• Gabriella Garcia

Computing in Context week 2: Sticky Web

I have no trouble critiquing Zuckerberg's assertion that "there is huge a need... to get everyone in the world connected," and that "the scale of the technology and infrastructure that must be built is unprecedented, and we believe this is the most important problem we can focus on." I am however having a little trouble connecting the other assigned readings to the task. But let's give it a go...

Myth/prompt: Everyone should be here- it's better to be connected. What does the acceptance of this idea produce?

I think I have to first separate the myth from the person making the assertion first, because it's really the profit-driven "how" of this connectedness that is tainting my ability to hold the myth as a standalone idea. Should the prompt have been framed around ideas of interconnectedness through the lens of the cybernetic ontologies proposed by the likes of Donna Haraway, I'd find my starting point equally impaired, but by biases I tend to hold dear.

So I guess the acceptance of this idea begins with the assumption that everyone has agreed where "here" is, and that a universal "here" can exist at all. It assumes that: either all definitions/rituals/traditions of connection will be accomodated and translatable so that people can connect despite ethnographic distinctions, or that a universal language/method of connection can eventually be cultivated by the "everyone." In terms of connecting via the internet in its current mode of operation, it flattens the meaning of connection to that which can be shared and experienced via the digital, and that sharing information is the primary ingredient to connecting. If I try to "purify" the myth, I think the primary ingredient would be ideas, though, and continuing down this path of purity, I can find an assumption that the connected would hold a receptivity toward ideas that potentially challenge personal worldviews made stubborn within the protected spheres of disconnection. Ultimately, there is an assumption that connection would lead to a paradigm shift of some sort, and that if "connecting" will make "us" better, then something right now must be "worse," and that there is a universality in defining what that "worse" thing "we" is that we can solve by togethering. It's quite beautiful, really.

We are, of course, computing in context, and this assertion was delivered as part of Facebook's first public offering which is a very specific context. In this world (the world where the assertion is part of an IPO address), the network is a commodity, positive valuation is a driver, and shareholders must be appeased. Paths of connectivity are designed and maintained by a supervising entity, information is monitored, and users are products. Transparency is a two-way mirror. Connection is driven by manufactured engagement defined by a profit model. Ideas are owned, and information has not (yet) shifted outside the paradigm of ad-driven revenue streams, and machines decide what we want and deliver it before we can even entertain the idea of venturing into our respective "unknowns" toward imagination or an expanded interconnected consciousness. Megaphones can be bought, and certain voices can afford to be louder (not to mention with the added, terrifying benefit of data surveillance and analytics). Some voices, as illustrated by Aditya Mukerjee, aren't considered important enough to add to the conversation of connectedness; needless to say, the ideas and traditions therewith remain disconnected. In denouncing the "monolithic, top-down structure" of information infrastructure, Facebook becomes the monolith, deciding which information is

"appropriate" for sharing and how it should or should not be spread. "Appropriate," that loaded term, is defined by a very specific ideology and its set of constructs.

Embracing Opacity

The readings assigned were overall informative, and I'm looking forward to the discussion tomorrow. However in terms of making connections my mind kept wandering back toward Éduard Glissant's For Opacity, assigned early this year to the fresh IMA undergrads. I think it's this idea that one monolith could have the audacity to believe it knows best how to connect others, or that there is an authoritative universal standard of communication that can be reached at all. Glissant argues for an acceptance of multiplicity, that differing realities and perspectives can live, even thrive, in parallel rather than coerced toward a common ground as defined by one hegemonic ideology. That, just because you can't understand each other, the other is neither wrong nor less-than. This is implied with the inclusion of the Mukurtu CMS example in our list of readings, and I wonder what local, specified connectivity could look like. Mukurtu caters to Indigenous communities who, at this point, seem to mostly use the platform to preserve cultural materials and facilitate knowledge-sharing within respective communities, while also serving to educate outside institutions of heritages from their "insider" perspective rather than as subject to the "outsider observation/gaze." This summer I spent time speaking with two members of the Initiative for Indigenous Futures, an “Aboriginally determined research-creation network” spreading out of Canada into the United States and Pacific Islands. Much of their research involves a similar locality of information sharing, where data and connection is built by the community and serves local needs, while also considering holistic protocols of production.

I believe there was a time where this type of connectivity was alive and what made the internet such a promising place for cybernetic interconnectedness. Pre-algorithmic cyberspace hinted toward a space for opacity across a universal network, and perhaps could have flourished with an implementation of technical literacy that would allow for community-specific network design while still inviting the serendipity of discovery for the intrepid taking advantage of the unforged paths connecting these hubs. It could look like the positive "upside-down" of polarization, where, yes, people gather around beliefs and behaviors, but through the empowerment of defining how that collectiveness happens, feel less afraid to approach with and even converse with others.

Declaration of Independence for the Internet

I'm a bit winded from the thousand words above, but I think that the final paragraph situates the nascence of my Declaration of Independence for the Internet. Here are some basic tenets I would include:

1. A production protocol that recognizes the physicality of the internet and the environmental impact of manufacturing toward the network infrastructure.

2. Digital & technological literacy as a right, defying the engineer or programmer as elite keepers of knowledge that obscure informatics.

3. Digital & technological literacy as a right, allowing for and empowering community-specific network/interface design.

4. A socially-constructed infrastructure much like a highway system (though the politics of that is a whole other can of worms) that requires some sort of socially-driven maintenance in order to participate in the network. A hope that this requirement will facilitate collective responsibility and nurture new paths of discovery/cross-pollination between locally-developed hubs.

5. Development of accessible design tools, not just accessible design, so that differently-abled bodies can participate in the actual design of the internet.

6. Technological development is funded based on its potential for net social positive. No defense or surveillance-driven research.

7. Sure, for JPB let's consider banning the government from intruding, for as long as the government serves the interest of corporate entities in exchange for political gain/lobbying.

© 2020 Gabriella Garcia