Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Not as Connected as I thought

I thought for sure I had blogged about Steven Shaviro's Connected, or, What It Means to Live in the Network Society. But a search for "Shaviro" on this humble blog comes up with a couple of links to entries on his blog, but nothing about Connected.

So, I guess this is my entry in response to Connected, which is on the agenda today in my "Writing Web 2.0 class.

I assumed I had written about it because I rather love this book. I love the writing in the book. I love the tiny, blog-entry-like sections. I love that he includes my favorite quotation from Foucault in the Preface (the quotation from one of the last two volumes of History of Sexuality, where Foucault in his own preface asks what knowledge is worth unless it leads "in one way or another and tot he extent possible, in the knower's straying afield of himself").

I love his discussion, drawing from Burroughs, of addiction and viruses. Shaviro writes,
the logic of networks tends toward the algebra of need because the addiction process is facilitated and accelerated when materiality is replaced by information (11)

That seems to explain my experience, reaching way back into my childhood, pre-internet, when I would sit in read what were almost the only books in the house (save for the Bible and other religious materials, and a few random books here and there): the many-volumed Britannica Encyclopedia. I could sit and read for hours and hours, spurred on by the cross-referencing, the thoughts sparked by something I had read in one entry leading me to another. The information network. The draw of knowing, the need, the urge.

And it loops back, infecting "me":
identity is implanted in me from without, not generated from within. My selfhood is an information pattern, rather than a material substance

(Kind of one of my repeated topics, as seen here: see more here.)

And while the idea of the viral spread of information isn't new, I still find it useful, explanatory, heuristic:

The message propagates itself by massive self-replication as it passes from person to person in the manner of an epidemic contagion. This is supposed to be more than just a metaphor. The viral message is composed of memes in the same way that a biological virus is composed of genes. the memes, like the genes, enter into a host and manipulate that host into manufacturing and propagating more copies of themselves. Packages of information spread and multiply, just like packages of DNA or RNA. (13)

"Packages of information": for a junkie like me, that sounds mighty tasty.

But wait! Is it a package or a performance?

We cannot think of information as just a pattern imprinted indifferently in one or another physical medium. For information is also an event. It isn't just the content of a given message but all the things that happen when the message gets transmitted. As Morse Peckham puts it, "the meaning of a verbal event is any response to that event." In other words, meaning is not intrinsic, but always contingent and performative.

And so this blog entry performs these memes in a certain way. It gives some sort of new meaning to these words from Shaviro (and Foucault and Peckham and). And so on to class, where more performance will happen.


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