Drones in the Cloud: Attending to Snapchat

I don’t know enough about you
To be kind, to be kind to you
Don’t you even think about me
Cymbals, “The Natural World”

The Cymbals’ electro-pop lament of unrequited attention (‘love’) has the same furtively repetitive energetics of yearning through ‘refresh’. Refresh the inbox, refresh the stream, refresh the wall. Repeat. Has the person responded? “Here is my attention; take it.” The “I” of the song is a single contact in a series of contacts presented as the natural world (or ‘milieu’) belong to the song’s second-person “you”.[1. As this reviewer on Pitchfork described the track, it is a “witty, sweat-salty pop song about the peculiarities of media-drenched modern life”.]

The expectation of being attended to is held by the “you” but it is also shared by the “I”. Obviously, the expectation is not held in the same way. Two perspectives on the same expectation indicates a certain kind of power relation. Teachers and students are meant to share expectations of what will happen in a classroom, but they will have radically different perspectives. The flip-side to the alleged passivity of narcissism consists of the capacity to excite or agitate the world. ‘Agitate’ not in the sense of arguing — there is that too, however — but more in the sense of an ‘agitator’ sometimes used as part of the viticulture process in great wine baths to ensure that the elements in solution continue mixing (and fermenting and so on). What does this mean?

There is a labour of sharing that requires an intensive strategic infrastructure to distribute collective expectations in asymmetric relations of attending and being attended to. The technology is part of this; ‘living with notifications’ in the same way you’d say living with some potentially painful but treatable condition. Snapchat operates purely in this realm. It is not what is shared so much as the anticipation of sharing. The just-in-time sociality of online relations often encourages a temporality not unlike the rhythm of waves, in the silent way the tide draws out the body of water — gathering in the potentiality of repetitive anticipation. Like the way a comedian waits for the audience to ‘get it’ (hoping beyond hope that their gag is, indeed, gettable).[2. I often feel very awkward around people when it is apparent they are not ‘getting it’, but that is something else…]

You decide what you want from me
We can hear the passing of time
And the sound that is in your mind
— Cymbals, “The Natural World”

The second-person “you” has a spectral composition, distributed across her agitations. (Obviously I am using ‘her’ when it very well might be a ‘him’; I know I present such a persona online sometimes.[4. EDIT a few hours later: For ironic emphasis I posted this image to Instagram and to Snapchat today with different text components. Not sure if anyone got the irony in the context of this blog post. A few people got extra annoyed at me thinking I was sexting them. I guess an ironic sext (not that it is a sext as such), is still a sext.]) Being attended to can therefore be experienced as endured, where the causal relation begins elsewhere; essentially, a passive relation to the actions of others. This is an abdication of responsibility, however. Participation in the anticipatory economy of sharing attentions is at the same time an impersonal cultivation of personal relations. This is a kind of existential wriggle. Impersonal because “you” engage with the cloud, which is nevertheless populated by (im)personal intentionalities.

Does the cloud have a face? What is the faciality of the cloud? I am tempted to suggest it is the drone: a being of pure intentionality — always a mission, always a target, its cybernetic perspective is pure HUD, baby — but one that is remote-controlled. Control is displaced across space for drone pilots; for the Cymbals’ “you” it is displaced across time in the anticipatory economy of sharing. The moral crisis of drone warfare is repeated online in the ethics of being attended to. The question of agency is therefore very tricky in such a scenario as it implies a degree of responsibility. What happens when the drones come home to roost? Can you be seduced by a drone?


A further, more pressing question presents itself: What if, instead of two people, the Cymbals’ track describes a process belonging to a single person?

That is, the agitations in question do not belong to some other (online) realm or ‘world’, but constitute that through which one’s subjectivity is individuated. I don’t know enough about myself to know if my own remote-controlled agitations are returning, repeating their anticipations. This would be the McLuhanist point (the way media technology “massages” the “human”): am I drone of my own affectations, a being of pure HUD intentionality, perpetually remote-controlled by a future version of myself (assembled by expectation and gathered through anticipation)?[4. Is this a mechanism to produce the absence of immediacy, most acutely experienced as the immediacy of personal responsibility?]


