Notes from digital self-contradiction

 

Pictographs from the website of the University of Berne

 

by  JAN DISTELMEYER

Since mid-March, the new freedom of the state of emergency has been colonized by means of the digital. Whatever possible (i.e. according to the new given conditions), is to be done online. Obviously and quite welcome, the computer is proving to be the first and best machine for overcoming the boundary between work and leisure time that was once established for some. It goes as simple as this: existing Internet platforms prove their effectiveness as unchallenged centers of the social. Oldschool listservs are helping to organize solidarity. The new “home office” normality renders communication services such as Jitsi, Zoom, Skype, MS-Teams, Wire, BigBlueButton, etc. systemically relevant on a global scale. Friendships, love relationships and family ties are maintained or newly established by the very same tools. Schools, colleges and universities continue the daily business of teaching, learning, studying and teaching “by providing digital teaching and learning formats“.

This organization of “remote relations, cultures of distance” is the normality of the exception. The “live stream’s split screen” gains political dimensions in more than one respect. Also because of this: Whatever reality is now created and relayed by/via/as monitor and loudspeaker is created exclusively on the basis of computers. For all those who are not impartial towards the processes dubbed “digitalization” and who refuse to participate in them uncritically, the self-contradiction deepens.

More than ever before, I am part of and a driving force behind the networked spread and inherent dynamics of computer technology, from which I benefit and whose conditions, processes and effects are so urgent and difficult to describe precisely because of their comprehensive effectiveness. Whoever held seminars and discussed critical developments in a pre-Corona environment e.g. in media studies, software studies, cultural studies, platform studies, etc., has always been able to approach the topic of computerization by other than digital means. For the time being this can be called history: In the online semester and in the institutions’ emergency operations, everything concerning studying and teaching can (and ought to) be managed via the Internet. If computers (in whatever form) are now to be negotiated, computers are the only way and framework for doing so.

The (controlling) circuits are closing. Questions of data protection (especially delicate in the case of Corona’s superstar Zoom), licensing of (which?) software, availability of powerful computers for all students/learners, quality of internet connections, the possibility of discussions in online conferences – these and other questions about the new foundation not only have to be resolved within a few days; they have always been discussed on exactly the protocol-logical basis of Internet services and platforms that are at stake.

 

 

The decision for Zoom is reversed at a Zoom meeting. The difficulty of discussing “openly” in a videoconference is discussed as openly as it (cannot) be done in a videoconference. Suggestions for the “translation of teaching into online formats” as an “experiment in science policy that involves a number of institutional risks and also requires special attention from us as media scholars” reach and occupy me and many others online. Assessments (“Teaching cannot be simulated in environments built around projects, corporations, positivism, monitoring, and – crucially – loneliness and absence.”) and likewise calls for action (“Please do a bad job of putting your courses online”) reach me and many others online. At the same time – also in order to offer something to those who depend on it – the concrete planning of the online semester runs parallel to the commitment to take seriously this semester – not as a model but as a condition explicitly defined as a state of emergency.

This intensification of digital self-contradiction is affecting me strangely. It seems to me as if theoretical persuasions are now being confirmed not only in practice, but literally embodied. The basic conditions of digitality and computerization – the fact that processes of programmatic preparation, recording and filtering are happening that automatically exclude what is beyond the given conditions of the calculable – come to me as a bodily experience. After several days of continuous contact with the world via e-mails, chats and a lot of “telepresence”, I believe I can feel the exclusion. The “inexorable compression, compression, constriction of reality in (and through) the (handheld, desktop) screen” confronts me, at least I assume so, with fundamental issues. Rarely has it been so tangible to me that the Internet is not a network of people, but of computers – whatever great (and desolate) things people may do with it.

From here, out of the newly felt entanglement, the distance to what can be observed in more general developments decrease palpably. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the digital dynamics of the Corona crisis is that the wind has changed once again.

