I have been wanting to write about the writing of this blog for some time but the pace of events since January has been so breathtaking, and so relevant to the themes of my book, that it has not seemed possible to take a break. In the past week, the crisis seems to have itself taken a metaphysical turn. Nuclear regulators in the U. S. (no-one’s idea of a green crowd) have critiqued their Japanese counterparts to the extent that the most basic sense of what has actually happened at the Fukushima Daiichi plants is in doubt. Is there a leak or not? Has there been a meltdown or not?
In tandem with this confusion, nuclear scientists announced last week that maybe they had not properly understood the atom at all. In the last experiment at the Fermi lab before it is due to be closed down, it seems that a new particle has been discovered. Or a subatomic force. Or something. Or maybe not. Meanwhile the search for the mythical Higg’s boson, which has to exist in order for all the other theories to be right, continues to fail, despite ever larger super-colliders. Is it entirely wise, some might ask, to create power by unleashing forces that we clearly do not understand? Obama administration officials see such remarks as “opportunistic” [warning: NYT link, don’t waste your ‘hits’!] What could go wrong with using plutonium in much larger amounts, after all?
All this sent me into a metaphysical reverie about materialism and the atom, chasing down references to the Atomists, like Democritus, who was so detested by Plato that his work has to be a good thing. And before I knew it, I had missed my self-imposed “deadline” of Tuesday or Wednesday latest. In turn that made me think that what I’m doing is perhaps less a blog than a column. If you can have a column on the Internet that is. In the era of rapid-fire response and disseminating links by Twitter, perhaps the blog form is obsolete, as Kathleen Fitzpatrick mused this week?
At the same time, there’s another iteration of the return of old media going on at present. Leaving Facebook is becoming a performative sub-field in its own right. Over at hip webmag Triple Canopy, the mantra is “slowing down the Internet.” While at Media Commons, I edit a section called “The New Everyday,” which invites people to post “between the blog and the journal,” adding another layer for thought, reflection and, if you’re lucky, feedback.
So, if even the elite in what Bifo calls the “cognitariat” feel overwhelmed by the need to assemble information, forward it to their audience, and then repeat, perhaps the very gesture of annotation is under pressure. Indeed, the “theory is over” crowd are celebrating the rise of data-driven methodology. It’s been over six months since Wired announced the death of the web, killed by the triumph of the app from the iPad to Netflix. If the Top Ten websites–like Facebook–now command over 75% of web traffic, then the “open web” is a quirky remnant, especially if/when net neutrality disappears.
As the open web retreats, a “computational turn” that depends on Google for its data-mining is likely to be short-lived. When people do find time to comment on open web work, they often do so now via Facebook and Twitter, meaning that the audience for the original piece may well not see the comments, undermining one of the very arguments for open web writing. By the same token, the idea that comments or site visits can be used as a new metric of influence is troubled by that dispersal of commenting to apps.
In short (for once!), the need to be reflexive is also the need for critique, or in a word, politics. So just as we have turned to “slow” food as an alternative to agribusiness, we have to maintain the “slow” humanities. The very need for “theory on the run,” as Geert Lovink has called it, paradoxically requires us to break it down into steps, just as a top-class athlete works on their “mechanics.” It means working towards the “free, libre, open university,” as Gary Hall has put it, in place of the corporate machines that we now have. We need to collectively work theory from post/tweet/update to a “middle state” form where it works and can be worked upon, and then achieve its archival form in a publication.
And yet, even as I’m trying to think this through, my email is dinging, I’ve got a tweet about how multi-tasking destroys your memory, and what was I saying?