We are ready for virtual government

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We are in the age of social media. Cheap processor power and data storage capability means that Facebook can have 14 million photos uploaded to it everyday and be used by over sixty million people to organise and record their social lives with other Internet users. This, coupled with the widepsread availability of broadband Internet access, means that we are seeing a revolution in the way the Internet is being used to collaborate, share information, and connect with other people. The Web 2.0 revolution is here, and it has changed everything. Only recently there has been debate in the blogosphere about the rise of the socialprise, an enterprise that actively uses its social connections with other people to trade and create new business. Social media is set to make a difference to other aspects of society too. And one aspect of society it should make a difference to is Government.

It is time for social government to arrive. Virtual democracy has been predicted by people for many years, and we have the technology and cultural conditions now to make it happen. In the age of Internet banking, where we can arrange overdrafts and transfer funds at the click of a mouse, we should have Internet government, where white papers and bills are wiki-compiled by the public, like open source software, and votes in the House are not made by elected representatives, but by the population itself, in all our tens of millions. In an age where distributed and user constituted auction systems and encyclopedias can exist and thrive, there is no reason why user government could not also thrive.

It would be interesting to see what the UK population would vote for, if put in charge of their own country. More public holidays? An increase in civil liberties? A legalisation of soft drugs? Some people in Government would instantly look askance at the idea, given that last example. But is that because they represent the view of the general public, or of an establishment that imposes its will on the public? If fifty million people participated in a House of Commons vote, and eighty percent of them voted to legalise soft drugs, is that not the will of society? Should not the Government and Home Office exist to serve the will of the electorate? Or are we to be ignored and lied to, the way we were lied to about Iraq, a war that was waged in spite of two million people marching on the streets of London to protest against it happening?

Virtual democracy would be a truer model of democracy than the one the population has at the moment. It would be one where vested interests would be less able to subvert and frustrate the democratic will of the electorate. We have the technology to empower people with social government. The only question is, are the Government we elect to represent us really prepared, in an age when they are clamping down on our civil liberties, to give us that kind of power?

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The Future of Social Media

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Of all the interesting ideas i have come across recently, the idea that excites me most is social media. In a previous missive I have talked about the corporate media and the means of production, the idea that media is something that is produced by corporations and handed down to us, the consumers, in a top down relationship. Social media gives us the opportunity to create media and distribute it, and to organise structures of meaning bottom up. It is exciting because it represents a democratisation of the media. Any media studies student would tell you that the media plays an incredibly important role in society. It shapes our identities, and is the creator and disseminator of social discourse. Some would say that the media is in charge of reality itself – certainly, postmodern theory states that reality can only be defined in terms of the media. One theorist, Jean Baudrillard, even went as far as to state that the 1991 Gulf War was a war that existed on TV only, and not in the real world, although some people have taken to reading Baudrillard more as speculative fiction than philosophy. In any case, when the media is democratised, we the consumer will have control over social discourse, and we will be able to create meaning and shape identity.

So far, at least, social media has something that has only existed on the web. I would argue that it is time for social media to escape those limitations. Some time ago I sent an email to Facebook with an idea I had had for them. My idea was that Facebook set up an in-site TV channel, to turn Facebook from being a web community into being a media. The TV channel could report news from Facebook users in real life troublespots around the world, or could help create a generation of Facebook celebrities, people who no doubt would eventually be accorded celebrity status by the traditional media. This is one idea about social media that develops the idea’s potential. However there are many ideas that could be had to develop social media.

Social media should not just be found on laptops and PCs. It should be everywhere: mobile phones, cash machines, taxis, nightclubs, and phone boxes. Social media should take a step away from the computer and become in our lives, in the fabric of our lives, the medium we move through. We should use the social media to tell us where to go drinking, what gigs to go to, what plays to watch, and what books to borrow from the library. In order to do that at the moment we would have to spend all our time in front of the computer, something we can’t do, so social media must grow wings and spread to other places. Social media should be found in shopping centres and coffee houses, so that you are never far from it. I am not talking about having social media terminals in the coffee houses, which would be a passive experience, but the very experience of the coffee house should be the social media. The social media should be found in the coffee we choose to drink, and transact to buy, and the music being listened to in the coffee house. We need PDA like devices to be invented to compute the social media, to tell us where to walk, what to buy, to give us music to listen to or video news updates, or to conduct straw polls amongst other people walking down the same street as us. Going to the supermarket should be the media. Not a media experience, but the media itself. Traffic jams should be social media experiences. The media should be the medium through which we all move. The social media will make celebrities out of us. Big Brother will no longer be watched on Channel 4, but lived by those who wish to, in the playground of society itself.

In short, social media has incredible potential. Traditional media will be obsolete someday soon, when televisions and newspapers will be seen as twentieth century inventions.

The People’s Media Manifesto

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Do you ever wonder about the mass media you consume? Whether it is giving you the information you need to hear, or whether the corporate media is in the habit of hiding as much news from us as it reveals?

