tyrants tremble, media cartels disintegrate, and collaborative castles rise in the air

sure thing bro.

Weinberger is careful to assign the above titular mentality to a caricature of technodeterminism, or technological optimism. Through that statement, among others, he carefully positions himself as a techno-realist. It seems from “Too Big to Know,” however, that the internet and the new ecology of knowledge it is creating is so potent that even techno-realists are a little too naively optimistic for me.

For example when Weinberger says, “There was a time when we thought we were doing the common folk a favor by keeping the important knowledge out of their reach, (p. 179)” it seems the implication is that we are no longer keeping important knowledge out of the reach of common folk. He cites the persecution of John Wycliffe for his attempt to vulgarize the bible into English. Perhaps we are not so overtly denying the common folk access to information but denying them we still are, only through the more insidious means of institutional and systemic depravity and abject-eductionlessness.

Though perhaps not unaware of it himself, Weinberger’s text seems to lose sight of the important distinction between the Nets capacity for information democratization and its actuality.

When Weinberger says that the “new medium of knowledge . . . can’t keep information, communication, and sociality apart, (181)” he neglects to mention who, exactly, composes this new social community.

That community is still overwhelmingly male. According to the United Nations Broadband Commission Working Group, 200 million more men have access to the internet than women.

That community is still composed most entirely of the people of the Global North (the major exception being only China which, of course, due to the restrictions of its censoring system, does not genuinely participate in the knowledge ecosystem). Just take a look at this hexadesic cartogram. When looking at this graphic keep in mind that 85% of the world’s population lives in the Global Southinternet population and penetration

 

The internet is mostly in English. So if you don’t speak it, sorry, this new and revolutionary “global” knowledge generation and dissemination community is not for you.

internetlanguage

The internet is also young, very young, accord to Pew Research Center. Which some people might consider a good thing, but I for one, American domestic politics and religion aside, bemoan the loss of entire generations worth of insight and perspective from the Net.

[[here are my notes from chapters 7-9]]

Close and Distant Readings Commensurate with Close and Distant Writings

 

It occurs to me that one consideration regarding close and distant reading is that there are limitations of “zoom” based on the work itself. The closeness or distance with which a work can be read must be commensurate with the level of minute detail and symbolic density (for close reading) or abstract generalization (for distant reading) infused in the work by the author. That is to say, the reader cannot perform such a close reading that would involve attributing significance to individual words or phonemes or patterns of these constituent pieces if the author did not consider these minutiae when he or she composed the work. It would be like zooming in to an image to the point where the whole screen is a blur of individual pixels: while some inspired viewer might find some highly subjective interpretation of the pixellated blob, we can not say that that blob is representative of the larger, zoomed-out image in which the resolution befits content. Close readings thus work well with works whose authors, through attention to detail, have infused each component of that work, be it a phoneme or a brush stroke, with intention.

The same principle holds true for trying to scale your perspective of a work above and beyond what the author designed. In the same way that poets often design their works to be scoured microscopically, novelists often generate their works with grander messages, meanings, or morals intended to emerge out of and beyond the literal meaning of the individual words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. These works, in this sense, lend themselves to being read in ways greater than the sum of their parts. It is this function, to keep with the example of the novel, that enables satire and other forms of socio-political commentary. While some media and works, by design, lend themselves to very distant readings, as with microscopic readings, the cultural-consumer can be telescoping in their reading of a text. Readers can slather grander meanings onto texts never intended by the author, and can use these readings of texts for their own philosophical or political agendas.

As with too close a reading of a text, too distant a reading can allow the reader to infuse/impose meaning into a text that, though unintended by the author, can be actually meaningful to the reader. When this is done frivolously or in a way that doesn’t impact others, these hyper-readings can be beneficial, allowing the reading to subjectively experience greater meaning than otherwise might have been possible from a given text.

Crowds good? . . . Yes, so long as, and then . . .

According to James, Surowiecki, there are “precise conditions under which crowds do better than experts — it depends on there being a diversity of opinion, independence, decentralization, and a way to derive a collective decision — but almost as soon as he published it, “the wisdom of crowds” was used to refer to everything from choosing presidents, to the making of best-selling fashions, to voting for your favorite on American Idol. That we’ve so stretched this phrase shows just how excited we were about the new possibilities for social knowledge.”  

— Weinberger, Too Big to Know, p. 51


Before discussing the “wisdom of crowds,” I must say that I, being a powerless and position-less person myself, am in full support of the democratization of knowledge: the ideological enfranchisement of those beyond the walls of the university, corporation, or state apparatus. It is in support of this cause, however, that I caution against the unadulterated encouragement of crowd-sourcing. Upon reading the above passage reproduced from Weinberger, two caution-induced reactions came to mind.

The first concerns the four “precise conditions” Surowiecki delineates as necessary for crowds to outperform experts. I do not object to those criteria per se, they seem rather comprehensive. I see as problematic, however, a crowd’s or mob’s ability to insure that it possesses a diversity of opinion, independence, decentralization, and a way to derive a collective decision. I expect, instead, a crowd to, by “virtue” of the myth of majoritarian exceptionalism, assume that it possesses those four qualities without for a moment engaging in self-reflection. No member of that crowd will have the compunction to admit that he or she has subordinated his or her individual will to that of the crowd, but all too often this subordination is a prerequisite for membership in a crowd. This phenomenon is everywhere visible on the internet and is even facilitated by the pre-existing methods of digital voice. The act of “voting,” “liking,” “thumbs-upping,” or “plus-ing,” is an act that couples your identity to that of others in a sort of digital bandwagon, a coupling that, obviously, demands the dissipation of individual identity. When one engages is one of these acts of “speech,” one necessarily dissolves one’s individuality into a pool composed of many people, but only one opinion, rather than a diversity thereof. This process, by way of “voting,” in addition to eliminating diversity of opinion, and independence, automatically generates a hierarchy of participants, distinguishing those who actually express themselves, positing opinions, and those, sadly much larger in number, who merely say “Yeah!” or “Fuck that!,” rather than expressing an opinion of their own. By these processes we can see how often and effortlessly a crowd on the internet can fail to satisfy several of Surowiecki’s precise conditions.

In addition to lacking faith in the ability of a crowd to often-enough maintain its diversity of opinion, independence of constituent components, decentralization, and ability to derive a collective decision, I have further hesitations regarding passing the torch from experts to crowds. Though, as I said, I agree that those four conditions are satisfactory with regard to the standards of the crowd, they only regard half of problem-solving: the solver (in some cases, the crowd). It is my opinion that a crowd, even when properly constituted so as to satisfy those four precise conditions, is not always the best vehicle by which to solve a problem. I think another, equally rigorous, set of conditions ought to be established to determine, given any problem at hand, whether a cohort of hyper-specialized experts or a crowd of generalists (or some cooperative mixture) would most effectively address the problem. It is after this determination has been made and responsibility for the problem has been given to a crowd that the four precise conditions for successful crowd operation become relevant.

German refusing to 'heil'