restricted access Introduction

From: Evil Media

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Introduction Evil Media is an attempt to develop an understanding of contemporary media systems, techniques, and practices of mediation in an era of participation, of massive networks in which contests are waged as much between technical systems as between ideas or more ostensibly social forces, and in which such conflicts in turn ramify into new crazes, passions, projects, and plans. Much of what we will discuss are the “gray media” most recognizable from the world of work and administration, affecting the habits of government, business, and culture, yet rarely recognized or explored as media in their own right. By gray media, we mean things such as databases, group-work software, project-planning methods, media forms, and technologies that are operative far from the more visible churn of messages about consumers, empowerment, or the questionable wisdom of the information economy. As Marshall McLuhan has argued, media are rather more pervasive than is commonly perceived, and the technologies that are encompassed by this broader view of media knot together some surprisingly disparate objects, practices, techniques, and knowledge. Part of the underlying argument of Evil Media is that the presence of media in our lives, and the abstract social relations that they bear, are more diffuse and extensive than is usually imagined. Moreover, increasingly more diverse and numerous things, habits, and roles are becoming media or are being activated as mediation. Although researchers schooled in the concepts and concerns of media studies have for a long time been prepared to question simplistic views of communication and have sought to convey the concrete, material “thickness” of media processes in contemporary social life, they have often overlooked the dull opacity of devices and techniques not commonly viewed as media or forms of mediation. In this book mediation , and the gaming of the disparate processes that make it up, becomes a general principle that extends from the basic building blocks of software to management 2 Introduction methods, psychic techniques, linguistic factors, and the hidden cunning of the work of manipulation. Media here become less about the movement of signs that refer to other things but active as tangible, biddable things in their own right. A set of words in a report, article, or illicit data dump becomes significant in a different way when placed in a mechanism that allows or even solicits unfettered access, than when that set of words is lodged in a closed directory or laid out as a book; allowing such open access has direct and pragmatic effects on the reception of ideas, to mention just one scale at which they might be operative. That texts, for example, also have automated readers—such as search engines—does not necessarily imply that readers become automatons but suggests that a transit of dynamics flows between one sort of material kind and another. This insight is in some ways fundamentally cybernetic, but it further implies that the fine grain of affordances provided by different kinds of scales, processes , objects, stuff, always complicates things, introducing subtle shifts susceptible of leading others (things, persons) astray. More is going on in processes of mediation than can possibly be handled by a set of rules (the hunger for which, in certain kinds of gray literature—documents of policy and procedure, self-improvement manuals, and so on—seems to know no bounds). Rather than the dreamy promise of rules for success, then, this book takes the form of a series of stratagems, each of which is either aimed at giving a particular angle into a certain scale of operation or calls attention to a way of working. We’re interested in the unintended or secondary effects of media as much as in their ostensibly obvious consequences. At the same time, following Giorgio Agamben, such a stratagematic perspective rejects the presumption that the point of view of the spectator is the privileged vantage from which to understand the operations of media. Conventional media studies, not to mention ethics, are far too concerned with thinking things through from the spectator’s perspective. An evil media approach suggests that mediation entails the process of becoming activated, whether one consciously takes on the role of spectator or not. The following five short texts—on the ways in which media might be said to be evil, on the nature of the book, on grayness as a compositional form, on the technics of sophistication, and on the notion of the stratagem—set out the underlying concerns and issues with which the book as a whole operates. Evil...