Thursday, October 11, 2012

Optimism and Networks

Leaping off of Belle's post on Terranova entitle "We" as "Smarter" I am struck by the way in which it is difficult to isolate a difference between individual and collective knowledge in a network. As Belle notes in her posts (as Terranova describes in her text) certain difficulties in describing our knowledge as well as our knowledge work arise out of the fact that the operations by which we ascertain such knowledge (whether it be by going to Wikipedia or using Google) necessarily changes the topology of the network in which the knowledge itself is caught up. As such the desire to accumulate knowledge (to transplant it from the disparate network into personal memory) seems to negate its own desire of consumption as the knowledge and its relationship to the network and the individual are necessarily in flux and affected by the act of consumption itself.

It is in this way that I am brought back to thinking about the Berlant and the idea of the precarious individual in a neoliberal economy never quite being able to catch up with their own actions. In the same way that Rosetta's desperate attempts at forging a "good normal" life for herself often left her in a condition where such a life was pushed even farther away, so too does the individual subject seem trapped in a situation where their desire to consume knowledge and information is put forever out of their reach as the informational landscape is changed by their engagement with it at all. What is particularly interesting to me in this case is that the desire to extract information from a network is both an expression and cause of a state of cruel optimism. Terranova describes a similar operation in terms of website maintenance in which, "it is not enough to produce a good website; you  need to update it continuously to maintain interest in it and fight off obsolescence" (90). On the sides of both the consumer and producer of web content (the distinction between which Terranova notes are difficult to ascertain) there seems to be a drive to continuously recreate and consume something better, an operation of intense presence that Berlant links to the operation of cruel optimism. It is interesting then to think of whether the internet itself (and the promise of the Internet as such) is driven by the panic of cruel optimism and the joy of nearly (but never quite) reaching the optimistic end.

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