Monday, September 24, 2007

Some considerations on 'Language and Communication in a 'Society of Control'

(I originally posted this as a comment but after a quick general look at the blog - I recently managed to finally log in - I realized that comments are not that widespread and I was not sure about the blog 'netiquette' nor about the usefulness of sending a somehow 'hidden' post as my late first contribution and so I re-sent it here below.. sorry if I did something wrong. no megalomania involved.)

The opposition between the two distinct forms of power described in Tess’ last paragraph (that I will call ‘information access’ and ‘information shaping’) is an extemely good point because it actually raise a crucial question about the status of internet as a so-called ‘imagined community’. According to Benedict Anderson, the nation is a cultural artefact originating from the interplay between ‘a system of production and productive relations (capitalism), a technology of communications (print), and the fatality of human liguistic diversity’ (pp. 42-43). Within this theoretical frame the novel, meant as a synchronic form of representation, has played for Anderson a key role in imagining the nation as a ‘sociological organism moving calendrically through homogeneous empty time’ (p. 26). However, as Pheng Cheah writes in Grounds of Comparisons ‘[…] at a later historical age, once the nation has been born, more determinate and even ideological use can be made of the novel. Here, “representation” is more than the picturing/figuration of the form of the community. It is “thematization”. A particular nation and its characteristics can be made the referent and theme of the novel’s plot and characters’ (p. 7).
I am willing to argue that – increasing rapidity of technological innovations taken into account – twenty years can reasonably be considered, in Cheah’s terms, as internet imagined community’s ‘later stage’. As Alexander Galloway points out ‘In that year [1995], there were 24 milions internet users. Today, the internet is a global distributed network connecting billions of people around the world’ (p.6). It is probably not incidental that, compared to the precise data of 1995, Galloway leaves the current number of users overtly indefinite.
Since, as Tess implicitly let us notice, users might be said to differ precisely in owning either ‘information access’ power or ‘information shaping’ one, there is no way to know what type of new user is about to join the community in this precise moment (this difference is oviously connected to relations of power that lie outside the realm of information and whose stability is undermined by the fluidity of Appadurai’s global ‘–scapes disjunctures’). As a consequence, there is no way whatsoever to produce any ‘picturing/figuration of the form of the community’. If, as Anderson pointes out, ‘the novelistic format of the newspaper assures the reader that somewhere out there the “character” Mali [or China] moves along quietly, awaiting its next reapperance in the plot’ (p. 33), Cheah’s concept of “nation thematization” in the case of the internet community can only take the form of an interactive fiction any user is contributing to inscribe in our ongoing present. Interactive fiction is probably the most appropriate metaphor to replace Anderson’s novel in our Internet nation ‘later stage’.
In other words, the editor might still be there but the reader has in the meantime become the writer of that same newspaper. For this reason I tend to think that none of the two means of control can possibly be said to be greater: any reason to delete China would be today connected to the ideological use of an image of China which the editor knows to be unreliable just because it is also partly produced precisely by incontrollable users.

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