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Hacking the Memetic Code

The timeline, this is what we call the stream of our friends’ posts that we get presented when we use social networks like Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus, has become an important way to stay in touch with our bunch. But it is also a means to share information, news or entertainment by posting links to content, that we think would be interesting for our kind.

My timeline is a filter

It is often said that our timeline is in fact a filter. We see only what our community of selected friends would post. If someone starts posting things, we would not want to see, we would “unfollow” or “uncircle” him or her sooner or later – depending on our mood and on the strength of our relationship and the “netiquette”, the rules of courtesy in social mediathat everyone has to obey to remain accepted member. Advertising in particular seems to be content, that would only very rarely pass through this filter, if at all. Like in our “meatspace” communities, we would avoid people pushing unwarranted business towards us. Thus, the timeline might be the toughest Spam-filter there is.

This phenomenon of a highly sophisticated algorithmic as well as social prediction engine has been named “The filter bubble” by Eli Pariser. Bubble in this case has a thoroughly ambivalent meaning: a bubble that surrounds us, in which we are somehow even trapped, because we do no longer see the reality outside the bubble clearly but only blurred; the second meaning of course is that of a soap bubble that will bounce sooner or later like any other hype of the online business. And there is concern that this bubble could not only diminish the quality of serendipity inherent in heterogeneous networks such as the Internet, but also the probability of advertisers reaching new audiences.

The rise of social media and the changes for mass media

The rise of social media comes with a decline of mass media regarding relevance and time spent. Although it is undisputed that the 30”-TV-Ad is still the most effective means of advertising, and is likely to remain this way for a long time, some audiences are to be reached less and less intensely over classic communication channels.Advertising is perhaps only more sensitive to this development than other forms of publicity. However it becomes less and less probable to reach out for everyone we would like to address, be it for advertising, political announcements or any other kind of publication. This will certainly not overthrow everything that has been proven advertising and communication knowledge, but it will add a novel dimension to the rising complexity of communications planning that we should take into consideration.

Social media platforms provide multiple technological means to make this filter-process even more seamless, effective and invisible for their users. By organizing our contacts into groups, lists or circles, users are encouraged to (re)create hierarchies of relevance (“inner circle”, “extended circle”, “nuisance circle”, “Spam”). At the same time, the content posted by someone from the “buddies” circle might get a totally different credibility and attention than content by someone in “business partners” or “opinion leaders”.

My Internet does not look the same way yours does

A third layer – after timeline itself and the circles – between the user and “outside reality” is created by Google and other search engines that use the selections made by the users in their social media profiles (timeline, circles) as input for their algorithms to provide the most relevant results for our queries. These technologies take content posted by our friends to predict what would be relevant for us. Hence we can no longer expect to be shown any kind of objective search ranking, instead we will get our very own list of results that might be completely different from that of our colleagues or neighbours: since we have other Facebook or Twitter friends, we will get other stuff into our timeline. Google translates this into what it thinks we would find relevant. This will heavily take effect into Search Engine Optimization. How should SEOs in the future be able to guarantee that “You get a top-10 search rank”? For SEO, it will thus also become important, to see the website URLs we want to promote, be recommended as often as possible by being posted or twittered.

Also targeting display ads can be improved that way. This is of course a good thing at first, since campaigns will perform more efficiently and the user experiences more ads he might find relevant. But the inventory to address a broad audience, maximizing reach, as it is mandatory for building brand awareness, becomes more fragmented at the same time.

Thus social media work as a filter, induced by the user but at the same time sieves what the user gets recommended by search engines or display advertising. Very few platforms allow the users to access and edit the predicted preferences of these algorithms; Google e.g. does offer this to the users on http://www.google.com/ads/preferences. This might become more common after the EU Privacy Directive that became effective May this year will have become implemented in national legislation soon.

Finally, also the media consumptions of the classic channels is affected by the filter bubble. Studies have shown, that nothing does influence a reader’s or viewer’s choice of programme or press issue more heavily, than the recommendation they get through their timeline which becomes therefore also a screen that might preselect what someone would watch or read. And not only media consumptions – also our brand preferences start to be effected by the posts of our community, that we had individually composed to form our circles, friends, our timeline.

Meaningful Brands

As a side effect, the meaning of brands in people’s lives changes. With mass media advertising, the most valuable brands would have been those, that create prestige, aspiration for their buyers. Conspicuous consumptions is based on mass communication. It requires that others easily recognise what brands we buy. When the process of building brand preferences gets somehow atomized as we do experience when enclosed within our filter bubble, we tend no longer to get aspired for brands we buy for others might no longer notice the specialness of our brand-choices at all. And at the same time, it becomes increasingly more important to show affiliation to one’s community, to get acceptance, be welcomed as a member. Brands that contribute something of value to a community, something that not only the buyer but in some way the whole community would benefit from, get the clear advantage of being likely to show up in their buyers’ posts, telling their friends, “look, I care about all of you”. Umair Haque, writer for the Harvard Business Review, coined the term ‘meaningful brands’ in opposition to ‘aspirational brands’. This topic will be unfolded in a broader perspective in the article [Title of the article and page reference – ] by Daniel Bischoff and Dennis Grzenia.

The Meme

So far we have been mostly looking on what does get filtered out. But what kind of content is there, that people accept in their timeline? Since most users follow not only people that they would have already known in their life outside social media but make new acquaintances, there has to be something that gets through the sieve. With the ‘meaningful brands’ we have got a first hint, of how advertising within the filter-bubble might still work. Apart from that, and in addition to the obvious, the personal statements, the thoughts, impressions and emotions people tell their followers, there is a specific form of information that gets propagated from one personal circle to the next, that is repeatedly shared, retweeted, liked or whatever form of handing along a certain platform provides. You know what I am talking about: LOL-cats, manga cartoons, freak show images, and often pictures without any apparent specialness – food, someone showing his beerglas against the skies, fowl, to name just a few. For images like this, the term ‘meme’ became fashionable.

