• Andrey Miroshnichenko
  • April 1, 2020
    Read, recorded or researched
This book will challenge your thinking on the internet, media, communication, society and where we’re headed. Written by a Russian media futurist and journalist, it paints a fascinating picture of what the internet means to us today and what wide-spread authorship will mean for the future of our society.

The Best Points

Human as Media

Introduction. “We’ve got radio, but not happiness”

  • The demographic transition of the 20th century was marked by the appearance of a new social phenomenon: the pivotal generation.
  • The pivotal generation was the first generation whose life lasted longer than an era.
  • It was a generation of people who for the first time in history found themselves living through two or even more eras within their single human lifetime. In Russia, the pivotal generation consisted of those born in the 1930s and 1940s. They were raised in the agrarian era, they worked through the industrial era, and now many of them are dabbling in the post-industrial era.
  • In countries that have already lived through the pivotal generation, the compression of historical time leads to constant temporal stress.
  • Temporal stress is a phenomenon in which a habit is unable to keep up with innovation. If an era is shorter than a generation, the balance between the speed of technical innovation and the speed of cultural adaptation breaks down.
  • This is the reason why “everything is amazing right now, and nobody is happy.”

The self-publishing audience

  • The history of humankind as a fight for freedom of content. Three revolutions: the phonetic script, Gutenberg and the Internet.
  • The key idea that captures the transitions humankind is currently undergoing is the emancipation of authorship.
  • From 300 million across all history to 2 billion or more within a mere fragment of time: this is a real explosion in authorship. Predictions suggest the world’s population will stabilise at 10 to 12 billion after a demographic transition.
  • In countries where the Internet is already well established, penetration is around 80% (all legally capable adults). Eighty per cent appears to be the standard Internet penetration for a digitised society.
  • If this is the case, once the world’s population has stabilised, the potential number of authors will reach 8 to 9 billion, stabilising there. At present the number is only 2.4 billion.
  • We are still in the midst of the explosion of authorship. In the process, we are experiencing growing pains and are unable to evaluate its conditions and consequences. However, comparable processes have already taken place, also connected with the explosive release of content.
  • The first emancipation of content is related to the appearance of the demotic script of Ancient Egypt around the 7th century BC, a phenomenon that gave common people the ability to write. This represented the emancipation of writing. As a result, the palaces and temples lost their monopoly over the production of information. This process took several hundred years, leading to the downfall of Ancient Kingdoms. In its aftermath, new civilisations appeared, each armed with a phonetic script: Greece captured minds, while Rome captured lands.
  • The second emancipation of content followed the invention by Johannes Gutenberg of the printing press around 1445. The ability to print multiple copies of a book reduced its cost, giving the common people access to the Bible and ancient texts. This represented the emancipation of reading. Then came the Reformation, religious wars and political revolutions. Palaces and temples once again lost their monopoly, this time over the interpretation of content. As a result of Gutenberg’s invention, monarchs were beheaded, world maps were redrawn, vaccinations were developed and man went into space. Modern society and modern economics were born.
  • What we are experiencing now is the third emancipation of content: the emancipation of authorship. Personal computers as well as mobile devices with Internet connectivity have given all individuals the unlimited right to share their thoughts with others, whatever their reason, or even if they have no reason. This does not mean that every private message is worthy of attention. It means that the palaces and places of worship have again lost their monopoly, this time over the production of meaning. If such historical analogies are accurate, then we should also expect comparable cataclysms. The powers of the old authorities (the clergy, the aristocracy, the state) have always collapsed along with their loss of sacral control over information. As a result, the social, political and economic status quo falls apart. With every release of content, society sheds its old form, like a snake sheds its skin.
