What are networked publics and what tensions exist with a networked public?

Ito discusses understanding networks in terms of their broad conceptual linkages in order to discover the social and cultural foundations of technology.

What Ito terms “Networked Publics” create certain tensions, most notably, the tension between authorship and consumption of media and the tension between law and piracy.

Authorship and Consumption:

Larry Lessig, an intellectual property scholar, describes this tension as the difference between a Read-Only culture and a Read-Write culture. Both Lessig and Ito attribute modern digital culture to the increasing ease, especially for younger generations, “to author rich digital media as part of everyday life.”

I would like to draw on this presentation to help explain the idea of new technology as a tool which fosters creativity and (re)creativity (read-write culture) versus media as a product to be passively consumed (read-only culture):

Sharon Daniels defines information as “knowledge revealed … which justifies change in a given construct.” How does this understanding help us to reconcile the tensions evident in a networked public?

The idea of the machine depriving the operator of voice is one that I am particularly sympathetic.  I noticed that conversations between my classmates in high school tended to degenerate into one person quoting a funny line from a movie or TV show and everyone laughing and then another person quoting another unrelated funny line ad infinitum.  I thought to myself that if we just had a device to pull up these quotes and play them back to one another we would have no need to talk at all. I was reminded of this because at dinner a few months ago when some friends began playing funny clips to one another using their iPhones.

Law and Piracy:

While new networks can greatly further our ability to cooperate and communicate, our analysis of the network creates its utility. Lessig’s analysis of modern copyright law demonstrates that the law, which exists to govern efficiently, is wholly at odds with a common sense understanding of a networked public. If networked publics are embodiments “of social and cultural structures that in turn get taken up in new ways by existing social groups and cultural categories” then the law has completely failed in this area to prevent understand the rising tide of (re)creativity.

Yes We Can, Music Video-

(An example of social and cultural structures that in turn get taken up in new ways by existing social groups and cultural categories)

New programs allow users with little or no technical aptitude to completely circumvent monopolies on technology, television, and other for-profit intellectual property industries. Lessig understands this interaction between lawful use and piracy as a polarizing conflict.  Yet Ito sees the ever-increasing levels of “sharing” as something that has been co-opted and augmented in the profit world.  As such, are these forces truly at odds within a Networked Public?

“We look to the online world as a source of sociality and culture and designers of new online systems recognize that they are engaged in social engineering as well as technical engineering.”

How does Public Secrets engage in the social engineering described in Networked Publics?

Understanding Law as a code, or a piece of social engineering connects our discussion of these works. In reading and listening to the various prisoners accounts I couldn’t help but find a powerful social agenda.  This project was created in collaboration with Justice Now, an organization which opposes imprisonment in all circumstances and seeks to fundamentally reform the criminal justice system. Having worked for six years at a police department and as a student of the criminal law, I found it difficult to separate my background in order to evaluate the work dispassionately.  Ultimately, I realized that my perspectives help me to better see the social engineering element of Daniel’s work.

Abolishing the prison system or becoming wholly fixated with criminal rehabilitation profoundly misunderstands a modern view of criminal law.  Failed efforts at rehabilitation defined the law of the 1970’s and the community suffered a significant increase in crime due to overly sympathetic judges and non-penal programs designed to rehabilitate the defender. In short, the criminal justice system does not know how to effectively rehabilitate offenders as all major efforts to do some have been unsuccessful. Modern justice has not given up on rehabilitation, but it is not the pillar of criminal law that Daniel makes it out to be.  The criminal justice system rests upon retributive and utilitarian concerns which are perfectly willing to mete out punishment where it is deserved and to incapacitate those offenders that cannot be rehabilitated from causing future harm.

“Truth is not a matter of exposure which destroys the secret, but a revelation that does justice to it.” – Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama

How do we “do justice” to Public Secrets?

In Defacement, Michael Taussig defines a public secret as knowing what not to know where “knowing what not to know lies at the heart of a vast range of social powers and knowledges intertwined with those powers, such that the clumsy hybrid of power/knowledge comes at last into meaningful focus, it being not that knowledge is power but rather that active not-knowing makes it so.”

Daniels says that we demonstrate this when we fail to talk about massive sociological phenomenon like the abuses of the correctional system because we are troubled by our own complicity in the matter. Is there a method for discussing this work academically without shying away from our complicity?

Court Case Reading:


(Genea Scott’s case against the CDC for malpractice in her diabetes diagnosis.  Read the Procedural History and the facts of the case.)

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