Review, Precis and Comments Re Andrey Miroshnichenko’s book Human as Media: The Emancipation of Authorship. By Robert K. Logan

Dr. Andrey Miroshnichenko, a media futurist and journalist, trained as a philologist, has written a very important book. I would go even further and say that a new star is born that students of media ecology, communications and digital media need to pay special attention to by first reading his book and then integrating his insights into their own understanding of the Internet, the World Wide Web and social media. Because this is going to be a rave review I want the reader to know that Andrey is not a personal friend and I only learned of existence three weeks ago in an email of his announcing his book that was forwarded to me by a friend and that his book that I ordered arrived only a week ago. I have had no contact with Andrey except by way of 3 emails so this is an objective review of his book.

Human as Media: The Emancipation of Authorship is the first book in a trilogy of three planned books. The book is a blockbuster full of insights into the nature of communication, socialization, authorship, culture, politics and their connection to the Web. The book immediately attracted me because from its title and its description I could tell it was influenced by the work of my former colleague Marshall McLuhan. What I discovered to my delight that using McLuhan’s insights Andrey revealed aspects of the effects of the Net and the Web that I missed myself when I wrote my book Understanding New Media: Extending Marshall McLuhan. Dr. Miroshnichenko has extended McLuhan’s ideas to create totally new insights of his own. I take my hat off to him and this review will explain why I do that. I believe that his insights emerge from living in Russia where freedom of expression is often suppressed. This book is not only about the Internet but it is also about Russia.

Dr. Miroshnichenko begins his analysis by identifying three revolutions of literacy:

  1. Phonetic script beginning with the emergence of demotic script in 7th Century BCE in Egypt representing what he calls “the emancipation of writing” because it gave access to written expression to a greater number of participants and hence “palaces and temples lost their monopoly over the production of information (7; where numbers in parentheses refer to pages number in the book)”;
  2. The Gutenberg Press in 1445, which greatly reduced the cost of written books so that there was an “emancipation of reading” such that “palaces and temples once again lost their monopoly this time over the interpretation of information (7).” There followed in the wake of this event the Reformation, industrialization, modern society and economics.
  3. Personal computers, mobile devices and the Internet ushered in the third revolution and “the emancipation of authorship” with 2.4 billion people today authoring information even if they are only sending email or text messages. “In the new world of participant content, the line between author and public has disappeared. Anyone can take part in content production, without any selection process or permission (9).”

Miroshnichenko observes that “the Internet has become a space of socialization (11)” and, following McLuhan, a narcissistic “extension of man” in which there is “a thirst for response (12).” “The circulation of significant information becomes not only possible, but compulsory (15).” The need for a response has given rise to an addiction for the need of an instant response which social media like FaceBook feed into by asking viewers to respond with a “like”. The medium is no longer the content as McLuhan observed but the response is the content or as Miroshnichenko observes, “they react therefore I am… it is the flow itself, consisting as it does not of content but of interaction, that is of primary value (19).”

Although describes the impact of the Web as “the emancipation of authorship” he has a special definition of authorship in mind. “Internet users, of course, are only authors in a technical sense… It would perhaps be more accurate to call them publicators (19).” He points out that the number of publicators nearly equals the number readers on the Net. “They publish something, be it something of their own or someone else’s that they selected based on their own taste (20).” In writing this review in which I quote liberally from Human as Media I am operating as a publicator and not as a true author. I am sampling from Human as Media and remixing to create this review.

In “Chapter 2. The Viral Editor as a distributed being of the Internet” Miroshnichenko defines the key concept of his book, namely, the Viral Editor:

The first “Artificial Intelligence” has emerged in the technological world, made up of real people: the Viral Editor of the Internet. It is currently building a new social reality, creating an alternative form of guerrilla journalism and begetting a new social contract. This collective being is in full opposition to the crowd and is an enemy of the state (22).

The Viral Editor is a collective consisting of all the contributors to the Internet, the viral editors (note the use of lower case to distinguish the individual viral editors from the collective Viral Editor). Miroshnichenko describes the Viral Editor and its impact in the following way:

1.1. The Viral Editor is a distributed being of the Internet, a sort of Artificial Intelligence whose “processing chips” are the people – users.

1.2. Identifying something of interest, a random user passes this information through his personal interests filter, conducts his own microediting and publishes his message, and he does so without any restrictions.

