Everything began like this, with a Facebook post:
“The Third Industrial Revolution? Yes! Meaning that we’re seeing a new kind of factory: this time not for bodies, but for minds”
Always on, Always working.
We’re moving towards a dimension of continuous work.
Life becomes work.
Within cognitive economies we have entered a domain in which the working condition is permanent. Off moments do not exist. Off moments become opportunities to create (and, thus, to produce), not to switch off from work.
Even switching off is encoded: meetings, social media, pictures. And coffee culture. 24h challenge marathons. Hackathons. The culture of sleeplessness. I never sleep, I always create.
Zombies of the 21st century
The second industrial revolution saw bodies under stress. The third one is about minds.
It is in the mind, in perception, that the encounter/conflict takes place.
Therefore factories move. We don’t need physical factories to contain and to encode bodies anymore, we need cognitive factories to contain and encode minds.
Contain and encode minds: let’s try to understand what that might mean.
In pop culture, zombies are monsters of the 20th century, correlated with mass phenomena: mass production, mass consumption, mass death.
Zombies are not aristocratic monsters like Dracula, nor freak superstars like Frankenstein. They are the monsters of everyday life.
What is the zombie of the 21st century?
Zombies and immaterial production celebrate the logics of the colonization of the mind and of the central nervous system. – Lars Bang Larsen
In 1956, Don Siegel’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, in which a space plant duplicates human beings and extends its reach all over the world, much like the World Wide Web, exposes the violent normative power of the American way of life (during McCarthysm). It’s 1978 remake, by Philip Kaufman moves the discourse to highlight the role of technologies and networks: the snatchers occupy telecommunication networks and start a planetary action for the circulation of bodies, in the transition from the industrial era to the one of immaterial labor. Production ends, replaced by a regime of mediation and reproduction.
In these visions the imperatives are about socialisation and re-invention, together with the scenarios of self-canniblism (self-management, self-evaluation, self-regulation, self-consumption).
Art and creativity become the norm.
In “The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre and Every Business is a Stage”, James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II, observe the evolution of art’s and creativity’s normative power.
Most product designers focus primarily on the internal mechanics of the good itself: how it performs. What if the attention centered instead on the individual’s use of the good? The focus would then shift to the user: how the individual performs while using the good.
The emergence of the Experience Economy coincides with, albeit not coincidentally, heightened interest in creative thinking. It also introduces a real need for greater improvisational skills in the workplace.
Both art and creativity, become norms, expected, needed, both from the point of view of the industry, and from the perspective of the user, of the individual. Both become performers, in stage acts (the authors describe them in terms of theatre genres), in which both parties take active, constructive, creative part in a creative action.
The myth of the otherness of art becomes commoditised, leading to the reproduction of subjectivity: experience is the new source of profit, and the object of production is the experience (and, thus, the performance) of the user.
Conscience as a social product
The premise to this approach is psychological: the ability to alter consumers’ perception of reality is a central theme.
In 1962’s “Industrialization of the Mind”, Hans Magnus Enzensberger explores the condition of human beings with the rise of the cultural, cognitive and creative industries. He started out from the analysis of the issues of consciousness and awareness.
No illusion is more stubbornly upheld than the sovereignty of the mind. It is a good example of the impact of philosophy on people who ignore it; for the idea that men can “make up their minds” individually and by themselves is essentially derived from the tenets of bourgeois philosophy: secondhand Descartes, rundown Husserl, armchair idealism; and all it amounts to is a sort of metaphysical do-it-yourself.
Marx: what moves within our mind is a product of society.
The industrialization of the mind (and in the mind) is a process of the last 100 years which just cannot be explained through the analysis of its technologies.
The term “cultural industry” is vague and inaccurate, and embeds a paradox.
Conscience can be induced and reproduced by industrial means, but it cannot be produced.
Conscience is a social product, and the result of dialogue. No industrial process is able to replace the people who generate it.
