-subjectivity

One of the consequences of digitization is a deepening crisis of epistemology, caused by the proliferation of social, biological and machinic actors that overwhelm established methods of generating and organizing knowledge (Stalder 2018). And, since there is a close relationship between epistemology and politics, between ways of knowing and ways of managing the world, we are also in a deep political crisis. This manifest itself not the least in a populist rejection of ‘science’ and ‘facts’ (Manjoo 2008). This crisis of the established – let’s call it modern-liberal – epistemic-political order has created a space for the establishment of a new one, which doesn’t yet have a name, even if its outlines are already visible.

Fours Theses on Cultural Commons

This is an edited version of a presentation given at the “TCS Philosophy & Literature Conference 2019” (29 May – 2 June 2019) as part of a panel called “Creating Commons”, with Jeremy Gilbert and Tiziana Terranova. At this panel, my task was to present our research project Creating Commons. Given the short time for the presentation (20 minutes), I focused on four library projects, Ubu, aaaaarg, Monoskop, and Memory of the World (MotW) and I tried to distill some of the things we learned through them into “four theses on cultural commons”. So, here they are:

1. Infrastructure is politics
2. Copyright is so broken that few are left to enforce it.
3. Care is core
4. Appropriation is better than participation

Read the full text over at the Creating Commons research website.

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.

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