  • On the Internet, simple, passive consumption of content is impossible….This brings to mind Marshall McLuhan’s idea: the medium shapes the user. If the Internet gives people the possibility to become actively involved, the individual gets drawn into this possibility and begins to behave accordingly...A web presence, by its very function, forces people to become active content producers. My parents came to the Internet at the age of 70 simply because they wanted to communicate with me across thousands of kilometres. The moment they stepped into its world, no one could limit their exploitation of the Internet’s possibilities. They set up personal accounts on social networks, assembled lists of their favourite films and songs, found friends and started exchanging messages with them. They respond to surveys and share articles and videos they like.
  • In April 2012, Paul Miller, a journalist from New York writing for The Verge, launched an experiment. Like the teenagers in Karetina Murashova’s project, he left the Internet, and did so not just for a day, but for an entire year. He wanted to overcome the Internet’s negative impact on his life, avoid all the senseless waste of time and feel the fullness of life, on top of it all. He described his experience in his brilliant article, I’m still here: back online after a year without the internet.
  • At the beginning of his experiment, Paul believed that the Internet was “an unnatural state for us humans.” But it turned out that if human activity moved to the Internet, the Internet turned into a natural habitat for us: “I fell out of sync with the flow of life.” “My plan was to leave the internet and therefore find the ‘real’ Paul and get in touch with the ‘real’ world, but the real Paul and the real world are already inextricably linked to the internet. Not to say that my life wasn't different without the internet, just that it wasn’t real life.” Lastly, it was the Internet that provided the feeling of being connected to society: “On the internet it was easy to assure people I was alive and sane, easy to collaborate with my coworkers, easy to be a relevant part of society.” And Paul concludes: “The internet isn’t an individual pursuit, it’s something we do with each other. The internet is where people are.” “When I return to the internet, I might not use it well. I might waste time, or get distracted, or click on all the wrong links. I won’t have as much time to read or introspect or write the great American sci-fi novel. “But at least I’ll be connected.”
  • All that is needed is some kind of interaction, a way for people to construct their personal honeycombs so that they are visible to others and can be filled with reprocessed content for the sake of status and exchange. This is how people become authors. For most people, personal authorial weight is small. But everyone is taking advantage of the emancipation of authorship in some way or another. More often than not this is unconscious authorship, spurred on by an unconscious motive: the thirst for response.
  • If we consider this question in terms of the likelihood that other users will react, the “best” content consists of the most conventional themes and meanings, those capable of attracting:
  1. Reactions from the largest number of other people;
  2. Reactions from the most important people.
  • The greater the number of people who agree with the author, the stronger his or her social connections are. This is something to strive for. The qualitative nature of response (response from the “right” people) facilitates society’s delineation into groups. Those who respond to my authorial initiative are in agreement with me, they are like me. This is how I find people similar to myself; this is how communities take shape in society.
  • To explain social interaction, Hegel coined the term “struggle for recognition,” which is often interpreted as “demand for recognition” or “appetite for recognition.”
  • People experience the thirst for response on a physical level. It is the sixth sense–the social sense. Sufficient or insufficient satiation of this thirst can prompt action and bring about stress or pleasure.
  • The Internet provides new, quick and inexpensive opportunities to satisfy this thirst. However, it is a thirst that is never fully satiated, because socialisation is not a product, but a process.
