blog posting by Arie Altena
The second Skype presentation is by Douglas Rushkoff, who wrote the book Media Virus back in the early nineties (it came out in 1995). He still thinks that the idea of media viruses is partly misunderstood. He goes back to the era of faxes, which were used for sending long ridiculous jokes around, and when, end of the 1980s, the media space was slowly becoming interactive. If this space would become more turbulent, emergent characteristics would appear from the chaos. As ideas spread through biological apparatuses, similarly ideas could spread through media spaces. The quintessential media virus being the Rodney King tape, which spread uncontrollable through the media, partly because it was a story about media. It was a story not about a black man being beaten by cop, but a video about what was captured on camera. He makes a longer biological analogy. There's the shell and the ideas inside the shell. A virus needs both. It needs virulent memetic code inside it that provokes a response that we cannot escape. Describes advertisers and marketeers as people who operate in the mythological space, where social relations are replaced by myths, namely instead of buying cookies from persons, buying them from a mythological company (a brand). Social marketing is therefore an oxymoron. (In fact he rages very much against this, and against companies, and with reason). The question instead is: can we promote memes that are beneficial to the world? Especially in the US this is about putting on a battle against non-beneficial memes, against stupid ideas. (I miss a layer here I think, Rushkoff was presenting this in a more complex way). Also he refers to stories as the way through which we created values. Stories operate in a linear way; memes instead do not operate linearly, they one could say operate in a fractal space, multi-dimensionally (not Euclidean).
What has happened between 1992 and now? According to Rushkoff 'they' (the would-be cultural controllers) still do not understand how cultural viruses function. They do not understand the 'memetic' landscape and therefore do not even know which memes to create and propagate. Because they do not understand the non-fiction memetic space, culture -- and how it functions and could be made better.
There is a pronounced political message 'behind' Rushkoff's talk -- the question is to create alternative political ideas and implement them -- be they gay marriage, sustainable energy, taking away the stupidity, the rampant commercialism. He does blame the marketeers for a lot of the stupidity.
During the discussion also he emphasizes that USENET and the Well were not real-time environments, that comments would take a day to get in. More playing chess by mail and less immediate. In fact the internet, technologically, is asynchronous. The marketeers instead emphasized the real-time idea and sold this to us, the always on-idea. He hates to admit that literary culture might be coming to an end. He actually connects literary culture to books and the press (mentions Walter Ong). I would like to stress the transformation of literary culture. But yes, that also needs that we steer away from the 'the constant chasing the moment', that we learn to concentrate again, that we develop different interfaces, other ways of interaction. HTML was replaced by Facebook, and homepages by the multiple choice identity Facebook give us.
The 'cultural controllers' are doing that, says Rushkoff, selling us the 'real time' and its interfaces. (He btw. doesn't use the term real time). A lot he mentions connects directly to the recent criticisms in the first part of Jaron Lanier's book You are not a gadget, as well as to a couple of things Nicholas Carr on Roughtype has been writing about (from a slightly different perspective).
(And maybe I should mention here that I just finished an article about the transformation of literary culture for the Dutch magazine De Gids which touches on some of these issues. It will, hopefully be in the next issue. It pleads amongst others, for the creation of 'tools' which facilitate concentrated reading and reflection, instead of instant response. It's in Dutch. It's why I pretty much forget to report on Rushkoff's use of the terms meme and memetics, and stress these points, which clearly Rushkoff is very passionate about).
The internet Rushkoff got to know was an education space. Our interfaces now instruct us to be users, consumers, experiments in perpetuating consumer culture. It makes producers into the new consumers. That is, indeed, a 'bad' thing. Computers have become modeling tools, instead of being machines to create models.
Florian asks of we have arrived at the moment of resignation that media theory reached with Baudrillard in the 1980s? The time of 'the depressed postmodernists' as Rushkoff terms them. The difference is, says Rushkoff, is that we now can create ourselves, which is a reason for hope, as well as the fact that we are actually connected to people across the internet. rather than just deconstruct for ourselves, we can deconstructed for the others as well, and can be done in real time, on the networks and interfaces that are looking to monetize the networks. So there is… hope… beyond the LOLCATs.
17:00. The call with Rushkoff is ended, the conference too. And without correcting I'll upload this text.