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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Is Facebook a Matrix Machine?

With my concept of The Matrix Conspiracy I put myself in the risk of being accused of being a paranoid conspiracy theorist (see my article The Matrix Conspiracy). This is not the case. My concept is a theory of conspiracy and not a conspiracy theory. 

My main question is:

What if it is the conspiracy theories (and their roots in the growing anti-intellectual movement) which are a conspiracy? – see my article Anti-intellectualism and Anti-science.

The concept of the Matrix comes from mathematics, but is more popular known from the movie the Matrix, which asks the question whether we might live in a computer simulation. In The Matrix though, there is also an evil demon, or evil demons, namely the machines which keep the humans´ in tanks linked to black cable wires that stimulates the virtual reality of the Matrix. Doing this the machines can use the human bodies as batteries that supply the machines with energy. This leads of course to questions of evil scientists, Sophists, etc. It is the fascination of the virtual reality that deceives the humans.

My main critique of the matrix conspiracy is that we in fact see powerful people who find it desirable to live in a computer simulation, a virtual reality game of some sort, and therefore paradoxically enough come to supports the machines in the movie, and put up philosophies like Agent Smith could have done. This weirdness origins in the so-called California Ideology, with a lot of computer worshippers called transhumanists and singularitarians. These people are quite open about that they would like us to melt together with machines and computers, and therewith solve all human problems. The path towards this are, for example, through techniques such as whole brain emulation and mind uploading (read a detailed analysis of this in my Ebook Evolutionism – The Red Thread in The Matrix Conspiracy.

It is far-streched? You would never be in for this, would you? The consequence of evolutionism, and futurism, is that the line between fact and fiction is getting more and more blurred. A common trope in science fiction for decades is that the prospect of transcending the current form may be positive, as in Arthur C. Clarke's 1953 novel Childhood's End, or negative, as in the film The Matrix, with its barely disguised salvationist theme, or the Terminator series of films, where humanity has been essentially replaced by machine life. Change so radical elicits fear and thus it is unsurprising that many of the portrayals of transhumanism in popular culture are negative. The cyberpunk genre (foe example Blade Runner) deals extensively with the theme of a transhumanist society gone wrong.

Most people would probably support that the prospect is negative. But this is not the view of The Californian Ideology (The Silicon Valley futurism). They are following Arthur C. Clarke. They are evolutionists and progressivists. Futurism as the ideology of Silicon Valley sees transhumanism as positive.

On closer inspection, this should not be surprising. Since transhumanism is ambitious about conquering age-related illnesses (extropianism), death (immortalism), ecological damage (technogaianism), gender differences (postgenderism) and suffering (abolitionism), a fictional world where this has already been achieved leaves a story with few plot devices to exploit. Additionally, it could be hard for the public to identify with flawless, post-human characters.

The fact is that Silicon Valley is in progress with indoctrinating people into their ideology. It happens for example by making people fascinated by virtual reality. And you are one of them, right? How much time do you for example spend on Facebook daily? (besides that you probably are aware that your children are spending too much time on computer games). You have probably watched and agreed with dystopian movies like Terminator and Blade Runner, but you probably haven´t realized, that Facebook is the closest we come to a real existing Matrix Machine.

In the Popular Culture and Philosophy series on Facebook, Trebor Scholz has written an article called Facebook as Playground and Factory, where he gives an account of Facebook as a clever mix of playground and factory. He asks:

“You can´t look at what we are doing on Facebook without noticing something, however. Do you see it? If you rent a room in an apartment then you first buy a bed, a chair, a few things for the kitchen. You pay what you owe to the landlady and then you cook, sleep, play, work, and invite others over to have a party. You´re allowed to do all these things because you paid your bill. On Facebook, the “free” services that we are consuming come at a price. All of our actions produce value for Facebook and other companies (“third parties”). Broadly speaking, labor markets have shifted to places where labor does not look like labor at all.”

Our power of togetherness is facilitated in exchange for letting operators – in this case, Facebook – harness the “energy” from our casual interactions. In the midst of pleasure, excitement, and possibilities of our togetherness, you and me and our networked publics are being “worked.” We are becoming “social workers.” We are social and we are working in the sense that we are producing economical value: both speculative value (Scholz asks us to think: Tulip Mania of 1637, dot com crash, Lehman brothers) and tangible value in terms of dollars in the bank.

As Tim O´Reilly says, “They are participating without thinking that they participate. That´s where the power comes.” Scholz claims that the “power” that O´Reilly refers to is “power” in the sense of a “power plant”: energy that can be stored and harnessed. Without much struggle, corporations turn a profit through activities that most of us would never think of as “labor” or even work. The invisible labor that follows our rituals of interactivity creates surplus value. Social participation is the oil of the digital economy.

Scholz admits that it´s counterintuitive to think about time spend on social networking services as labor or wage theft. Sitting in front of our computers, staring at glowing screens, engaging our brain, moving our computer mouse around, clicking, and occasionally writing an update does not look or smell anything like the industrial labor environment. It´s hard to pin down. But when we do even the smallest of these things we are complicit in this “interactivity labor.” Our bodies are placed in the working position before even noticing it. It´s not a matter of opting in.

Nor is it a matter of opting out. We all must admit that a big achievement of capitalism, really, is to make workers believe that digital labor does not exist. But even when we realize we are being “used,” that dawning awareness is often quickly superseded by the experience of pleasure in the activities themselves. And we may not mind it much. After all, being used is a lot different from being “duped,” right? It looks like a fair deal: on the other hand, we´re constantly reminded that the operator has tremendously operational costs – bandwidth is expensive, servers need to be run, and developers won´t work without pay. And then, some want us to believe that most mainstream operators don´t even make “real” money, which is not entirely accurate.

Scholtz shows that we produce economic value for Facebook in numerous ways, but for the sake of simplicity we can break it down into a few basic categories: 1. Garnering attention for advertisers; 2. Donating unpaid services and volunteer work; and 3. Offering complexes of network data and digital traces to researchers and marketers. The first one – attention to advertisers – is the one we are most familiar with from TV, radio, and billboards. The second recalls good old-fashioned modes of exploitation and expropriation, and the third takes us into the murky terrain of total knowledge production. While far from unique to the commercial Social Web, each of these modes of creating value has implications that are made more acute and striking in this context.

Related Ebook:

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