Off the Network

Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World

ULISES ALI MEJIAS
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctt3fh6jh
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  • Book Info
    Off the Network
    Book Description:

    The digital world profoundly shapes how we work and consume and also how we play, socialize, create identities, and engage in politics and civic life. Indeed, we are so enmeshed in digital networks-from social media to cell phones-that it is hard to conceive of them from the outside or to imagine an alternative, let alone defy their seemingly inescapable power and logic. Yes, it is (sort of) possible to quit Facebook. But is it possible to disconnect from the digital network-and why might we want to? Off the Network is a fresh and authoritative examination of how the hidden logic of the Internet, social media, and the digital network is changing users' understanding of the world-and why that should worry us. Ulises Ali Mejias also suggests how we might begin to rethink the logic of the network and question its ascendancy. Touted as consensual, inclusive, and pleasurable, the digital network is also, Mejias says, monopolizing and threatening in its capacity to determine, commodify, and commercialize so many aspects of our lives. He shows how the network broadens participation yet also exacerbates disparity-and how it excludes more of society than it includes. Uniquely, Mejias makes the case that it is not only necessary to challenge the privatized and commercialized modes of social and civic life offered by corporate-controlled spaces such as Facebook and Twitter, but that such confrontations can be mounted from both within and outside the network. The result is an uncompromising, sophisticated, and accessible critique of the digital world that increasingly dominates our lives.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8452-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    On may 31, 2010, an estimated thirty-three thousand people¹ committed suicide in a collective wave of global proportions. In the opinion of the media, however, the aggregated death of those thousands was essentially insignificant.² Thankfully, no blood was spilled that day, since the act of annihilation in question involved permanently deleting one’s Facebook account in what came to be known as Quit Facebook Day—an expression of rage over the company’s privacy policies for some, and of disillusionment with virtual life for others. In the words of an early advocate, “The movement could reach epidemic levels if more users kill...

  5. PART I. THINKING THE NETWORK
    • 1 THE NETWORK AS METHOD FOR ORGANIZING THE WORLD
      (pp. 3-18)

      This book investigates how the digital network forms part of a capitalist order that reproduces inequality through participation and how this participation exhibits a hegemonic and consensual nature. It describes the emergence of a network episteme that organizes knowledge according to reductionist logic and exposes the limits of trying to counter this logic on its own terms. Additionally, it explores the motivations and strategies for “unmapping the network,” a process of generating difference and disidentification. While these themes are considered in detail in subsequent chapters, here I will attempt to establish a general framework for their discussion.

      The digital network...

    • 2 THE PRIVATIZATION OF SOCIAL LIFE
      (pp. 19-36)

      In his book The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, Yochai Benkler suggests that the information economy has ushered in an era of human cooperation in which the limits of capitalism are transcended by new models of social production, facilitated to a large extent by digital networks.¹ These open, commons-based peer production models (which challenge the old economic models) position humans not in the traditional role of competitors in the market, but as collaborators in a social environment. According to Benkler, in these networks “a good deal more that human beings value can now be done...

    • 3 COMPUTERS AS SOCIALIZING TOOLS
      (pp. 37-54)

      In his book Images of Organization, Gareth Morgan proposes a way of understanding organizations through the metaphors employed to describe them. One can imagine organizations, he argues, as machines that process inputs and outputs, organisms that interact with their environments, brains that learn from their experiences, cultures that enact the shared reality of their constituents, political systems that manage conflicting interests, or psychic prisons that impose restrictions on our actions and thoughts. Each one of these metaphors provides us with a different vision of what social organizations are, what our role within them is, and how they should be managed....

    • 4 ACTING INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE NETWORK
      (pp. 55-78)

      Digital networks mediate our social realities according to templates where certain forms of sociality are algorithmically operable and others are impossible for the algorithm to perform. Because these templates are increasingly subordinated to for-profit interests, it is important to explore how they structure the formation of the self, and what other models for conforming the self outside these templates are available. However, the problem with framing the question this way is that it already presupposes a separation between our networked and unnetworked selves. A neat separation between a networked world and a world that remains untouched by digital networks is...

  6. PART II. UNTHINKING THE NETWORK
    • 5 STRATEGIES FOR DISRUPTING NETWORKS
      (pp. 81-94)

      Whereas it took seventy-one years for the telephone to reach half of the homes in the United States, it took only ten years for the same portion of households to get access to the Internet.¹ Certainly, the possibilities associated with the Internet—and with digital networks in general—have not run out their course. But regardless of how new or old technologies are, it is always necessary to question their impact in the political and economic planes in which they operate. At some point, it might even be necessary to set about the task of unthinking the way they have...

    • 6 PROXIMITY AND CONFLICT
      (pp. 95-122)

      Harish lives in Chennai, India. He works for a U.S. company that has outsourced most of its operations. The company’s clients are located in North America, while those who provide them with services, like Harish, are in India. His daily routine is not atypical for someone in similar circumstances. After spending the day training new recruits, the other part of his job begins: “At seven-thirty in the evening, when it’s 9 a.m. in New York, he confers with the American banking clients for whom he tailors his training, to insure that he is emphasizing the right skills. And then he...

    • 7 COLLABORATION AND FREEDOM
      (pp. 123-142)

      The terms commons-based peer production, social production, Wikinomics,¹ open content, infoanarchism, or as I will simply refer to it here, peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing, may not describe exactly the same thing, but they collectively outline a new model of production and sharing in which people—organized in nonhierarchical digital networks—contribute to decentralized projects, often without financial compensation. The labor generated by the participation of these peers sometimes contributes to a common good that is collectively owned by everybody (Wikipedia is a well-known example). But as we saw in the first part of this book, the effort of these peers is...

  7. PART III. INTENSIFYING THE NETWORK
    • 8 THE LIMITS OF LIBERATION TECHNOLOGIES
      (pp. 145-152)

      During the most intense days of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, comedy writer Haisam Abu-Samra wrote about the challenges, and the opportunities, of suddenly experiencing a government-imposed Internet shutdown (in what has become a standard practice during popular revolts, the administration of Hosni Mubarak—in collaboration with Egyptian and Western corporations—suspended access to digital networks in an attempt to diminish the power of activists). While not being able to use mobile phones and web services to communicate with family, friends, and fellow activists contributed to a sense of panic and chaos, Abu-Samra argued that it also brought a clarity of...

    • 9 THE OUTSIDE OF NETWORKS AS A METHOD FOR ACTING IN THE WORLD
      (pp. 153-162)

      Imagine a network map, with its usual nodes and links. Now shift your attention away from the nodes, to the negative space between them. In network diagrams, the space around a node is rendered in perfect emptiness, stillness, and silence. But this space is far from barren. We can give a name to that which networks leave out, that which fills the interstices between nodes with noise, and that which resists being assimilated by the network: paranode. In neuroscience, the paranodal defines a specific type of cellular structure that, while not part of the neural network, plays an important role...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 163-176)
  9. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 177-188)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 189-193)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 194-197)