On March 3, 2019, Evgeny Morozov declared: “The observation that the ‘techlash’ – our rude awakening to the  gigantic power of technology companies – is gaining strength from month to month is already a rush.” On April 3, 2020, Deepti Bharthur summarized:

“The year 2019 was the year of ‘the first great big techlash’, when regulators actively started to push back against Big Tech’s eat-the-planet tendencies and launched antitrust investigations; when users demanded greater accountability from social media platforms on their arbitrary content governance standards; when a US presidential candidate based, in large part, a campaign agenda on breaking up Facebook; and when surveillance capitalism became an ubiquitous term to be thrown around in common parlance. And then came the great sickness, which spread through all of the land and things took a different turn. […] The current global environment has made it possible for digital economy players to reshape themselves in a positive light and move away from the regulatory din that has surrounded them for some time. But more crucially, it has firmly reinforced their critical significance to the global economy. At the end of it all, their stranglehold over the world may be tighter than ever.“

The different procedures of and debates on corona apps, which make it difficult to distance oneself from the Chinese regime of capture (aka “totalitarianism in digital garb”, Kai Strittmatter), are among them. The fact that they come at a time when survival statistics bespeak such control procedures and the social immune system is currently being massively strengthened to fight any concerns regarding digitalisation does not make the situation any easier.

The “Corona data donation” (of the app of the same name from the Robert Koch Institute) may be given with more ease if the “corona crisis […] also makes the digital sceptics aware of the consequences of worldwide networking” (SZ); if “the digital, ostracized by cultural pessimists and progress sceptics as a refuge of human alienation, […] keeps work processes, the possibility of learning and social interaction alive” (Welt); when the German secretary for Digitisation describes the Covid 19 pandemic as “an initial spark” for “digitisation” – even if it is “a pity” “that it will take a crisis in our country too, so that we can rethink digitisation, abandon existing reservations and see in it the chances for improving life” (Spiegel).

Becoming aware of these discursive shifts and acting on them appears to be uncannily close. From one platform to another (Rosa Mercedes); this is how links work. This not new, but probably more intensive than ever. It is in this intensity that lies the chance to perceive the conditions of the present condition more clearly.

 

 

 

 

April 9th, 2020 — Rosa Mercedes / 02
Interface

The Reconstruction of Ukraine. Ruination / Representation / Solidarity, online symposium, September 9-11, 2022. “The Reconstruction of Ukraine: Ruination / Representation / Solidarity” devotes particular attention to cities, architecture, art, culture and psychological trauma – but the scope of the conversations it aims to start is broader. In due course, the discussions held during the symposium may coalesce into myriad projects, initiatives and experiments undertaken by government institutions, municipalities, educational and cultural bodies and other more interstitial actors. The ambition of this symposium is to establish a platform for dialogue, facilitating communication, collaboration and constructive argument between diverse actors and initiatives.

George Edwards (Zetkin Collective) on war, nationalism and the “anti-climate lobby” (via Arts of the Working Class): “The latest prognosis of this particular war was spelt out in a flurry of reports from the IPCC; the most recent, described as ‘an atlas of human suffering’ by the chief of the UN, demanded ‘rapid, deep and immediate’ emissions cuts in all sectors to ensure an inhabitable planet for all. In step with the science, many wish this conflict to mark the beginning of an intensified programme of decarbonization, ridding economies of not only Russian, but all fossil fuels, wherever their geological source. But whilst political leaders scramble abroad to secure new sources of fossil fuels – sweet-talking sheiks and summoning LNG terminals from the ground – a resourceful and committed cohort, let’s call them the anti-climate lobby, refuse to accept this diagnosis. The partakers in the fossil industry have seized upon this crisis, sensing it as an opportunity to enlarge and entrench economic interests rooted in fossil fuels. As the course of action prescribed by the IPCC imperils this line of business, the attempts to secure fresh investments in fossil fuel infrastructures, to lock-in production and secure profits for the coming decades may feel all the more pressing. The solutions they pose also fit within the national frame and it is with nationalist political forces that they find their most ardent allies.”

