Monday, October 1, 2012

"We" as "smarter"

            I would like to look at the product of immaterial labor from a less economic, more epistemological view. Collective knowledge is a term thrown often thrown around, and not only in information or digital economy theory. Open-source informational hubs like Wikipedia contain our “collective knowledge,” the drop down menu that appears as one begins to type in a Google search represents our “collective consciousness.” In these examples, there is a clear tracking that can be done—which user added that info on Wikipedia page, the algorithm used by Google to generate those search suggestions—but what is to be made of the idea that general knowledge is increasing? Much of our knowledge is not deposited in machines, as emphasized by Virno on page 88, but it is, to some degree, caught up in networks. Can we even say “our” knowledge, as if we all know the same things because we are connected to the same network? (We can’t say “our” knowledge in the sense that we would have to interrogate who is actually online, a question proved murky by Terranova.) The same information can be accessed on this common network, provided one knows where to look, but knowledge is fleeting in a similar system of remembering and forgetting that enables packets to travel from one computer to another. I am reminded of Thrift’s discussion of increased calculation. I do not see the ability to calculate more and more quickly as a reflection of knowledge, rather as an improvement in the tools available by which to access knowledge. As he refers to calculation as prosthesis, networked knowledge is an extension of the human mind.
            Here, I should draw a distinction between collective knowledge, and collective knowledge work (from which we automatically need to ask about workers), and this may well be a similar distinction to the one between economy and epistemology that I drew earlier. The connection between the two may have to do with speed. As more knowledge is communicated, and the speed by which it is transferred increases, the surrounding topology, structures will be accordingly shaped. But, while it is faster, it is also less intentional. There is not necessarily an immediate point A to B, but a sender of information, and eventually, one or many recipients. This process can be described as “entropic,” as by Terranova on page 44 which she elaborates by saying, “in as much as it can be entered at any point and each movement is in principle as likely as the next.” I wonder about the other side of the notion of entropy, that of eventual homogeneity to the point of decay, or static. What information will be lost in these transmissions? And here we return to the notion of work, and of continuous maintenance and labor needed to keep up such knowledge production, even in its entropic state. 

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