Category Archives: networks

Looking at things through a new Prism

Are we all Muslims now? It used to be that some people justified the “special” treatment of Muslims (detaining them without trials, monitoring their activities, or proposing that they carry a special ID) because, you know, we Muslims are all potential terrorists. But if leaked information about Prism is correct, it seems as if the US government is treating every citizen of the world as a potential terrorist. If the sign of a true democracy is that even the rights of the criminal, the foreigner and the dissenter are respected, what does that say about a system that violates everyone’s rights because they could be potential threats to the system?

surveillanceWe should begin by trying to understand why something like Prism exists today. It is not because all other options to make this a safer world have failed. It is simply because certain kinds of information have become extremely inexpensive and profitable to collect. Intelligence agencies have borrowed algorithms and models from the corporate world–sometimes collaborating with them directly, in a perfect marriage of surveillance, fear and profit–and applied them at a global level, collecting and analyzing vast amounts of what they claim is “only” metadata (data about our actions, but supposedly not the actual content of our electronic interactions with others). The reasoning is that if person X turns out to be a troublemaker, records of his or her exchanges with others might prove useful. Fair enough. The problem is the notion that in order to be able to go back and examine those records, authorities need to collect all the records from every single individual, which for the first time in history is relatively cheap and easy to do.

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“Off the Network” finally available

My book, Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World, is finally available from the University of Minnesota Press.

You can pick up a paper copy from your favorite bookseller. Thanks to both Minnesota Press and SUNY Oswego, the book is also available in an open access format, so you can read or download the whole manuscript right now — for free!

You can share the news by using the link offthenetwork.info (which redirects you to the publisher’s page).

OTNcover

From the back cover:

“This is an extraordinary book. The ‘paranodal’ critique made in Off the Network demands that we look at the social spaces that lie between, and are ignored by, network nodes; at the material basis on top of which supposedly immaterial networks rest; and at the vertical structures of political economic power that control the apparent horizontality of networks. In doing so, Ulises Ali Mejias delivers a devastating intellectual slam against conventional thinking about the Internet from both the left and the right.”
– Nick Dyer-Witheford, coauthor of Games of Empire

Off the Network shows us that centralization of online services is not accidental. Take a look behind the social media noise and read how algorithms condition us. Ulises All Mejias carves out a postaffirmative theory of networks. No more debates about whether you are a dog or not; identity is over. Power returns to the center of Internet debates. Off the Network disrupts the illusion of seamless participation–it sides with the resisters and rejecters and teaches us to unthink the network logic. Its message: don’t take the network paradigm for granted.”
– Geert Lovink, author of Networks Without a Cause

Off the Network is a fresh and authoritative examination of how the hidden logic of the Internet, social media, and the digital network is changing users’ understanding of the world–and why that should worry us. Ulises Ali Mejias also suggests how we might begin to rethink the logic of the network and question its ascendancy. He argues that the digital network, touted as consensual, inclusive, and pleasurable, is also monopolizing and threatening in its capacity to determine, commodify, and commercialize so many aspects of our lives. Mejias shows how the network broadens participation yet also exacerbates disparity –and how it excludes more of society than it includes. The result is an uncompromising, sophisticated, and accessible critique of the digital world that increasingly dominates our lives.

 

English version of the P2P Networks and Processes e-book

The English version of the 4th Inclusiva-net Meeting: P2P Networks and Processes e-book is finally available (Spanish version has been available for a while). The book contains my chapter “Peerless: The Ethics of P2P Network Disassembly,” as well as other excellent chapters from Juan Martín Prada, Michel Bauwens, Andrew Whelan and more. Click the image below to download the PDF (13MB), or go to this page to access Spanish version, videos, etc.

p2pcover-eng

Unfriend Your Monopoly: Proposals and Projects

unthinkI recently helped to put together a proposal for a project headed by Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures/HvA, Amsterdam) and Korinna Patelis (Cyprus University of Technology, Lemasol) called Unlike Us – Understanding Social Media Monopolies and their Alternatives.

The project is just getting started (no events or outcomes have been planned yet), but the proposal delineates the following objectives:

The aim of this proposal is to establish a research network of artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers who work on ‘alternatives in social media’. Through workshops, conferences, online dialogues and publications, Unlike Us intends to both analyze the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms and to propagate the further development and proliferation of alternative, decentralized social media software.

See the full proposal for more details and info on how to join.

Interestingly, Anonymous just announced that they plan to create their own social networking platform, anonplus (after some of their members got kicked out of Google+, apparently).

