Publicado 1ano, 2mesesatrás
Galera, escrevi um pequeno ensaio pro mestrado e que acabou que tem muito a ver com o fato dessa rede ter saído do Facebook e criado seu próprio canal. Queria compartilhar com vocês e saber das suas opiniões sobre o assunto, se concordam com os pensamentos ou não, insights, etc. Escrevi em inglês, espero traduzir pra português em breve.
Now, everything is mediated: all our relations in some way or another became entangled in digital media. No human activity is untouched by it. The screen and the processor are ubiquitous. Every room has a least one networked CPU running somewhere hidden in a clock, a phone or a speaker. But then, what are the real impacts of that in our lives? Specifically, what are the most profound consequences to our societies of this new symbiosis with the digital and the machines?
According to Manuel Castells, in his paper "Communication, power and counter-power in the network society", since the beginning of the 20th-century media has become the most important tool in the fight for power. It became the arena where the fight for people's support and minds played out. Radio, cinema, television were all used for propaganda and persuasion. Communication and information are the basis of social change. From this perspective, he argues that with the rise of "mass self-communication", or - in other terms - the internet, the old way of doing media and politics changed. This ongoing transformation of communication technology in the digital age extends the reach of communication media, such as smartphones, to all domains of social life. As a result, naturally, the battlefield where the war for people's minds is fought shifted from the established mass media to the digital media networks of "mass self-communication".
For Castells, the emergence of new multiple axes of information provided new opportunities for people to challenge elite control of political issues. Even so, the old holders of power, e.g big conglomerates of media, also made their way into the internet. When Castells wrote about this in 2007 the internet was a very different place. Nonetheless, he predicted much of the consequences and characteristics we see now in our political processes, such as the loss of legitimacy of political actors and the increasing distrust in the political process. He was specifically interested in the way political scandals became increasingly common with the arrival of the internet and how that resonated in the voter’s minds so much that they now put all politicians in the same sack. This is a dangerous attitude, as we have seen in history before. It creates the perfect scenario for the rise of demagogues and 'saviors'.
However, he was still optimistic about the freedom and the enhanced representation that the internet would bring to society. He specifically said that "The rise of big corporations in the network is not going to stop the autonomous horizontal networks". In this essay I would like to go a bit further than him, almost 13 years later, using his text as a starting point, to show how the internet now has become ever more "televised". There is a sense of an increase in numbness and passivity when using a connected computer. In other words, how the anarchical horizontal end-to-end characteristics of the network have been eroded so much to the point people now need to have a lot of technical knowledge to run away from the dominant gateways of corporate media. The ones that see us as products made of metadata.
"When I’m on Internet, I sometimes have a feeling of intense frustration, the impression of being duped by tools like Facebook, Google, and my email account. They eat in to my time, like a phagocyte, and have a counterproductive rather than constructive effect." (Joséphine Kaeppelin)
Louise Drulhe, in her work "The Critical Atlas of Internet", reflects on this transformation:
"Image the surface of the Internet as a representation of its potential activity. In the early years of Internet, its architecture was distributed, users published their own personal home pages and had a decentralized occupation of the space. Today, most of the activity is concentrated in the hands of a few players. Google for instance offers numerous services that extend beyond the search engine service (email, social network, browser, etc.)." (Louise Drulhe - The Critical Atlas of Internet)
For example, if someone wants to create new content on the internet right now they usually go for a new Facebook or Instagram page instead of their own website. All internet activity is converging and centralizing in these few players. We can no longer call it a horizontal network. By going from page to page, from hyperlink to hyperlink we slowly drift from a horizontal plane to an ever more vertical one. The inclination of the slope and rate in which this happens is increasing. In a few years, we will have a completely vertical, hierarchical network.
Somehow, our relationship with it became more like our relationship with the television. We keep using the same "channels" and seeing the same things, becoming even more passive, or active inside the constraints of these few companies. The other way around is also true. Television is now more interactive, like the internet. We now can choose from a massive number of channels and also use streaming services in smart TVs, choosing what we want to see. However, also inside the same constraints of the internet.
In "The culture of connectivity" by José Van Dijck, the author exemplifies this:
"What we have seen over the past ten years is that many platforms started out in one particular domain (e.g. online search or social networking) and gradually encroached upon each other's territory while trying to contain users inside their own fenced-off turf. Therefore, it is instructive to track how a few rapidly growing platforms began to dominate online sociality, occupying as many niches as possible".(José Van Dijck - The culture of connectivity)
Such has created an interesting effect on the youngest generation, the one I would call the 'second internet native generation', or around people below 24 today. Their first contact with the internet was already in this new centralizing context. Both from software and hardware perspectives. The rise of Apple computers like iPhones and iPods that had a pre-installed set of software in a closed environment was much responsible for this. Software available on these platforms must go through several reviews by the companies, and there is absolute control over which software can be installed on their devices. This generation doesn’t need to go after the content themselves. Everyone uses the same platforms, everyone wants to use the same things. In a go with the flow environment, young people don't even know alternatives exist.
"What matters, in the end, is to create a centrality that is strong enough to subsequently cover the majority of online practices and activities." (Boris Beaude - Internet, Changer le espace changer la société)
Unlike them, the first native internet generation needed to use torrents and p2p networks as their main way of accessing media content. Everything was difficult and slow. To download a movie they needed to wait for a few days, and then if lucky the file would not be corrupted. The windows operating system that was dominant had also the characteristic of being very flexible and customizable. Mostly, navigation was through the use of free software, in a deregulated internet environment. In some way, the first internet generation had control and freedom over how they used the network. They needed to learn how it worked in order to use it. There was no easy way. This so-called"digital divide" - or the difference between digital skills inside a group of people - is present also on a global scale when we analyze other factors beyond age.
The global division of labor is producing winners that are highly skilled information workers, and losers that are downgraded service and informal workers, or even unemployed and thus, structurally excluded populations. (Manuel Castells - The Network Society)
In 2010 paper "Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses among Members of the ‘‘Net Generation’’", Estezer Haggitai found out that social-economic status is positively correlated to people's digital media skills. More interesting, the find a very low correlation between screen time and skill. Even if you use the computer and the internet a lot, it does not mean you are using it in a critical, diverse way. More digital skilled people visit different types of websites and use the internet for more constructive activities.
With this increase in centralization across the internet, together with the lack of control and critical awareness of the tools people use, these companies concentrate more and more power. Effectively, we can now see the big 5 (The "big five" -- Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon) as global institutions. They are all supposedly subject to governments. But governments are supposedly controlled by people, at least in the democratic world. And who controls what people think and see? The big five. In the longer term, the true holders of power are these companies. Unless we are in an authoritarian regime, like China. We will talk about this case later, as it is an exception to all the patterns of polarisation and radicalism we are seeing all across the world.
And how are these tools made? Search engines, social media, are all powered by algorithms. In "The relevance of algorithms", Tarleton Gillespie writes:
"Together, these algorithms not only help us find information, they provide a means to know what there is to know and how to know it, to participate in social and political discourse, and to familiarize ourselves with the public in which we participate. They are now a key logic governing the flows of information on which we depend, with the "power to enable and assign meaningfulness, managing how information is perceived by users, the 'distribution of the sensible.'" (Tarleton Gillespie - The relevance of algorithms)
Choices must be made when we program software. Algorithms are not mathematical functions, they are not physical calculations of natural phenomena. They serve a purpose.
