Timothy W Luke. Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and Consequences of ICTs. Editor: Leah A Lievrouw & Sonia Livingstone. Sage Publications. 2002.
This chapter rethinks the remediations of political culture and power, which are unfolding on what is called ‘the Internet’, or the ever changing network of networks that are knit together out of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Rapid change in the digital domains of the Internet is widely acknowledged, so to write about the net effects of new media emerging on the Internet is a hazardous enterprise. In that respect, this analysis is not much different from many others, which either precede, or now parallel, its examination of politics and the Internet. In other ways, however, this chapter is different in as much as it explores the power effects of computer networks, digital discourses and online organizations on political culture and institutions by re-examining what is technologically new as well as what is socially new.
For better or worse, many fields of human agency—both individual and collective—and of social structure—on all levels of aggregation—are being repolarized, because computer-mediated communication (CMC) ‘rewraps’, as Poster (1990) argues, who dominates whom, where, when and how. Few questions are either as interesting or as significant as this one at this historical juncture, because the modi operandi of most social practices are being reshaped out of bits for bits and with bits by the new media of ICTs. At another turn in history, one could ask to see a foundational text, which had been accepted as the definitive articulation of order. As Walker (1993: 26-49) maintains, there were once princes, principalities and The Prince interoperating in triangular constellations of energy, form, intelligence, matter and will to decode the emergent (dis)order of sovereignty, nationality and economy in modernity. The royal ‘we’ of action imposed its conditions for thought and practice, even as it erased its own autonomous authority with jurisdictive myths, constitutional mechanisms and violent manhandlings. Similar changes are afoot today, but digitalization appears to be re(con)textualizing all those foundations into ones and zeros so thoroughly that one cannot find ‘the programmer’. This analysis, then, seeks to understand how political culture today, in large part, ultimately can circulate online (Poster, 1995; Bukatman, 1993). In this environment, systemcraft can be soulcraft, and the crafted soul acquires digital forms of being from the system (Rushkoff, 1994). Nonetheless, the technology itself guarantees that much of what is said in this volume will be partly outmoded after the presses roll simply because of rapid changes at the interface.
Historically, the Internet was the creation of the United States of America—the ‘hyperpower’ allegedly at the heart of post Cold War world order (Abbate, 1999). Yet, the legal authority, managerial acumen and administrative effectiveness of various national and international bodies now nominally in charge of the net, like the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), or the Internet Society (ISOC) itself, are quite uncertain. As a 1997 FCC policy brief observed:
Most of the underlying architecture of the Internet was developed under the auspices, directly or indirectly, of the United States Government. The government has not, however, defined whether it retains authority over Internet management functions, or whether these responsibilities have been delegated to the private sector. The degree to which any existing body can lay claim to representing ‘the Internet community’ is also unclear. (Cited in Abbate, 1999: 208)
In this power vacuum, which has been created and maintained by state and non-state interests, new groups are reimagining human community (Anderson, 1991), pushing their own ideologies and interests in pursuit of neoliberal utopias and non-liberal resistances (Luke, 1989). In an ironic twist to Engels’ famous characterization of socialism, the ICTs associated with the Internet are moving societies from the government of people to the administration of things, which, in turn, remediates new modes of control into governance over people and things (Van der Pjil, 1998; Kroker and Weinstein, 1994).
Out on the networks, people who are not of the same race, gender, class, nationality or locality are interacting in cyberspace through operational interfaces that reduce their identities to strings of text, synthesized speech or stylized graphics (De Kerckhove, 1998). Once on the net, they seek to leverage cyberspace to serve various offline agendas (Gibson, 1984). Their efforts to operate together and alone in the digital domain, however, are also creating cultural commonalities, or conventional understandings manifest in act and artifact that characterize their shared forms of life, which are pitched against their offline interests. Face-to-face interactions between persons become online events with digital beings; material systems with well-proven redundancies, proven safeguards and fixed practices are supplanted by unstable clusters of code in fragile telematic networks; locatable sites in real space under identifiable, albeit perhaps not effective, governmental control are displaced by cyberspatial addresses under very little or no governmental oversight (Grisham, 1999; Slouka, 1995). Yet, all of this expresses a new kind of productive power (Foucault, 1980) articulated as ones and zeros.
The net also provides social forces with alternative modes of action and types of artifacts to organize their cultural interactions, institutionalize political movements, and advance economic demands on a deterritorialized metanational basis in 24 × 7 time frames (Anderson, 1991; Hauben, 1997). The networks are operational venues whose assignment, sale and use generate a new governance challenge: how to create, border, police and use virtual spaces (Slevin, 2000). Some net-ready interests realize that these spaces, and hence the legal jurisdictions, strategic alliances, cultural norms and communal rituals which will prevail in them are up for grabs (Everard, 2000). Cyberspace, as both its emerging ‘hacktivist’ and ‘netizenship’ practices indicate (Hauben, 1997), will be contested space in so far as the operational effects of informatics can be simultaneously experienced everywhere and nowhere. One recent study found the United States to be the most common domain source of Usenet messages, for example, in the 1990s, but ‘anonymous’, or no territorial region of origin, was the 15th most common source in Usenet messages (Smith and Kollock, 1999: 197) of the nearly 200 states and government entities with top-level domains. If the governmentality problematic is, as Foucault claims, the challenge of conveniently arranging things and people to organize the conduct of conduct, then the web poses tremendous new transnational challenges for governance, especially who governs whom, where, when and how (Jordan, 1999; Luke 1995).
Individuals and groups can become fully enmeshed within the tactics and strategies of complex forms of normalizing power, which can be political regimes or technical regimens, whose institutions, procedures, analyses and techniques loosely organize mass populations and their material environments in different highly politicized symbolic material economies (Ihde, 1990; Poster, 1990). It provides an inexact set of bearings, but Foucault asserts:
it is the tactics of government which make possible the continual definition and redefinition of what is within the competence of the state and what is not, the public versus the private, and so on; thus the state can only be understood in its survival and its limits on the basis of the general tactics of governmentality. (1991: 103)
Because governmentalizing practices are always at the centre of political struggle, the online interactions of populations in highly organized economies now compel state regimes to redefine continually what is within their administrative competence throughout the informationalizing process (Beck, 1997; Luke, 1994).
The devotees of digitalization among the digerati, like Nicholas Negroponte, overrate the positive aspects of telematic life, while they underplay how most negative social and political tendencies will continue in cyberspace like they are offline. For Negroponte, ‘the change from atoms to bits is irrevocable and unstoppable’ (1995: 4), and digitalization ultimately means dematerialization. To mark this turning point in human history, he asserts ‘computing is not about computers any more. It is about living’ (1995: 6). His claim in all too many ways is true. Here is the political and ethical problematic of ‘the polis’—living how, living where, living for whom, and by whose leave—only now while online.
