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'The Inhumanist Manifesto', Media Theory, Vol. 1, No.1, 2017.

The Uberfication of the University (Open access Forerunners series version available here; as of April 4 2017 an interactive Manifold series version is available here.)

Públicos Fantasma - La Naturaleza Política Del Libro - La Red (Mexico: Taller de Ediciones Económicas, 2016) - new book, co-authored with Andrew Murphie, Janneke Adema and Alessandro Ludovico. 

'Posthumanities: The Dark Side of "The Dark Side of the Digital"' (with Janneke Adema), in Janneke Adema and Gary Hall, eds, Disrupting the Humanities: Towards Posthumanities, Journal of Electronic PublishingVol. 9, No.2, Winter, 2016.

Open Access

Most of Gary's work is freely available to read and download either here in Media Gifts or in Coventry University's online repository CURVE here 

performative project Janneke Adema has put together, based on our ‘The Political Nature of the Book: On Artists’ Books and Radical Open Access’ article for New Formations, Number 78, Summer, 2013. 

'What Does Academia.edu's Success Mean for Open Access: The Data-Driven World of Search Engines and Social Networking', Ctrl-Z: New Media Philosophy, no.5, 2015.

Radical Open Access network

« On the limits of openness IV: why Facebook is not a factory (even though it profits from the exploitation of labour) | Main | On the limits of openness II: from open access to open data »
Wednesday
Dec012010

On the limits of openness III: open government

The global financial crisis that began in 2008 has only served to add further urgency to the belief of many in the UK that the government should relinquish its copyright on all local, regional and  national data collected with tax payers’ money - most vociferously that relating to Parliamentary expenses and the salaries and bonuses of the highest paid employees in the City of London  - and make it freely and openly available to the public by publishing it online, where it can be searched, mined, mapped, graphed, cross-tabulated, visualized, audited, interpreted, analysed and assessed using software tools.  The Guardian newspaper in the UK has even gone so far as to establish a ‘Free Our Data’ campaign to this end. 

From a liberal democratic perspective, freeing publically funded and acquired data like this, whether it is gathered directly in the process of  census collection, or indirectly as part of other activities (crime, healthcare, transport, schools and accident statistics, for example), helps society to perform more efficiently.  It does so not least by virtue of its ability to play a key role in increasing citizen participation and involvement in democracy, and indeed government,  as access to information such as that needed to intervene in public policy is no longer restricted either to the state or to those corporations, institutions, organizations and individuals who have sufficient money and power to acquire it for themselves. 

But neoliberals also support making the data freely and openly available to businesses and the public. They do so on the grounds that it provides a means of achieving the ‘best possible input/output equation’ (Lyotard). In this respect it is of a piece with the emphasis placed by neoliberalism’s audit culture on accountability, transparency, evaluation, measurement and centralised data management: for instance, in Higher Education regarding the impact of research on society and the economy, league tables, teaching standards, contact hours, as well as student drop-out rates, future employment destinations and earning prospects. From this perspective, such openness and communicative transparency is perceived as ensuring greater value for (tax payers’) money, enabling costs to be distributed more effectively, and increasing choice, innovation, enterprise, creativity, competiveness and accountability (over MPs expenses payments for second homes, moat cleaning, duck islands, trouser presses and the like).

Some libertarians have even gone so far as to argue that there is no need to make difficult policy decisions about what data and information it is right to publish online and what to keep secret at all. (Since Prince Harry is funded from the public purse, do the public have the right to access data regarding his blood group and DNA, so it can be determined once and for all that his father is Prince Charles and not James Hewitt?) Instead, we should work toward the kind of situation the science-fiction writer Bruce Sterling proposes. In Shaping Things, his non-fiction book on the future of design, Sterling advocates retaining all data and information, ‘the known, the unknown known, and the unknown unknown’, in large archives and databases equipped with the necessary bandwidth, processing speed and storage capacity, and simply devising search tools and metadata that are accurate, fast and powerful enough to find and access it. 

Yet to have participated in the shift away from questions of truth, justice and what, in The Inhuman, Lyotard places under the headings of ‘heterogeneity,  dissensus, event… the unharmonizable’,  and toward a concern with performativity, measurement and optimising the relation between input and output, one doesn’t need to be a practicing data journalist,  or to have actively contributed to the movements for open access, open data or open government, at all. If you are one of the 1.3 million plus people who have purchased a Kindle, and helped the sale of digital books outpace those of hardbacks on Amazon’s US website, then you have already signed a license agreement allowing the online book retailer - but not academic researchers or the public - to collect, store, mine, analyse and extract economic value from data concerning your personal reading habits for free.  Similarly, if you are one of the 23 million in the UK and 500 million worldwide who use the pass-word protected Facebook social network,  then you are already voluntarily giving your time and labour for free, not only to help its owners, their investors, and other companies make a reputed $1 billion a year from demographically targeted advertising,  but to supply law enforcement agencies with profile data relating to yourself, your family, friends, colleagues and peers they can use in investigations.  Even if you have done neither, you will in all probability have provided the Google technology company with a host of network data and digital traces it can both monetize and give to the police as a result of having mapped your home, digitized your book, or supplied you with free music videos to enjoy via Google Street View,  Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Book Search and YouTube, which Google also owns. And if this shift from open access to Google seems somewhat farfetched, it’s worth remembering that ‘Google has moved to establish, embellish, or replace many core university services such as library databases, search interfaces, and e-mail servers’; and that in fact Universities gave birth to Google,  Google’s PageRank algorithm being little more ‘than an expansion of what is known as citation analysis’.