1.3. This is the same work that a professional editor is doing.

1.4. The user’s main goal is to elicit a response. This personal yearning for a response is the motivation behind the entire system. While weak on the individual, “atomic” level, for large arrays of users this motivation creates strong forces that nourish the Viral Editor’s work.

1.4.1. This is why it works – without money and without management – and why it does so much better than if it were driven by money or by commands…

2.1. The Viral Editor in its action resembles a neural network…

3. The Viral Editor improves people

3.1 A person’s behaviour in the Viral Editor is the direct inverse of a person’s behaviour in the crowd.

3.1.1. The crowd unleashes the herd instinct in man, destroying any sense of individuality. In the Viral Editor, on the contrary, the user wants a response specific to his individuality: to his assessment, his opinion…

3.3. The Viral Editor is a new form of positive socialisation of individuals…

4. The Viral Editor improves himself…

5. The Viral Editor is killing the reporter…

Journalism has been deprived of its monopoly over the news. The profession of the reporter is doomed…

6.3 Thousands of journalists lose out to millions of bloggers not only in terms of reach, but also in terms of competence, style and wit…

7.5.1. Socially significant information on the Internet occurs and circulates of its own accord. One does not need to look for it or pay for it, as in the time of journalistic monopoly.

7.5.2. It is now not the reader who wants the message, but the message that wants the reader.

7.6. In the future, content will be paid for not by those who wish to consume it, but by those who wish to distribute it.

12. The Viral Editor is a new form of social contract

12.1. The selection and sharing of messages is a way of voting for the significance of these messages…

12.1.1. Reposts are the simplest and most accessible means of civil activity.

12.2. The turnout in the Viral Editor is accidental but 100% representative. Topical epidemics in the Viral Editor serve as referendums, as instant forms of direct democracy…

12.4. The Viral Editor is a mechanism of a virtual social contract – a self-built consensus of the masses regarding the key questions of social life.

12.4.1. The Viral Editor does not deal with politics. It deals with everything, including unbridled nonsense. But the most important topics in the Viral Editor relate to socially important issues, because social issues promise the user the largest response.

12.5. 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.

12.5.1. Under such conditions, the Viral Editor inevitably stands in opposition to the authorities…

12.6. The long-term co-existence of the Viral Editor and undemocratic power in the same human environment is impossible (22-29).

The Internet emancipated authorship, and the media ceased to be a reliable barrier against variety… The Internet itself has a built-in filter for developing cohesion: the Viral Editor. The Viral Editor is capable of eliminating superfluous opinions and setting general guidelines. This is precisely what it does. But the Viral Editor is not an institutional embodiment. It is a web, a dispersed creature that is not visible to the naked eye (82).

Miroshnichenko introduces a very interesting idea that by suggesting that with the Internet makes possible by suggesting that, “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 (34).” With the Internet we become each other’s extensions. Apropos of this “every user creates his own ‘Viral Editor’s bureau’. And it is a personal bureau, capable of satisfying precisely those needs that suddenly arise within a person. Moreover, if a task is interesting enough, the subject passes beyond the confines of the personal friend feed and attracts a wider pool of expertise (40).”

Editing by the Viral Editor is not like traditional editing because “content is now filtered not before publication, but at distribution (41).” The filters are

  1. our personal settings,
  2. the viral distribution of the Net (“Previously it was the newspaper or television editor who defined the news for us, relying on his own understanding of the significance of events. Today, we get the news via a web of viral distribution on the Internet.”) and
  3. “algorithms of relevance” set by the distributors of information based on our interests as determined by our previous visits to different Web sites (41-43).

In “Chapter 3 The Social Impact of the Net” Miroshnichenko defines social gravitation.

What emerges… within the environment of free authorship, is social gravitation: the pull of people towards each other and towards mutual gravitational centres… At the end of the first decade of the 2000s, the Internet began to shape socially significant world events. In some cases it amplified civil activity, in others it provoked or sustained protests, riots and civil wars. These events were all very different, but they had one thing in common: social media users crossed over from discussion to action (47).

In writing from the perspective of his life in Russia Miroshnichenko provides us with an insight into the impact of the Internet in a closed society.

The degree to which a society is closed is an important condition of the network evolution of media activism, strange though it may sound.

