Digital theory navel gazers should stay Mute

Saturday 24 September 2011
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Proud to be Flesh

Today as I strolled into a bookshop on Broadway Market Hackney, I saw a book by Mute. It immediately pricked my interest. Mute is the magazine of digital media theory in the UK and Europe.

Round these trendy parts it’s the magazine that any thinking progressive person, with an interest in digital media, must have on their shelves. That way, everybody knows your both left, smart and cutting edge. I have bought some copies myself. ;)

But them I read the blurb on the back page. It’s a good a summary of everything that’s wrong with Mute and its hangers on as you could hope to find IMHO:

In late 1994, back in the days of dial-up modems and Netscape Navigator 1.0, Mute magazine announced its timely arrival. Dedicated to an analysis of culture and politics ‘after the net’, Mute has consistently challenged the grandiose claims of the communications revolution, debunking its utopian rhetoric and offering more critical perspectives.

Fifteen years on, Mute Publishing and Autonomedia are delighted to announce the publication of Proud to be Flesh: A Mute Magazine Anthology of Cultural Politics after the Net. The anthology selects representative articles from the magazine’s hugely diverse content to reprise some of its recurring themes. This expansive collection charts the perilous journey from Web 1.0 to 2.0, contesting the democratisation this transition implied and laying bare our incorporeal expectations; it exposes the ways in which the logic of technology intersects with that of art and music and, in turn and inevitably, with the logic of business; it heralds the rise of neoliberalism and condemns the human cost; it amplifies the murmurs of dissent and revels in the first signs of collapse.

In other words, a bunch of middle-class, navel gazing, pessimistic Europeans that love nothing more than intellectual masturbation, and that has only a passing acquaintance with the real impact of digital media, especially on the unwashed masses and the developing world.

A better title would have been Proud to be a snob.

It’s safe to say that the readers of Mute frown on Facebook and even Twitter. And many of them will loudly proclaim that neither had any role in the Arab spring or in empowering individuals in general.

I’m all for a critical appraisal of digital tech and especially the role of laissez faire economics. The world is in crisis precisely because neo liberal politics. This week’s changes to Facebook has indeed set off a few alarm bells.

But the Mute set seem to be predisposed to be against anything as banal as the social media status update.

The odd thing is except for a brief period before 1998 this group has been down on the potential of digital media. The more social and wide spread its adoption became, the more the ‘champions’ of digital democracy hated and slated it.

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