Obviously, no matter how exciting and enjoyable such activities may be, you don’t have to buy that e-book reader, join that social network or display your personal metrics online, from sexual activity to food consumption, in an attempt to identify patterns in your life – what is called life-tracking or self-tracking.  (Although, actually, a lot of people are quite happy to keep contributing to the networked communities reached by Facebook and YouTube, even though they realise they are being used as free labour and that, in the case of the former, much of what they do cannot be accessed by search engines and web browsers. They just see this as being part of the deal and a reasonable trade-off for the services and experiences that are provided by these companies.) Nevertheless, even if we want to, refusing to take part in this transformation of knowledge and learning into quantities of data, and shift away from questions of what is just and right toward a concern with optimizing the system’s performance, is just not an option for most of us.  It’s not something that can be opted out of by declining to take out a Tesco Club Card, refusing to look for research using Google Scholar, or committing social networking ‘suicide’ and reading print-on-paper books instead.

For one thing, the process of capturing data by means not just of the internet, but a myriad of cameras, sensors and robotic devices, is now so ubiquitous and all pervasive it is impossible to avoid being caught up in it, no matter how rich, knowledgable and technologically proficient you are.  It’s regularly said that there are approximately four million cameras in the UK – one for every 14 people, more than any other country  (and that’s without even mentioning means of gathering data that are reputed to be more intrusive still, such as mobile phone GPS location and automatic vehicle number plate recognition). Yet no one really knows how many CCTV cameras are actually in operation in Britain today. (In fact the above statistic is reputed to have been based merely ‘on a dubious extrapolation from the number of cameras in London’s Putney High Street in 2002’.) 

For another, and as the example of CCTV illustrates, it’s not necessarily a question of actively doing something in this respect. It’s not a matter of positively contributing free labour to the likes of Flickr and YouTube, for instance; or of refusing to do so. Nor is it a case of the separation between work and non-work being harder to maintain nowadays. (Is it work or leisure when you’re writing a status update on Facebook, posting a photograph, ‘friending’ someone, interacting, detailing your ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ regarding the places you eat, the films you watch, the books you read?) As Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari pointed out some time ago, ‘surplus labor no longer requires labor... one may furnish surplus-value without doing any work’, or anything that even remotely resembles work for that matter, at least as it is most commonly understood:

In these new conditions, it remains true that all labour involves surplus labor; but surplus labor no longer requires labor. Surplus labor, capitalist organization in its entirety, operates less and less by the striation of space-time corresponding to the physicosocial concept of work. Rather, it is as though human alienation through surplus labor were replaced by a generalized ‘machinic enslavement’, such that one may furnish surplus-value without doing any work (children, the retired, the unemployed, television viewers, etc.). Not only does the user as such tend to become an employee, but capitalism operates less on a quantity of labor than by a complex qualitative process bringing into play modes of transportation, urban models, the media, the entertainment industries, ways of perceiving and feeling – every semiotic system. It is as though, at the outcome of the striation that capitalism was able to carry to an unequalled point of perfection, circulating capital necessarily recreated, reconstituted, a sort of smooth space in which the destiny of human beings is recast. 

(Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (London: Athlone, 1988) p.492)

So as the above two examples show, this transformation of knowledge and information into quantities of data is not something that can actually be opted out of, since it’s not something that is necessarily opted into.

But there is a further and related reason all this data capturing, storing and mining cannot be simply opted out of or resisted via facilities such as Google Dashboard,  which allows people to see all the data Google has about them, or by reporting objectionable content,  as it’s possible to do in the case of Google Street View providing you’re knowledgeable enough. This is that too often such notions of refusal and active resistance (like their counterparts to do with ideas of privacy, civil rights and liberties)  have their basis in a conception of the autonomous, fully-conscious, rational, self-identical and self-present individual humanist subject that these changes in media and technology may be in the process of helping to reconfigure. As a result, they risk overlooking the possibility that computers, databases, archives,  servers, blogs, microblogs, RSS feeds, image and video-sharing, social networking and ‘the cloud’ are not just being used to change the status and nature of knowledge; they may be involved in the constitution of a very different form of human subject too. 

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