In an open society this evolution has already occurred in the pre-web era. Therefore it is precisely in the fabric of closed societies that one can observe the inevitability of the evolution of media activism by looking at how media activity gradually turns everyday blogosphere subject matter into civil activism and even political street protests… In those societies that can be characterised as closed, the emancipation of authorship will be unavoidably accompanied by dramatic political conflicts. (52, 61).

In addition to distinguishing the differences between Russian and Western societies via the Internet Miroshnichenko also sees certain parallels in the way the mass media operate in these two different political systems.

Despite all the differences in social order between Russia and the US, the biggest American and Russian media are almost identical in their inclinations. They want to limit the distribution of important information. The Americans, for financial reasons, the Russians, for political (but also, in some ways, financial) reasons.

It turns out that the value of media is not determined by information, but by its absence among the audience. The media proclaim themselves a supplier, but it really serve as a valve, which opens for money or when given permission to by the authorities…

The mass media’s basic function is to eliminate diversity of opinion (81).

Miroshnichenko makes the shrewd observation that the Internet is less inaccurate that we believe it to be.

If we compare the world before the Internet, when information was broadcast from a few closed sources, with the world of the web, in which information comes from everywhere, the old system is, without question, much more capable of lying and manipulating. How was it possible to disprove lies in Pravda (the main newspaper under the communist regime of the USSR) if there were no other sources? Now these other sources have emerged.

The Viral Editor is capable of filtering out lies. Here is how the mechanism works. If a lie is significant it is spread by the Viral Editor until witnesses or experts who are capable of disproving it get wind of it. If a lie is insignificant, it is never disproved; but by the same token, it is not spread. As a result, the more dangerous the lie, the stronger the immunity (83).

Miroshnichenko, a self-styled media futurists makes a number of interesting predictions based on his notion of the Viral Editor each of which (with one exception) makes sense to me perhaps because he does as McLuhan did, namely he predicts what is already happening. Here is a sample of some of his predictions that illustrate that foresight is merely insight:

• 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 (33).

• Social network users already experience an allegiance to Facebook and Twitter that is a kind of surrogate for nationality. As a result, even the very multitude of users of one social network or another is increasingly perceived as a collective social subject. A new framework is emerging for collective self-identification, one that surpasses any professional or social community and that is on par with the national state. Of course, the arrangement of this “nation,” and in particular, of this “state,” are completely different (62).

• The authorities, relying on the old broadcast communications model (from the top down), have beaten off the attack of the web protest. It’s true: the revolution will occur when the daily share of the Internet audience reaches 55-60% of population (65).

• Having learnt to value their consumer rights, people gradually carry over similar demands from the sphere of everyday services into the sphere of interaction with the state (67).

• There is not yet a history of the web, but you can assume it will be a history full of revolution (75).

• We are at the beginning of a transitional phase, and the effectiveness of the web environment is still taking shape – with institutions reacting to the web with fear. The web environment has not yet achieved demographic, moral and social domination; it still has only demands and questions. The institutions are still the ones with the answers. Institutions are manageable, subject to a unitary will. They could study the web more effectively (which will unavoidably grow) and develop transitional, soft forms of convergence, if such a thing is possible.

It’s only a question of quality and the motivations of the people who control the old institutional world. If postponement suits them, rather than adjustment, then the decisive changes will come later.

But they will be even more catastrophic (77).

• The growth of the Internet cannot be stopped. This means that the emancipation of authorship cannot be stopped (87).

• The conflict between emancipated authorship and the broadcast model stirs up antagonism between developed and developing countries, while also reinforcing the social rift within developing countries. The digital elites of developed and developing countries will experience a global commonality, further provoking local reactionism and worsening the situation for the national digital elite back home.

Thus a new geopolitical split may emerge, between participants of emancipated authorship and partisans of the traditional social broadcast model. Over time, this split, strengthened by technology and enmity, could change the political structure of the world, previously based on nation states (89).

The process of destroying nation states could gain incredible speed once multi-lingual browsers appear that allow text to be translated automatically and unnoticeably into the user’s language… Cultures will collide with each other directly, without any defensive language barriers.

Traditionalist cultures will no longer be protected by the most reliable of state borders: the national language border. Their traditionalist morale will be exposed to a gush of technical and cultural innovations like a raw nerve, and with the same fury of pain that could easily turn into the wild battle frenzy of a berserker resisting cultural expansion and everyone associated with it. And this is terrorism. This is why terrorism is the inevitable price humanity pays for the successful start-ups of Silicon Valley (89).