Finding a Rhythm

I’ve spent the last few months getting some rhythm back into my everyday life. I am enjoying life more. I am enjoying the rhythm and the work rhythm does to enable me to dissociate (more in chemistry sense, than psychoanalytic) some elements of my life. These elements are being raised through a kind of active forgetting into habit (or perhaps compulsion). Getting a rhythm going for me is to assemble a means of selecting those things I need to think about and what can remain unthought. I use to think about this in terms of going to the gym and doing exercise, which is super important, but now I think it was the rhythm of the gym workouts and how they enabled my to structure other rhythms around them.

Habit is often talked about in a negative way. The way someone cultivates ‘bad habits’ or the way consumers are encouraged through repeated prompting to exist in certain ways in response to commercial exchange (“Do you have a Fly Buys card?”). These negative forms of habit are premised on negative affects (‘Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘black hole’, addiction, etc.) or passive affections, where the consumer body ‘suffers’ the affects put in circulation by assemblages of consumption.

Rhythm, for me, now, is a selection and a sorting; that is, of enveloping active affects in a rhythm that produces a milieu, which can then be used as a resource. My own life and its active affects serves as the associated milieu from which I am implicated in passive affections. I am describing a different kind of habit. I have participated in enough elite sport (12 training sessions per week! two sports at once!) to recognise that many elite sportspeople operate at a high level in the same way.

To use a physics example, it is the difference between acceleration, which requires a massive amount of energy because of the relation to mass (and therefore inertia), and velocity. This is pertinent because my old ‘catch phrase’ during the completion of my PhD was ACCELERATE! I never stopped accelerating. Now I would describe my behaviour in terms of assembling a greater number of consonant rhythms so that I was transducing my active affects into the passive affections of my rhythm in increasingly intensive and complex ways. I have worked to assemble the rhythm, but now it runs on its own accord. Following the rhythm, ‘suffering’ the passive affections of my body’s own active affects, requires a great deal less energy than the initial work of dismantling old habits and assembling new ones (deterritorialising and reterritorialising).

The curious thing about all this is the materiality of rhythm. Sure, the drum beats, but rhythm is in the differential repetition of the drum beating. There is a count; perhaps without number, or the number is less important as an extensive delineation of spacetime than as an intensive relation to a future event. This intensive relation is a felt tendency that serves as the duration of experience between one moment and the next. It is a virtual architecture that superposes one moment upon the next mapped according to the concatenations of my rhythm. The architecture of the rhythm serves as a kind of enabling passage; a differential relation of expectations and anticipation. Here is the crux of the issue for me at least: The passage between one state of being — depressed, unhealthy, minimally productive, feeling unattractive — to another state of being where I actually enjoy life is an impasse that is overcome through this transductive process.

Make the Most of Career Opportunity!

What does it mean to have a tactical relation to opportunity? What is an ‘opportunity’? What are the affects of ‘opportunity’?

Mel Gregg has an excellent post In Praise of Strategic Complacency over at Home Cooked Theory. In it she is critiquing of the neoliberal discourse through which most academics are encouraged to understand their careers. A key term in this neoliberal discourse is ‘opportunity’. Mel writes:

It’s not enough to have gotten the job. No, landing the job is just the first step in a constant process of planning, assessing and maximizing “opportunities”. From now on, there will be little if any time to sit back and acknowledge your achievements, and yet part of what I want to suggest today is that you must fight for this time. And beware of people offering “opportunities”!
The model of worker that is rewarded today is that which is endlessly, limitlessly productive. The university will take everything from you if you let it. There are minimum performance levels but you’ll note that there are no maximums.

Mel warns that “there is no temporal or spatial limit to the networked information economy that employs you”. Rather than the entrepreneurial grind of ‘maximising opportunity’ she challenges us to rethink academic practice on a number of levels. See her post for the details.

I’ve previously written about the ontology of opportunity. The discourse of ‘opportunity’ belongs to the master narrative of neoliberalism. From a structural perspective, the role of government, business and social institutions is to ensure that subjects have access to ‘opportunities’. The discourse of opportunity is couched in the language of self-actualisation (bordering on ‘self-help’) and entrepreneurialism. Capitalising on an opportunity requires a strategic view that locates the present in the context of a particular set of future outcomes. ‘Opportunity’ is a process, a practice and an event. More useful for thinking through the ontology of opportunity is the example of workplace relations (based on a previous post discussing Scale, Events and Object Oriented Philosophy).

