"Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its regime of truth, its “general politics” of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true’" (Foucault 1980 131).Those who use the Internet are not the agents of power, but are its instruments, its police. Online millions of people contribute to their virtual personae, in a production composed of images, text and audio. The acceptance of image online as meaningful and important does not bestow power to anyone. It locks people, (including celebrities themselves) into webs of trivia and brand-based marketing.
Power has always operated in networks. The Medici could not have been the most powerful family in Tuscany without a network of communication, media and bureaucracy that was based on 'Truth' to support and exercise that power.
With a massive media system now in place globally we are not seeing a revolution in the network. Many follow a similar path to Yochai Benkler, in The Wealth of Networks:
"Benkler tends to overstate the novelty of social production. Firms, for example, have long employed internal markets; delegated decision rights throughout the organization; formed themselves into networks, clusters, and alliances; and otherwise taken advantage of openness and collaboration. Many different organizational forms proliferate within the matrix of private-property rights. Peer production is not new; rather, the relevant question concerns the magnitude of the changes." - The Independent
I would go on to argue it is the small, the unknown, the rare, secret and the enclosed where power is more likely to be realized in terms of autonomy that can lead to more definite social change and new ideas.
I do not believe the most powerful organizations and people on earth are on Twitter and Facebook. Those that use social media and have roles in powerful organizations, for example the World Economic Forum, (which actually has no policy and decision making powers but does include major stakeholders) are not the superstars of social media. I support this idea with the attached graphic from the last WEF in Davos that shows the tweeting was pitiful - 12 278 in total and most of them coming from the USA
The smokescreen of truth in the form of mass attention to something that says very little and does not share Power with anyone.
Just thinking about what makes the present cultures and societies different, if indeed they are, from earlier similar formations, is the speed of digital media that can result in what has been termed 'Virtual':
“In the virtual, we are no longer dealing with value; we are merely dealing with a turning-into-data, a turning-into-calculations, a generalized computation in which reality-effects disappear. The virtual might be said to be truly the reality-horizon, just as we talk about the event-horizon in physics. But it is also possible to think that all this is merely a roundabout route towards an as yet indiscernible aim.”- Jean Baudrillard. Passwords. Translated by Chris Turner. London: Verso. 2003: 40-41.
Contrary to the anything that can be termed 'revolutionary' in the idea of a Netocracy (“those who are connected in interactive networks” - Bard), it seems many see the concept as simple digital production supplying markets, such as these entrepreneurs in Eastern Europe.
To extend Baudrillard’s idea, this is just an example of labor and focus turning-into-brand. Here the web is not separate from life but needs the 'need' to be created as "The virtual might be said to be truly the reality-horizon".
I would venture to say that while money is now electronic and pan-global and national currencies may wither, the enforcement of Power through capital ratios associated with money will remain. Bitcoin is just the first wave of a symbolic value experience that will be run as a program, but I believe it will maintain the same dependencies and prohibitions that money has done for centuries.
In relation to the free-ness of Gmail, Facebook etc. 'Free' is here defined by what we are prepared to exchange for a service - a single point in a demographic network or time, or advertising space or data. But Gmail and all the others are creating unequal value for everyone. Traditional sharecropping is managed a similar way. Again, an ancient future.
Finally I would go as far as to say the future is exhausted and this is reflected across those cultures that are adapting to the power that comes with the Virtual. This idea is posited on the fact that the future as a concept was invented - born out of a desire for progress, a belief in historical change, an abandonment of tradition and so on. The future just may not be a sustainable concept in a virtual sense. One example of this I think about a lot is the rampant nostalgia of today in the economies that support abstract levels of symbolic exchange. Examples include retro, hipster, evangelical, right wing extremist- all have nostalgia at their core, often for a time that never really existed. In the future we will live the time we have the means to afford to live. Meanwhile pre-Virtual economies continue to negotiate the encroachment of the virtual via the national, tribal and religious systems of power and economy. Colonial powers take advantage of these systems and exploit them.
Critique remains all we have.
Baudrillard, Jean. Passwords. Translated by Chris Turner. London: Verso. 2003.
Benkler, Yochai. The Wealth of Networks : How social production transforms markets and freedom.New Haven: Yale UNiversity Press, 2006.
Foucault, M. (1980): ‘Truth and Power’. In C. Gordon (ed.): Power/knowledge. Selected Interviews & Other Writings by Michel Foucault, 1972-1977, Brighton: Havester, pp. 109-133.