The industry of the mind does not produce anything, but the dynamics of infiltration and transmission which are necessary to the formation of the perception of what is possible, desirable, preferable: in the formation of the perception of the future.
Which is a form of power, but also its weakest spot: it benefits from that which cannot produce on its own, people’s creative productivity.
The industrialization of the mind begins from education.
While we debate about curricula, education systems and university reforms, the technological systems which will make all of these things obsolete and irrelevant are right around the corner.
The education system as a mass-media, the most powerful of them all, and a multi-billion dollar business.
The possibility to control that which is accepted or refused, perceived as present and future, is a primary subject for political debate.
Material exploitation must disguise itself to survive, and immaterial exploitation has become its necessary corollary. Exploitation has not been abolished: our perception and awareness of exploitation has.
Prosumers in the era of remix
The focus shifts from consumers to producers. Prosumers, some time ago. Makers, now.
There is no doubt, from the point of view of the architectures of power, on who runs the business.
It is not the intellectuals for sure (designers, coders, creatives, engineers, artists, writers…) who control the industrial complex.
Nonetheless present time allow for a certain degree of ambiguity, as the industry of (in) the mind can enforce control only by acquiring the services of the few ones who, effectively, create something.
The majority of creative products are derivatives. Wether we are speaking about music, interfaces, apps, hardware, software, fashion or else, there are a few drivers and even fewer enabling innovations: the majority of the rest is the result of derivation, remixing, recombination.
In the long term, this is not enough to feed the industry.
This results in the need for “new things”, and the consequent dependency on those who radically innovate: in other words, on potential troublemakers.
All sorts of techniques, from the crudest to the most sophisticated, have been developed to this end: physical threat, blacklisting, moral and economic pressure on the one hand, overexposure, co-optation into star cult or power elite on the other, are the extremes of a whole gamut of manipulation.
These are all short-term, tactical solutions, used to resolve this paradox: managing the unmanageable people who are able to introduce alternatives. If it is not possible to control the producers, it will not be possible to control the consumers (now under the form of prosumers, makers or the other kinds of performative consumers, the subjects who consume by performing/expressing themselves, producing).
The rapid development of the mind industry, its rise to a key position in modern society, has profoundly changed the role of the intellectual. He finds himself confronted with new threats and new opportunities. Whether he knows it or not, whether he likes it or not, he has become the accomplice of a huge industrial complex that depends for its survival on him, as he depends on it for his own. He must try, at any cost, to use it for his own purposes, which are incompatible with the purposes of the mind machine. What it upholds he must subvert. He may play it crooked or straight, he may win or lose the game; but he would do well to remember that there is more at stake than his own future.
And, thus, we can go back to the beginning, to the factory of/in the mind, and to our contemporary zombies: the creatives.
Industrialized, they find themselves immersed in a recombinand cognitive assembly line, whose every element is dedicated to their self-cannibalism, through creativity: continuous innovation; the search for the billion dollar startup.
Obviously, it isn’t a matter of being able to controlling the future, but of being able to control the perception of the future (which implies the possibility to control the present, time): what is considered and perceived as possible, desirable, preferable.
It is a matter of education, conscience, awareness and performance. Of understanding where our perceptions come from, from which infiltrations in the social game of dialogue.
Short term innovation, and beginning from scratch
The control of time, and of the perception of the future.
Many important issues are at stake. For example the possibility for the many different types of innovation, and of the capability to create shared practices and methods to produce usable knowledge and wisdoms.
A strong focus on efficiency innovation is common in current times. Much more than the one on enabling innovations. They have different time cycles and modalities. Enabling innovation usually need longer time frames, and different operative modalities, which struggle with the ones of the cognitive industry, always on a rush and pulverized, competitive, focused on simple, localised ideas which allow for venture capital investments that are oriented at exit strategies.
