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 Affective alliances have been replaced by disparate emotionalization.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.