26 Jan

Live-blogging the readings: Hand (2008)

Live-blogging the readings continues with:

Hand, Martin, (2008) “Hardware to everyware: Narratives of promise and threat”, Making digital cultures : access, interactivity, and authenticity pp.15-42, Aldershot: Ashgate

Pages 15-19 are a great overview of some of the debates we’ve already covered elsewhere (I recognised some of the readings from IDEL, and some articles that Hand cites which cover similar content to Hannam et al (2006), Leander et al (2010) and Licoppe (2004)). This is a useful place to come back to when starting some of my own research.

First Generation Web studies: the 1990s.

Hand deconstructs the binary that “‘first generation’ Web studies” (1990s) constructed of ‘cyberspace’ and meatspace (19-20). The new world of ‘cyberspace’ was an imagined utopia: democratic, post-national (or trans-national), anarchic, interactive, globalised. (Later, he will show a second generation characterising this as a ‘de-democratic e-topia’, p. 32).

Hand suggests that governments perceive that

globally dispersed information represents a threat to traditional stragetegies of information ownership and policing (such as copyright, intellectual property, censorship, surveillance).

As Andrejevic (2013) and others argue, however, new forms of data enables greater control of information: greater censorship, greater surveillance, more draconian control of intellectual property and copyright. I regularly buy novels on my Kindle and then buy a second hard copy so I can loan it to a friend; I can only make 5 copies of a song I bought on iTunes and often lose older songs from too many versions ago; my employer is able to see every article I read, even the stuff I read wirelessly on my tablet in my lunch break; they are able to read the content of every piece of e-mail I send or recieve via my work account, even email I read and write from home.

Hand (2015) p. 23

Hand (2008) p. 23

All of this talk, on page 23-24, of the end of’ vertical’ governance drives me wild. Even in the most seemingly ‘top down’ totalitarian states, various kinds of networks and interactions were taking place. While broadcast communications may have seemed ‘vertical, hierarchical and one-directional’, they were being informed by multiple kinds of interaction, interferrance, and backchannel. The content of the BBC propagandist radio broadcasts during World War II, for example, (the subject of my PhD) was subject to reader surveys, commentary articles, reviews, and correspondence. Moreover, there was a lively analogue backchannel of theatrical reperformance, of in-person discussion, and of personal networks of correspondence. And this is just the things that we know about from archives: all kinds of unrecorded ‘multi-centred, networked and decentralized’ interactions were almost certainly going on. Even in Nazi Germany there is some evidence of this kind of interferrance (I am drawing both on my own research, and Fox (2006) here).

I am completely confused about the idea that it is the Net that will enable a participatory governement. I can’t quite think what people thought we were doing in the ‘old days': not going to sit in Parliament, not reading newspapers, not going to Town Hall meetings, not writing to the editor of the local paper, not printing out flyers, or door knocking, or signing petitions, or protesting. In the same way, I am confused by the argument that the Net enables a new participatory writing culture. I’ve ranted about this before. Hand later calls this ‘digital enchantment’ (p. 36).

I must read Castells, 1996, and 1997a. I think there is a very interesting connection between the trans-national cyberspace utopia, and the neo-liberal utopia of transnational corporations of

restructuring… through governmental efforts to deregulate, privatize, and dismantle the social contract betweeen capital and labour. p. 25.

Hand addresses some of the concerns I raise here in his next section (pp.29-30). For example, he characterises Borja and Castells’ (1996) argument as ‘a fusion of the Greek polis with the technologies of the 21st century’ (29) and cites Brown (1997) linking networked surveillance to Foucault’s panopticon prison.

Finally: on the one hand  Poster 2006 suggests that ‘digital conditions of culture mean thte the creation of works, their unlimited reproduction, and infinite distribution are functions at the disposal of everyone who has access to networked computers’. On the other hand, as pointed out above, DRM. (Hand does talk about DRm, on p. 37). Also, something to do with Borges and the Infinite Library. (I found this fascinating pre-Kindle blog from 2009 while searching for another article (some sort of think-piece in something like the New Yorker, I read some years ago, that I now can’t find.) I’m sure this is significant–even with Google things can be lost).

Second-generation Web studies: the 2000s. 

Digital information does not circulate outside of material structures. p. 28

The internet is incredibly slow in Australia, even in cities. In Melbourne, some suburbs now have fibre-optic cables, but where we live it’s still working on an old telephonic network of copper wires. In rural Australia it is even more problematic. (And the roll out of a National Broadband Network has been stalled for political reasons.) (See hand pp. 33-4 discussing such ‘social informatics’ in the US, UK and Canada. The catagories used for Canada (Erickson, 2002) are most useful to describe the Australian experience).

The imminent explosion of the Internet of Things promises to make this more the case than less (and also underlines some of the inherent risks of a network that is not purely imaginary).

Hands (2015), p. 30

Hands (2008), p. 30

At this moment, Hands uses the term ‘Orwellian': and it is instructive to remember that one of the most terrifying aspects of Orwell’s novel 1984 was the way that as well as  you watching the television, the television watched you.

Bauman’s ‘liquid modernity’ (2000) is invoked here, and Bauman reminds us that web-interactivity is hugely asymmetrical. The 1:10:90 rule (see van Mierlo (2014)) reminds us that even in apparently ‘democratic’ and interactive platforms like forums, wikis and social media, only about 1% of users will actually create content; most people will ‘lurk’, or consume the content ‘pure and unalloyed watching is thier lot’ (Bauman, 1998, p. 53)–their contribution limited to upvoting, liking, or just being recorded as clickthroughs. The other 10% are ‘curators’, collecting and sharing the content  created by the 1% out to the consuming 90%. See p.39 for a discussion of how this maps onto digital citizenship vs ‘the “push-button” nature of digitally mediated political life’ (Street 1997).

Like Bauman, Dawson and Foster (1998) agree with Andrejevic (these are the ‘others’ mentioned above):

new technologies actually increase the possibilities of centralized control for some, maintaining existing consertvative sociopolitical practices, rather than undermining or disrupting them. p. 31

This ‘technophobic’, pessimistic view leads into a series of ‘moral panics’ (see Danah Boyd’s work on networked teens, as well as the IoT malware panic linked above).

I’m once again confused through by the historicity of the arguments. The dystopian views of the future imagines ‘monadic citadels’ with ‘neo-feudal’ (Umberto Eco) ghettos (p. 33). This is apprently caused by ‘digital technologies… stripping away the mutual face-to-face bonds of pre-modern forms of community and civility’ (p. 33). PRE-MODERN IS FEUDAL, GUYS. Pre-modern can be good or bad, feudal can be good or bad–I don’t care, but you can’t have your historical cake and eat it too.

I would like to see some discussion of digital citizenship that takes into account major hacks and leaks: most notably Wikileaks (though I realise this only came into global prominence 2 years after Hand’s article was published).

On page 38, Hand finally acknowledges the ‘line of thought weaving through Heidigger, Benjamin and Baudrillard’ (Taylor and Harris, 2005). The age digital reproduction, we might see, as an age of ‘atomized anti-society of privitized consumers of inauthentic simulacra’–concerns we see actively explored in eighteenth-century plays, Victorian novels, 1920s essays, and mid-century films.


Unlike earlier live blogs, I wrote this is a circular way, interspersing new references from the article into earlier paragraphs. Hand’s article was subtly parallell, and dialogic, so it made sense to write about it in a mix of referrings back (lots of ‘above’s, which I briefly considered linking as anchors), and interpolating new text.


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