  • The quality and quantity of reactions depend on the quality of the signal. Thus, in addition to coherence, a hierarchy emerges.
  • Strong personalities produce a strong signal and are capable of receiving a response from a large number of people. The person who is capable of receiving a resounding reaction from large groups of people becomes a leader.
  • You can see the signs of this mechanism, as it shapes the social hierarchy, in the rush to share. Why, having received a piece of potentially interesting information, does the consumer hurry to share it with people in his or her own name? Sharing is not simply the publication of information, but also a way of exhibiting one’s status of awareness.
  • The closer (earlier) you are to the source of information, the cooler you are. The informed have higher status than the uninformed.
  • In the old institutions, to maintain status it is sufficient simply to know; it is not necessary to communicate what you know. Sometimes what is important is precisely not to communicate, but to symbolise knowledge or create the illusion that you know.
  • This is how the traditional institutional hierarchy is held together. Status is not determined by current activity, but by previously conferred ranks. Ranks, in turn, represent your level of access to important information. In the old institutional world, power was built on a lack of information. This informational deficit is critically important to the development of the institutional hierarchy. This is how the ruling circles, in distributing information, acquire special significance and power.
  • “I think people care about what other people are interested in, most importantly in their social circle,”said Krishna Bharat, creator of Google News.
  • This is true: an individual doesn't just want to know something, he wants to know what other people know, what is important for others. But more than that, he wants to know about what is important that other people don’t know yet. This means that he wants to know before anyone else knows. And finally, he wants others to find out from him about this significant, unknown thing. Because that’s how you get the best response, right? These are the gradations that shape the mechanism behind a social hierarchy based not on power or property ownership, but on the possession of content.
  • The sharing contest is what produces social gravitation in the web. Whoever communicates more frequently and earlier, and conveys the most important information, achieves a higher status. This is all that is needed for gravitas in social networks. Many authoritative bloggers do not possess the assets that carry weight in the offline world, but they become leaders because they are capable of generating a response.
  • Internet addiction, like any addiction, is similarly linked to the simplification and shortening of positive feedback between a signal and the desired result.
  • Now it’s possible to reach people beyond your circle of personal acquaintances instantly; the Internet, as McLuhan predicted, has “extended” our ability to communicate. You can grasp the illusion of personal importance even in a single discussion: people are reacting to my post! This means I exist!
  • This is the pernicious narcotic of social networks, which is accelerating personal social time and, in return, is eating up physical time. In their struggle for more and more doses of this drug, the users develop a virtual presence at the expense of their presence in the real world.
  • Society has not yet developed a code of Internet hygiene to control such risks. Meanwhile, the situation is changing so quickly that new risks are appearing. There is no time to get used to the old. Risks are increasingly leading to culling rather than adaptation. Or perhaps the culling of individuals, as is the practice, will turn out to be a means of adaptation of the species.
  • Our goal on the Internet is not to inform or be informed. Our goal is resonance.
  • It didn’t even occur to Bonaventure that a contemporary writer could actually write an entire book independently. Indeed, who would dare create a book when there was already Aristotle and the Bible?Such was the pre-Gutenberg attitude towards authorship. As the twentieth century approached, people became bolder. Authorship went to the masses long before the Internet. Print media actively drew in outside authors and published readers’ letters. The Internet unleashed private authorship once and for all.