Much of the literature on ICTs misses the Internet’s governmentality to the degree it presumes the existence of positive affinities rooted in artifacts (Adas, 1989). Stefnik, for example, asserts that the net is redrawing the edges of groups and individuals, and this power is the source of its transformative power as well as the contra-transformative pushbacks against it:
New technologies bring change. When they are fundamental to transportation and communication they affect more than just the mechanics of how we work and live. Because of them, we find ourselves interacting with people from different cultures who hold different values, people who used to be very far away. We learn to operate in a global space—experiencing cultural clashes and making cultural accommodations. Technological changes lead to cultural changes—especially changes in the social and legal institutions that are now coevolving with the technology of the Internet. (1999: 1)
Consequently, Stefnik maintains that new edges get fixed in this process of technological change:
Groups can have edge just as individuals have edges. In a group, confusion at the edge usually shows up as lack of agreement about the right course of action. Members may express contradictory and shifting views. Over time the people in a group may align themselves to make a change, then back off, only to try again later … This is why the edge for technologies of connection is open to conflict between global and local values. Such a conflict can evoke resistance, a pushback, as people seek stability and attempt to preserve the status quo. The pushback thus acts to preserve cultural diversity. (1999: 2, 3)
As one of the Xerox Corporation’s leading in-house scientists, Stefnik can propound this sense of the network society, and get an audience. Yet his vision is tremendously self-serving. People and organizations like Stefnik and Xerox bring change, not ‘technologies’. The ‘we’ whose work and life are being affected is not large, not cohesive, and not an agent as such, but Stefnik turns to technology to create an artifactual affinity. And this ‘we’ then becomes conscious and cohesive, and copes with a cultural give-and-take along the edges of an apparently open, free-flowing and consensual search for stability. Some—both inside and outside the group—resist and push back, but others go along with the new connections. At one level, this account is not entirely false, but on many other levels it is almost untrue (Feenberg, 1999).
Only Deibert’s sophisticated analysis of the social epistemologies and political technics of media as environments begins to approach the complexity of networked economies and societies with real insight. Deibert’s Parchment, Printing, and Hypermedia: Communication in World Order Transformation (1997) rearranges the connections of different historical periods, ranging from the medieval to the modern and the postmodern, into distinctive communicative technics, represented as parchment manuscripts, printed literature and electronic hypermedia. A change is identified in the relations between the informers and the informed. While this might not represent a new mode of information, as Poster claims, the workings of postmodern decentredness and electronic hypermedia are altered as a result of the fit ‘between this social epistemology and the emerging hypermedia environment’ (1997: 200).
The culture of network society owes a lot to new companies, institutions and organizations that create new digital media, and then exploit their capabilities to redefine and then satisfy new human needs. Thus, the Internet becomes the focus of everyday life. ‘The net is not a separate environment that individuals can choose or not choose to utilize’. Instead, as Martin asserts,
In an Internet worked world, networks will be the backbone of social and economic life. Just as governments help organize society, and just as cities help organize the daily activities of individuals, networks will increasingly become the primary tool for organizing information. The choice not to participate automatically removes these groups or individuals from the mainstream. (1997: 211)
To not go online then is to choose antiquation, anachronism and anti-progressiveness (Tapscott, 1997).
Like all previous technological generations of new practices, whether the telephone, automobile, radio, aeroplane or television, the nets are producing the politics and culture of a ‘new generation’ (Tapscott, 1997). According to Martin, ‘This is a generation united under the banner of interactivity, which thrives on making connections. This group of online, interactive, digital individuals are the consumers in the Digital Estate’ (1997: 211). Tapscott, Martin and Negroponte all regard these interactive generation populations, ‘I-Generation’ individuals, as the vanguard of universal virtuality. They have that special knowledge the members of any vanguard require: ‘They know it will not be long before interactivity is taken for granted and that memories of pre-internetworking will be tantamount to realizing the days before machines could fly. After critical-mass, everyone will already belong’ (Martin, 1997: 211). The intrinsic value to adding more nodes to the net turns its new media into a concrete normativity that assumes, or assures, everyone will belong (Hassan, 1977).
In most respects, informatics are only the latest wrinkle in ‘modernity’ (Harvey, 1989; Mumford, 1963). Once again, a fresh set of cultural transformations, resting in a destructively productive new technics with its own unformed social mores, appears as the source and goal of yet another universalizing moral order, uniform vision of nature, and univocalized economic model (Mumford, 1970). Bits, like most modern things defined by commodified commercial operations, are privileged objects, which can go from anywhere to anywhere at anytime for anybody (Slouka, 1995). Yet this potential omnipresence, first, mostly glosses over how much ‘anywhere’ actually remains (in world systems terms) as a set of very limited venues, or truly ‘manywheres’, albeit often widely distributed geographically; second, ignores how most movements go from somebody at one privileged site to somebody, or actually ‘manybodies’, at another special place; and third, discounts how speeds in anytime are arrayed in ‘manytimes’ as a function of willingness to pay, salience of authority, or quality of connectivity (Luke, 1997: 121-44).
Politics and Culture in Cyberspace
The fractalizing power of cyberspace as a political culture construct can be tracked out into several philosophical patches and theoretical thickets (Grusin and Bolter, 1999; Kelly, 1998; Levy, 1997; Miller, 1996). Perhaps we never have been modern (Latour, 1993), but one promising perspective leads into the critiques of postmodernity. These writings puzzle through the emergence of transnational space by reconsidering the relationships of territory to the earth, and their deterritorializing remediations in contemporary thought and practice.
On one level, following Lyotard, the concept of postmodernity might mark the decline of modernity’s grand narratives, which have until quite recently embedded Western capitalist humanity’s and society’s economic, political and social-technological practices in some deeper metaphysical substance. These metanarratives, or the fables of reason and freedom, see science and technology bring gradual, but inevitable, progress to individuals and societies through the unfolding of history. Lyotard, however, saw this historical period closing during the 1960s and 1970s with the transition to post-industrialism. His analysis is based
upon the perception of the existence of a modern era that dates from the time of the Enlightenment and that now has run its course: and this modern era was predicated on the notion of progress in knowledge, in the arts, in technology, and in human freedom as well, all of which was thought of as leading to a truly emancipated society: a society emancipated from poverty, despotism and ignorance. But all of us can see that the development continues to take place without leading to the realization of any of these dreams of emancipation. (1984: 39)
With this rising distrust in any metanarratives of truth, enlightenment or progress, Lyotard sees science and technology falling under the sway of ‘another language game, in which the goal is no longer truth, but performativity—that is, the best possible input/output equation’ (1984: 46).