I have found each of Miroshnichenko’s predictions insightful and right on the money. There is one prediction, however, that I have a problem with when he writes,

The moment of compression of the digital avant-garde into a culminating point will become the moment of Singularity, the moment of the appearance of non-biological intelligence, the successor to all of humankind. Taking into account the exponential acceleration of historical time, this event is not that far from us. It may occur within the current century (92).

It is here where I part company with Andrey based on my work with understanding the origin of language, the human mind and culture as reported in my book The Extended Mind (Logan 2007). My disagreement also grows out of my more recent work with Terrence Deacon (2012), author of Incomplete Nature and his notion of teleodynamics and my extension of teleodynamics into social systems (Logan 2013). The difference between an organism including a human and a machine, even an intelligent one like a super computer, is that the organism as opposed to the machine operates in its own self-interest to maintain itself and to propagate its organization (Kauffman, Logan, Este, Goebel, Hobill and Smulevich 2007). Without a sense of self, a purpose, and values there can be no intelligence only computation. Artificial intelligence and human intelligence are not on the same level. Yes, a machine, the Deep Blue can win a game of chess against a human champion but there is no synthesis in that and without synthesis there can be no intelligence only computation. Super computers, as a tool and an extension of man, together with their human partners will create new levels of knowledge and understanding but by themselves without passion of their own they can only explore what a human desires. Computers have no desire, no emotions to guide them.

I do not wish to end my review on a negative note. What Andrey Miroshnichenko has achieved is something important that we will have to reckon with. I look forward to Part 2 and 3 of his trilogy. I can highly recommend this book. Reading it was a delight because of its insights and also Andrey’s use of English which at times is quite poetic as the following passage illustrates: “An institution is shaped like a pyramid. The web environment has no particular form, but for the purposes of illustration, it is portrayed as a cloud. Instead of a hierarchy, it has lumps of authority in a soup of anarchy (73).”

It should be remembered that Human as Media: The Emancipation of Authorship is only book one in Andrey Miroshnichenko’s trilogy. There is more to come. If you wish to follow the development of his ideas you may wish to visit his blog http://human-as-media.com. I also note that Human as Media: The Emancipation of Authorship is available at Amazon for the Kindle reader.

If you want to order a hard copy of the book Andrey can be reached at Andrey Miroshnichenko <andrey.mir70(at)gmail.com>

References

Deacon, Terrence. 2012. Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged From Matter.New York: Norton.

Kauffman, Stuart, Robert K. Logan, Robert Este, Randy Goebel, David Hobill and Ilya Smulevich. 2007. Propagating Organization: An Inquiry. Biology and Philosophy 23: 27-45.

Logan, Robert K. 2007. The Extended Mind: The Emergence of Language, the Human Mind and Culture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Logan, Robert K. 2013. The Teleodynamics of Language, Culture, Technology and Science (LCT&S). Information 2013, 4(1), 94-116; doi:10.3390/info4010094

Miroshnichenko, Andrey. 2014. Human as Media: The Emancipation of Authorship. Moscow: Miroshnichenko.

 

Robert K. Logan

Prof. Emeritus – Physics – U. of Toronto

Chief Scientist – sLab at OCAD

http://utoronto.academia.edu/RobertKLogan

www.physics.utoronto.ca/Members/logan

logan (at) physics.utoronto.ca

The review was originally published via the mailing list of the Media Ecology Association (MEA) on June 13, 2014.

Published here with permission of Dr. Logan.

See also lecture by Robert K. Logan:

McLuhan Misunderstood: Setting the Record Straight by Robert K. Logan

Robert K. Logan, PhD, is professor emeritus of physics at the University of Toronto, fellow of St. Michael’s College, and chief scientist at the sLab, OCAD University. He collaborated and published with Marshall McLuhan between 1974 to 1980. He is the author of a dozen books including one coauthored with McLuhan, The Future of the Library: An Old Figure in a New Ground as well as The Alphabet Effect (1984, 2004), The Sixth Language (2000, 2004), Understanding New Media (2011), What Is Information? (2013), and McLuhan Misunderstood: Setting the Record Straight (2013).

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Categories: Emancipation of Authorship, Human as media book, Media ecology, Viral Editor

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