#97, digital participation is reflexive

April 26, 2017

There has been a great deal of darkness, and small windows of light, in this project, what with my 100 days of attention to and reflection of the #fakenews that saw, forwarded, and engaged with the shadowy moves of this administration as well as those of the social and digital media that analyzed, propagated, and multiplied these daily acts, including my own engagement. The darkness of #100hardtruths-fakenews is seeded in the violence, hatred, greed, and stunning illogic of the first 100 days, and a deeply interconnected internet logic that fueled and monetized our attention and participation. Even when I would use this project to point to intelligent, beautiful, inspiring counter-moves (in the form of a great many of the #100hardtruths) the darkness often deepened for me, knowing as I did that when sharing those here I was never outside the system, but rather that I was a part of an infrastructure of participation that produces and feeds off of #fakenews and its dark heart situated in the play between honesty and deception, sincerity and fraud.

This tension—between promises and impasses of participation, its hopes and disappointments, its illusions and recuperations—is at the forefront of recent social, cultural, and political assessments of participation in relation to new media … For, despite what appears to be an unprecedented range of opportunities for individuals to participate in activities that seem to compare with long-standing ideas about what constitutes political action—gathering and publicizing information, expressing opinions, debating an deliberating with others, signaling preferences, making choices, witnessing events, and organizing collective action—it is not at all clear that the participatory condition marked by all this activity is actually one on which the quality, intensity, or efficacy of political experience is significantly greater, or more democratic (in the substantive sense of a more equal distribution of power and resources), than it was before participation became routinized part of most every aspect of social life. (Darin Barney, Gabriella Coleman, Christine Ross, Jonathan Sterne, and Tamar Tembeck, “The Participatory Condition: An Introduction,” The Participatory Condition in the Digital Age)

From these authors and other engagements with my smart and committed peers and colleagues, I understand that my plight within this condition—enacted for me in the construction of this self-aware witnessing of my own participation in what I despise and hope to help change—is common, human, and currently definitive. And I turn to art and scholars, to my communities and reasonable humans, to learn again and again that we can and must name these conditions—here and elsewhere—as well as how we suffer (and profit) in their wake.

Between us. Between strangers. Our civic contract states. We will act in each others best interest for no other reason. Than we are here together. (Claudia Rankine and John Lucas)

We need to do our best to build the vocabularies and practices that can describe and improve upon what and how we now see, engage with and participate in. We need models for responsive, human systems for sharing, making, interacting and viewing. We need ethics, a working “civic contract,” to witness and act in defiance against this onslaught of images and words, #fakenews, given that we are so “different from and similar to. each other.”

Producing contexts for our interactions, for our participation and sharing, has always been but becomes now even more so: everything. In Situation 8, by my friends John Lucas and Claudia Rankine (one of a larger series, Situations), we see one attempt to produce ethical context for seeing: a poetic, historic, lyric, audio-rich analysis that situates unspeakable images between known and unknown viewers who will have to “put their trust” in each other.

“Someone is paying attention. Someone is watching. See.”

The lesson of the conjunction of surveillance and subversion is that, in the digital era, active participation generates data about itself in addition to the intentional and deliberate forms of action or feedback with which it is associated. This is a crucial—and increasingly important—aspect of the digitally informated society. Digital participation is reflexive in the sense that it generates information about itself, and this information may be more detailed and comprehensive than the information generated by deliberate and active forms of participation … We may find that active forms of participation online are redoubled by increasingly passive ones, amounting to automated participation in data-driven control systems. (Mark Andrejevic, “The Pacification of Interactivity”)

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Situation 8, John Lucas and Claudia Rankine

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One Response to “#97, digital participation is reflexive”


  1. […] on #100hardtruths #99, coming finally to my end point, I reiterate “this is a digital primer about, within, and against information overload in network […]


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