What happens next will warm your heart
27 January – 5 February 2022
Platform companies are centralising. The vast power that they hold concentrates and consolidates. As platforms and states mix, new sovereign forms begin to emerge. The border of the cloud and the loop of the land blend, blur, and become confused. The closed worlds of walled gardens now built at planetary scale.
Network effects drive ever more traffic through the proprietary infrastructures of platforms. These private businesses are able to instrumentalise information in novel ways utilising established logics of extraction, accumulation, expropriation, and exploitation. The forces of production and class relations however, are further abstracted, and as a result, harder to challenge and oppose.1
Not only do platforms own and control network infrastructures as intermediaries, but they design and manage their flows, automating social relations as they go. Their governing logics increasingly come to define what is and isn’t probable, what is and isn’t plausible, and what is and isn’t possible.
The hegenomic forces of this oligopoly actively depoliticise and abstract private platform actors and imperatives. Certain illusions and myths must be maintained to serve as justifications for the present. Platform companies need to legitimise and reinforce themselves in order to reproduce themselves; and in doing so they simultaneously preclude and foreclose radical and emancipatory alternatives.
A certain mono-technological culture prevails. It relies on a universal model of technology and determinist understandings of its transformative force within the ‘progress’ of history.2 The world is reproduced in its image and images are reproduced in its world. Its realities are being made through algorithms. Not only do they reinscribe preexisting knowledge (ignorance, bias, and all) but they generate and form it.
At the level of the user these algorithmic regimes appear to us regularly through interfaces. We usually see straight past them and their processes of mediation. Even if we were to try to grasp them, we can only catch a glimpse.
As users, their cognitive maps become ours: parameters are set, affordances determined, and users’ experiences delimited by particular organisational arrangements. These regimes are ideological in how they sublimate the world. Smaller gestures that on first sight may appear benign, are routinised and
amplified to an imperturbable universal. As platforms centralise they too homogenise, tending towards a singular form, a singular voice, a singular platform politico-aesthetics.
1The workers that maintain and hold up this infrastructure are often dehumanised and made hyper-precarious, amongst various processes of necropolitical desubjectificification. They are left invisible and forgotten. From subcontracted YouTube content moderators to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk microtaskers, employee-residents of Foxconn, the child labourers who mine cobalt, coltan, and other ‘conflict minerals’ in the DRC; the list goes on, further and deeper than is known. On the other hand, those who have assumed and accumulated vectoralist power can all too easily abdicate their very influence in order to eschew responsibility for their wrongdoings. This presents a moral hazard: those making the decisions are removed from their worst effects.
2We cannot continue along such determinist lines. Both technophiliac and technophobic tendencies are reductive and myopic. To approach emergent technologies more critically, we need to do so without blanket despair or naive optimism. Instead, should we follow in a Marxist tradition for example, one could attempt to understand technologies in relation to other organisational forms and through their interdependence and contingency with various institutional and administrative arrangements, production and labour processes, relations to nature, reproduction of daily life and of the species, as well as mental conceptions of the world.