Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Fall 2.0

I'm glad to have read this article by Geert Lovink (via Jordan). Despite the occasionally incoherent and transitionless paragraphs with attitude-heavy asides (meant no doubt to imitate the form of blog posts), it does head in the direction of the kind of thinking about blogs and new technology that I want. But Lovink seems unwilling or unable to acknowledge the massive variety of types of blogs and the purposes they're put to--assumes that The Fratboy Chronicles, Diary of a Neocon Pimp, the person writing by battery power on a laptop while rockets fall on Beirut, and the poetry people and the philosophy people are all doing the same thing. I'm sure there are remarkable similiarities. But I don't buy the McLuhan idea that the software is the message, that we're just excrescences from Blogger's HTML templates, or at least it's not the only message. I'm sure there are deep and probably insuperable structural forces determining (limiting, bounding) and regulating the things we can do here. As I've mentioned before, there's something strange--meaning something I'm not sure I understand--that occurs with notions of public and private space, where the distinction between the two types of space is almost completely annulled; whatever public there is a weak one; it comes after, in the wake of, everything else, all of the publicly-attuned faces of (non)privacy. Because of the time-lag between a posting and comments or a response, what occurs here is neither conversation nor discourse exactly. But, getting back to my point, if Lovink is right that "the truth is unlinkable,"not to mention unlikeable, and I agree that it is, it's probably not to be found in the code; it's not a subsystem, it's just completely offline.

In the end, what I'd like to read (or perhaps even write, although I'm far from knowledgeable enough to do in the near future) is something that's both critical of and attentive to the democratic and pseudo-democratic at work in Web 2.0, something that doesn't simply see claims for the decentering of news or poetic distribution as simply false or true, good or bad. And although Lovink acknowledges that discourse is not the primary purpose of blogs, that they are "primarily used as a tool to manage the self," he's not very convincing or satisfying in describing how this self-management, self-fashioning and self-regulating actually occurs, and he's far too dismissive of this as simply cynical narcissism. He's pretty much stuck in thinking about blogs as a relation between news- organs and political bloggers. No doubt, there's a good deal of reality TV, confession and showmanship and whispery quipsmithing (which is a fun occupation, I must admit), going in po-blog world and elsewhere. But I don't know, I'm tempted to think of this self-management and self-fashioning --"to clear up the mess, to master the immense flows of information"-- as also addressing substantial needs in a world that is often either overwhelming or empty or overwhelmingly empty. If the opportunity to have a self weren't so hard to come by in the administered orbits in which most people are forced to exist, people wouldn't be coming here for one. So, no surprise if the story is that workers and work in standardized cubicles or standardized genres like criticism and journalism has almost completely subsidized a majority of the content on the web.

But Lovink's argument that cynical news-bloggers only end up reinforcing or strengthening the conventional news organs they criticize, is worth thinking about for poetry. Does making fun of [Name Redacted] strenghthen or weaken his ability to shape discourse? If I mention the Poetry Foundation here, am I sending readers their way? I do think that there's a constructive component to the work that's being done here; that this is not simply a cynical reinforcement of the institutions that are being circumvented; one would have to be blind not to be able to point to a 100 examples of new technology allowing for alternative networks for the distribution of poetry, not to mention an alternative poetics that takes these models into account. But they are fragile. They won't last. They will turn to so much paper. And I'm sure everybody can think of their own example of the freedom of the internet turning out, in the end, to have been a bunch of people unwittingly generating value for free for the benefit of some corporation or other. Indeed, Creative Nihilism is probably the best description yet for about seventy percent of Williamsburg and the Mission.

Google will call in its loans. And we'll either realize too late there are no streets nor places to put them, nor jobs Arctic ice nor social services nor ways to help or be helped; or we'll have figured out how to translate all of these fragile connections and the wish for a different, even better world that they often represent into something more sustainable.

I'm interested in what other people think about this article.

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