We live in a world with massive media conglomerates like News International and AOL Time Warner telling us everything we know about the world outside our own immediate social relations. Sites like Facebook and YouTube do exist, offering hope in the form of distributed information sharing networks. But both are corporately owned and may someday, if they do not already, exercise editorial control over the content on their sites, just as Google Groups allegedly deletes USENET posts from their archive on request from governments, the military, and media conglomerates. What is needed is a media network that is completely anti-corporate: anti-organisation, bottom up and distributed. This is the People’s Media manifesto.

The People’s media is a brand. Its brand logo is the green circle in the blue square. By having a logo the People’s Media have a brand identity. All People’s Media video files should start with the brand logo displayed for five seconds, to create a sense of brand identity to all People’s Media work. There are very few distributed, anti-capitalist, anti-organisational brands in existence, and there are certainly none in the media. If the People’s Media ever emerged as a media brand alongside the BBC or the New York Times, it would be an great achievement for those who wish to bring back control over the means of production of information and news to the democracy and wisdom of the crowd.

Anyone can work for the People’s Media, making films of any length. All you need is a DV camera and some black clothes. The People’s Media always wear all black clothes – this is also part of the brand identity. A well known way of organising people for rallies in a distributed way, to avoid the police from stopping you from meeting up, is known as the black block. European political dissidents used to organise in the 1920’s by wearing black clothes, and looking for other people wearing black clothes. Groups of people wearing black clothes would form, and would find each other and form larger groups, until eventually a black block would be formed, an impromptu rally, a block of people that had self-organised without the need for meeting places or leaders. The People’s Media, like the black block, is distributed and self-organising, and it wears black clothes as a mark of its anti-organisational belief system.

To start with, the People’s Media should post their material to YouTube. As interest in the brand grows, and more people start creating content for it, a USENET group should be set up for community discussion and for posting links to People’s Media content hosted all over the Internet. The People’s Media should aim never to own a website or domain, in keeping with its distributed, anti-organisation structure.

What should the People’s Media report on? Well, that is for the people to decide. It must be said that many people will read this and never make a People’s Media film. Then again, many people see adverts for political protests and don’t bother attending. By the same token, some people see adverts for protest marches and do attend, even if London is several hours away by coach. It is these kinds of people who could and should use the People’s Media. If they did, the People’s Media would grow into an anti-capitalist media brand, reporting from anti-war rallies and G8 summits. If you like making films, making your films People’s Media films will eventually mean they are more likely to be watched by people, who are likely eventually to start searching for People’s Media content on the Internet, and so are more likely to come across your material. Whilst initially likely to appeal to activists, once established in the mainstream the People’s Media will naturally change in nature. It will truly have entered the mainstream when the first People’s Media pop video is produced.

Start making a mark! Create the People’s Media!

Majid Salim

A New Definition of Art

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Britannica Online defines art as “the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others.” Art has been declamped from its traditional forms greatly in the 20th century, to the extent whereby classificatory disputes about art dominate the agenda. It is possible to present a photograph of a dirty sink as art. Of course, photographs of dirty sinks can be taken by plumbers, but we woud not define that as art. Is this because we would not find plumbers photographs framed in art galleries? And if you are creating art by taking a photograph of a dirty sink, couldn’t one argue that your artistic endeavour is weak if the aesthetic you create could easily be confused with an object with no aesthetic whatsoever?

In 2001 Martin Creed won the Turner Prize with Work No. 227, the lights going on and off, an empty room with the lights periorodically switching on and off. This aesthetic experience could easily have been confused with an electricity problem in the room with no aesthetic properties whatsoever. The point is that the artist created an experience that constituted an artwork, an artwork that was judged alongside other more conventional artworks in a competition. Whilst conceptual artists have emphasised that it is the idea that is the art, and not the made art object, art is nonetheless defined around the presentation of a corporeal object or experience – art with words, for example, is not art but poetry. In art, it is the artwork that conveys.

The problem with modern conceptual art, as in the above two examples, is that it relies heavily on the guarantee of meaning that the definition of art provides to make its claim to arthood at all. The photograph of the dirty sink is art because it is in an art gallery, the empty room with flashing lights is art because it was entered into an art competition. Othwerise these things could be confused with objects that are not art at all. Based on this you could argue that the artistic intention is weak, if you can only work the artwork out as art through structuralist inference. Is art produced in this way, as much conceptual art is, anaemic? Many now believe so. In October 2004 the Saatchi gallery told the media that “painting continues to be the most relevant and vital way that artists choose to communicate”, suggesting that many in the art world had concluded conceptual art was an art movement that could only develop forms of weaker artistic endeavour. This did not stop Mark Wallinger winning the 2007 Turner Prize with State Britain, an artwork that could easily be confused with Brian Haw’s peace protest banner outside the Houses of Parliament.

The issue is this: is art too hung up on its own definitions? Are artists likely to favour painting over more conceptual modes of art, art about art ideas rather than shades of paint? Isn’t that what modern art is – art about art ideas? But if we create art about art ideas, doesn’t the art weaken until it is functionally indistingushable from non art?

The main problem here is that art requires a definition to be played with. An alternative definition of art could help conceptualise art differently and so lead to a more vibrant, thriving vein of conceptual art altogether. Majid Salim has offered a new definition of art:

Art is NOT aesthetic objects, environments or experiences.