On another level, following Jameson, the mediations of performativity are found in ‘a new social system beyond classical capitalism’, proliferating across ‘the world space of multinational capital’ (1992: 59, 54). More specifically, as Harvey argues, this new regime for multinational capital began by disintegrating the Fordist regime of industrial production, capital accumulation and state intervention patched together on a national basis during the 1930s through the 1970s by welfare states. In its place, new arrangements for flexible accumulation, productive specialization and public deregulation have surfaced within many loosely coupled transnational alliances since the 1970s. As Harvey observes, ‘flexible accumulation typically exploits a wide range of seemingly contingent geographical circumstances, and reconstitutes them as structured internal elements of its own encompassing logic … the result has been the production of fragmentation, insecurity, and ephemeral uneven development within a highly unified global space economy of capital flows’ (1989: 294, 296). On the horizon drawn by flexible accumulation, Lyotard’s cultural vision of performativity is what anchors ‘the new world order’ of the 1990s and 2000s, as most spatial barriers and all time zones collapse in the cultural compression caused by transnational businesses’ acceleration of production and consumption. Today, ‘the State and/or company must abandon the idealist and humanist narratives of legitimation in order to justify the new goal: in the discourse of today’s financial backers of research, the only credible goal is power. Scientists, technicians, and instruments are purchased not to find truth, but to augment power’ (Lyotard, 1984: 46).
Corporate enthusiasts, such as Cairncross (1997), see this development as ‘the death of distance’. In this vein, Jameson argues, ‘we are back in the spatial itself’, and critical analysis
infers a certain supplement of spatiality in the contemporary period and suggests that there is a way in which, even though other modes of production … are distinctively spatial, ours has been spatialized in a unique sense, such that space is for us an existential and cultural dominant, a thematized or foregrounded feature or structural principle standing in striking contrast to its relatively subordinate and secondary … role in earlier modes of production. (1992: 365)
Even though this new world spatiality might be an existential and social dominant, its networked qualities remain fairly vague (Castells, 1996-8). Indeed, this phenomenon lacks much permanence, closure or primordialism. Jameson reaches for common household technological referents, like channel surfing on cable TV with a remote control, to substantiate his sense of this new consciousness. His discussion lacks theoretical heft, because he also ignores and underplays cyberspace, when it, in fact, seems to be a much richer instantiation of ‘the new space that thereby emerges [and which] involves the suppression of distance (in the sense of Benjamin’s aura) and the relentless saturation of any remaining voids and empty places, to the point where the postmodern body … is now exposed to a perceptual barrage of immediacy from which all sheltering layers and intervening mediations have been removed’ (1992: 412-13).
Out in the digital domain, one slips into spaces of suppressed distance shorn of sheltering mediations and brimming with buckets of immediacy. This is what saturates the final remaining hidden zones of world markets. While he does not state it in these terms, Jameson captures many of the qualities found in the telematic environments of the net. Out online, the peculiar spatial quality of cyberspace as a cultural domain for dispersion, decentring and discontinuity comes into its own. Hence ‘we’, the networked subjects enveloped in the world spaces of transnational capital, and then remediated in connected clusters of code, ‘turn out to be whatever we are in, confront, inhabit, or habitually move through, provided it is understood that under current conditions we are obliged to renegotiate all those spaces or channels back and forth in a single Joycean day’ (1992: 373). Cyberspace contains layer upon layer of multiple interrelating, and diversely channelled, ephemeral constructs which everyone moves through, inhabits and confronts on every single day of their Joycean existences (Shenk, 1997; Poster, 1995; Kelly, 1994). The browser histories from such online odysseys will mark these renegotiations all too well as a ‘multidimensional set of radically discontinuous realities’ which replicates itself online throughout every last void and empty place of the world from the poorest rural household up to the richest global marketplace. Jameson misconstrues these changes as an ‘unimaginable decentering of global capital itself’ (1992: 413), when, in fact, it is the radical recentring of the imagination behind valorizing exchange that now occurs 24 × 7 in the digital domain.
The analysis of concrete power arrangements for the net ranges from the new idealism of the digital digerati, such as Kelly (1994) or Negroponte (1995), to the more sophisticated materialist perspectives of analysts such as Deibert (1997) or Mattelart (2000). Communications media are a perfect illustration of the normalizing mediations of proactive power put forward by Foucault. To paraphrase McLuhan, who saw all technologies as media providing ‘extensions of man’ psychically and physically (1964: 19-67), men and women online become psychic and physical peripheral plug-ins for other central processing units, leaving men and women to impersonate ‘being digital’ as variable extensions of digital technologies. Connectivity as a mechanism of power depends upon the cultivation of the body as well as the mind, and getting online anywhere all the time allows businesses to extract time, energy and labour from a new culture of production and consumption as ones and zeros. The material functionalities of connectivity can be liberating, but only in the very peculiar fashions permitted by the mode of information. Big businesses do not want to maintain today’s digital divides between those online with access and those offline without access (Martin and Schumann, 1997). In fact, it is only by granting new commodified freedoms to more people in the digital domain that global businesses can constantly ‘increase subjected forces’ and ‘improve force and efficacy of that which subjects them’ (Foucault, 1980: 104) in the rapid circulation of commodified goods and services. The digital divides in world society between white, Hispanic, black or Asian computer use are destined to close. Until bits can command many more atoms of all classes, creeds and colours, digital being will remain incomplete.
ICTs do not operate autonomously or discretely (Hobart and Schiffman, 1998). Rather, contemporary informatics, as they intermesh with the circuits of commodity production and consumption, permit one to see how fully metanationalized cyberspace can amalgamate online with both: ‘(1) Technologies of production, which permit us to produce, transform, or manipulate things’, and, ‘(2) technologies of the self, which permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thought, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality’ (Foucault, 1988: 18). These coaligned technologies of production and the self fuse in virtual environments. And, it is the transnational spaces of the net that are promoting ‘the ultimate realization of the private individual as a productive force. The system of needs must wring liberty and pleasure from him as so many functional elements of the reproduction of the system of production and the relations of power that sanction it’ (Baudrillard, 1981: 85).
Networks: Governing with or through Technology
To rethink the cultural limits and political possibilities of exercising power over the Internet, one must gauge the social, political and economic changes being caused by this new technological system (Nye, 1990; Rutsky, 2000). Too many approaches to the technology and culture of the net are plagued by a mindset of naive instrumentalism. That is, the net is simply a tool like any other, and it is being used consciously and rationally by autonomous human agents to serve effectively the instrumental ends of its users. According to these views, democracies online basically will be just like democracies offline except that their officials and constituents will use e-mail and/or have webchat (Rash, 1997; Rheingold, 1993). Even though we know democracies with newspapers, televisions and telephones are not entirely like those without them because a new mediated technoculture of mass communications (Deibert, 1997) reshapes their operations, the naive instrumentalism of too many political analyses of the net rehashes reality in this unproductive fashion. On one level, a political reading of the Internet can focus upon ‘governing with technology’. This approach sees the net as a tool to rationalize and redirect many processes of government. On a second level, one also can examine how the net constitutes a regime of ‘governance through technology’. By rethinking how technologies have ‘anonymous histories’ (Giedion, 1948) that shape space, temper time and package performance apart from the conscious intention of their users, this approach to politics—as it is conducted through computer-mediated communications over information networks—would re-examine the practices and values of how political subjectivity would change in digital environments in many fundamental ways (Heim, 1998). Digital networks can be used by existing governments to govern, but they also can create new operational domains with their own cultural discourses and practices beyond the scope of today’s territorial sovereignty as it works now (Adams, 1998; Mattelart, 1994; Ohmae, 1990). In this manner, ‘netizenship’ is potentially far more than ‘citizenship’, because the net is much more expansive than any city, polis or state.