‘Opportunity’ as a Mode of Neoliberal Governance

One of the central problems with the neoliberal discourse of ‘opportunity’ is that it presents an ontology of an ‘open’ future encouraging self-governance that smuggles in micro-teleologies. A useful way to think about this ‘open’ future of opportunity is in terms of a ‘contingency’. There is a ‘pay-off’ horizon where our tacit knowledge/appreciation of a given situation allows us to know what the ‘return’ (as in return on investment ROI) will be for a given opportunity. We are encouraged to seek out opportunities that push these boundaries.

Sometimes that ‘opportunity’ is one we are presented with (as Mel notes!). There is a continuum of opportunity that is differentiated by relations of futurity made possible by the character of contingency around which opportunity is organised.

1) If opportunity is presented by those in power (such as a manager/mentor to a worker/junior colleague), then the contingency is often disciplined in accordance with the outcomes of productivity demanded by the managers (or embodied institutional ‘outcomes’ by the mentor so they can be inherited via apprenticeship) and the way surplus value is extracted from the worker’s labour. This inherits the strategic relation to opportunity as reproduced by existing power relations between managers and workers, etc.

2) If opportunity presents ‘itself’, then it is because the contingency of labour relations and relations between worker productivity and the market have not been actualised. A new relation to the market can be actualised. This often happens for academics when shooting the breeze at conferences, through social media/blogging, and the like.

3) If a worker creates ‘opportunity’, then it is because he or she has critically appreciated the mechanics of labour relations and relations between worker productivity and the market in its virtuality (an example of what Deleuze called the ‘fourth-person singular’ and the practice of counter-effectuation); that is, the worker does not perceive the situation though the identity and horizon of experience of a ‘worker’ per se. The worker actively differentiates a new set of relations that can only be apprehended through action. This is a tactical relation to opportunity.

To enfranchise workers in the emergent entrepreneurial mode of workplaces organised by neoliberal discourses means equipping them with the capacity to appreciate the dynamics of managerial techniques and apprehend new conditions between labour and the market through the praxis of their own labour. It is not a matter of grasping the relations between specific individuals or objects (big or little) but of appreciating how the relations between individuals are actualised and differentially repeated in the actual conditions of experience.

Affects of ‘Opportunity’, Failure and Success: Between

I originally wrote about the event mechanics of opportunity in terms of parenting, but a similar paternalistic relationship can exist between mentors and junior colleagues. The disappointment of failing to ‘live up to expectation’ is evidence of an ‘opportunity failure’. The opportunity in these circumstances may have been produced for one person (say, a junior colleague) by others (mentor). Mentors are disappointed because the relations of futurity in part produced by them for their junior colleagues are not actualised in the way they expected. The mentors know the future in the sense they can draw on experience to produce their own expectations. If a junior colleague is talented and does not follow the relations of futurity produced by their mentors in a way that the mentors expect, then according to the mentors’ respective expectations, an opportunity is lost. Expectation here works to discipline relations of future; an expectation is a colonisation of futurity.

Beyond this paternalistic relation is more of a symbiotic or even quasi-parasitical relation between colleagues in a single workplace or distributed across the virtual ‘office’ (virtual in both Deleuzian and popular ‘online’ senses). I’ve focused mostly on the unknown dimensions of ‘opportunity’ and how these are transformed through practice into ‘outcomes’. An experienced-based knowledge of the topology of ‘opportunity’ is therefore produced through this experience. The striving required on behalf of a subject to actualise opportunities in practical ways has an explicitly affective dimension. Mel discusses this in terms of having a baby: “We have amnesia about how painful it is, because the end product is so amazing. To push the analogy: try to remember the pain, and that it can be very hard to make happen by force!”

There are multiple ‘activation contours’ which the subject of opportunity is mobilised by and passes through complex co-assemblies of affect. Here is a list of related affects-as-poetics; a beginning:

1. Hope. The wandering (Spinozist) joy of possible futures combined with a pragmatic investment of desire to realise these ideals.

2. Manic waiting. When you feel like you’re overwhelmed by a desparate unactionable urgency to act. Nervous, anxious, but forthright and awake at 3am.

3. Impassage. Portmanteau derived from Lyotard’s analysis of Kant’s ‘enthusiasm’. There is an impasse that serves as a passage; the impasse is at the dawn of Rumfield’s unknown unknowns. (I can’t go on, I’ll go on. The two I’s straddle the impasse; they are differential repetitions, etc.) Affirmation; joy, but in the trenches.

4. Grind. The end is in sight. Warding off hope, but allowing it to inhere or subsist just beyond the horizon of apprehension (the possibility of possibility, actualised as a virtuality). Steady as it goes, this is a hug from a modernist sculpture suffering from angles.

