Notes on "social networks"; Probe-heads and flights from subjectivity

Digital probe head

I have promised myself to start writing more blog posts in broken English rather than broken academic Swedish, as an experiment and as a service to those who read this blog through Google Translate. Not that I doubt machine translation any more than my own words…

Anyways. In the previous post I discussed the theme of memory related to web 2.0, and how our memories are both given new features and capacities from technologies connected to search engines and the ”skynet drones” of Google – those little crawlers navigating us through infinite banks of memories on the interwebs. We see peoples, thoughts and ideas, the every-day life, of friends pass by, flickering through hyperlinks. And when broken and almost dead, they en up in the cemetary of

We tend to think of this flow of information, which is cut up and delivered in milliseconds, as if it were connected to individuals. I read a friend’s blog and I think of him or her. I add someone to Facebook or Twitter, and a part of me imagines someone else out there, and in the same moment I fall back on myself with the feeling of being gazed upon by others. It is a classic maneouvre, inherited by a certain historical era we call modernity. The individual relates to others and the mass(es).

However, key institutions around the world have changed their methods and their epistemic outlook on digital lives. Let’s take an example of cutting edge internet research, NetWar: Winning in the Cyberelectromagnetic Dimension of ”Full Spectrum Operations”, from Military Review, 2010:

Conceptually separating what happens daily on the Internet from what happens in the kinds of networks I have addressed ignores their connection and would therefore be unrealistic and dangerous. Denying terrorists and extremists unfet- tered ability on the Internet is a high priority. The speed, ubiquity, and potential anonymity of Internet media make them ideal communication channels for militant groups and terrorist organizations.

As we watch our own faces in the face of others on Hatebook, this is of no concern to the institutions that want to secretly or openly monitor the networks. We are owned by Facebook in a completely different way. The diagram individual->other->mass is already replaced by the diagram dividual->network->bank. Our memories on the internet reside in the bank, the echoing datasets, sql-databases, and hyperlinks that keep filling harddrives. Drives that are heating the earth as much as aeroplanes do (Lets hope for more ashes before we boil to death). This is the amazing paradox of ”social networks”. While they re-code the tripartite function of individual->other->mass, they simultaneously extract the energies of the dividual->network->bank, and convert it into consumer targets and surveillance sociograms.


Of course there are counter-institutions telling us to stay back in the old diagram; the school, hermeneutics, psychoanalysis and social medicine individuating our bodies (swine flu took us back to the early 1900:s, our individual bodies in the Swedish welfare state were a threat to the mass, and thus the economy of labour), only to name a few. But nothing beats warfare and economics, so if we are to find tools for hacking both our memories and our little internet becomings, we need other strategies.

Let’s then introduce another concept before we proceed. Page 221 in A Thousand Plateuas introduces the probe-head:

Sometimes the abstract machine, as the faciality machine, forces flows into signifiances and subjectifications, into knots of aborescence and holes of abolition; sometimes, to the extent that it performs a veritable ”defacialization,” it frees something like probe-heads (tetes chercheuses, guidance devices) that dismantle the strata in their wake, break through the walls of signifiance, pour out of the holes of subjectivity, fell trees in favor of veritable rhizomes, and steer the flows down lines of positive deterritorializaton or creative flight.

Converting this line of thought into our problem at hand could maybe sound like this: We are in some respect forced into signifiances and subjectivations. This blog signifies ”thought” and it falls back on me (”you know that crazy guy blogging about strange philosophy and weird technology”). This is of course me being subject to a very old structure of authorship, older than modern societies even. Now this is a rigid movement in our culture, even containing the epistemic criteria in scientific, judicial and artistic communities and practices.

Simultaneously, I am a revenue generated by Google (fucked by skynet), which is very distinct from being subject(ed)ivated by Google. So while the function of subjectivation is a relation between me, you and the crowds reading this blog (the first trivison), a wholly different set of relations is recoding me as a computerized trace and economical process.

However, with the rise of cipherspace, and the glitches in cyberspace, our short termed memory banks may drop down a hole of abolition at any time. They drop down in tunnels, which are pre-web 1.0 (IRC), into cryptographic data which cannot be crawled, and into networks that make their own links and knots.

This, however, is only one side of the coin. Tunnels are in one sense holes of abolition, in the sense that we leave the technological means of being indexed and data mined. But there is another, I would say more important, aspect of this virtual exodus. Inside, or partially inside, tunnels (be it computerized tunnels or your local pub, under a tree in the park or wherever a group or community may take place) it is possible to construct a community friendship beyond the first trivision of subjectivity, into something that is competing with the giants of our memory banks. Anonymous and pseudo-anonymous computer networks give other experiences of friendship and communities, most of them being far more productive than the passive faciality of web 2.0.

Internaut experiences 1: Facebook – Your face and your proper name are the primary sources of subjectivation, your social network is analysed and the data is owned and rendered into a labouring process, morality is upheld by removing ”offensive content”, not because Facebook cares, but the shareholders do.

Internaut experiences 2: 1991 – Internet relay chat upholds communications during the Moscow coupe. No faces, no identities. 2010 Telecomix agents start using the i2p darknet for communications, and discover that authorities cannot enforce regulations on them.

There are two poles at work here. On the one hand, extreme subjectivation and the perfect politicial economy of the future 3d-internet based on services. On the other hand, extreme de-individualization, where trust, friendship and identity must be made from scratch, and where surveillance and traditional economies are close to impossible.

Most of the real and interesting communities, at least this is my experience, take place somewhere in the greyzone landscape in between these two poles. Youtube, Myspace, Google are used out of habit, and because they give away bandwidth for free. On the other hand, distributed networks and non web2.o-protocols (IRC, SSH-tunnels, cipherspace) is used for trusted and secluded communications.

But really, even though the virtual memory banks and the economies of your digital life have only been around for a decade or so (pre-google is hypothetical), the experimentation has only started.

Update: I just started viewing the third part of the BBC documentary, and it seems to deal with some of the issues in this post.

1 reaktion till “Notes on "social networks"; Probe-heads and flights from subjectivity”

  1. Ah – interesting! I agree; there is something exciting in actively and fully stepping into the panspectric diagram, on our own terms.

    I think that there is another interesting aspect to this; a slight shift of focus from the two poles that you mention. We must never construe this shift (discipline>control; panoptic>panspectric) as a clean break that signifies the transition from one ”society” to another. These two diagrams/abstract machines are coexisting, making different parts of the societal machine work in different ways – though with one diagram slowly usurping the other.

    This means that there is quite alot of interesting/ugly things going on if we study the superimposition of the panoptic and panspectric diagrams – the interference effects they produce during this transition period (which is likely to continue for quite a while.) I mean – there will be ”zones” or ”situations” where we can fully enter the anon world, and there are other zones where we are disciplined individuals… but a lot of social life will go on in the interstices – and in those, we are likely to be a bit.. well, confused.


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