tom moody

social media and "scenius"

An artist emailed asking for recommendations of theorists on art and social media. He's interested in the idea of an art based on collective intelligence and feels that Facebook and Twitter would be the logical place to look for such networks, given those platforms' "relative ubiquity." The idea of the hive mind has been with us since before the cyberpunk era (see Theodore Sturgeon's books More Than Human and To Marry Medusa) and could even be traced back to the collective wisdom of the twelve-person jury system. In the artistic context, Brian Eno used the term "scenius," which Simon Reynolds applied to the mostly anonymous DJ-producers who rapidly built on each other's discoveries and group-innovated musically in the jungle/drum and bass era. It's a real phenomenon and not inherently to be laughed off with Borg jokes, but one might still balk at Facebook and Twitter being a place to find it. Here's the skeptical reply I sent:

Geert Lovink ( http://networkcultures.org/geert/ ) is one a few writers on this topic but he's mostly negative on the "big soclal media" (facebook and twitter) and I agree.
I understand the urge to use twitter for art-as-social-experiment but even *you* are hosting the results [of your art project] on an independent site (that is, not Facebook or Twitter).
For me, the big sites are too controlled to be a place for meaningful art activity (controlled as in monitored, policed, relentlessly monetized) and also too large for any one theorist to grasp.
We'd like to think an art could emerge from places where so much of the world spends so much of its time but I feel it's doomed at the outset because the hosts -- the masters -- are essentially soulless tech zombies. I'm interested in the idea of "the occult" and "the underground" that exists outside those platforms, almost by virtue of being non-participants.

There were some early attempts to curate Twitter (am thinking of Travis Hallenbeck's book Twitter Favs) and journalists regularly mine and massage collections of tweet screenshots as an indicator of group or mass opinion. I see less Facebook screenshotting but it may be because "everyone is on Facebook" and feels what's on there is always accessible, even though it's not. Whatever scenius is, it's not mere demographics; what we're looking for is cults, in the sense of a shared aesthetic, and Twitter unquestionably has them (spend five minutes looking at anyone's followers, and followers of followers). The question is how to cull them and make sense of them, ideally non-algorithmically, in an environment increasingly larded and confused with ads, promotions, and scams. Am admittedly not up to the task and would just rather look elsewhere on the still-wide Internet.

To be precise, this particular artist wasn't looking for Twitter cults but had a project somewhat akin to Amazon Mechanical Turk-like employment of Twitter users for aesthetic ends. Am personally not a fan of these kinds of overdetermined tech art schemes, which seem inevitably to cross over to venture capitalist/incubator notions of technological-innovation-for-profit.

- tom moody

January 21st, 2017 at 8:48 am

Posted in theory