Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Network Culture Now / Obsolescence & Incompatibility

"It is true that in terms of the actual power to capture the passions of the global masses, the Internet is no match for the reach and power of television, which...can count on the wider accessibility of the necessary technology and on the high impact of images and sounds broadcast in real time." (Terranova 41)
Is this still true? (I Googled it, but I feel like the internet is biased about itself, like TV is). Terranova published this in 2004, a year before YouTube was founded. I don't think her overall approach to understanding networked cultural flow would be hurt by the Internet overtaking TV as the most accessible high impact medium, but it did start me thinking while reading thereafter about what has changed in the eight years since she wrote this.

I think the most significant Internet changes are flows surrounding companies (almost memes) like Apple, Facebook, YouTube and Google et al. These are all good examples of the smaller centers of network gravity, partially gated but also full of last week's 'weak connections'. But these new mini networks may have a larger semi-centralizing pull on the network than Terranova mentioned being likely. On page 58 Terranova quotes Manuel de Landa saying "the key technological obstacle is incompatibility." I think it's interesting that while Terranova was writing Apple was beginning to see success from the compatibility of their iPod and iTunes music duo. They were then selling their personal computer product as totally compatible, while honestly improving their compatibility with the predominantly Windows based computer infrastructure of the world. Now that they have achieved success (in terms of sales profit and improved pc market share) they play the game of planned obsolescence and exclusivity, becoming incompatible with even themselves. On page 60 Terranova talks about the risks of incompatibility but I can't remember her talking about the benefits of incompatibility–they are not for the consumer, but for the company ripping them off and keeping them addicted.

On page 64 Terranova lists the Internet alongside radio and telegraphy as "modern decentralized media" but I would question how decentralized at least the former two are. If I understand correctly, telephony and telegraphy (but not necessarily telepathy, although it also could be true) are decentralized in that they always broadcast from any point a or c to any other point b or d, without having to come from one single same point a every time. On the other hand, TV is centralized because it goes from a limited number of broadcasting stations out to everyone. Radio originated as groups of separate radio stations broadcasting to their respective communities, and may have been decentralized then, but it now (and also back in 2004) has been eaten but the national and international broadcasting interests and regularized, or centralized. So there is some local variation, but the original decentralized network seemed to congeal into large network chunks controlled by companies like Clear Channel or the random pirate or local college radio. I feel like the semi-centralization that happened in radio is starting to happen to the post-Web2.0 Internet realm network. Companies like Facebook and Apple can start to use the hyper-compatibility of the Internet IP addresses and DNS protocols to reach anyone equally, but they can also use new technologies (like those nifty apps everyone loves, and brand new chargers and wires that are better...or 'like' and click statistics, the ability to use flash player, etc.) to market, sell, produce and sustain demand for products that cause incompatibility and dependence on new semi-centralization (semi-centralization implying some sort of oligarchy rather than monopoly, but not quite clearly heterogenous nor homogeneous).

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