"From this perspective, we might see algorithms not just as codes with consequences, but as the latest, socially constructed and institutionally managed mechanism for assuring public acumen: a new knowledge logic." (Tarleton Gillespie - The relevance of algorithms)
The power in the hands of the decision-makers creating these algorithms is so immensely vast, beyond comprehension, perhaps even to their own creators. The consequences of the way they are programmed are already here, for example, with the emerging pattern of echo-chambers we see in social media. The tendency of a social network to polarize, via confirmation bias for being shown the same ideas over and over. Social media must keep us there, trapped in it. By showing us the content we already agree with and like, they keep us content. However, this also makes us more extreme in our own ideas and more confident to keep them. This phenomenon is already well known and it's influencing society on a global scale. A simple change in the algorithm could stop it, albeit forcing people to look at each other’s ideas, like them or not. The algorithms are so biased in keeping us locked in their platforms (this is how they are evaluated) that even mental health issues are completely ignored. In the paper "Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out" by Andrew K. Przybylski, Kou Murayama, Cody R. DeHaan, and Valerie Gladwell, they arrive at the conclusion that younger people fear that others will have more rewarding experiences than them, bringing their overall level of satisfaction down. If there are studies about it and even so the authorities and companies do nothing to change the way algorithms, I wonder if they would do something regarding social and political consequences.
Castells argues that electoral campaigns have become hypermedia campaigns. In his own words, the "global space of flows is where the battle for people's minds is fought". Castells still calls the internet a "horizontal network", in a naive view:
"The emergence of this new medium offers an extraordinary possibility for social movements and the rebellious individuals to build their autonomy and confront the institutions of society in their terms." (Manuel Castells - Communication, power and counter-power in the network society)
And most important, he reflects on an interesting characteristic of the internet, and the one that makes it the most dangerous media:
The characteristics of the horizontal network resonate in the public consciousness in ways that are trustworthy." (Manuel Castells - Communication, power and counter-power in the network society)
This is the reason we see a lot of instant mobilization on the internet. Protests can come alive in a matter of hours. Elections can have their results completely changed by a massive movement a day before the polls. The very own fact that people trust each other in the network, just because they seem like "real people" and not media and famous people as they were usually accustomed to seeing on television. This makes everything very easy to be manipulated by fake bot accounts sending massive amounts of messages. The illusion of a horizontal network is the thing that makes it trustworthy.
Specifically, the infamous propaganda techniques of fascism are very effective in this environment, as a way to influence public opinion. With bots, for example, it is much easier than in the old analog media to create "Circular Source". The illusion that a piece of information is coming from multiple sources, but are - in fact - coming from just one. Together with another technique called "Communal reinforcement", or to tell a lie enough times that it becomes the truth, the stage is set for global political disruption. And then another factor comes into play. After being fooled so many times people started recognizing these patterns of misinformation. And basically now some have entered a state of complete paralysis, unable to determine if anything is true at all. The "Truth decay" is real and is in some ways a path of no return. Once the truth does not matter anymore, we are headed for unattainable understanding.
"The mix of increasingly accurate data and subsequent computer processing to generate content evokes extremely disturbing hybrid scenarios." (Robin De Mourat)
"Societies evolve and change by deconstructing their institutions under the pressure of new power relationships." in Castell’s words. These relationships are sewed in the public spaces of the industrial age: the institutions itself. But now this space is being challenged by the network society. Will our institutions be able to reinvent themselves in a way to stabilize and include this new area into their own workings? Nowadays they seem paralyzed and distracted by polarization and the rise of right extremism. Unaware that the cause is a much deeper change in the way we communicate. Much like with the invention of the Gutenberg Press in the 15th century, that completely wiped the power of the catholic church across Europe by the spread of books - a new media; we are seeing the same rearranging of