Gehl, R.W. (2013). What’s on your mind? Social media monopolies and noopower

Gehl, R.W. (2013). What’s on your mind? Social media monopolies and noopower. First Monday. 18(3).

On noopower1 through marketing and repetition extended into ubiquitous social media:

Operating within the larger political economy of advertising–supported media, it is not surprising that Facebook, Google, and Twitter mirror marketing’s penchant for experimentation and repetition. Software engineers working for these firms pore over data about what actions users most commonly take — that is, what is most often repeated within the architectures of the sites. These engineers then constantly tweak their interfaces, APIs, and underlying software to reinforce these actions and to produce (they hope) new ones. The tiny changes in the Google homepage, for example, are akin to ripples on the surface of a body of water caused by motion deep underneath, as software engineers seek to increase the attention and productivity of users of these sites.


Real–time data collection on links clicked and videos watched provide marketers with the data they need to experiment with different messages, images, sounds, and narrative structures, allowing them to tailor messages to target publics, and then this process is repeated, ad nauseam, in a cybernetic loop. Behavioral tracking of users allows marketers to repeat messages across heterogeneous Web sites as users visit them, as well as make sales pitches via mobile devices as users travel through space. The messages that result in sales are repeated; those that do not are archived (perhaps they will be useful later). Liking, “+1”ing, or retweeting an ad enters users into a contest to win a trip to the theme park built around the movie that was based on the video game currently being advertised, a game in which the main character must use social media to build a following to solve a crime. All of this is, of course, a marketer’s dream: the observation, experimentation upon, and ultimate modulation of the thoughts of billions, the chance to increase what they call (in some of the most frightening language imaginable) “brand consciousness” over other forms of consciousness and subjectivity. It is the reduction of the scope of thought to a particular civic activity. It is the production of the flexible and always–willing global consumer as the real abstraction of our time. Consumption über alles.


Thus, to counter the reductive noopower operating in and through the social media monopolies, activists and technologists must create systems that allow for radical thought and heterogeneous uses, for differences that make a difference. The alternatives to social media monopolies must be built with protocols, interfaces, and databases all designed to promote new political thinking — noopolitical thinking — and to resist reduction of thought to repeated marketing messages of all varieties. We all can agree that this is probably impossible, but we always must keep a better future on our minds as we work with what we have on our minds.

  1. “power over minds, power over thoughts” []

Bassett, C. (2013). Science, delirium, lies?

The potential for thinking through new re–combinations, new ways to draw up code and language into a new media politics are suggestive. But I want finally to return to the question this article began with: more or less? This text has been framed by a belief that social media monopolies ought to be disrupted — and in the name of at least two of the things they are axiomatically understood to promote (social justice, solidarity as a form of community) and do not. It has been argued that this disruption might be attempted through a toolset — silence, disruption of language, and the exploitation of language’s capacity for polysemy (the metaphor and the lie) — that is not often considered as apt for such a task. My conclusion, and here I return to salute Ivan Illich, is that these tools can be deployed to produce other kinds of more convivial engagements — a better commons — than our apparently ‘social’ media enable. Above all, I have wished to take seriously the idea that communication density, and increasing communicational volume, does not — in and of itself — indicate more understanding, freedom, openness, or ‘good’. To make this case demands also taking seriously the idea of a media politics that begins with silence.

Bassett, C. (2013). Science, delirium, lies?. First Monday [Online]. 18(3).

Post-secondary budgets cuts a surprise, U of C president says – Calgary – CBC News

Operational grants for Alberta colleges and universities are being slashed by about $147 million for the next year — almost seven per cent.

University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon told CBC News the university was expecting a two per cent increase for each of the next three years.

via Post-secondary budgets cuts a surprise, U of C president says – Calgary – CBC News.


“At the University of Calgary we have built a strong financial foundation due to the hard work of many people over the last several years,” says Cannon. “We have contingency funding set aside, and we will continue to work to find operational efficiencies and grow revenue. We will continue to move toward our Eyes High goals. Nevertheless, a budget reduction of this size means that we have some difficult decisions to make in the coming months.