Most importantly, the current commercialization of cyberspace is transforming the political realities of online life (Virilio, 1995). The initial interface of disembodied subjectivity, distributed community and cybernetic play celebrated in the early days of the net is rapidly being eclipsed by newer interface values tied to reimagining cyberspace as hyperreal estate, virtual markets and online e-commerce (Brin, 1998; Gates, 1999; Grossman, 1997). Negroponte is not entirely mistaken when he puffs up the potentialities of ‘being digital’ (1995: 11-20) as the latest grand transition of modernization. In his digital materialism, the economies and societies still organized around making and moving matter, or ‘atoms’, will be slipsliding away into a new domain focused upon inventing and integrating information, or ‘bits’. Space will be occupied by reworked atoms, but this occupation will also be filled by the flow of continuously upgraded bits (Bukatman, 1993). Without saying so, Negroponte essentially recasts digital technics as a nascent form of nanotechnology with which bits reach out and reshape atoms at will as part and parcel of digital being.
This recognition acquires articulation in Bill Gates’ views on personal computing. He outlines another style of being digital in elaborate tales about his, and allegedly ‘everyone’ else’s, experiences of ‘growing up’ since the 1970s with computers:
In the minds of a lot of people at school we became linked with the computer, and it with us … In doing so, we caused a kind of revolution—peaceful, mainly—and now the computer has taken up residence in our offices and homes … Inexpensive computer chips now show up in engines, watches, antilock brakes, facsimile machines, elevators, gasoline pumps, cameras, thermostats, treadmills, vending machines, burglar alarms, and even talking greeting cards … Now that computing is astoundingly inexpensive and computers inhabit every part of our lives, we stand on the brink of another revolution. This one will involve unprecedentedly inexpensive communication; all the computers will join together to communicate with us and for us. (1996: 2-5)
For Gates and Microsoft, computers are just what will remake built environments for the betterment of all. Like it or not, digital being on this hyperreal estate is the place where human beings find computers are linked to us, computers tie us into networks, and computers colonize other artifacts to communicate with each other and, of course, us (Mitchell, 1995). Hence, governance through technology is inescapable.
Unlike the public projects underpinning the polis, this odd remembrance by Gates belies larger corporate agendas for private profit and power to sustain an informatic ‘subpolis’. What is more, the financial, professional and technical development networks behind this subpolis leave its possibilities for collective action and imagination caught somewhere between the traditional vision of politics and non-politics. This idea snags something quite significant out of the bitstream. As Beck suspects, big technological systems, like cybernetic networks, telecommunications grids or computer applications, are becoming
a third entity, acquiring the precarious hybrid status of a sub-politics, in which the scope of social changes precipitated varies inversely with their legitimation … The direction of development and results of technological transformation become fit for discourse and subject to legitimation. Thus business and techno-scientific action acquire a new political and moral dimension that had previously seemed alien to techno-economic activity … now the potential for structuring society migrates from the political system into the sub-political system of scientific, technological, and economic modernization. The political becomes non-political and the non-political political … A revolution under the cloak of normality occurs, which escapes from possibilities of intervention, but must all the same be justified and enforced against a public becoming critical … The political institutions become the administrators of a development they neither have planned for nor are able to structure, but must nevertheless somehow justify … Lacking a place to appear, the decisions that change society become tongue-tied and anonymous … What we do not see and do not want is changing the world more and more obviously and threateningly. (1992: 186-7)
In the name of digital materialism, Gates and thousands of other far more anonymous and usually more tongue-tied computer geeks like him are mounting a revolution from their desktops by designing, building and owning new subpolitical spaces (Roszak, 1994). Digitalization generated out on the WWW, from within the Wintel operating system, or with ASCII code, all too often is neither seen nor wanted. Nevertheless, the collective decisions taken through these codes and systems by technicians and tradesmen to structure the economy and society around such ‘sub-political systems of scientific, technological, and economic modernization’ (Beck, 1992: 186) are changing the world without much, if any, state regulation, political planning structure or civic legitimation.
Thus, corporate campaigns for the expanded ownership and control of public goods, like cyberspace, are frequently dressed out in a new pluralism of open-ended popular decisions. Because hackers, debuggers and other users are always running an ongoing open review of past design decisions, Microsoft and other vendors design feedback from their customers and their users. Either way, the net work of networkers out on the nets builds and then maintains the multilayered complexities of this digital domain as a computer-mediated subpolis. Network connectivity, then, is ‘your passport’ into ‘a new, mediated way of life’ (Gates, 1996: 5). More than an object, not quite yet a subject, online connectivity can provide a pass, a port and a presence for entering into a new way of life.
George Gilder’s celebration of ‘the new age of intelligent machines’ (1989: 381) sees this coming e-formation of our world of matter-centred manufacture attaining absolute immanence in societies under the sway of information-denominated ‘Mind’. Conflating the Cold War with cyberwar in 1989, Gilder asserts:
The overthrow of matter in business will reverberate through geopolitics and exalt the nations in command of creative minds over the nations in command of land and resources. Military power will accrue more and more to the masters of information technology. Finally, the overthrow of matter will stultify all materialist philosophy and open vistas of human imagination and moral revival. (1989: 18)
This effusion of humans and machines in a progressive pact of transcendent unity ten years later, however, is leading more toward MP3 downloads, $8 online stock trades on Ameritrade, 24 × 7 swap meets on eBay, and cyberporn on demand, than it is to an opening of communal concord between all humans. Oddly enough, Gilder fails to show how the old materialist philosophy has been stultified. Instead it returns in the discursive discipline of an informatic materialism in which silicon, fibre and code will reknit humans and their machines into new subpolitical collectives of economic development. This utopian talk is no different from that made by other technological determinists who attributed these same powers over the past century to rayon, radio and railroads and it raises the question of how to govern with technology (Nye, 1996).
The wide open spaces of the Internet are administered loosely by the Internet Society (ISOC), which also is the home of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB). Drawing together people from transnational telecoms, big software houses, national scientific agencies, professional-technical groups and media companies, ISOC is a major force in the management of the informatic subpolis. Its programmes, however, are metanational in as much as its members seek to maintain the net’s uniquely metanational qualities by safeguarding ‘the viability and global scaling of the Internet’ in ways that ‘assure the open development, evolution, and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world’ (http://www.isoc.org/mission).