power on a global scale now. China is a very interesting example of a country that is dealing with these problems actively, although not ethically. It's keeping tight control over its network. It seemed that a few years ago the western society was in a chaotic state of fake news, disinformation and political instability, while China was keeping itself unaffected by it. Until the Hong Kong protests of last year, all organized through the internet. This island, with its bubble of freedom within China, was not oversewn by its government, and now it's threatening their relative stability. "While certain Internet frontiers are apparent, such as the dividing line between the Web and the Deepweb (nonindexed by search machines), or the Great Firewall of China (wall of censorship), the Web is also divided by invisible borders, a phenomenon referred to as Internet Balkanization." (Louise Drulhe - The critical atlas of the internet)
It is someway also interesting that Germany is very resistant to the wave of instability described here. I wonder if this happens because of an education that is concerned with the dangers of misinformation and lack of privacy. Or simply because the countries history that makes the act of believing in easy ideas and big words to be a very strong taboo. I also perceive a lower social media use overall among germans. I can’t know for sure it is true. It is hard to make sense of the world but is the only alternative we have over despair. Being pessimistic is not a choice. I believe the internet must be put in the center of the democratic process, as it is already the center of all our lives. We should unashamedly adopt it as the stage - or the plaza - where ideas are debated. We should embrace the concept of direct digital democracy. The lack of privacy can be a good thing. We could call it infinite transparency. Let's decide on the problems near us, digitally and physically. Let everyone know what we support. We only have the illusion of privacy anyway. Someone has surely written an algorithm to guess with almost absolute certainty for who you voted in the last election. Let's debate with people close to us. Let's take the power away from the algorithms by going after the things we want to improve near us. "The difference between earthspace and cyberspace: On Earth, people move towards their centers of interest; on Internet, we are at the center and the space is created around us."
Louise Drulhe - The critical atlas of the internet Link
Manuel Castells - Communication, power and counter-power in the network society. (2007)
Manuel Castells - The Network Society (1996)
José Van Dijck - The Culture of Connectivity (2013)
Przybylski et al. - Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out (2013)
Estezer Haggitai - Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses among Members of the ‘‘Net Generation’’ (2010)
Tarleton Gillespie - The relevance of algorithms (2014)
Boris Beaude - Internet, Changer le espace changer la société (2013)
Excelente Antônio, estou pra escrever sobre a história dessa ferramenta, e acho que seu texto traz ótimas reflexões que justificam a saída do face...
Ouvi certa vez no IMPA(Instituto de Matemática Pura e Aplicada) que muito se discutiu qual seria a internet que eles adotariam, e que acabaram tendo que ir com as outras instituições com o protocolo TCP/IP. Naquela época era sabido que esse protocolo não era o mais seguro e o mais horizontal.
Depois tivemos o HTTP e seus servidores, agora temos o P2P.
[Marlus compartilhou](https://twitter.com/marlus/status/1245105785622990848) esse dias um link que propõe uma rede [peer-to-peer para web](https://peer-to-peer-web.com/).
Acho esse debate sobre descentralização necessário. Outro que motivou o Encontros Digitais sair do face foi o de organização de conhecimento, isso aqui é ainda um protótipo, e tem muito a melhorar nesse sentido. Ganhamos, foi, em autonomia, agora podemos escolher que funcionalidade queremos para nossa rede. Não deixa de ser uma bolha, mas a internet é isso, bolhas conectadas.
Gosto da palavra alemã *Weltanschauung*, que na filosofia tem sentido de: *nossa percepção limitada do mundo*. Estamos aprisionados nessa palavra.
Curti especialmente esse parágrafo:
*Choices must be made when we program software. Algorithms are not mathematical functions, they are not physical calculations of natural phenomena. They serve a purpose.*
*"From this perspective, we might see algorithms not just as codes with consequences, but as the latest, socially constructed and institutionally managed mechanism for assuring public acumen: a new knowledge logic." (Tarleton Gillespie - The relevance of algorithms)*
Gosto também dessa provocação:
*We should embrace the concept of direct digital democracy. The lack of privacy can be a good thing. We could call it infinite transparency. Let's decide on the problems near us, digitally and physically.*
Precisamos nos permitir pensar para além da tecnologia enquanto técnica, além da democracia enquanto representatividade. Temos ideia, não temos a cultura necessária para migrar nesse sentido. Ainda...