- Information Fantasies: Precarious Mediation in Postsocialist China by Xiao Liu
Information Fantasies: Precarious Mediation in Postsocialist China is an ambitious academic dream turned into reality. The book shows the author's diligence in research and skills in organizing extensive and dispersive materials with a clear focus.
The author's intent is to destabilize "media studies" by questioning any division in all aspects of humanity, such as socialism and capitalism, robot and human, literature and digital media, socialism and postsocialism, China and the West, content and technical carrier, labor and consumer, and so [End Page 280] on. The methodology is not surprising: Crossing boundaries has been a trend in academic studies due to the fact that many issues can hardly be studied through a single approach and media studies have always been interdisciplinary. Nevertheless, the scale of the research in the book is still exemplary. Liu draws examples from different media and quotes from a diverse group of renowned scientists, scholars, thinkers, philosophers, writers, artists, and other professions from both China and the West, some from the early twentieth century and others contemporary. Meanwhile, Liu also synthesizes an enormous body of examples from postsocialist Chinese media, mainly since the late 1970s to the present, as the components of "the discourse of network" on "information society" to deliberate an in-depth and detailed analysis arguing that our contemporary society contains visible and invisible interrelationships and interactions in multiple directions and that it is out of the question to innovate conventional academic disciplines and holistically examine humanity.
Despite the massive number of resources in the book, Liu provides a clear focus in each chapter. In the introduction, agreeing with scholars such as Alexander Galloway, Eugene Thacker, McKenzie Wark, Eva Horn, and John Guillory, Liu critiques media studies as a rigid discipline and calls for paying attention to "the process of mediation" through philosophically examining the "interface" that simultaneously disguises the human body and incessantly requires a large amount of human labor to create, maintain, and renovate. Liu's definition of "information fantasies" highlights the whole vision and philosophy supporting the book and deserves being quoted in full.
The "information fantasies," which are manifested in the scenario of "information pot," and in the fascination with artificial intelligence and a transparent, friction-free interface, as well as in the imaginations of magic devices that promise instant, nonstop information transmission, reflect the dream of all-inclusive mediation that integrates human beings into seamless, real-time information circuits.(p. 22)
The rest of the book discloses all kind of circuits with a theme. Chapter 1 examines the eagerness of the Chinese mainstream media and social elites such as Qian Xuesen to create an information society through encouraging discussions on extrasensory powers, magic waves, and information explosion, but the author notes that the scientific discourse is mostly an imagination and hope satisfying the Chinese government and its think tank's anxiety to catch up with the West after being closed to the capitalist world for decades. Chapters 2, 3, and 5 draw heavily on materials and examples from newspapers, literature, and films to examine topics that stirred up controversy among the social elites in the 1980s and 1990s.
Chapter 2 examines how artificial intelligence (AI) is on the one hand idealized as a solution for exhausted social elites (such as Lu Wenting, the [End Page 281] middle-aged woman doctor in the well-known film In the Middle Age), while on the other hand questioned as being a threat to humanity. The novel analysis and argument in chapter 2 are that Liu illustrates how the West focuses on replacing human labor with AI technology, while China concentrates on replacing expertise, the latter a residue of Mao's celebrating the power of (working-class) people and the lack of experts in China in the 1980s. At the end of chapter 2, Liu points out the irony of the entire discussion—while the "interface" in information technology makes it seem as...