Another interpretation of this dynamic partnership between people and intelligent machines finds its voice in singing the praises of ‘friction-free capitalism’ out on the net (Gates, 1999). Its reflexive epistemology also sees the wired world’s digital exchanges in global terms (Lewis, 1997). As Bill Gates observes:
The global information market will be huge and will combine all the various ways human goods, services and ideas are exchanged. On a practical level, this will give you broader choices about most things, including how you earn and invest, what you buy and how much you pay for it, who your friends are and how you spend your time with them, and where and how securely you and your family live. Your workplace and your idea of what it means to be ‘educated’ will be transformed, perhaps almost beyond recognition. Your identity, of who you are and where you belong, may open up considerably. In short, just about everything will be done differently. (1996: 6-7)
Opening up the norms of identity—who you are and where you belong—here becomes a credo for reconfiguring the entire globe into a vast internal market for transnational exchange: this perhaps is the essence of digital being. In the network society, we are becoming bits, everything is becoming bits, and globalization is just being digital (Castells, 1996-8).
This development is not ‘friction-free’. Instead, as Lyotard suggests, ‘economic powers have reached the point of imperiling the stability of the State through new forms of the circulation of capital that go by the generic name of multinational corporations’, and these new modes of revalorizing exchange ‘imply that investment decisions have, at least in part, passed beyond the control of the nation-states’ (1984: 5). Even though it probably was not what Hayles (1999) envisioned when she cast posthumanism as that condition in which no organism can be entirely differentiated from its environment, no self is separate from society, and no agency lacks structure, corporate powers are growing so pervasive online that bits are becoming almost monetized. Emergent knowledges framed as bits begin
circulating along the same lines as money, instead of for its ‘educational’ value or political (administrative, diplomatic, military) importance; the pertinent distinction would no longer be between knowledge and ignorance, but rather, as is the case with money, between ‘payment knowledge’ and ‘investment knowledge’—in other words, between units of knowledge exchange in a daily maintenance framework (the reconstitution of the work force, ‘survival’) versus funds of knowledge dedicated to optimizing the performance of a project. (Lyotard, 1984: 6)
Online, bits can meld payment and investment knowledge into a single performative flow that pays out by drawing new investments, and draws new investments as its payoff.
By fabricating digital domains, and then continually struggling to master their telemetrical terrain, posthumans also fulfil Lyotard’s prophecies about ‘the postmodern condition’. That is, ‘knowledge in the form of an informational commodity indispensable to productive power is already, and will continue to be, a major—perhaps the major—stake in the worldwide competition for power’; in fact, the struggle over cyberspace intranationally and transnationally illustrates how fully the residents of nation-states must fight for ‘control of information, just as they battled in the past for control over territory, and afterwards for control of access to and exploitation of raw materials and cheap labor’ (1984: 5). Online mediations of digital being work through data / information / knowledge in accord with familiar liberal humanist goals. Online and offline, information ‘is and will be produced in order to be sold, it is and will be consumed in order to be valorized in a new production: in both cases, the goal is exchange’ (1984: 4). In these spaces, everything in society, the marketplace and culture
is made conditional on performativity. The redefinition of the norms of life consists in enhancing the system’s competence for power. That this is the case is particularly evident in the introduction of telematic technology: the technocrats see in telematics a promise of liberalization and enrichment in the interactions between interlocutors; but what makes this process attractive for them is that it will result in new tensions in the system, and these will lead to an improvement in its performativity. (1984: 64)
Once again, the system is the solution, and solutions come from accepting the systems.
Still, as this transnational informatic subpolis and neoliberal marketplace grow, the role and stature of the traditional polis—whatever this might be—in many nation-states could well decline. Even though everyone currently remains captured as bodies within some type of face-to-face political system, their civic abilities to exercise certain practices of rule-making, rule-applying and rule adjudication offline do not map over to the subpolitical domains of online technics. Democracy offline may become the engine of collective inaction or, worse, the audience for endless spectacles of quasi-theatrical scandal. In turn, new decisive revolutions will be made metanationally, as Beck maintains, ‘under the cloak of normality’ (1992: 186) thanks to telematic global powers such as Microsoft and Bill Gates or AOL and Steve Case. ‘In contemporary discussions’, as Beck suggests, ‘the “alternative society” is no longer expected to come from parliamentary debates on new laws, but rather from the application of microelectronics, genetic technology, and information media’ (1992: 223).
Other openly transnationalist organizations, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), espouse the principles of offline human rights for the online settlement and improvement of cyberspace as an e-public domain. While EFF seeks to leverage offline state authorities to protect online freedoms, its image of the ‘electronic frontier’ is essentially metanational. Indeed, it wants ‘to make [the electronic frontier] truly useful and beneficial not just to a technical elite, but to everyone’ (http://www.eff.org/EFF docs/). Similarly the Global Internet Liberty Campaign (GILC) also pushes metanational ideas, claiming ‘there are no borders in cyberspace’ and joining together its multinational membership ‘to protect and promote fundamental human rights such as freedom of speech and the right of privacy on the Net for users everywhere’ (http://www.gilc.org/about/members.html).
One of the most significant effects of the net, then, is the tendency for connectivity to disintegrate, or at least disrupt, those long-standing forms of institutional action in markets, governments or cultures that have presumed fixed built environments and face-to-face human engagement. Such operations relied upon physical sites of political power (agency offices, election booths, service bureaucracies), economic production (corporate headquarters, sales offices, managerial suites), personal consumption (brokerage offices, new bookstores, car dealerships) and cultural reproduction (public libraries, civic centres, graduate schools), but these venues can easily be morphed into online sites in a fashion that reduces costs, cuts employment, enhances service and raises consumer satisfaction. Physical collocation and geographic contiguity continue to be important on many levels, but online ‘electronic proximity’ (Dertouzos, 1997: 229) is cross-cutting many institutional practices that have evolved in the real time, real life, real space of what William Gibson (1984) calls ‘the meatworld’. In these cross-cuts, the shapeshifting outlines of ‘e-proximate’ interactions surface out of every e-commerce transaction, e-media page download, e-schooling lesson and e-governance contact made with ICTs.
Dertouzos envisions the networks as ‘the information marketplace’. Open 24 × 7, these electronic sites, or I-marts, are an ‘e-proximate’ space in which ‘people and computers buy, sell, and freely exchange information and information services’ in round-the-clock transactions that ‘involve the processing and communication of information under the same economic motives that drive today’s traditional marketplace for goods and services’ (1997: 9-10). As Marx warns us, the ever growing socialization of production is coupled with the increasing privatization of ownership and control behind such digital domains (Shapiro, 1999). This tendency does not trouble Dertouzos. Instead, he opines that ‘the profit motive’ drives today’s traditional markets, so there is no reason for it not to persist in cyberspace. The information marketplace exists in order to amplify and extend its existence by collecting consumers, satisfying their needs with need satisfactions, and reselling the information about all or any of these individual and collective choices (Lyon, 1994). Whose service, who serves, who is served, what kind of service, when service works, how service happens in such I-marts, however, would all depend upon economic, political and social decisions, not technical choices per se. Yet these realities are painted over in the colours of a constructive interaction that can occur only in/of/for/by the informatic tools of such infostructures. Technics completely occludes the essentially hyperpolitical nature of the I-Mart.
Cultural scripts, sites and structures hammered out over decades or centuries by human beings, as physically collocated or institutionally mediated agents, cannot easily adapt to many online environments (Anderson, 1991). Consequently, new virtual forms of organization, or ‘e-formations’, are thrown together to match the surging flows of bits, both into and out of the e-proximities of online environments. The quasi-anarchic practices of the nets before 1994, which emphasized user autonomy, individuality, mutual aid, creativity and collective chaos, are still preferred by some, but state regulators, corporate salespersons, religious authorities and economic planners are all struggling to impose more familiar forms of bureaucratic regulation, self-interested profit seeking, and conventional morality upon cyberspace without much success.
Most of their new first-generation adaptations to the time and space compression of the net also are uncomfortably, but perhaps all too predictably, privileging the corporate practices and freewheeling markets of transnational enterprise, which is already running roughshod over most of the world’s territorial jurisdictions (Kelly, 1994). Business-to-business (B2B) commerce will be around $400 billion in 2000, but it is predicted to rise to $7.4 trillion in 2004 (Schneider, 2000: G1). And many of the ‘inefficiencies’ it is removing from ‘the supply chain’ or ‘enterprise transactions’ are people’s jobs, national industries and regional ties.
The regimen of e-commerce, despite the pronouncements by dot.com utopians pushed every day on CNBC or CNNfn, is not yet fully defined or finally sealed with respect to its specific operations (Rochlin, 1997). It is instead ironically imagined now in the very collectivist terms of global business: personal connectivity determines social utility, intrusive smartness colonizes the objects of everyday life, data mining of everyone’s net work accelerates the surveillance of services, and general productivity depends upon individual e-lancing labour. Even though Bill Gates (1996; 1999) pretends ‘the road ahead’ is a friction-free path to greater economic liberty, most of the goods and services defining this freedom presume that those who experience e-proximity must endure tremendous levels of unrelenting psychodemographic monitoring—both online and offline. In retail e-commerce as well as B2B trade, the networks produce power that can rerationalize energy production, resource extraction, materials processing, service delivery and capital accumulation as system-supportive performativity.
Netizens and Netizenship
To survive in the fast capitalist world of the twenty-first century, it is not enough for territorial states or political entities to maintain offline legal jurisdiction over their allegedly sovereign territories and/or constituent members. The net is a governmentality engine, whose subpolitical assemblies of informatic artifacts create new collective subjectivities and collections of subjects beyond the territorial polis in the flows of transnational exchange (Saco, 2000). In online governmentality, the disciplinary articulations of software packages and hardware functionalities also centre upon enforcing ‘the right disposition of things’ between humans conducting their conduct in cybernetic environments as e-publics (Foucault, 1991).
Many agencies of subnational, national and transnational governmentality now must preoccupy themselves with the conduct of conduct by tracking digital e-haviors on informatic networks. Until the late 1990s, it was the offline involvements of people with family, community and nation—as public interests—that mostly guided civic conduct; at this juncture, however, growing Internet economies and societies seek to be accepted as another ethical e-public ground for normalizing any individual’s behaviour. Cybernetic domains are spaces under a special kind of subnational self-policing supervision fulfilled in the free flight of packet switching. The prospects for an informatic prosperity, which are looming ahead on a global scale, will not be possible without some manner of governmentality to guide ‘the controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production and the adjustment of the phenomena of population to economic processes’ (Foucault, 1980: 141).
Living in societies organized out of telematic networks will require a broad facility for coping with many different language games nested in new technocultures. Many decision-makers strive, however, to reduce such heterogeneous social, political and cultural elements to fit the logics of techno-economic performativity. That is, they struggle to manage
these clouds of sociality according to input/output matrices, following a logic which implies that their elements are commensurable and that the whole is deter-minable. They allocate our lives for the growth of power. In matters of social justice and of scientific truth alike, the legitimation of that power is based on its optimizing the system’s performance efficiency. The application of this criterion to all of our games necessarily entails a certain level of terror, whether soft or hard: be operational (that is, commensurable) or disappear. (Lyotard, 1984: xxiv)
Such decision rules acquire paramount importance for everyone in the telematic economies and societies of the current world system. The politics of networked places, connectivity spaces and digital domains, as Lyotard suggests, frequently revolve around one question: ‘who decides what knowledge is and who knows what needs to be decided? In the computer age, the question of knowledge is now more than ever a question of government’ (1984: 9). Whether the governed will be citizens or netizens is an intriguing question. The pervasiveness of today’s neoliberal market capitalist ideologies is rooted in a quest for focused efficiency; and, in turn, these basic cultural conditions of production are shaping the productive conditions of digitalization as much, or even more, than the boxes and wires themselves are remaking collective infrastructure.
Consequently, one finds that the online bourgeois of digital sites appears to have interests, capabilities and goals which appear as antithetical to those commonly shared by the offline citoyen of material cities. This flexible geometry of indefinite boundaries, open architectures and unfixed locations online in the ‘netropolis’ of ‘virtual life’ constantly contradicts the fixed geometries of definite boundaries, closed communities and inflexible locations offline in the ‘polis’ still out there in ‘the meat world’ in ‘real life’. Without a re-examination of new technology as lifeworld, we cannot assess the impact of new technologies on our existing lifeworlds (Ihde, 1990).
Netizenship as political culture can unfold within the containment vessels of the polis as digital democracy, electronic voting or online organizing, which would mark the net reshaping the polis to support e-citizenship, e-governance and e-management inside existing territorial jurisdictions (Bryan et al., 1998). Graeme Browning’s ‘how-to’ manual, for example, Electronic Democracy: Using the Internet to Influence American Politics (1996), is written to apply the net to this task. This ‘cyberage book’ has been urging readers since 1996 to use the net ‘to reach decision makers at all levels of government, research political issues, and effectively promote your causes’ in the ever accelerating effort ‘to become a successful online activist’. Yet, the Great Seal of the United States of America on a PC’s VDT, and the unfurled Stars and Stripes under the keyboard, as they are photographed on the cover of Browning’s manual for e-citizens, are only the first, and most obvious, application of this book’s cybernetic remediation of citizens within the polis. Saco’s Cybering Democracy (2000) addresses many of these concerns quite effectively. The net can also generate innumerable post-national, non-statal, territorial collectives of people in which any given polis is essentially accidental to the wiredness of some new netropolis (Hauben, 1997). The interests of identity and community articulated at www.islamicity.com, for example, are not necessarily the same as those at www.whitehouse.gov, www.senate.gov or www.house.gov. Indeed, the ‘actually transnational’ qualities of the net starkly contradict the ‘nominally national’ identities of their users (Reich, 1991).
