[NetBehaviour] Fwd: Downtime & Play

_dream.thick[ener]_ netwurker at hotkey.net.au
Sat Nov 19 21:56:34 CET 2005

>On my way to Zurich I just met a colleague at the airport. We both fly
>routinely. "I can't do it anymore." he said. "All this air travel is just too
>much downtime for me." I moved onward passing through airport lobbies in New
>York City, London, and finally my Swiss destination. In these inbetween spaces
>I was persistently confronted with big, fat back-lid ads. And they were all
>about time. T-Mobile's slogan is "Upgrade your downtime." The airline Jetblue
>draws attention to their wireless hotspots at John F. Kennedy with the
>commanding "downtime-download." The mantra of the British Vodaphone is "The
>power of now!" BT shows a jolly business man fly-jumping through what looks
>like a landscape of Powerpoint charts: "The digital network economy. Where
>business is done." In JFK, Sprint, the American cell phone tycoon, set up
>yellow placards in the size of a house that say "yes to making just about any
>place a work place." It made me stop. I was buffled. How dare they be so in my
>face about what I perceive as the agony of immaterial labor?
>Before moving to San Francisco I never heard terms like "quality time" or
>"downtime." In East Germany, for me, time was just time indiscriminately. 
>For a
>wide variety of reasons there are many that pledge allegiance to everything
>not-networked, offline, and non-digital. Who can blame them? Post-Fordist work
>conditions turn the super-mobile manager into a networked lap dog. At six in
>the morning those waiting in the airport gate area pull out their laptops.
>Sneaking over their shoulders I see spread sheets. The networked early morning
>work day starts with coffee and a cheese-and-egg-pizzas. Downtime now is
>download time. Life is work. There is not enough time to rest, cook, reflect,
>or walk in the woods. The insidious penetration of the Internet into our every
>grain is hard to deny. Workers become part-of-the-solution-nodes rather than
>full-time employees. Health insurance can be done away with. Wages in the
>immaterial networked realm don't have to bear resemblance to the work that was
>done. And, who ever mentioned pensions? Also Unions get whacked when the work
>force is geographically pieced together. Then there is all that sense of place
>stuff that Lucy Lippard was so adament about. But the uprooted lifestyle seems
>like peanuts compared to what is happening now, -- the horror, the horror.
>Passing through these airports, the net started to feel like an itch that we
>can't scratch.
>Much of the discussion about networking is focused entirely on business. 
>Rheingold's essay "Technologies of Cooperation" is magnificent and inspired,
>imho, but it is written in large part to help out the amazon-dot-coms of this
>world. Doug Rushkoff comments on his blog that he hopes for the ideas in his
>latest book to help businesses (and well, also a few others). Fair enough.
>What's wrong with that you may ask? Well, let's just say that there is an
>utilitarian impetus that rarifies play and experiment at least if they don't
>link up with business interests sooner rather than later. Let's just say 
>that I
>hope for people with insight into network technologies and their human uses to
>also take on projects that do not support those who already have plenty. Why
>help eBay to make even more money? Who really needs our help?
>Some cultural workers have much in common with managerial networked types. 
>Holmes points to that. It's not just the rock stars of what Richard Florida
>calls the creative class who sit on planes next to the smiley jet set manager.
>Artists become entrepreneur of themselves. Self-worth is quantified in 
>flyer miles and numbers of invitations. But the opportunistic, 
>ego-tripping art
>enterpriser is not all there is. Cultural practioners travel and perform their
>ideas all over the world. They are gift-givers with all the problematic
>hierarchies that this creates. On good days they enact their ideas with
>passion, inspiration and substance. The Brooklyn-based artist Martha Rosler
>documented her more than frequent passing through airports in many series of
>photographs and critical writing. She describes her motivation for these works
>related to her occupation. And in new media as much as in photography, the
>international scenes are closely knit. Travel is a substantial part of the
>lives of cultural producers. I can't point to the travelling managerial
>networkers "over there." They are so distant and conveniently different from
>me. I don't have all the ethical and political rightenousness on my side. I am
>part of the picture. The network beast lives also inside me.
>We move through space. "We" are all those cultural producers who fly thousands
>of miles to talk to different audiences or present their artwork. We are quite
>the experts when it comes to travel. We know it all. Airport, home, gallery,
>and lecture hall are equally familiar venues for us. We have it down. We know
>how to block off obnoxiously loud fellow travelers. We recognize how to remain
>friendly (most of the time)- with borderline-abusive security personnel. We
>inhale every magazine article about tricks of air travel. Our bodies are
>transported through the air. We are just resting. Covered with masks, our eyes
>are closed. We enter a think space. We know what to do about the lack of
>humidity on planes. The increased elevation at take-off jazzes us up. We know
>when to stretch and which way to rotate our ankles. We developed a continuity
>of purpose that makes it secondary where our bodies are located. The scenarios
>through we move don't distract us so much anymore.
>We repurpose trains, and airport lobbies into offices. The person next to us
>becomes unwillingly involved. We pull ourselves out of the public into the
>private networked space. We shift through the walkways of airports, drive in
>taxis and trains. Networked devices keep us always anchored, always in touch,
>consistently connected to myriads of social networks. But the flickering
>screens to which we are hooked is not just the bluetooth lifeline to the boss.
>We have all those with whom we share our lives in reach nearly at all 
>times. We
>cannot feel the warmth of their face, we cannot touch. But in our 
>"downtime" we
>can talk or exchange text messages. And doing so may prevent us from 
>talking to
>the stranger right next to us.
>We "grow" network tentacles (like air roots) that allow us to be always on.
>There is the perpetual, invisible link between our body and the nearest cell
>phone tower. We are always plugged in, interlinked at all times. In the city,
>at the moment when the subway train comes out of a tunnel to go over a bridge
>dozens of people who endured at least 15 minutes of out-of-reach time pull out
>their devices to feel reassured that they did not miss something. The
>technology is not plated into us. It is miniaturized. The only piece of
>hardware that Lev Manovich mentions on his blog, for example, is the "I-Go," a
>universal connecting plug for all kinds of devices. It allows him to leave the
>cable clutter at home. Our nano-sized multi purpose-devices are not what
>counts. What matters is the linkage that they establish. The wireless Internet
>signals casually picked up by our laptops facilitate exploitation. We have to
>look hard to see the emancipatory nature of socio-technical networks. But it's
>on the edges of network culture where the sun sparkles. It's not in the center
>of pesky business culture.
>But network technologies cannot be reduced to instruments of oppression and
>casualized labor that squeeze every last drop of genuine energy and creativity
>out of the worker. Cooperation-enhancing technologies are not by default
>networked assembly lines. The Treo is not the beast. Laptops are not merely
>locative Wall Street furniture. Cell phones are not the pervasive enemy. 
>of protesters at the Republican convention used them to escape police tactics.
>But at the same token networked technologies are also not inherently linked to
>a deviant life style or oppositional cultural practice. Technologies 
>define us.
>We are conditioned to relate to them in predefined ways. Using technologies
>changes what we know and how we know it. But we do have a say in this. We can
>shape the technologies that we are using.  Networked technologies do not have
>to stand for servitude. We can imagine  human uses. We can support emerging
>alternative socio-technical networks by reflecting on technologies without
>utopia-glazed eyes. Critiquing the vicious nature of networked, neoliberal
>managers is vitally important. But don't stop there. Don't leave the discourse
>about human uses of cooperation-enhancing tools and networking to them (or to
>them inside of us.)
>You can read this text (with images) on my blog at:

_intricate mirror mem[e_st]ories_


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