The Viral Editor as a distributed being of the Internet

The first “Artificial Intelligence” has emerged in the technological world, made up of real people: the Viral Editor of the Internet.

  • If a user succeeds in being interesting, he or she will infect those who come into contact with him or her with interest in this subject. They in turn do the same; they try to contaminate others for the sake of response. If enough people are infected, it starts an epidemic of interest in a particular subject. This is what makes it viral.
  • The Viral Editor enables not only the transmission, but also the crystallisation of meaning, which is more important for the infected population, as well as the selection of the very best wording. Therefore, it is an editor.
  • As a result of these adjustments, the “interest virus” mutates, striving to find the optimum form that allows it to contaminate as many “victims” as possible.
  • The Viral Editor in its action resembles a neural network - spontaneously putting together clusters of “neuron-users” on important public issues. Every thematic stimulus in a chain of bloggers is a “thought” of digital society.
  • The Viral Editor's “staff reporters” are not only everywhere, they are also there instantly. An important event will be written about by a blogger before a professional reporter manages to get there, because some blogger is always already there.
  • Consequently, even the mass media use blogger reports rather than journalistic articles increasingly often. Journalism has been deprived of its monopoly over the news. The profession of the reporter is doomed.
  • A review involving this quantity and quality of experts, eyewitnesses and other volunteers is impossible in traditional mass media.
  • As a result, journalism is deprived of its monopoly over analysis and opinion.Thousands of journalists lose out to millions of bloggers not only in terms of reach, but also in terms of competence, style and wit.
  • The Viral Editor selects information after, rather than before, publication. Old media filter out the noise during publication, while the Viral Editor does so in the delivery process.
  • The Viral Editor extracts, selects and distributes significant information for free.
  • The Viral Editor has at his disposal an enormous quantity of man-hours. For the sake of recognition and self-expression, millions of bloggers are constantly searching for significant subjects, events, discussions, expressions.
  • This is why the Viral Editor is capable of discovering everything. Significant matters, if they are significant, are sublimated and become the focus of social attention.
  • What journalists do on purpose, the Viral Editor does by chance, but it certainly and inevitably does it.
  • The Viral Editor cannot miss an important subject. If a subject is not picked up by the Viral Editor, either it is not socially significant or it hasn’t yet been discovered by the Viral Editor’s “staff reporters.”
  • The Viral Editor has destroyed the mass media’s monopoly over the production of news, analysis, opinions and also over information circulation. The Viral Editor has taken away the mass media’s monopoly over the production of benchmarks, having learned to develop a social significance no worse (or sometimes even better) than professional editorial offices.
  • The mass media are left with only two functions that the Viral Editor is unable to stifle. They are navigation of the future and compression of a picture of the world into the panoramic agenda.
  • The panoramic agenda is also an exclusive area of competence of the media editor, but not of the Viral Editor.
  • The Viral Editor extracts what is essential, interesting and significant, but it is not capable of giving the full, summarised picture of the Zeitgeist. In order to see the full picture of the world in the blogosphere, it is necessary to read the entire blogosphere. In the mass media, it is sufficient to leaf through a magazine or newspaper, or just have a look at the news.
  • If the authorities do not allow a variety of opinions in politics, then these opinions are expelled to the Internet, which is an environment of free reactions, and they galvanise it. Repressed opinions have higher charge and are absorbed by the Viral Editor much better than an average opinion. This is why the Viral Editor tends to radicalise people in closed societies.
  • What evolves is a highly fluid environment with extremely strong gravitation, where people and ideas that have something in common are mutually drawn together and find one another fairly quickly. The activity of the environment is always greater than the sum of the activity of bloggers.
  • With Internet sharing, the entirety of conscious humankind will be drawn into the web, meaning all people who are capable of rational social interaction. The entire volume of social interaction will be accessible so that this magical transformation of virtual quantity into social quality can occur.