“We know students, faculty and staff will have many questions about what these cuts mean to the university. We simply do not have all the answers yet. We will keep you informed over the coming weeks, including holding Town Halls for the campus community later this month.”

Adds Cannon: “Given the level of this cut, and the government’s clear focus on post-secondary institutions working more closely with each other and with government to find efficiencies, eliminate duplication and more closely align university research with the economic agenda of the province, structural change may be necessary within the post-secondary system.”

via President Cannon ‘surprised, extremely disappointed’ by government budget cutbacks | News & Events | University of Calgary.

Alberta budget 2013 marked by deficit spending, increased debt | Canadian Politics | Canada | News | National Post

Although its economy is still strong, growth is high and unemployment is low, a decline in bitumen prices brought on by decreased pipeline capacity has thrown the province’s finances off the rails.

Alison Redford’s government announced it would cut spending and borrow billions to cope with a multi-billion-dollar shortfall.

via Alberta budget 2013 marked by deficit spending, increased debt | Canadian Politics | Canada | News | National Post.

(also, the National Post’s crazy “pay us $150 to quote an article as you are legally entitled to do freely under fair dealing” nonsense is disabled by Safari’s “disable javascript” feature…)

Smari McCarthy on freedom

From a great resource on P2P infrastructure, linked by @sleslie:

Freedom requires infrastructure.

A man who has no tools to acquire his necessities of life is a slave to his necessities. Given those tools, he becomes a slave to the labour required to fruitfully use them. Only by transcending each difficulty as it comes, in a process not dissimilar to metasystem transitions, can the individual achieve freedom.

Similarly, if at any point the individual becomes removed from the infrastructure that allows him any of the previous metasystem transitions, then he becomes a slave to those who control that infrastructure.

  • Smari McCarthy, FCF Discussion, February 2011

When we are using an endless list of provided infrastructure, magical clouds, startup services, and things we can’t possibly have any individual control over, how is our freedom impaired?

Not Crazy Just Resentful: On Being Car Free by Choice in Cleveland

Instead, here’s a plea to car-having readers who do not wish to live as I do: understand that your car is a luxury. Understand that when you get in your car to run a ten-minute errand, the same errand might take someone without a car two hours on the bus. When you turn your key in the ignition, please feel the same sense of wonder and good fortune that I feel every time I take my dirty clothes down to the basement instead of hauling them to the laundromat: what a lucky person I am to not only live in a world where someone was smart enough to invent this thing that makes my life easier, but that I, by some additional happenstance of good fortune, can have one.

via Not Crazy Just Resentful: On Being Car Free by Choice in Cleveland | Rust Wire

There’s a similar pattern here in Calgary (without the 30% poverty rate, and depopulated city – we’re on the other side of that curve, in a booming city that’s growing faster than anyone can keep up), where it’s normal to hop in the car and drive at 110km/h on a shiny new ring road, to travel 50km to walk around a sprawling rural shopping centre. We take cars (and the way they make distance and sprawl seem normal) for granted.

Now that I’m not driving (again), this is all coming back in a hurry. Things I can’t do with Evan on the weekends, because it’s not feasible to get there in time, without dedicating the day to travel via public transportation. Now that spring is nearly here, we’ll be able to ride our bikes to more places, but even that won’t get us to many of the places he needs to get to…

comments redux, redux. (redux?)

flip flopping like a politician. I just posted about an idea I had for visualizing discussion data, and realized that having comments disabled would be harmful. discussion would likely still occur, via twitter or email or whatever, but the thinking-out-loud collaboration would be lost.

so… flip-flop, the 5th? 6th? comments are now enabled for posts, but they close automatically after 14 days. that gives lots of time for shared thinking-out-loud, while still providing mitigation against trolls and spammers and those who use blog comments as places to vent their spleens.