Friday, April 14, 2006

Network economies

When I'm enthusiastic about something, my enthusiasm tends to cancel out any previous critical tendencies on my part. They can return, but in the moment of my enthusiasm, all negativity is lost.

I hesitate to reveal this, since it will probably make me seem astonishingly naive or something. And I've got a reputation to uphold here. (I do, don't I?) But I haven't blogged since Tuesday, and while I'm tempted to simply post a picture of one or more cats (just to give Chris more to blog about), I am instead here to talk about my enthusiasm for the network and my astonishment when Marissa posted a critique that I immediately felt *I* should have brought up myself.

So, here's the scoop: in my blogging class, we've been reading and discussing the contexts that have given rise to blogging/in which blogging participates. Last week we talked about the idea of an information economy, and this week we read about networks: Tuesday, a chapter from Taylor's The Moment of Complexity, and Thursday, we read a couple of things from Weinberger's Small Pieces Loosely Joined.

And so much in these texts generates enthusiasm in me, perhaps especially this bit from Weinberger:

The Web, however, is teaching us a different lesson about management. Consider the Web as a construction project. It's the most complex network ever created. It is by many orders of magnitude the largest collection of human writings and works in history. It is far more robust than networks far smaller. Yet it was created without any managers. In fact, it only succeeded because its designers made the conscious decision to build a network that would require no central control. You don't need anyone else's permission to join in, to post whatever you want, to read whatever others have posted. The Web is profoundly unmanaged and that is crucial to its success. It takes traditional command and control structures and busts them up into many small pieces that then loosely join themselves--and that, too, is crucial to its success.

Given my own critical scepticism of the role managerialism has played in the history of composition studies, I read this and think: yes! Creativity without management! Even loose coordination without management! Yes! Yes! More like this!

And then Marissa messes me all up by pointing out:

the Web can be seen as a natural extension of laissez faire rhetoric that has shaped capitalist societies. Cyberspace is a largely unregulated domain...those who use (and abuse) it to accomplish their own agenda will likely benefit, while the weak (the victims of unsavory characters like those mentioned above) are left unprotected by the system.

And immediately my marxist training kicks in, and I think about how apt this is, how indeed the neocons are trying to promote deregulation hither and yon to dismantle welfare capitalism that at least provided some measure of social protection.

And then I remember: oh, yeah. This isn't about the good/bad thing, Donna. You always want to do the good/bad thing. It's about what is enabled. What's made possible. (Or not.) After all, the network can just as well represent, and, indeed, enable, the joining together of the multitude.

So, note to self: remember to add a pinch of critical scrutiny to your enthusiasm. Stir well. See how it tastes. Move on.


Derek said...

Good stuff, Donna. I'm inclined to go along with you *and* Marissa. Networks enable different kinds of joining together than we're accustomed to observing in everyday spaces (although happy accidents via loose ties, self-organizing, and so on certainly happens there, too). And of course we find instances of aggressive capitalism on the web. By no means is it a full-on panacea.

But we can be sure the web has changed some things. It gives us, after all, abundant examples of networked activity and organization. And whether such practices correspond neatly to activism efforts or workplaces, the logics of networks and complexity circulate more widely, perhaps, because of the web. Some of the stuff in _The Cluetrain Manifesto_ probably extends and complicates Marissa's read, for what it's worth, especially chapter four, "Markets are Conversations."

We just read Taylor's book in 712 (after checking out just a chapter or two in cgb's networks course last spring). Alongside it we looked at three chapters (2, 3, and 12) from Karl Weick's _Making Sense of the Organization_, in which he applies complexity to organizations while developing terms such as improvisation, loosely coupled systems, innovation, and decision making. Thought of your work on comp's managerial unconscious a few times while reading Weick, for what it's worth.

Donna said...

Right: both/and. I sometimes have trouble with both/and. I blame it on my Baptist upbringing. And, of course, being trained in what some might call paranoid critical practices doesn't help, either.

Thanks for mentioning the Weick book--I'll have to take a look at it.