  • Thanks to its comprehensive coverage, any possible connection between people will be not only probable, but inevitable. The principle of the statistical inevitability of the probable can be defined as such: where there is a sufficient body of responses, any desirable interaction will come true.
  • Any content that is of interest to me will reach me. If my personal network is big enough, it is inevitable that my interests will coincide with the interests of someone who has seen an article that is of interest to me. It’s not just that “I may get it”–I cannot fail to get content that is of interest to me.
  • Incidentally, this transition from probable concurrence of interests to the inevitable delivery of a concrete message to a concrete “me” generally entirely undermines the idea of paid content. Paid content has no future not because people don’t want to pay or because there are no effective micropayment services. The reason is far deeper and more hopeless: the idea of paid content, at its very essence, contradicts the logic of network interaction. Paid content presumes the most valuable things should be closed. The web presumes the most valuable things should reach whomever they are of relevance to; that they should and will.
  • The best tool for a person is, of course, other people. Humans are the ultimate tool for humans. In this sense the web offers the ultimate instrumental technology, crowning and completing the entire previous history of technology.
  • Thanks to the web, human is expanding their own world not with a stone hammer or an airplane, but with another person. We are entering a society where every one of us becomes an easily wielded tool for somebody else.
  • Along with expert discussions, of course, a lot of noise and rubbish surface in commentary. There are always a lot more emotions than facts. But the Viral Editor crystallises the most striking of disclosures, those that people retell to one another with unique pleasure.
  • This is how the strongest arguments get singled out and circulated. It is, moreover, the best turns of phrase that attract the most support from those who participate in the expert review: the most precise, the clearest and the cleverest. Thus there is also a stylistic singling out that occurs. This is precisely the task that was previously done by the editor.
  • On a daily basis, people thirstily seek information on the Internet–they are led by it, they create it and they distribute it themselves, investing the very best they are capable of. And yet, at the same time, they don’t trust the Internet. A myth has been propagated that the Internet is a trash dump. Is the Internet really just a supplier of rubbish?
  • In terms of how information appears on the Internet, it could be compared with a rubbish dump. Everything gets in. But far from everything circulates and finds an end-user. In reality, nobody uses rubbish. There are no restrictions on entering the Internet. But there are rather serious–albeit not all that obvious–restrictions on the path information takes from the Internet to our brains. Content is now filtered not before publication, but at distribution.
  • The Viral Editor’s filter collaborates with the settings of my friend feed and my browser. Information that has not captivated my friends will not reach me. It will not pass my friends’ screening, nor the screening of the friends of my friends, who are carrying out the work of the Viral Editor specifically for me.
  • Personal browser settings, the Viral Editor and relevance algorithms create a three-layer filter that restricts the variety of Internet content to a digestible level of information that is thematically suitable to you. The settings of the web environment (bookmarks and friend feeds), as created by the user, work as a personal content filter. The Viral Editor can be seen as an interpersonal filter of content. And, finally, relevance algorithms are a machine content filter.
  • All together, they offer a fairly harmonious and interactive system that turns the raw content of the Internet into our personal “The Daily Me” (to use the terminology of Nicholas Negroponte)–special media, within which information is selected personally for you, but taking into account its common significance.
  • The three-part filter system has its problems. Eli Pariser speaks about them in particular in his book The Filter Bubble. On the one hand, relevance algorithms create comfort, intercepting noise and selecting information that fits our interests. On the other hand, relevance algorithms create that very same Filter Bubble, the impervious cocoon that locks our future outlooks within the prison of our past preferences. If a robot judges exclusively by what we have liked previously, we will lose the chance for serendipity, accidental meetings with unexpected information that may expand our perception, pouring fresh blood into our familiar world.

