Reacting to two readings (Enzensberger & Baudrillard)

The Enzensberger article is more than 40 years old, and it certainly reveals that fact in its rather dated discussion of the plight of the Left and their inability to assimilate and use new media technology to their advantage. The Baudrillard article is also more than 40 years old, and its shows its age as well in its more apparent, more obvious manifestations in our society. 

Enzensberger’s work concerns itself with how the Marxists have misunderstood media, and how the Left has not used a strategic opportunity like media to its full potential, out of an ignorant clinging to theoretical frameworks. By dividing the world into elite and masses, these same people have made the same distinction in media and have thus shunned it, not recognizing the available opportunities for revolution via the media.

Baudrillard’s piece concerns itself with the theoretical models of media, deeming most of them misguided because of a similar desire to distinguish media into a system of TRANSMITTER-MESSAGE-RECEIVER, an iteration of an elite/masses distinction.

Both of them are right, but Baudrillard might be considered the more sage of the two because of the apparent insight his thoughts held regarding the current development of media. 

Let’s use a description one of the most popular websites in the world as an example:

See, it seems like these reddit fellows have tried to break down the barrier between producer and consumer, letting each person fill the role of the other appropriately. It seems as though these fellows have recognized the inconsistency of a dichotomy between transmitter and receiver. It seems that way.

But, isn’t reddit owned by Conde Nast? Well, it was. Now it’s owned by Advance Publications, Conde Nast’s parent company.

And, see, that makes me think that the distinction between producer and consumer has shifted, but hasn’t disappeared. In a way that Enzensberger never could have imagined, the elite, producer side has figured out how to get the masses to do the production work for them, to essentially turn them into unpaid content-providers.

And it’s working! 
And it’s not such a bad thing! (But it kinda is).

See, reddit has some staff; they manage the site. They don’t produce content, they simply curate and perform maintenance upon the infrastructure of the site, making it easier for people to provide their content to the community. It’s not a bad idea, since it essentially breaks with the idea of a content provider/receiver relationship.

But, like the new media reader suggested, perhaps this is just a more colorful iteration of the company controlled message boards of the 90s/00s. 

It’s hard to tell, really. See, reddit’s such a cool site because it does what other sites like digg and 4chan have tried to do, albeit in a more sophisticated, more aesthetically focused manner.

Perhaps this is a necessary shift that has to happen in media that might not be an extension of other social phenomena more than it is an original phenomenon that spreads outward. See, I think the idea of social media is that anyone can produce it, given that they adhere to the platform provided: twitter, facebook, etc. (This also leads me to question Enzensberger’s idea that a census office would have to be n times as large as the area of census; electronic media doesn’t operate upon physical restraints such as that, at least not to the degree he envisions. Facebook posts are all saved on servers that are far smaller than any physical, tangible, readable reproductions could ever be. Imagine that all of our phone calls are stored in a data center out in the Midwest by government agents who keep them on file for observation at any time. They don’t need warehouses of records to do it, they just need some server rooms and coolant tanks. And imagine that that single data center could hold all the internet and telephone communications data for the United States. Imagine that for a moment and get a little weirded out, ’cause that shit’s actually happening. Thanks Obama/Bush/Clinton/Bush again/Reagan/(skip Carter)/Nixon/etc. etc. etc.)

Anyways, the platforms for social media are still acting as providers, namely as providers of content space. It’s as though we’re given an etcha-sketch, one that records every little dial turn and saves it in its memory, and are told that we’re the real content providers.

And we’re not wrong to believe that, I think, as long as we recognize that our content is still sifted, sorted, and ranked through a faceless, nameless system that adhere to strict principles of content control. It’s rather interesting to see that, in a manner similar to social revolutions of the last two centuries, the social media revolutions of the modern day are being spearheaded by small groups of intellectuals dedicated to providing platforms for expression, rather than expressionary content. In essence, they don’t have to preach a populist notion to be populists, since their system is inherently populist in a way that the French bourgeois could have never imagined in the early 1800s. 

But there are still dangers here. One is unprecedented loss of personal privacy, willingly. We write things on the internet that we’d never say in real life, because we’re stupid enough to think that what happens online doesn’t translate into real world consequences. We tell our lives to Facebook, who tells google and the NSA all about us so they can use what we see as independent platforms as stages for subtle cultural influence and consumer advertising.

It seems that every time a new media platform develops, it fights against an overwhelming tendency to become a pseudo-content provider; reddit starts to introduce ads, facebook starts to sell things under the guise of news, etc. The more the platform is in use, the more susceptible it is to exploitation because it acts as a centralized system.

And there’s really no way around that now. The only platform that can arguably be seen as different is 4chan, but there’s a reason that 4chan remains more mythical than practical for internet-goers, and it is that very notion of non-centralization. By trying to give up the system into the hands of the masses, 4chan essentially assured its place as a bastion of free expression, a platform of immense creative output and social pressure, and a haven for illegal, perverse, and ultimately socially backwards material. It’s something that comes along with being that forward thinking. It also prevents you, from a perspective of principle, from being able to be utilized as a form of centralized marketing or social media.

Hence 4chan’s relatively small community acts without overhead direction, at the cost of remaining relatively obscure within the social media of the current age from of perspective of proportion (I mean, Facebook is, like, 1000 times 4chan’s size or something incredibly large like that).

What I mean to say here is that, yes, the distinction between consumer and producer must die a horrible death, and is dying a horrible death. But it will be a long time before that sort of distinction truly disappears instead of just shifting itself from one facet of media technology to the other, as with reddit’s move from content-production to platform-production and maintenance. In either case, the system still exhibits a structural division, albeit a less marked one in the latter case.

How do you move from that step to the next, more non-centralized, more non-divisive stage? I have no idea.



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