ReachOut.com training camp

Over the weekend I led a session as part of a workshop camp training youth media advocates for ReachOut.com. ReachOut.com is an advocacy group that seeks to raise awareness about issues relating to youth mental health and suicide, and is part of Inspire.org.au. I was very happy to donate my Saturday morning and the couple of days it took to put together my session. Like most people, I’ve had some personal experience with a loved one struggling to overcome the ‘black dog’. It has been good to see depression and mental health issues receive proper media attention over the last few years as struggles with mental health issues transcend social and cultural boundaries.

In my session I introduced the youth advocates to the concept of a ‘complex media environment’. It builds on well established concepts within media studies from key figures such as Marshall “The medium is the message” McLuhan (see this video of McLuhan in Australia from ABC Open) and Neil “Media Ecology” Postman. The key outcome from my session was to get the advocates to realise that as media advocates they are no longer simply ‘consumers’ of media content, but nor are they properly ‘producers’ within the media industry. Instead, they are somewhere in between, what I described as being ‘operators’.

ReachOut.com’s own media advocacy kit for the workshop was put together (EDIT: 13/12/11) under the direction of co-manager Nathalie Swainston by Phoebe Netto and it is a brilliant practical guide for working with journalists and other content producers within the media industry. For example, it presents the well known values of news worthiness (timeliness, proximity, impact, etc) in an inverted form so media advocates know how to position their message so as to be useful for journalists working on producing a story.

I built on the media advocacy kit by reaching out to the youth media advocates’ existing mode of engagement with the media — as mostly ‘crticial consumers’ — to point out ways this could be extended and intensified so as to spot and plan for ‘opportunities’ for their message. I focused on two methods for doing this. The first involves working within the constraints of the journalistic ‘news cycle’ and also tracking the rhythm of the media activities of other social institutions, such as governmental authorities or the NGO sector publishing relevant reports.

The second involves appreciating the strucutral dimensions of the media industry. The commercial media industry basically operates as an ‘apparatus of capture’: it produces content so as to ‘capturre’ an audience, and then sell this audience to advertisers (or others). The questions the media advocates need to work through are, what sort of audience can I help produce and who would want the traffic/metrics/listeners/viewers/readership that my message can help deliver? The session after mine was delivered by the lovely and talented Pheobe Netto (who also took the phone camera snap above during my presentation!) and it was about the practical skills of crafting one’s media message. The ‘complex’ bit of the ‘complex media environment’ comes from the structural changes that the Australian media industry has undergone over the last decade or so. There are increased opportunities for engagement for those with the necessary skills to turn out good copy for many media outlets.

One of the qualities of this complex media enviroment that I discussed in my session was the way media stories can cascade across multiple channels and platforms. Most people are familiar with the concept of an ‘echo chamber’, but a more general example of a similar phenomenon is the way various media outlets will pay attention to what other media outlets are reporting on. This doesn’t only happen amongst competitors (or ‘co-opetitors’) but also sub-jacently related channels, such as local radio stories picked up by larger ‘talkback’ radio, picked up by print journalist, picked up by TV journalists, etc.

I think it was a very good day and the feedback I’ve received from participants is that they found my session to be very productive.

New Job

So I am two days into my new position as Assistant Professor of Journalism and Communications at the University of Canberra. I’ve been going through the process of setting up most of the required administrative and technical tasks of starting a new job. I’ve been delighted to find that all the staff at the University of Canberra have been very helpful and welcoming.

Meeting various people and talking with their roles in the institution as well as learning or at least getting a vague sense of my responsibilities means I’ve slowly allowed myself to become exposed to different layers of belonging and at the same time strangeness. Working at a university is very different to my last two and a half years in magazine publishing. There is a different rhythm of urgency and productivity. Now I can happily go and buy a coffee and take my laptop so as to work at the cafe.

One thing I’ve begun to appreciate are the different sets of expectations from various colleagues. I feel this on an affective level and these expectations are distributed according to differences of institutional experience and responsibility. On a personal level it means I get to know people beyond a formal academic title and learn about all their quirks and passions that make them interesting people.

Besides becoming acquainted with my teaching responsibilities for the second semester (due to begin in August), I am also developing a plan of attack to finally publish some of the more interesting outcomes from my PhD research on enthusiasm and the media. I am looking forward to this! Expect a stream of draft papers to be posted here once I get properly organised with my books, magazines and other materials.