Nevertheless, such a vision of netizenship is essentially the naive instrumentalist one that imagines ICT connectivity as such creates strong common interests, shared goals or communal values. Everyone on the net allegedly wants unconstrained and free connectivity to something, but sharing access to, and the use of, a set of telematic tools may not automatically create a free and equal fraternity of metanationals. In fact, there are many different varieties of netizens and netizenship, and they are still entangled in the technical dictates of the online interface and the consumerist expectations of offline use. The net is not one system with a single set of functionalities; it is instead a machinic collective of many things, diverse sites and varying capabilities resting upon multiple metanational links between both online and offline communities. And, as a result, many people in most nations end up ‘falling through the Net’ (National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 1995; 1998; 1999). A shared sense of common goals and interests still is in many ways incomplete, because the typical sources of its definition—a common economic life within shared markets or a common political life under a single sovereign authority that together might realize material security and physical safety—are not yet fully in place (Solomon, 1997). When, however, one’s financial life is mostly nested with something like eTrade, one’s commercial survival is tied to eBay, one’s mass media consumption is dependent upon Yahoo!, one’s family ties are maintained through AOL, and one’s business affairs are conducted through Commerce One.com, then a transnational basis emerges for discrete, diverse and divided groups to develop a united opposition to offline political interests as well as to other online political forces (Lewis, 1997).
This tendency to normalize the net and its political impact upon society is also found in Wayne Rash Jn.’s Politics on the Nets: Wiring the Political Process (1997). His celebration of the Internet highlights its ability to accelerate communication, open up multipoint communication to more audiences, and short-circuit the ‘filtering processes’ found in the mass media. While all of this is true, these positions tend to ignore other rapid forms of communication, downplay the problems of open multipoint communication, and suggest that the net is not somehow filtered in its workings.
Similarly, Rash apparently believes that the net will be accessible essentially all of the time to just about everyone. Waving off the negative impact of the net on politics, he argues that the democratic base of politics is broadened with the Internet as ‘a direct effect of opening electronic communications for the delivery of services and for the reception of interest and opinion’ (1997: 152). Because of this alleged openness, ‘outside of repressive societies politics and the nets will become one, and as a result it will look a lot like society because it will be a part of society’ (1997: 167). This might open up the political process to more political parties and groups, but it is unlikely to open up all domains of the net, or even most key decision-making centres on the net, to everyone simply because technology can drop ‘the price of entry onto the National stage to a level that nearly anyone can afford’ (1997: 169).
One increasingly may doubt, for example, the status and role of the territorialized national, or ‘the citizen’ born to subjectivity in a polis, or political structure, while revelling in the statuses and roles of a deterritorialized consumer/producer or ‘buyer and seller’ fulfilling the subjectivity of the agora or marketplace. As a consumer, it is an easy transition to adopt the status and role of a telematic node, or ‘the netizen’ whose subjectivity opens in the net. Caught up within many more complex language games, like other nodal points in a network, any individual can be a sender, a receiver and/or a referent in the relays routing informational flows. States with the technoeconomic ability to mount national information infrastructure initiatives, like the United States or Singapore, may do so, and thereby recast the spaces filled by their territorialized nationality to suit telematic nodality. Many regimes, however, lack the industry, initiative and/or infrastructure to transmogrify their constituents’ agency or state structures along such nationally informationalized lines. Consequently, other information infrastructure initiatives pursued by hardware makers, transnational telco alliances or dot.com entrepreneurs infiltrate most nations with performative protocols that suit the world’s most dominant businesses and great powers.
Some (Ohmae, 1990) celebrate this ‘borderless world’, others see it as a creative chaos (Kelly, 1994), and still others fear its inhumane/unfair/anti-egalitarian qualities (Virilio, 1997). Most importantly, the older embedded identities of territorial nationality at physical sites are being tested by newer user identities tied to telematic nodes generated for, by and of digital cites (Luke, 1996: 320-39). Where the informational world system has occupied much of the psychosocial space left for the traditional lifeworld, multiculturalist politics remediate the push and pull of nodal social forces (Beck, 1997). A nodal identity permits one to be located practically anywhere, because the net is almost everywhere. The ‘Other’ is just another ‘self’, and each self merely another other, always out there everywhere online and offline, so it pays to accept all other identities, communities, platforms and systems in the valorization of bits and commodities (Hillis, 1999). As long as basic connections can be maintained for sending and receiving the discursive core of any multiculturalized identity and community, the foundational referents of such metanational collectivities can easily flow anywhere in national spaces that their carriers’ personal and professional lives take them (Everard, 2000; Luke, 1998; Lyotard, 1984).
Furthermore, the disconnection of networked telematic ties from grounded organic traditions could enable new discursive formations beyond those of any nation’s kith and kin to reshape human identities in new cybernetic consumption communities formed around shared consumer goods, common mass media, mutual machine uses, coincident aesthetic preferences or parallel market niches (Jones, 1995). Spending one’s limited supplies of time online screen-to-screen means not engaging one’s attention and energy in the collective life of one’s face-to-face coresidents and contemporaries offline. Instead, compatriots in the shared territorial space of a metropolis often can be ignored as more and more e-migrate into cyberspace (Gilster, 1997). In this e-migration, new quarters of the netropolis begin to take shape:
Thousands of users spend many hours each week ‘living’ in virtual communities, each with its own residents and laws and even politics. In these virtual communities, users interact with others whom they know only in their online personas, which may be quite different from who they are in their offline hours; thus the ‘residents’ of virtual communities are more welcoming—and even more real—than the world with which they spend the rest of their time. (Carter, 1998: 195-6)
Quasi-cultures with some real solidity, therefore, begin to reproduce themselves on a global basis around the e-havior of e-lancing, e-commerce, e-voting, e-governance, and e-learning. Turkle’s musings about ‘life on the screen’ easily support such visions of e-migration out on to the cyberscapes of online environments (Johnson, 1997). In cyberspace, society and community become composite materials concocted out of the various codes, discourses and games composing the bitstream (Horn, 1998). New e-figurations for online collaboration ‘blur the boundaries between self and game, self and rule, self and simulation’ such that as one player observes, ‘“you are what you pretend to be … you are what you play.” But people don’t just become who they play, they play who they are or who they want to be or who they don’t want to be” (Turkle, 1997: 192).
