Off the Network

OTNcoverMy book Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World (2013) is 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.

The book presents a critical examination of the digital network as technological template for organizing and determining society, and considers various motivations and strategies for disidentifying from the network.

The work lies at the intersection of the areas of critical internet studies, network science, philosophy and social studies of technology, and the political economy of digital media. It asks the question: How do digital networks include and exclude modes and meanings of sociality? In response, it argues that the more monopolies (a market structure characterized by a single seller) control infrastructure and access to social media, and the more monopsonies (a market structure characterized by a single buyer) control aggregation and distribution of user-generated content, the easier it becomes for authorities and corporations to determine the meaning of sociality and to control the creation of public spaces. In essence, I argue that one-to-many communication is not giving way to a utopian many-to-many communication (much touted in liberal discourses about the internet) without first going through many-to-one mechanisms of control.

From the publisher:

“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.”

What people are saying about Off the Network

“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
(from back cover)

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
(from back cover)

“Activism and academia would seem to go hand-in-hand, but often, too much of the former is seen as a detriment to the latter, thus leaving many an academic monograph equivocating its political inclinations. Such is not the case with Ulises Ali Mejias’s Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World – one of the most provocative academic texts to be released in 2013. Provocative, not because of extreme claims regarding network ontology per se, but because Mejias makes his claims so fluidly and sensibly, that poking holes in his line of thought becomes not only difficult, but undesired.”
Clayton Dillard, Oklahoma State University

Off the Network is not a Luddite’s lament but a reminder that digital networks are owned by corporations and amplify their interests, spurring consumerism and giving people the illusion that their choices are more meaningful than they actually are.”
David Luhrssen, Express Milwaukee

“This work purports to uncover and critique the hidden logic of the Internet. Like any technology, the Internet fosters certain kinds of activities and enables new ones, but diminishes others; it elevates some skills and relations while rendering others secondary or obsolete. According to Mejias (communication studies, SUNY Oswego), the meme of a network of nodes intrinsically promotes a hierarchical and controlling structure, reflected in the dominance of a small number of particularly influential sites… Readers may question whether the author has too readily adopted the perspective of the large Internet content providers as descriptive of the Internet itself. But if people are to make technologies serve genuinely liberating human ends, they must understand what tugs in darker directions. Off the Network contributes to that understanding. Summing Up: Recommended.”
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, April 2014 Vol. 51 No. 08

“This book is politically radical and defines the network as ‘part of a capitalist order that reproduces inequality through participation and… this participation exhibits a hegemonic and consensual nature’… It opposes years of supporting the network paradigm as an open one that creates democratic access and social capital, empowering people to participate no matter of how physically isolated or socially excluded they are. Mejias attacks the contemporaneity of this approach, describing network’s “nodocentrism” and its negative consequences, or the “monopsony”, or social network structures where there’s a singular buyer for a multitude of sellers. It’s a structural critique, which aims to ‘disidentify from the digital network’ and constitutes a compelling manifesto, with mostly theoretical strategies that raise many interesting questions.”
— review from Neural.it

— Off the Network was the featured book of the week (May 27, 2015) at unglue.it, a distributor of free digital books. https://unglue.it/work/145698/#

“This book would be a great read in the current situation, when social media networks were used to wrongly predict the result of the U.S. presidential election… The book could give emerging scholars insight into how social media platforms are based on commercial and market demands, which is one of the reasons for fake news and surveillance. This book brings forth the profitable market side of the Internet and network and how it works. Scholars of Internetmediated communication and technology should read this, since it challenges the popular framework of the Internet.”
International Journal of Communication 11(2017), Book Review 2220–2222

 

Translations of Off the Network:
ccdMejias, U. (2017). Desmantelando la Red. Revista 404. Ciudad de Mexico: Centro de Cultura Digital. [SPANISH - abridged version]available online
nowemediaMejias, U. (2014). Odmapowując sieć. In P. Celiński (ed.) Nowe media = nowa partycypacja. Lublin, Poland: Instytut Kultury Cyfrowej. [POLISH - abridged version]available online