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Documentality and technoevolution

Today, Documentality. This is my contribution (sort of)

The Matrix: documents and social networks

Thanks to Maurizio Ferraris we are convinced that nothing social exists outside the text. But does that mean that we can only perform social acts that we are able to inscribe in a document? This conclusion would lead us to recognize a huge importance in our technology: it becomes the limit of what it is socially possible.

In a way, this is not such a non-sense. But it can be confusing, considering the pace of technological innovation that we experience these days.

Many questions emerge:
1. Technological innovation generates new possibilities, but where does it comes from? Is it a social act or a techno-technological phenomenon? We know that innovation doesn’t come out as an individual act. We also know that its adoption is a social act indeed. But what happens before? Does technology have its own sort of evolutionary dynamics, as Brian Arthur seems to think? If a social act can only be the one that happens on an existing technology, that conclusion could be rational.
2. What are those acts that humans perform as a species and not as a society? If the genome is a sort of text that inscribes a biological evolution and if it can be influenced by our techonological evolution, is this a sort of document that doesn’t come from any intentional social act?
3. Is it really social an act that no individual can decide whether to perform, because it is completely decided by the dynamics of some documental technologies? What is it an act that has important consequences on humans, that is very documented, and that happens in a context in which no individual act can influence the system? In the case of finance, for example, machines enjoy a share of power to act which happens to be much more important than the one that pertains to any individual or even to any specific group of individuals. Finance is a set of social acts, but it is not exactly the same as a set of marriages, because it is decided more by the document than by society.

There is a dynamics in technology that scares us, because it seems to be out of control. And that can happen with documental technologies, too. Social networks are developing around technologies that we call platforms. We, humans, decide how to design them, but then they start to design the social networks that we develop on them. Those social acts that happen on those social networks are documented, by definition: but they are also determined by the limitations and the incentives that are embedded in the platforms’ design.

Fiction, such as the Matrix saga, has lead us to fear a possible world in which a document (the Matrix) becomes too much of what is possible and not possible to a human species ensclaved by machines. Consciousness, then, becomes a notion that gives back to the social act some kind of freedom.


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Luca De Biase

Knowledge and happiness economy Media and information ecology