July 31st, 2022

The fundamental difference that we face in Europe at the moment between the Western approach characterized by the pursuit of peace and the Eastern one focused on liberation and independence poses a dramatic challenge – in order to survive and progress, democracy as a political regime has to be capable of defending itself also in a military way.” Armed Democracy revolves around the concepts of imperialism, liberation, fascism, autocracy, revolution, and militarization in pursuit of the world to come on Europe’s burnt out land. Conceived by the Kyiv Biennial and Biennale Warszawa from the East Europe Biennial Alliance, this special public program, curated by Vasyl Cherepanyn within the 2nd edition of Biennale Warszawa, the program is a first part of the series organized by the East Europe Biennial Alliance discussing Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and taking place in Warsaw, Prague, Kassel, and Riga over the summer and fall of 2022.

Olena Lyubchenko on Whiteness, Expropriation, War, and Social Reproduction in Ukraine (via LeftEast): “[…] when we hear on the news that ‘Ukraine is fighting a European war’ and ‘Ukraine is defending Europe’, amid images of fleeing ‘poor white’ women with children prioritized over racialized ‘Others’, ‘Ukraine’ is being made ‘white’ in the global imaginary. That is, “the injunction to ‘return to Europe’ by way of Europeanization is enabled and conditioned on the mythologies of Western civilization, and that Europeanization at once marks (promulgates) and unmarks (naturalizes) racial whiteness” [Nadezhda Husakouskaya and Randi Gressgård]. The paradox is that Europe’s existence as such has only been possible precisely because of the exploitation of global working peoples through expropriation of resources and today neoliberal economic reforms and reproduced by feminized labour.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn about the “inertness, hiding behind the European Wall” (via L’Internationale): “Many Western institutions that have been claiming ‘radical political engagement’ for years, have simply resorted to a white cube radicalism and self-satisfying humanitarianism, too afraid of acting politically beyond their comfort zone and unsettling their publics and authorities by attempting to affect the decision-making process regarding the Ukrainian cause.”

May 28th, 2022

Tatsiana Shchurko on the War in Ukraine, Entangled Imperialisms, and Transnational Feminist Solidarity, via LeftEast (May 2, 2022): “[An] uneven knowledge production and the many implications of the war against Ukraine reveal the dire need to develop a feminist anti-capitalist critique of multiple imperialisms. This language should grow from within the occupied and suppressed communities of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. An anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist feminist positionality grasps that the local is part of a global in an effort to build transnational connections of mutual aid and support against state and corporate violence. For example, statements of solidarity with Ukraine expressed by the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia and Native American communities along with the anti-war feminist march in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) on March 8, 2022, pointing out that the war in Ukraine should be of concern for a broad transnational community, may serve as instrumental examples of alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist solidarities that stretch beyond state regulations and macro-politics and foreground decolonial perspectives, necessary in addressing entanglements of multiple imperialisms. Such solidarities also bring to light hidden interconnections of the past that allowed for distant communities to survive and support each other against the violence of imperialist intervention and its attendant capitalist exploitation. Thus, the march in Bishkek reminds of the socialist roots of the International Women’s Day to call for internationalist, intersectional, class solidarity against imperialism and militarism.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn on that “It’ll take more than tanks to ease Germany’s guilt” (via Politico): “Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Germany has been imposing neocolonial optics on its Eastern European ‘peripheries,’ and on the post-Soviet space in particular, where Ukraine was long considered a gray buffer zone about which the EU was ‘deeply concerned.’ Germany didn’t bother itself much with differentiating between former Soviet countries’ pasts. Even until recently, any Ukrainian agenda in Germany was often ‘balanced’ with a Russian perspective, so as to not exclude the latter by any means.”

An unnamed anarchist and art scholar, who joined the Territorial Defense Forces, quoted by Olexii Kuchanskyi in an essay on “Digital Leviathan and His Nuclear Tail” (via Your Art and e-flux notes): “At dawn, Dima and I talked about cinema. Dima believes that cinema is inferior to literature as a means of expression because you spend much more time with a book than a film. It’s a really interesting point, something to dig into. I studied at the department of art theory & history and I never thought of it. Dima served in the military after school and worked at the factory all his life. He listens to rap, smokes pot, and tries to have fun. He is thirty-eight, his child was born last year. He likes Wong Kar-wai and is a fan of Asian cinema in general. Dima communicates by quoting Omar Khayyam, Confucius, and other awesome guys.”

April 20th, 2022
moreless news