Responses: Control Societies & the Enduring Ephemeral

Postscript on the Societies of Control

Deleuze’s essay, “Postscript on the societies of control,” did not seem to me to completely contradict Foucault’s chapter on the Panopticon from Discipline and Punish. Instead of control, conformity, and discipline being enforced by institutions, the larger system develops the mechanisms of control that reflect its values. We are moving from enclosures to “societies of control.” Decline of institutions and trust of institutions was a common trend of the 20th century, and persists into the 21st. We are all actually serving a capitalist agenda: “Man is no longer man enclosed, but man in debt.”

While I feel, see, and understand the results of the capitalist values the motivate and control people, I think this view (and Foucault’s I guess) is overly pessimistic (perhaps because I’m lucky). People are motivated by un- and anti-capitalist urges all the time. That people are somehow blindly being made to serve struck me as both hilarious (because it’s true) and ridiculous (because it’s also not).

Many young people strangely boast of being “motivated”; they re-request apprenticeships and permanent training. It’s up to them to discover what they’re being made to serve, just as their elders discovered, not without difficulty, the telos of the disciplines.

(Ambition is a trap.)

People still do plenty of things because out of hedonism, curiosity, love, mischievousness–and you can’t really stop them.

The Enduring Ephemeral, or the Future Is a Memory

One component of Chun’s [link] critique of the academic new media landscape is breaking apart the comparison between memory and storage. She recalls the memex, the imaginary device Bush posited could expand and improve human’s recollection of information, and save some piece of our cognitive load devoted to mechanical and repetitive tasks. Chun points out the memory degenerates, and rather than save us from repetition, media allows the same texts discovery and re-discovery, amplifying repetition and “trapping us in the past” where “response is demanded over and over again.” New medias, like the internet, also degenerate: texts change, are deleted, and reappear.

She also notes that just because information is stored and retrievable, it does not make it universally accessible, since accessing it requires human reading and re/interpretation:

A machine alone, however, cannot turn “an information explosion into a knowledge explosion.”

Chun’s main thesis unites these aspects with new media to posit it is not the speed of change but rather their “enduring ephemerality” that is the “defining characteristic” of new media. This idea that we are trapped in the past of this amplified and constant repetition reminded me of Massive Attack vs Adam Curtis: we are inundated with the outputs and suggestions of predictive algorithms (I would argue a kind of new media) that are (necessarily) based on old data. Is the logical conclusion that nothing new or original will ever happen again?

…because everything is endlessly repeated—response is demanded over and over again. The new is sustained by this constant demand to respond to what we do not yet know; the goal of new media czars is to constantly create desire for what one has not yet experienced. To put it most bluntly, this nonsimultaneity of the new—this enduring ephemeral—means we need to get beyond speed as the defining feature of digital media or global networked communications.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *