Virtual Citizenship, Part V: Wendy Chun

Address the relationship between virtual citizenship and new
technologies by the relationship between control and freedom. High speed information technologies put in
place a basic insecurity. This can have
a rather nasty side effect, which is human paranoia. Because we cannot know what our computers are
doing, we become paranoid.

We begin to behave as if the political can be solved by the
technological, or that the technological is already political.

This insecurity is actually what is necessary for the
internet to act as a democratic public media. It does not stem from how the internet gives users control but ways in
which it “exposes” users, points to a freedom from which control can emerge,
though only imperfect, and this depends on how it is imagined.

Revising Benedict Anderson’s notion of a nation as an “imagined
community,” we are now involved in imaginings that are both more or and
less. We are participating into imagined

1. Packet sniffing, or “are you there”

The internet has been sold as a tool of empowerment, as a
medium of freedom. It supposedly establishes
a worldwide marketplace of ideas and goods. It also involves the normalization of exhibitionism: sites like twitter
that enables you to post where you all at all times, as well as personal webcam
sites. The internet has also been linked
ot a network of control (Echelon). It is
also a site of commercial surveillance.  Some have suggested that Google is the “Stasi resource of the 21st century.”

Clip of the Hong Kong Bus Uncle: .  Surveillance here was done by a bystander "in case" there was a fight. 

The internet circulates our representations without our consent or knowledge.
Control derives from French-contreroule–a copy of a roll of an account, etc. of the same quality content as the original.

If there is a worldwide surveillance network, it is due to a conflation of notions of memory and storage.

How is it that such a compromised and compromising resource is bought and sold as a medium of empowering?
Why do we believe interactivity to be a form of mastery and freedom?
Why do we imagine the Internet to be a realm of total control.

2. Global paranoia, technological empowerment

Where as the internet has been sold as empowering elsewhere.  Within the US it is sold as something to which the world is already jacked in.  The desire for technology is for a technology that the other already has, a system of paranoid jealousy, with the constant desire for upgrades.

Cisco Systems "Are You Ready" Commercial

Cisco systems stopped running these in 2001.  People began to worry rather than celebrate.  Technological empowerment is no longer benign.

Other who threatened to have technology was never really supposed to have it or to be able to use it against us.  (You could teach Lacan with these commercials).

Paranoia (as those of you with computers know) is a valid practice for information management.  People have learned the hard way is that prudent practice is what others would think of as paranoia.  People need to be paranoiac when dealing with computers because computers are always failing.  Technology is always failing, but we talk about it as if it always works, as if our intentions could change its operation.

A digital mass of information can always be mined for warning signs read in but not "read" (search terms only become self-evident after an event).  Paranoia is a way of developing search terms before an event happens (but in which people are always seen as criminals in advance). 

A certain paranoid object reduces freedom to control (you can only be free when you are in control).

3. Imagined networks
How do we understand the kinds of interactions, of connectivity.
To exaggerate, the answer to all questions of "what’s new," the answer has always been "it’s the network."  Networks are allegedly not only the content of society but also the structure and message: the diagram for our bureaucratic organizations, our social interactions.

Culture as network is now a tired, banal cliche.  We too readily accept the answer "it’s the network" as a meaningful statement.  What work do networks do?

OED: "A diagrammatic representation of interconnected events, processes,
etc., used in the planning of complex projects or sequences of

We see slippage from network as diagram to network as reality.

"Networks" privilege flows.  They can be reduced to units that flow and thus to data that can be processed.  What slips through a networks is not something that slips through the nets.  Rather, networks composed of things that are not moved, that seek to blanket.

Richard Stallman: "Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement." ( is about the relationship between the on- and the off-line.  It is this connection that makes it a "safe space."  Free flow of information depends on its nature as a gated community.  You do not get an automatic view of others.  It is a geographically bound, sheltered space.  These kinds of books (text facebooks) originated at small, elite colleges.

Networks are valued for the connections that they make possible and freely accessible and the connections that they close down.  Facebook (gated community) and open source (free circulation) thus seem to be diametrically opposed.  But they are not.  Free software depends on expertise, not openess.  Both are also dependent on privatization.  It is not a distinction between public and private but between open and close.

Imagined networks not only change the spacing of the public, but the timing: 

Benedict Anderson:

"In an anthropological spirit, then, I propose the following
definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community – – and
imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.

"It is imagined
because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of
their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds
of each lives the image of their communion."

This depends on print capitalism, specifically newspapers which he says created homogeneous, empty "time."  It creates an extraordinary mass ceremony: individual all read the same things, but in different places."  As crisis of newspapers makes clear, mass ceremony is in trouble.  But one can argue that they are being replaced by online versions and blogs.  But value of newspapers depended on information that dissolves on contacts, blogs produce archives–the epistolary novel (which Habermas links to the emergence of a public sphere).  Constant updating makes everything automatically stale. 

Older post, older text and video can always be rediscovered as new.  We face the non-simultaneousness of the new.  We must respond over and over again.  This makes old information valuable.  Old newspapers are worthless; old newspapers online are paid services.  Even text messaging which seems to be about the new contains endless options for forwarding old messages.


4. Memories of memories

Major category of digital media is memory.   Idea of digital media as memory was to put into place the future through the threat of exposure.  Most recent election was called the election of YouTube:

George Allen introduces Macaca

The old assumptions that surveillance will lead to good behavior may not necessarily be appropriate (Allen knew he was being taped).

Enlightment idea: better information leads to better knowledge, which in turn guarantees better decisions.  as a product of programming, it was to program the future.

Memory is not storage.  Memory must come alive to become storage.  Without degeneration, there would be no retrieval of storage.  Digital media which is allegedly more durable depends on a degeneration.

Memory derives from same root as martyr, Greek for baneful.

We must take seriously the vulnerability that comes with communications, so that we can work together to create vulnerable systems within which we can live.

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