BUT RATHER

Art is objects, environments or experiences to which our critical aesthetic faculties should be applied.

In other words, artworks are not there to tell you something, but rather you look at objects and ask yourself what art is telling you about them. This may tentatively be defined as a Perceptivist definition of art. A new definition of art stands to reinvigorate conceptual art by offering new avenues to explore. This new definition of art can help find art in the world. After all, we apply aesthetic critical faculties to objects we would not define as artworks all the time.

In thinking about this idea, Majid Salim has come up with another idea he hopes to popularise with the general public: the art box. If you see a penny in the middle of a puddle on the pavement, and you believe it should be art, get out your masking tape or aerosol can and clearly mark a square around the puddle, with the T coming out of one corner. Other pedestrians recognise the design of the art box and will understand that they are being invited to apply their artistic critical faculties to the penny in the puddle. Art boxes can now capture art in the world. Art boxes take the spatial context of art away from galleries – no longer can a work of art be generally defined only as something on a pedestal in an art gallery.

Some may argue that people will art box dog poo to effect a reductio ad absurdum. The response to this of course is to point out that if you apply your critical faculties to the dog poo as invited to you are well within your rights to find it of weak aesthetic value, as you are within your rights to find bad art in a gallery. Likewise, art boxes may foreground textures and motifs in the world that would otherwise be disregarded, and may generate real aesthetic experiences from the unseen or unnoticed all around us. This is not found art, but defined art.

Postmodern Management

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Management can be defined as human action, including design, to facilitate the production of useful outcomes from a system or organisation. Managers manipulate human resources and technology within organisations to achieve desired objectives for the organisation. Management can be seen as having a linear relationship with the capital and functions of a company, just as a thermostat can be seen as having a linear relationship with a boiler: managers are required to exploit the capital in an organisation productively, for profit.

Management is a twentieth century phenomenon, and its history is tied in with the growth of modern organisations and organisational theory. It is a field, however, which is curiously untouched by the advances in theory in the twentieth century. Management is a purely functional school of thought, designed to maximise profits by exploiting capital. Whilst there are many management theories, all are based on this principle, that capital must be exploited for profit, and that is the role of a manager. Management is a Modern theory and vocation, a product of modernity just as Ford’s production lines were. However, industrialisation has never been treated as a text and management has none of the experiments with form or self-consciousness of Modernist art, poetry or architecture.

John Lanchester, in his book explaining the world of finance, Whoops! Why Everybody Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay, explains: “Finance, like other forms of human behaviour, underwent a change in the 20th century, a shift equivalent to the emergence of modernism in the arts – a break with common sense, a turn towards self-referentiality and abstraction and notions that couldn’t be explained in workaday English.” Poetry changed forever in the Modern era with the publication of T S Eliot’s The Waste Land. No text has changed management in this way, from a linear, assuredly coherent function within an organisation to one that is radically redefined, with none of the false coherence of Enlightenment or Rationalist thought.

Let us attempt a deconstruction of management. Firstly let us work with the definition of management as exploiting capital for profit. The underlying assumption of this definition is that we are all productivists. There is a class relationship between managers and labour withing an organisation with the managers directing labour to the accomplishment of desired goals. But again, the assumption is that profit must be maximised. In traditional views of management there is a direct and linear relationship between the managers and the capital and labour. Is there a postmodern theory of management that can reposit the definition of management?

It could be that information technology has changed management in the postmodern world. Most information systems are autonomous and do not require human intervention, indeed there are web companies which have little or no “bricks and mortar” capital besides a few virtualised servers. It could be argued that the capital is directed and exploited by information systems, and that this role in management has been surrendered to the computers, just as many argued that in the postmodern world humans are caught in a losing battle with invasive postmodern technologies. Business functions, business logic and business decisions are all made by computers in most medium to large enterprises. The capital is intelligent enough to direct itself.

Many companies features office space filled with people sitting behind computers. The role of management may well be the supervision of these people to make sure they are using their time productively. It could well be that the next phase of businesses that come out are completely virtual with no human employees. Perhaps this is where business should go, and businesses with human employees are simply trying to retain the relevance of business to humanity in a way that is obsolete. If this is true, then humans, and their attendant managers, are obsolete in business. The future of business is companies with zero employees and no human resources whatsoever. Business has evolved from being a past time of humans with a view to creating capital into something that can be done virtually with no human agency whatsoever. Of course businesses will always exist with humans in them, who need to earn a living, but perhaps a paradigm shift should happen whereby business is not viewed as the realm of humans, but as a mathematical game that should be played by computers.

It can be seen that management is suffering a crisis of definition in the postmodern era, labouring as it is under the assumption that business are run by human agency. Many businesses are, but most enterprises use enterprise software to run their business, and employ people redundantly, just as a butterfly might fly for the first time with its chrysalis still hanging from its tail. Management is a form of human behaviour, and like most things humans do, it is facing redundancy in the shape of postmodern technology. Postmodern technology surpasses humans. It may be that the game of agency on earth should be passed from humans to machines forever someday.