Monday, October 1, 2012

cybernetics and politics

I’m interested in the frictions between the local/physical/tangible and the electronic that Terranova brings up, and the way that she defines life as negative entropy, rather than entropy being a force that encroaches up on a heterogeneous, spontaneously moving space and time. In other words: how does life, how does the user, play into Terranova’s model of layers? Culture and politics both limit and expand the discrete and gridded parts of the Internet system. Brand-name DNS addresses become real estate and accrue value and draw traffic because of preexisting landscapes/names/language formats. On the other hand hyperspecific intranetworks and internet “islands” have the ability to expand infinitely horizontally, to diverge, to accrue complexity and lose compatibility with other system formats (SUN, Unix, etc)… Terranova glosses over the human regulatory systems like the Internet Architecture Board that imposes compatibility on new developments, and I want to know more about these, and how they derive their power or whether the standards are self-perpetuating (if you don’t comply, you’ll be obsolete…)

I’ve read a little about the Cybersyn project implemented during Allende’s socialist government in Chile from 1971-1973. It attempted to control the Chilean economy from a central electronic top-down command center that could respond instantaneously to the various workings of Chilean industrial production—using Telex machines, it wanted to keep track of individual machine failings, worker productivity, etc, and to use these things to statistically forecast and model the Chilean economy. This top-down modeling happened, crucially, from a national command center—literally a room—where the information was directed, compiled, and acted upon by analysts working for the Chilean government. Real-time response gave these data points flow.

In context of the Terranova this model looks like a segmentation/regionalization/intranet, a frictionless gridded mapping system insofar as it operated from one Telex platform and coordinated a finite number of data points (500 Telex machines across the finite physical space of Chile). In theory, it would allow direct communication between individuals and government, highlight microfailures that previously would have been unreadable, and could respond and change based on this feedback (a corollary, to use Terranova’s terms: what might the relationship between this sort of response and [negative] entropy be?). But it never got its feet off the ground—it failed with the military coup of Allende’s government…

But what if it had worked? And what if such cybernetic mapping techniques had become national standards—how would Terranova’s description of friction between compatibilities work among cybernetically-modeled industrial states? It’s difficult to extract the idea of responsive, socialist economic cybernetics from Chile in the 70s as an “underdeveloped” periphery nation subject to linear industrialization and neoliberalism… could the degree of nonlinearity, even within its enclosed grid, afforded to the country by a model like this have changed the political dynamic of linear development? I have the sense that I am not phrasing this question the way I want to... but these are the things I am thinking about, with some difficulty in identifying different layers of zoom.

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