Thursday, 8 May 2014

Understanding Geert Lovink’s book “Networks without a cause: A critique of social media”: A video by Akin Olaniyan

Akin Olaniyan is a student in the MA in Social Media at the University of Westminster

Watch the video interview here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GV-PBy3iaDk

He sounds very much like a techno-pessimist. When I first read Professor Geert Lovink’s book, ‘Networks without a cause: A critique of social media,’ the first thing that struck me was the sense of despair that runs through all the chapters. With chapters devoted to Facebook and the crisis of identity, big data and the ‘Googlisation of our lives,’ and a proposition to divorce the study of social media from media studies, there appeared to be no other way to understand Geert Lovink. And that was the starting point of my interview with him conducted via Skype. As you can see in the video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GV-PBy3iaDk), when I asked him what was the source of the despair I felt running through his book, Geert describes his frustration that the Internet has become too centralized and cites cloud computing as evidence. He feels it was time the Internet went back to the original format of small networks.

One of the comments on the blurb of his book, by McKenzie Wark (author of Gamer Theory and Professor of Culture and Media at The New School), describes Geert as our Tin Tin. ‘Like canny adventurer, he travels the world discovering new frontiers of both folly and invention,’ McKenzie writes and that was instantly confirmed when Geert – after he found where I was from – expressed an interest in working in Nigeria if there was a good chance to teach critical Internet Cultures.

I find that this interview is a rare insight into the minds and works of a scholar who sounds techno-pessimistic but whose research and works focus on making the Internet more workable.

On big data and social media alternatives for instance, Geert, whose works have focused on developing alternative social media, is critical of big data and the concentration of power in the hands of few corporations like Google.  “When we talk of alternatives to social media we refer to alternative variations of the known platforms. So, an alternative to Google would be a search engine without all this commercial bias, a search engine that will be based on other algorithmic principles,” he says. And on Facebook, Geert says: “When we talk of alternatives to Facebook, we mean a social network that is truly local and doesn’t work with this ridiculous notion of friends as a general principle of connecting people.” He sounded to me more like an activist than a university teacher.

When asked how to best arrange funding for such alternative social media platforms, Geert admits there may be no global solution owing to differences from country to country but mentioned subscription and the public library model as possible options for consideration.

I finally asked him whether he considers himself as belonging to the same school of thought as Evgeny Morozov and Neil Postman since I found as I felt his arguments sound techno-pessimistic. He appeared to smile at the question but looked serious as he answered: “I strongly believe that we have to team up with start-ups, programmers and insert a political and cultural agenda there. I come from a background where we see ourselves as developers of the network and that is different from traditional techno pessimist point of view. I have absolute joy in the constructive value of ruthless radical critique.” Overall, I find Geert an interesting scholar, especially after I received copies of other books he co-authored, which he freely offered. A quick look at two of those books, ‘Unlike Us Reader: Social Media Monopolies and their Alternatives,’ and ‘Video Vortex Reader: Responses to YouTube,’ confirm my feeling that this is no ordinary scholar but one who is at the same time an activist.


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