Orality is power; social media let us be controlled?
Computers make more and more aspects of work into data that can be collected and monitored, according to Shoshana Zuboff’s In the Age of the Smart Machine (1984), writes Rob Horning in The New Inquiry, and he takes her argument forwards into the age of the smart phone:
Executive prerogative is to not be quantified, to mandate the quantification of others. Call it leadership. You have the information necessary to lead and keep others from accessing that total picture.
He quotes Zuboff:
Senior executives, because of the authority they enjoy, have been able to preserve the orality of their culture, perhaps more successfully than any other group. This serves to maintain the conditions that support their authority, as it protects the opacity of their know-how.
That would explain how mysterious and non-transparent the higher-level running of the university (and probably about anywhere else) seems to be.
It follows, Horning argues, that the way to have power is to keep your job from being quantified: to keep it oral. And it means that the Quantified Self movement (and perhaps my penchant for blogging and so forth) is a way of controlling myself by using the means of the oppressor, as it were:
You serve the data which serves someone else’s ends of controlling you, according to non-qualitative, non-intuitive standards that must be imposed from outside.
Horning argues that this is slipping into social life too, with a parallel argument to Andrejevic‘s: social media record every step of social life:
The attack on unrecorded sociality, on its existance as an ephemeral, oral phenomenon, is an effort to subsume social behavior as a productive form of work. (..) On social media, we are encouraged to create “value” in the sense of personal-identity elaboration and microcelebrity, but we are not encouraged to seize control of the process as something monetizable. Our data in these media belong to someone else, no matter what “value” we got out of creating it (or having it passively created for us). We don’t see the whole picture of how our data is used; we are “trained” only in the basic procedures of logging ourselves in, uploading and “sharing,” and, of course, consuming.
This actually makes the “pink bloggers”, those much-maligned teens who aspire to making millions of their blogs, seem rather more empowered and savvy than the rest of us who just use social media with no expectation of making a personal profit.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we represent ourselves online through social media, often using quantification and visualization, and this is certainly a critical perspective to include. (found via Ian Bogost’s Facebook feed)
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