Automated Media discussion:
- Chapter one set out what would happen in the book. Broadly, it covered social deskilling, the automated subject, automated politics, automated security and culture. Given the coronavirus situation currently, the individualised notion of society that appears here is interesting to examine. The current situation shows the failures of this individualisation. However, there was also concern over how this individualisation relates to surveillance; it makes it more focused on the individual and so more targeted. This raises concerns about the powers governments are taking now, given the crisis, and how these new powers can ever be clawed back.
- There was some dissent about the book. One of the recurring issues was the writing style, which was seen to be in a very media studies mould. For example, sociological perspectives may have concepts which are deeply tethered to the evidence at hand. Concepts cannot go further than this. A media theorist would explore the idea and take it to the end point, which was done in the book. This doesn’t negate that there are future implications but it doesn’t necessarily deal with what we are facing now. While automation is obviously important and will have a large impact for many fields, even within the fields impacted, jobs will continue to exist. They will change in function but they will not entirely disappear. Even in fields which are more threatened by automation (such as applied trades like coal mining or delivery services) the skill sets here can translate practices to other fields. This may not be direct and so would need to be identified but it doesn’t mean that these people are made entirely redundant. It was felt that this was not necessarily made clear in the book and that that there might be nuanced than suggested in the book. Sometimes it was felt that Andrejevic jumped immediately to the logical endpoint, rather than dealing with how we would reach that end point. Sometimes, it felt as if the Andrejevic could get caught up in his own theorising.
- In contrast to the previous point, the media theory writing style could also be viewed positively. We might need people to deal with things down the line, rather than only the here and now. Part of the benefit of the book is that it is willing to be future oriented, even if these futures are not empirically proven at this point. It is not coming from a baseless position, it is often coming from patents or plans directly from companies and thus can offer an antithesis to these plans. The operational language used in the book makes it easier to understand a lot of the consequences of automation.
- Part of the issue was a lack of clarity over whether Andrejevic was in agreement with some of the examples put forward in the book or if he was offering a critique of these examples. This broadly falls under a complete datafication of the world, thus a complete knowledge of the world, in a form unreadable to humans. This related to the review of the book by Jill Walker Rettberg. The notion of having no gap between data and reality was where the contrasting opinions lay; again it depended on if Andrejevic was seen to be critiquing this notion or not. Although, in conversation, Andrejevic did say that the book is at pain to assert itself as a critique of the fantastical notions of totalising data.
- The term ‘social deskilling’ was seen as an issue too. While social deskilling may not be a perfect term, it still can be useful; it relates to creating placid people and ‘idiocy’. the ‘rural idiot’ comes from Marx and Engels; the ‘rural idiot’ is too far away from mass population and centralised bureaucracy and so they become apolitical. It is not ‘idiocy’ in terms of stupidity but in that they cannot relate to other politically. Once again (for obvious reasons) the term is not necessarily the best one. It is perhaps better thought of as Foucault’s docile subject.
- It was felt that the book sometimes felt conservative too. This was particularly in the way old media was discussed. It was felt to be positioned as the ‘good old days’ when people had imagined communities because of limited choices of media, as opposed to now.
- In contrast to this previous point, it could also be that Andrejevic was speaking to the lack of imagined community now, not in a pining for the past but in pointing to a failure in the current system. This is in an attempt to move past solely talking about features of the medium (like filter bubbles) and speaking to a wider issue around civic engagement in society. If this is for a more progressive future, this isn’t necessarily conservative, even if the example used as an improved system comes from the past.