On top of that, the research for enabling innovations is progressively becoming encoded through a singular vision of the future. On a techno-deterministic vision of technology, or even on the singularity: artificial intelligence, robots, nanotechnologies, biotechnologies, colonisation of space. Which, of course, is not something negative in itself. What is negative is the absence of critique, and of the lack of a pluralistic, polyphonic vision on what the future can be. It is consumerism, and the status quo perpetuated through positivistic and techno-deterministic utopias. Technologies become spectacle and, thus, hyperreal, forcing alternative models out of the stage. The search for efficiency forces the focus on the modalities of problem solving: even holistic and ecosystemic methodologies are transformed to serve efficiency and the production of more effective business models which are based on the emergence of a self-cannibalistic creative class.
The evolution of philosophies yields space to efficiency and to the possibility to maintain current lifestyles, enacting novel kinds of colonialisms and the resulting comfort zones.
The result comes under the form of short term strategies, of the impossibility to deal with uncertainty and of the progressive encoding of new normalcy fields – of novel consensual realities – characterised by diminished social certainties, of lessened shared social unconscious spheres, which can all more easily become the target for the influence of power players.
Who decides what a “smart city” means? Who decided the future of work? And other examples.
Following the money is always a good exercise in trying to find answers to these questions.
Plural holistic and long term visions are progressively disappearing. And so is the perception of the possibility for a plurality of futures.
History and Aesthetics
The impossibility of history is directly connected to this.
The perceived structure of time has changed. We are now in a state of continuous present, of continuous flow.
We constantly start from scratch.
All this can be framed into a discourse which is about perception and, thus, of aesthetics.
Beauty is a complicated matter. Just as the Future.
Being able to decide (or even only to suggest) what is beauty and what is future constitutes a great power.
We live in times in which the architectures of power have learned to liberally draw on this modality. By doing that, they create a funnel, in which beauty and future loose modalities and possibilities: they progressively stop being a polyphony, and become mono, singular.
This condition and progression can be inverted by a few things. Among these are enabling innovations and art (which is different from creativity).
Both enabling innovations and art enable different, other, possible, emergent, dissonant visions of “consensual reality”, of “beauty” and of “future”. Possibilities which are plural, emergent and performable, through the construction of dialogues.
Both have different times frames and cycles than the ones of work, creativity, competition, and even of current currencies.
The scenario can change whenever novel platforms for identity (and, thus, for representation, in a social context) enter into the game.
Networking is not enough anymore, as it is not enough to have open source tools, open data, 3D printers, etcetera. Because whomever controls the platform also controls the framework which is used to define oneself. Wether it’s Telecom, Facebook or Energy Company X, it makes a small difference. Even Energy Company X will tend towards becoming a platform for identity: it is the difference which will mark the transition between the energy companies who extract, refine and distribute energy, and the ones who control the information of people who produce their own, and share it.
Sometimes it is possible to hear the objection: “If you don’t like Facebook, abandon it!” And, obviously, it is not that simple. One does not simply leave an identity system.
How can we imagine framing and resolving these issues. What is the zombie of the 21st century, and how can we perform a shared transition towards a more reasonable and empowered control of time and of the perception and performance of possible futures?
It not simple, and it is not a technological feat. And it is not singular.
With all probability it is a process which can only begin at the level of the education system, by integrating in schools and universities a critical vision of the world, along with an ecosystemic (and, thus, possibilistic, even in terms of the possibility and opportunity of conflict) one. An education system whose interest is not on building a system of consensus, but of co-existence. Of the capability for the perception of the value of diversity and of civil confrontation and conflict, not on techno-utopian and singular visions of the future.
In all of this, the roles of governments, organisations and companies can change: not, anymore, evangelists and advocates of visions and approaches, but enablers of ecosystems who construct their own, and who learn how to make them co-exist.
This is the great opportunity of our times.
[this article, in modified form, appeared in Italian on CheFuturo!, here: http://www.chefuturo.it/2014/10/come-sopravvivere-alle-nuove-fabbriche-della-mente-proviamo-a-ripartire-dalla-scuola/ ]