Anyway, my contributions to the Unlike Us proposal were inspired by an article I just submitted to an open journal, and which should be coming out in the Fall, hopefully. The article is titled “Liberation Technology and the Arab Spring: From Utopia to Atopia and Beyond.” Here’s the abstract:

While the tendency in the West to refer to the Arab Spring movements as “Twitter Revolutions” has passed, a liberal discourse of “liberation technology” (information and communication technologies that empower grassroots movements) continues to influence our ideas about networked participation. Unfortunately, this utopian discourse tends to circumvent any discussion of the capitalist market structure in which these tools operate. In this paper, I suggest that liberation technologies may in fact increase opportunities for political participation, but that they simultaneously create certain kinds of inequalities. I end by proposing a theoretical framework for locating alternative practices of participation and liberation.

Two Publications

Two papers that just came out:

The Limits of Networks as Models for Organizing the Social. In the journal New Media & Society, (12) 4, 603-617. Subscription required to download, but your school might have a license.

nms

Also, the Spanish version of the e-book for the 4th Inclusiva.net Meeting: P2P Networks and Processes (Madrid, 6-10 July 2009) just came out. It contains my article Peerless: The Ethics of P2P Network Disassembly (pp. 56-66), along with many other excellent pieces. And it’s a free download!

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Video of talk at Georgetown Communications Symposium

The video from Georgetown University’s Scholarly Communications Symposium, Social Media: Implicatons for Teaching and Learning, is now available.

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Even though I had the difficult task of presenting the “dissenting” view, I learned a lot from participating in the session and I really enjoyed meeting the folks at Georgetown. Here’s the blurb about the event from the website:

Social media tools have gained widespread use across our campuses in a very short time. Many academic disciplines are also adopting these online tools as they embrace collaboration and interactivity. The implications of these developments are profound–not only for scholars and students but also for the potential transformation of the teaching and learning process. How do social media networks change the way our students learn and our faculty teach? How is the traditional classroom relationship altered? Are students becoming more active and engaged learners? The speakers were Gerry McCartney, Vice President for Information Technology and CIO and Oesterle Professor of Information Technology, Purdue University; Edward Maloney, Director of Research and Learning Technology at the Center for New Designs in Leaning and Scholarship and Visiting Assistant Professor of English, Georgetown University; and Ulises Mejias, Assistant Professor of New Media in the Communication Studies Department at the State University of New York at Oswego.

You can also download the video directly from iTunes U.

From Free Markets to Free Internets (Disassembled Spaces)

disassembled spaces

(cross post with FLEFF’s Dissassembled Spaces blog)

Most people assume that if you Google something in the US and you do the same in another country, you will get the same results. It’s called the World Wide Web, right? Not so. Countries can and do exert influence on search engine companies to control the results that their citizens can access. Which is why there’s been a lot of talk recently about whether Google will pull out of China. Apparently, the Internet giant whose code of conduct is “Don’t be evil” has finally gotten tired of the Chinese Communist Party stipulating the kind of search results it can or cannot provide. Competing for a share of one of the world’s largest markets is good and well, but after it was revealed that the attacks that compromised the private information of thousands of Google users came from China, the company decided that enough was enough. Although no final decision has been made, the mere mention that Google was considering leaving China was major news.

In the West, the move has been celebrated as a slap in the face of internet censorship. At the same time, there have been concerns that the withdrawal of Google from the Chinese market will make things worse for people there. The assumption is that Google’s services do provide a little bit of freedom inside the great firewall of China (one theory behind the cause of the cyber attacks on Google is that the Chinese government was interested in spying on dissidents’ Gmail accounts). This would seem to suggest, to put it plainly, that Google and the rest of the big Web companies are important tools in the struggle to spread freedom and democracy in China and elsewhere in the world (recall the recent hubbub about Twitter saving Iran, Facebook liberating Moldova, etc.).

To build momentum for this idea, Google’s announcement was followed a couple of days later by a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The topic was Internet Freedom. Because of its importance in facilitating communication and dialogue across various divides, Secretary Clinton argued that the US government is interested in ensuring that the Internet remains Free. “We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas,” she said.

But what does this “single Internet” that the US government is interested in promoting look like? We need to take a closer look and ask questions. Simply sticking the word Free in front of something and saying it’s good for world democracy is not enough. Remember a little something called the Free Market? Just as that particular contraption was an important instrument in creating more global inequality, my fear is that the Free Internet –as envisioned by corporations and promoted by the US– will only allow the rich to get richer.

For one thing, is the US in a position to champion freedoms it itself is not willing to respect? During her speech, Clinton remarked: “As it stands, Americans can consider information presented by foreign governments. We do not block your attempts to communicate with the people in the United States. But citizens in societies that practice censorship lack exposure to outside views.” So what about the role of the US in preventing people in those countries from being exposed to certain views? I guess the Secretary of State had not been briefed on a recent bill approved by Congress that imposes sanctions on Arab satellite channels deemed hostile to the United States. If you want to block people from tuning in to the Hezbollah channel, at least don’t pretend that you are above using censorship to achieve your political ends.

