Anton Jäger On Bowling Alone

  • Bowling Alone (2000) by Robert Putnam should be seen in context with the “civic crisis literature” of the 1990’s.
  • What Putnam predicted about the internet has held up well.
  • Social capital is a measure/concept responding to “the demands of quantification”. Social capital is a purely individualistic and instrumental view of social ties.
  • There is no mention of the Volcker shock or union density in Bowling Alone.
  • Party political life in the mid-20th century (example of french communists) was not merely instrumental but wholly social, sacrificial. Church and party had an active stake in personal life.
  • The internet should be considered as a social form itself. Online has neutralized and sanitized risk.
  • The British Tories were the first mass party.
  • Assumption: right-wing associations have survived so that’s why they are stronger. Actually it’s even worse, the right has the advantage of operating in capitalism and increases in asset prices sustain homeowners associations.
  • The decline in social capital drives social inequality. Middle class associational life has weathered the storm as simple economic power floats middle class ties.
  • Police unions are very strong. All this said, some right-wingers perceive that the crisis is even worse on the right.
  • Neo-feudal notion that “we’ve all become peasants” is false. Peasants were self-sufficient and Marx said that they don’t have the experience of social labour. Now the work we do on a laptop is extremely social.

Martin Gurri on Generation Z, Elites & Institutional Change

Young men in an internet cafe, December 2022.

20th Century institutions have no idea how to deal with 21st Century virtual-world young people. The elites in the 20th Century had it good but the “digital tsunami” has blown everything up. The elites want to talk about “matters of control” and regulation (global warming etc.) whereas the public is concerned with the economy. We have to think about what we want left after the digital revolution. Online, you are decontextualized, ahistorical, flattened, your digital self is “mutilated”, everything is fluid and open to any behaviour (you have no more “imperative”). This is how Generation Z has grown up. The Pentagon leaker testifies to this view: he got top secret documents and showed them to his friends online “look what I just saw”. For this generation, “history is where bad things happened” and you can’t learn from it, only repudiate it. On the internet “you’re just you”, the old broadcast/institutional ways of communicating are dead. What’s the solution? We need a better elite class rather than the current reactionary/defensive elite class.

“Mock trials,” Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan and Gawker

“Yet unlike Denton, Thiel wasn’t content to simply ballpark his odds. He wanted proof that the case had the legs to go the distance. What can we know that they don’t know? Where’s our edge? He spent nearly $100,000 for his lawyers to conduct not one but two mock trials in Florida. Gather up a bunch of prospective jurors, pay them by the hour, and run the case in front of them. Judge every reaction, learn everything they like and don’t like. No self-serving assumptions, no generous assessment of our strengths. The purpose? As Harder presents their case to these jurors in a nondescript hotel conference room—he wants the hard facts. What’s our worst case and how does it stack up against their best case? Where is Gawker strong and where are we weak? What do we have to do to beat them? What they find is that even ceding certain advantages to Gawker, Hogan’s case plays very well.

It is with a kind of nasty glee, more characteristic of Gawker than anyone else, that Thiel’s team would recount to me, several times, a discovery which they would exploit, which very well might have been the deciding factor in the entire case. In those expensive mock juries, they had discovered that their case played exceedingly well to a very specific type of person. ‘It became very clear that the kind of jurors we wanted were overweight women. Most people can’t empathize with a sex tape, but overweight women are sensitive about their bodies and feel like they have been bullied on the internet. …'”

Ursula Franklin on technology and “reciprocity”

“And now I’d like to focus for a moment on the human consequences which are particularly evident in what are called the communications technologies, and which I would like to call the “non-communications” technologies because very often that word, “communication”, is a misnomer. Whenever human activities incorporate human machines or rigidly prescribed procedures, the modes of human interaction change. In general, technical arrangements reduce or eliminate reciprocity. Reciprocity is some manner of interactive give and take, a genuine communication among interacting parties. For example, a face-to-face discussion or a transaction between people needs to be started, carried out, and terminated with a certain amount of reciprocity. Once technical devices are interposed, they allow a physical distance between the parties. The give and take —that is, the reciprocity— is distorted, reduced, or even eliminated.

Any reciprocity is ruled out by design. This loss of reciprocity is a continuing form of technologically executed inequality. It has very profound political and psychological consequences.

I’d like to stress that reciprocity is not feedback. Feedback is a particular technique of systems adjustment. It is designed to improve a specific performance. The performance need not be mechanical or carried out by devices, but the purpose of feedback is to make the thing work. Feedback normally exists within a given design. It can improve the performance but it cannot alter its thrust or the design. Reciprocity, on the other hand, is situationally based. It’s a response to a given situation. It is neither designed into the system nor is it predictable. Reciprocal responses may indeed alter initial assumptions. They can lead to negotiations, to give and take, to adjustment, and they may result in new and unforeseen developments.

I emphasized earlier the extent to which the new technologies of image procurement have invaded the real world of technology. By design, these technologies have no room for reciprocity. There is no place for response.”

Franklin is writing in 1990, shortly before mass uptake of the internet. The same point—if made today—would require a caveat about how the internet enables interactivity. Indeed, simulated reciprocity is a major part of many internet business models. In Franklin’s terms, much of this pseudo-reciprocity would actually be “feedback.” Beyond pseudo-reciprocity from “the source” of communication to the user, there are endless attempts to create contexts—”communities”—where users can provoke fellow feeling in one another so that they form a warm association with the product or service.