The social impact of the net

  • Emancipated authorship generates a huge volume of individual activity. The desire for response transforms activity into interaction. Meanwhile, the Viral Editor establishes the set-up–the social quality of such interaction. What emerges as a result, within the environment of free authorship, is social gravitation: the pull of people towards each other and towards mutual gravitational centres (as well as away from each other and away from centres of aversion).
  • Subjects, authors and connections of one kind or another generate either weak or strong gravitational fields that grip participants and even spill over into the offline world.
  • What rapidly becomes clear in this fight between the institutions and the web is that the most important value for the old institutions (state, bus companies, the media and so on) was not the service they gave people, but the very fact of their own existence.
  • When the service they offered can be delivered by the environment itself, the purpose of the institution collapses to become merely the defence of its monopoly over this service. In the end, the institution is concerned not with the provision of the service, but with its restriction. It becomes clear that the monopoly on provision is more important to the institution than servicing its audience. This is why the emancipation of authorship will detonate the old institutional world just as the previous emancipations of content did: the emancipation of writing and the emancipation of reading.
  • Towards the end of the noughties, Facebook became widespread. A characteristic feature is that in contrast with the US and Europe, where Facebook is used mainly to keep in touch with friends and family, in Russia Facebook, to a much larger degree, became an environment for communicating about professional and political issues. It attracted above all middle-aged, urban, educated professionals.
  • It is precisely thanks to their demographic makeup and performance specifications that Facebook and Twitter within a year became the media platform for the Moscow street protests that unfolded after the elections in late 2011 and early 2012.
  • The Runet turned a corner in the development of its media activity in the summer of 2010, when fires were raging around Russia.
  • Already used to and experienced in criticising the authorities, the Russian Viral Editor cried out from various locations that people were lacking well-handled aid. The so far rather weak volunteer movement instantly grew in popularity. Its leaders, such as Doctor Liza, became famous throughout the Runet. And volunteering in itself–or at least some sense of allegiance to it–became fashionable. People on a large scale learnt to transfer money, collect clothing and go out to the fires. Groups assembled on social media, aimed at helping particular regions or providing specific kinds of aid. Internet activists created various satellite projects, such as an interactive map of the fires (for example, russian-fires.ru on the Ushahidi platform), which gathered information about the fires and helped people understand what kind of help was needed and where. This was perhaps first time that the Viral Editor had attempted devirtualisation, stepping into the offline world on a large scale. It was precisely that scorching summer of 2010 that took the Internet activity of Russian users to a different level. The evolution of media activity had shifted from the level of civil debate to that of civil action.
  • Thus, literally in the space of three years, media activity on the Runet passed through all the evolutionary stages:-Everyday authorship;-Popular authorship;-Quasi-professional media activity;-Civil involvement;-Volunteer activism;-Political activism.
  • From the point of view of influencing reality, the evolution of media activism also went through all these stages:-“Stewing in our own juices;”-“Boomerang;”-“Let them do it;”-“Let us do it.” Finally, this evolution also fits well with the gradations of motivation behind Internet involvement as described by Clay Shirky:-Personal sharing;-Communal sharing;-Public sharing;-Civic sharing.
  • It goes without saying that the events in Russia were governed by the specific features of local politics. But, in equal measure, they were prepped by the expansion of the Internet and social networks. To be more precise, it was the conflict between a rigid political system and the fluid environment of emancipated opinion that resulted in political escalation. In the absence of natural offline forms of expression, new media will without fail heat up political activity via self-expression, media activity and civil involvement.
  • Social networks are the successors of that sense of solidarity that was created by television. The volume of man-hours spent on social networks is already comparable with those spent watching TV. The effort threshold for entry into social networks is no higher than that of TV watching.
  • There is, however, a substantial difference between the billions of man-hours spent in front of the television and the billions of man-hours spent on the Internet. TV watching utilises billions of man-hours of “passivity.” As a result, those billions of man-hours are simply taken out of circulation and produce nothing. This is lost time, exchanged for extremely weak emotions. Clay Shirky pointed out the important social role of this murder of mass free time. When urbanisation, automation or simply an increase in prosperity allows people to spend less effort on survival, a huge amount of intellect, energy and time is freed up.
  • If this free time is not occupied with anything, a social cataclysm occurs. Shirky shows how at the start of the 18th century, urbanisation in England made drunkenness an acute problem in London. Moving to the city, people began spending less time acquiring the means to survive.
  • On the one hand, social networks are clearly the successors of television in this respect: they also use billions of man-hours of time, energy and intellect. On the other hand, the Internet converts the entire, vast volume of man-hours previously spent on television from a passive state into an active one. Time, intellect and passion spent on the Internet go in search of response. And response is only achieved through some kind of individual activity (television does not require individual activity). The production and distribution of content–that is, participation, activity and interaction–are the results of this activity.
  • Countries that don’t have experience putting to use large volumes of individual energy will be stunned by the revolutions of social networks.
  • This process has already begun and affects precisely those societies that:
  1. are more or less familiar with the norms of consumer culture, meaning they appreciate the value of individual satisfaction (i.e. individualism);
  2. economically (or demographically) generate a lot of free time; but
  3. have relatively rigid political systems that cannot satisfy people’s new and growing personal demands.
  • The rigidity of the old institutions will come into conflict with the fluidity and activity of the web. At the same time, these factors can explain not only the Arab Spring and the Russian protests, but also the London street riots of 2011.
  • The social status quo is clearly rigid in its attitude towards the youth of the London suburbs, and does not provide mechanisms for utilising surplus free time. In the transitional period, the co-existence of an old broadcast media model (or, more broadly, a broadcast social model) and the model of involvement of the new media, makes the situation even more acute. Television shows one thing, while your friends on social networks say something else. The broadcast social model was effective only when there was media monopoly. If there is no monopoly, a powerful fortress wall turns into a false façade, and then into a detonator.