Besides, does anyone really believe that ever-expanding corporate conglomerates are the best champions of democracy? Global capitalism’s track record seems to suggest otherwise. Just ask the people of the world what companies like Union Carbide, Dow, Shell, United Fruit, DuPont, Monsanto and so on and so on have done for their democracies. Given that history, companies that believe in Not Being Evil represent a complete and welcomed change, but I’m still not convinced that we should completely surrender our online public spaces and cultural products to corporations, specially when those spaces and products are important platforms for challenging authority. Secretary Clinton herself said that “…the internet can help humanity push back against those who promote violence and crime and extremism. In Iran and Moldova and other countries, online organizing has been a critical tool for advancing democracy and enabling citizens to protest suspicious election results.” But as Evgeny Morozov argues, the losses in online privacy that come from using “free” corporate-controlled social media tools may not be worth the gains in online mobilization.

Just don’t tell that to the State Department. At a 2009 Alliance of Youth Movements summit in Mexico City, where the supposed goal was to figure out ways to reduce drug-related violence, the co-sponsors (along with the US State Department) included Facebook, MySpace (owned by Rupert Murdoch), Google, YouTube, Pepsi and MTV. One doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to feel a bit troubled by what seemed like the perfect marriage of US foreign policy and for-profit interests, cloaked in the language of liberal democracy and its purported promotion of human rights and freedom. In an age when social network analysis is becoming an increasingly important tool for securing the homeland, what better way to keep an eye on the ‘volatile’ youth of the developing world than to have them voluntarily fill out detailed profiles of themselves and their friends? And if they can do that while drinking AMP Energy and watching Jersey Shore, so much the better, it seems.

Resources:

Authority, Meet Technology: Slate/New America Foundation discussion about China, Google, and Internet freedom.

http://www.slate.com/id/2241755/workarea/3/

Arab ministers slam US congress satellite decision

http://blogs.rnw.nl/medianetwork/arab-ministers-slam-us-congress-satellite-decision

Clinton urges Internet freedom, condemns cyber attacks

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60K1V220100121?type=technologyNews

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Remarks on Internet Freedom

http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2010/01/135519.htm

Evgeny Morozov, Testimony to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

http://www.csce.gov/index.cfm?Fuseaction=Files.Download&FileStore_id=1526

Privacy May Be a Victim in Cyberdefense Plan

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/13/us/politics/13cyber.html?_r=1

Participation in Digital Labor conference

I had the pleasure of participating in the Internet as Playground and Factory: A Conference on Digital Labor at The New School from November 12-14, 2009. I’m writing a review of the conference for Afterimage, and I will post a link to it once it is published. Meanwhile, here’s a little video promo and the slides from my talk.

You should also take a look at the iDC listserv for a continuing discussion about these topics.

Medialab-Prado paper and presentation now available

medialab-documents

The texts and videos of the lectures and keynotes presented during the 4th Inclusiva-net Meeting: P2P Networks and Processes (July 6 through 10, 2009) are now available for download!

My paper, Peerless: The Ethics of P2P Network Disassembly, is available here (o si deseas la versión en español esta aqui). The video of the lecture is also available.

Other noteworthy presentations:

And while you are at it, check out the sites of some of the cool people I met there or the amazing organizations I got to learn about:

Disassembled Spaces: Guest blogging at FLEFF

I have been invited to be a guest blogger at FLEFF 2010‘s Open Space Project (I will be cross-posting the content here in my regular blog). This project asks: “How do we find open spaces in geography, community, melody, materiality, digitality, virtuality?  How do we identify, locate, question, create, and  imagine open space(s)?” My blog is called Disassembled Spaces. Below is my first post.

disassembled spaces

Disassembled Spaces:
Opening spaces through the disruption of networks

Networks are powerful determinants. They condition the ways we think and interact with the world. I’m not talking about the network just as a material structure, but as a way of thinking. From the design of living spaces to the design of information spaces, the network episteme has emerged as the dominant model for assembling the social, organizing knowledge, and mapping reality.

As with all dominant structures, the network episteme needs be questioned. The network has become a template actualized and enforced by code, by the circuitry of electronic devices. Everything can be connected, we are told. But as Kothari and Metha remind us, total inclusion allows for total exclusion.

In my work, I am interested in exploring the network as a machine for increasing participation while simultaneously widening the gap between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ nodes. Networks produce inequality. The larger the scale, the more efficient the network will need to be at creating and managing disparity.

So I guess this blog will be about open space as an un-thinking of the digital network. Obstruction, defection and disassembly will be explored as opportunities for transcending the network as technological determinant. This theorizing is in itself ‘open,’ so I hope you join me in this inquiry.

cc photo credit: wauter de tuinkabouter