The WYSIWYG aesthetics of a graphic user interface in multitasked, window-driven, cross-platform connectivity out on the nets essentially become ‘a powerful new metaphor for thinking about the self as a multiple, distributed system … The experience of this parallelism encourages treating on-screen and off-screen lives with a surprising degree of equality’ (1997: 21). No one single screen necessarily has primacy, and all of them operate in parallel according to the contingent configurations most appropriate at that time for the individuals and groups choosing to collaborate in this or that fashion (Luke, 1989). These tendencies, as Turkle suggests, point to netizens ‘taking things at their interface value’, or a political culture in which ‘people are increasingly comfortable with substituting representations of reality for the real’ (1997: 23). Jerry Everard takes on these issues of sovereignty in cyberspace in Virtual States: the Internet and the Boundaries of the Nation-State (2000). He quite correctly sees the state persisting into the era of networked economies and societies for quite solid material reasons: state domains, anchor economies and stage wars—all of these practices will continue in cyberspace. So Turkle might be right, but perhaps only within specific parameters.
In reviewing the contradictions of citizenship and netizenship, any analysis must consider newly emergent tendencies and unfolding possibilities. Despite what many would-be netizens claim, the net is still a comparatively small realm of user domains with relatively few hard and fast rules. Virtual life along with e-commerce, e-schooling, and e-governance are quite promising, but from a global perspective only a very privileged few now enjoy such online services. As Markham (1998) notes, real experience in virtual space can be very different from real life offline. Most people remain in the corporeal, material, substantial tracks of a life offline, and nationality for them continues to be a major determinant of their life chances. Today’s rhetorics of universal netizenship, then, must be examined carefully. On one level, these literatures may only be the latest expression for very modern forms of technified utopianism, which embed an enthusiasm for universal access to a new technology at the base of new designs for social transformation. The PC touts in Wired only recapitulate the now long-past millenarian dreams spun over the years by railroaders, aviators, radiomen, motorists, rocketeers and TV people in Popular Mechanics or Popular Science, who have imagined their new technics would remake humanity anew and for the better. On another level, however, successful would-be netizens also seem to be laying the foundations for cyber-secessionist movements from face-to-face markets, urban life, banks, public affairs, schools and social institutions, which only will accentuate and aggravate the already deep splits (Martin and Schumann, 1997; Reich, 1991) between the informationally competent classes (labelled by some as ‘symbolic analysts’ or ‘the successful fifth’) and the informationally obsolescent and superfluous classes (recognized by others as the deindustrialized underemployed or even underclass making up the unsuccessful remaining four-fifths of society).
On the net, one finds points of coincidence, cooperation and cofiguration condensing into new modes of transnational cohabitation—separate and apart from existing maps of familiar behaviours. As online identity and community are turned into normative ideals by information rhetorics and cybertechnics, they will begin to normalize the behaviour of individuals and populations as the behaviour of online game players, Napster users and Usenet regulars all suggest. Consequently, the accumulation of all the net’s operational components now constitutes a vast incorporeal engine of agency and structure in virtual realities (Kelly, 1998; Mattelart, 1994). Yet, these online cooperant possibilities are also finding other very concrete means for power to gain actualization, incarnation and effectuation offline in physical bodies and social groups. Being digital online is also digitalizing concrete modes of becoming offline in many remarkable ways. Therefore, the various ethical personae which are made in cyberspace as forms of digital being need to be tracked far more closely.
For three decades, the Internet, or the network of networks that this regrettably singular term still denotes, has evolved, first, in accord with military-bureaucratic plans and then, later, in concord with technical-corporate agendas. In both instances, the net’s
techno-economic action remains shielded from the demands of democratic legitimation by its own constitution. At the same time, however, it loses its non-political character. It is neither politics nor non-politics, but a third entity: economically guided action in pursuit of interests. (Beck, 1992: 222)
On the net, many varieties of economically guided action are pursuing national, corporate and personal monetary interests as performativity, just as Lyotard suggested. These dynamics, in which virtually everything in cyberspace becomes an I-mart, ironically and simultaneously also shield the networks from democratic legitimation, rob them of their non-political character, give them subpolitical powers, and lock their users into performativity games (Mattelart and Mattelart, 1992).
On one level, networks are simply rhetorical representations of various ideological projects, like Michael Dertouzos’ ‘information marketplace’, Bill Gates’ ‘friction-free capitalism’, and Nicholas Negroponte’s ‘being digital’, that dress out cybernetic goods and services in the semantic costumes of more traditional activities. On a second level, networks are a new global infrastructure of material systems—chips and cables, routines and routers, modems and machines all stacked up upon themselves. Such physical assets cannot be discounted entirely from cyberspace, because without these components nothing would operate. And, on a third level, networks are institutionalized entities whose code-carried infostructure coevolves hand-in-hand with its machine-made infrastructure. Control over specific segments of capital, labour, knowledge and communication, however, turns such big informatic systems into public spheres with their own virtual and material assets to serve, protect and defend (Habermas, 1989). Here bits reach out, touch someone, organize something, and then reconstitute both human acts and non-human artifacts into subpolitical clusters of operational performativity. Politics, or who dominates whom, from both the inside and the outside of which systems, becomes the most significant question for any system’s designers, owners and users as well as for the citizens of those nations that these networked systems criss-cross.
To explore these questions, this chapter has performed three tasks. First, it re-examined the politics and culture of an online economy and society in the lifeworld made by ICTs where national state structures, corporate market strategies and complex technoscience systems are all promoting highly individualized modes of life. Second, it reconsidered how governing with, and governance through, digital technics create new technically mediated identities and communities tied to online commerce, education and faith out of new media. Third, it reconsidered how existing literatures treat netizenship in contrast to citizenship and it looked at current visions of digital democracy. In many ways, they are imagined only as more flexible, specialized articulations of the televisual consumerist modes of political participation that have developed in the US since the 1950s, or as a much more aterritorial/nonstatal netropolitan life that might lead to forms of netizenship based upon a government by netizens, of the netizenry, and for netizenship in the workings of the net itself (Saco, 2000; Hauben, 1997).
This chapter also approached the question of political culture online by moving past the current literatures, in which governing with cybernetic technologies, by such means as online voting, digital citizenship and cybernetic party building, typically are celebrated. Instead of seeing netizenship as more of the same, only with computers, this discussion sought to problematize the performative sites and operational practices of citizenship by examining how intertwined they are with certain technics, built environments and machinic systems. Digital political behaviours are being imagined in today’s cybernetic writings to be just like embodied civic behaviours, but they are not. This recognition must lead us to a more critical exploration of the imbricate coevolution of human subjects and non-human objects in which, first, citizens cannot be easily separated from cities and, second, netizens ought not to be thought about apart from networks. Likewise, such developments in political culture should not be examined apart from the ongoing processes of modernization in which new informational technologies are integrated as part and parcel of new forms of personal agency being valorized by e-commerce and e-government.