why young people who grew up under network culture are so special

Back in April, The Wall Street Journal published a piece entitled The Most-Praised Generation Goes to Work. If I fondly recall my teachers always saying that my class was—collectively speaking—the worst class they had ever seen in their lives, the most-praised generation has had their egos relentlessly stroked by their Me Generation parents.

Just how this co-relates with Network Culture isn't entirely clear to me, but I'd love to hear your comments. After all, this blog is all about you.

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architecture of disappearance

I needed to show a new Netlab intern the maps from Banham's Los Angeles, Architecture of Four Ecologies and realized that I had left the original behind. Luckily, Google Books had a copy here, strangely however, in their quest to remove copyrighted images, Google's censors (human? algorithmic?) had gone awry and had started producing art such as this image:

malibu houses

Is this meticulous work the result of someone emulating Justin Jorgesen's Obscene Interiors in which amateur pornography is removed, leaving only amateur decor? (Jorgensen's project is a recapitulation of Naomi Uman's 1999 film Removed and not all that different from John Haddock's Internet Sex Photos or Laura Carton's Fictive Porn series or Jo Broughton's Empty Porn Set series…the list seems to go on endlessly…thanks to my crack team of researchers for these) Or is this a sly commentary by the Google AI (which is reputed to be feasting on all the world's books) on a future immaterial world? Or perhaps it is evidence of the state of Los Angeles architecture, (in Banham's time as today)… in which branded, signature work is an alibi for the careful removal of traces of anything but bottom-line-driven developer design from the landscape?

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paranoia, institutionalized

At the Washington Post (via Wired), you can read about yet another instance of unreasonable behavior by the post-9/11 national security state, in this case, the unlawful harrassment of a photographer shooting a random installation that turns out to be the DARPA headquarters.

Through actions such as this one—or the calculatingly demeaning but ineffectual "remove your shoes" security measures at the airport—the Bush-Cheney regime builds a regime of fear.

Then again, perhaps their fears are warranted…after all, a bunch of photographers, plane spotters, and the like, could cause a great deal of trouble.

On the positive side, I had zero harrassment while I was taking photographs for the infrastructural city book in Los Angeles, including this one, not far from city hall.

little tokyo showgirls

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los angeles, the infrastructural city

chevron refinery, el segundo
I am back after a five day research trip to my old base of Los Angeles.
I took hundreds of digital photos and slides (with my Contax G2) for Los Angeles, Infrastructural City, a Netlab project done in collaboration with the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design.
This will be my second book with ACTAR and is slated to be published late this fall or early in the winter. Read more about it at the Netlab site here.

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little people

Slinkachu's Little People – A Tiny Street Art Project, is immediately captivating. But it also has a deeper resonance for me. Left out in the streets of London, these people are, quite literally doomed, unless brought home by a caring stranger. But this isn't a project about alienation to me as much as about self-sacrifice. The sacrifice these little people make leads me to think of our own desire to lose ourselves in the world (see my previous post about Jordan Crandall's showing). This makes me think a bit about Internet spammers too, blindly casting out their emails into a world that doesn't care, that ignores them as much as possible. I've noticed that over the course of the last year, more and more spam is utter nonsense, even verging on dadaist poetry. What drives us to lose ourselves in a larger whole?

tiny street art

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the return of big computing

This may be an appropriate article to begin a new feature on varnelis.net. A few times a month (if that), I'll be sending out more lengthy or provocative posts via email in hopes of stimulating more discussion and to avoid the perennial emails to my colleagues suggesting that they go read my blog. If you're reading this post that way, it's because you're a member of my "inner circle." If not, and you want to be, try signing up in the block on the right of the page. Contact me if it doesn't work.

In any event…

Vijay Patel sent me a link to this article by Nick Carr in the Guardian: Software Companies are Building Their Way to a Very Material Future. In the article, Carr points to a new building boom among computing firms such as Google or Microsoft. Remember Manuel de Landa's thesis that meshworks lead to hierarchies and hierarchies lead to meshworks? This is perfect evidence of the case, as these large corporations require ever bigger data centers for their massive server farms.

microsoft data center under construction

From the 1970s onward, the paradigm of big computing broke down as more and more computational power came to reside in personal computers. Many readers of this blog are probably too young to remember those pre-web days when you would go to a lab to connect up to a mainframe via like a DEC PDP-11 over a dumb terminal; my first experience computing, in fact, was over an ASR-33 teletype. Eventually, as the story of joyous liberation goes, power was distributed to the PC.

But it's a myth to think that the Net is distributed, either physically or somehow inherently, in its ideology.

Don't mistake network culture for distributed culture. Far from it.*

The migration of the means of production back up to the web and the growth of social networking sites is generating a mass wave of consolidation and aggregation. As the Internet has grown, so has the share of Internet traffic dominated by the top ten web sites (see this article by Richard McManus). We may be seeing a thousand flowers bloom at the level of content production, but control is in the hands of the few.

And now, with Web 2.0 taking hold, we have software applications migrating to the Web. This is attractive for individuals since licenses are often free in exchange for precious demographic data that would otherwise be unavailable—hence no more need to pirate—and to corporations since annual leases can be more conveniently written off than outright purchases.

But it also suggests that after three decades of the means of production drifting downward into our hands, they are beginning to slip away from us again. The meshworks are breeding new hierarchies.

I don't see this as a positive step. I also don't hold much faith that agitation on the part of the anarcho-libertarian streak on the Internet is going to change matters much. Rather, as network culture develops, we find the coils of the serpent that is capital tightening again. Indeed, this seems to be a salient feature of network culture: that if big computing 1.0 was Fordist, and the PC was post-Fordist, then big computing 2.0 is a hallmark of network culture. In future posts, I hope to explore what this means.

*Some day I should come up with a list of my key theses. This should be one of them.

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Showing Off

At nettime, Jordan Crandall posted a great salvo entitled "Showing."

An excerpt:

new cultures of self-display challenge us to rethink foundational
concepts in film and media theory and, consequently, to rethink the very
conditions of our approach. For clearly these cultures are not
necessarily those of mastery and visual pleasure. They do not resolve
easily to questions of perception, power, and language. They are cultures
of showing as much as those of watching. Instead of a reliance on
questions of spectatorship, language, and scopic power, we are challenged
to foreground issues of performance, affect, and display.

Jordan's text is compelling to me because it raises aspects of network culture that I've underplayed in my essay to date. For if new means of self-expression are available to us, I've undertheorized just why we choose to show. Jordan's perspective, which draws on Foucauldian and psychonanalytic theories, helps get at this issue.

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