Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Emotionalization - The Internet in the "architecture of consciousness."

Last time I wrote about the emergence of affect as observed in Occupy Wall Street. This near-global protest movement has engaged hundreds of people in an invigorated movement aimed at the greed of the financial sector and their facilitators in related industries and in government. I suggested that the protests resulted from the connection of Internet-based material with a new emotional intensity. In an endless feedback, Internet media identifies and sustains the immediacy of affect - emotion in the raw.

US academic (and long term friend) Lawrence Grossberg showed how affect linked directly with the formation of rock n roll to generate a social movement that defined the 1960s and 1970s. It was a kind of collective emancipatory logic that congealed around what Grossberg called "affective alliances." This theory offers a way of elaborating on the current situation, where the shared territory of human emotions operates within a limited space offered by the computer monitor or, the monitor space.

In Uprising: The Internet's Unintended Consequences (2011, Common Ground Press) I wrote about the way the "monitor space" of desktop computers, laptops and handheld devices operate to make possible a new subjective territory. It is unregulated by social forces, freed from Enlightenment notions of responsibility or law to offer unregulated engagement with others - both real and virtual.

This kind of emancipation from regulation means that the constraints that moderated our emotions have been removed. The Internet makes it possible to respond immediately to things we see on the monitor.

This is the new territory and it is manifesting itself in Occupy Wall Street, just as it has in the Tea Party Movement. The Internet has made it possible for disparate groups to organize around incoherent messages. . Affective alliances have been replaced by disparate emotionalization.

No wonder that Polly Toynbee referred to "visceral protest" and "authentic outrage" in her column in The Guardian earlier this week. When emotion rises the non-Enlightened follow. This is indeed visceral. As the weeks progress, the emotion will fade - like after an evangelical rally - or they will become more cohesive and orderly.

Why hasn't this kind of protest movement happened before this? What happened to the post-Vietnam War generation which seemed to have no interest in protesting anything?

Clearly it would be misleading to claim that it's all due to the Internet. As if it has some magical powers. The material conditions have become so difficult that the visceral finds its realization in and through the Internet. Unemployment, dropping standards of living, shrinking US and Western European economies, all push the emotions that are fed by the images in circulation in the Internet.

This set of relationships - unregulated Internet+emotion+the visceral - is the new "architecture of consciousness," a phrase that captured New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman on October 16 ("In Protest the Power of Place," ). In fact, "architecture of consciousness" was included in an interview Kimmelman had with protester Jay Gaussoin at the Occupy Wall Street event. That makes it Gaussoin's phrase

This consciousness rocks! It will inevitably continue to expand.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Uprising – emotionalization: a US version in Occupy Wall Street

Recently I have relocated from Boston to Bond University on Australia’s Gold Coast, far, far away from the action in the US – in fact, far from the action anywhere! (As one of my cousins said – “Nothing ever happens here.”) But there’s plenty happening by way of uprisings elsewhere. Not least of which is the activity referred to in New York City as Occupy Wall Street.

Readers of this blog and my book of the same name (Uprising – The Internet’s Unintended Consequences) will be aware that my interest is in the relationship between the Internet and the unintended consequences that are generated by the unregulated flow of information and knowledge on the network. This relationship is viewed from a critical perspective. This perspective usually embodies actions against the status quo in a progressive political direction.

In Mass Communication Theory, Denis McQuail’s frequently used media studies textbook (now in its 6th edition), McQuail makes the point that the critical approach to media can begin with the “what ought” question. This is normative (read progressive sociology) in action, where media is expected to construct an imaginary set of possibilities for human emancipation, as well as inform the material results of those possibilities.

As a kind of respectable academic approach to the social world, normative sociology has had to give way to much more pressing needs. Cultural studies filled the gap left by a style of sociology that forgot the “what ought” and replaced it with theoretically inclined empirical reportage. Ultimately it was politically defanged sociology. 

The Internet is connecting with each other a generation of students trained in and around cultural studies. It is informing the otherwise politically uncharged academic space of sociology with “what ought” questions. These questions surpass academic work that documents the status quo, even though that is a necessary project.

To give this accolade to cultural studies would be to overstate the case. The connection between material conditions within everyday life – unemployment in the US at true rates of 16%+ and much higher in rust belt areas especially Detroit, and even higher amongst African American and Latino communities -  and the Internet is immediate. Cultural studies at least focuses on the immediacy of culture and its context.
Emotions are being generated in ways that have not been anticipated – look at the way New York City police attacked Occupy Wall Street protesters for evidence of how the immediacy of digital communication operates to mobilize action! Protesters can swarm, mass and congregate based on Internet-based communications.  
Everyone is ultimately on the same network, where there is little or no mediation and regulation of moderate the emotion. No authority is editing and managing the flow.

Proletarianization in this era is what I have defined as the link between unregulated information on the Internet and the emergence of behavior and action that takes the form of social movements.

It is especially helpful to contrast the digital intensity of the protestors’ emotions and actions around Wall Street (and in Athens, Cairo, Tripoli, Paris? London) with the old media of television and print.

Below is Canadian critic Naomi Klein discussing mainstream media on Democracy Now, October 6, 2011.
“It really is a sick cultural ritual. Every time there is a new generation of politicized, engaged young people who come forward, there is this ritual mocking of them, a kind of a hazing. And it’s such a corrupt and corrupting way to welcome a new generation into politics.

“Coming from a media culture that has worked so hard to dumb down this society it is enormously ironic that they are mocking these very, very well informed [people].”

The point is that there are parallel universes: the Internet and every other conventional or traditional media. The “sick cultural ritual” may interest some people, but to Internet users, it provokes the “so what?” answer. It is irrelevant.  

Media culture is the Internet. The “what ought” question arising from Occupy Wall Street is the question of emotion (what American media scholars tend to refer to as “effect.”) What ought media do in this new (Internet) context?

The answer will be an escalation of emotion from the police, the state, the government and official culture in general.  This escalation will continue because the Internet makes it so. A counter escalation will operate from the protests, as has been witnessed in the Arab Spring. No one will back down because there is no moral suasion within the conventions of civil society: the old media cannot generate the immediacy of emotion like the new media.

I call this the emotionalization of resistance. It is due to the Internet.

Expect chaos.