‘Meme’ is an artificial word. It was created in behavioural biology to describe the way, traditions and culture get passed from one generation to the next and get part of the adaption of a group of humans to a changing environment – comparable with the genetics and natural selection of the fittest in the standard model of evolution. The meme is hence meant to be the cultural equivalent of the gene. When social media communication became common, it was soon realised, that some cultural snippets would get passed from one user to his friends and from his friends to their friends and so on. Mostly these would be images or videos, sometimes funny Powerpoint-Presentations or single phrases of text, marked with some kind of tag like #tahrirsq, #occupywallstreet or #londonriots. My last examples show, that the scope of memetic communication goes far beyond entertainment. In deed, it is often said, the whole uprising in Northern Africa that was quickly spread, was not at least a phenomenon of self organisation alongside memetic tags.

There are different types of memes, depending on their way of propagation. Some get spread very rapidly, globally and evenly. Others are shared only in their own community – which needs not to have been defined otherwise; these images just tend to stop at some invisible boarder. Some images seam to virtually infect one community and then, after some time, jump over to the next, creating bubble-like structures in the social web, while others fade away proportionally to the distance of their point of origin.

Just before joining MediaCom, Benedikt and I had started researching, to find the answers to the question if any given image had the power to become memetic. Even more interesting: to become able to brief creative people how to shape an image for a certain memetic task. So we set sails for hacking the meme code, like the Genome Project would have gone for the genetics. We started analysing images for which we would track their history of being shared on a very large scale. We collected some 10 million images in a database, together with the necessary meta data like who posted it, how many friends/followers would the have, how quickly would the image get re-shared, which language was the text that went with the image’s post, and so on. The second step is a continuous survey where people tell us which of a choice of two images they would more likely share with their friends online. All the data – the image itself, the meta data and the judgement of the participants of our survey, we put together to build statistic models to predict the success of any given picture. So we learned not only if an image would be memetic but also what it was to provide it with this quality. The detailed results will soon be published.

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Another Divide.

[Original German Blog Post]

A chasm runs through our society (if we would stay with this 19th century term anyway). The Digital Divide is usually attributed to the problems of “digital illiteracy”, the fact that a portion of the world’s population is kept outside the Internet by poverty or stubbornness.

In truth, however, and I am convinced about that, the fault of the digital divide is cutting on a much more elementary level though our so called occidental culture. And I take this reactionist term as fully adequate, as Oswald Spengler would have done, because we are talking about nothing less then the complete upheaval of the order that we took for granted at least during the last 200 years. Why would I write such lofty stuff? Because it fits!

Fifteen years ago, I had read a witty article in Wired: : Net-Heads vs. Bell-Heads. Bell-Heads is derived from the Bell Telephone Company, the world’s first telco and direct predecessor of AT&T. Over a hundred years, the Bell-Heads had been the architects of the global (tele-)communication. From the Bell Labs in New Jersey many of the most important inventions of the IT-age originated, not least the transistor. The Bell-Heads had been the heros and prophets of the connected world.

The end of the Bell-age bears legendary traits in the meantime: how John Draper in 1972, with a whistle from some cereal-promotion would have seized the whole US telephone system. When the decentralized net-logic of TCP/IP was more and more established, it became clear to the mentors of Net culture: centralized, bureaucratic systems like that of the telcos would in the long run be inferior to the distributed chaos of the Net. The Net-heads, the evangelists of an anti-hierarchic communications architecture became the apocalypticists revelating the dusk of the old telephone world.

***

The Net without fixed hierarchy, with mere local organisation is the metaphor for a new model of society. The degree of freedom from force, of freedom of speech and the sheer unlimited possibilities of personal evolvement and creativity that we could experience since the 90ies in the Internet, has shown to us, how we also could live. The communications network became an Utopia. Reality outside the Net however looked different: 9/11, “War against Terror”, banking crisis, economic slavery, refugees that our own border patrol would drown in the Mediterranean, and the fight for “intellectual property” – just to chant a short part of last decade’s litany. Thus it is no wonder, that the Net would sometimes take downright messianic shape in our view, the place where everything shall be better. Today however I do not want to dive into deconstructing these – as always – questionable promises of salvation.

Suddenly there is disturbance in the world. People stand up and go down into the streets. But it is not ideologies, neither party platforms or union speeches that set people into turmoil. The occasion for insurgency is not the same for all events. From the Maghreb to Spain and to the US, there are definitively different coercions, against which the people rise.

What unites the demonstrators from Tahrir Square to Wallstreet, is the disire for self-determination and self-organisation. And the model is the culture in the Net.

Thierry Lhote had twittered: “like in may 68 in France a whole generation is learning meme manufacturing for their next Media VP job #occupywallstreet”; and what might read cynical at first sight, turns out to a remarkable observation. In the same way as 50 years ago, a generation has grown up, for whom a consensus about the values of the “old world” can no longer be reached. Thereby the dived cuts right through the middle of the old political wings. Right, left, green – all these groups are dominated by a generation that stays foreign to the Net culture emotionally and intellectually, even, if they do not position themselves openly hostile. And when the Net-heads try to get involved with the old structures, this does only work as far as nothing gets changed and the Old is accepted unconditionally. This was demonstrated in a tragic-comically way recently, when a case of Twitter-censorship shook the German green party.

The rise of the Pirate Party is often compared to the rise of the green party in the late 70ies. And much of this comparison fits. Some enemies of then remained the same: nuclear energy or monopolistic corporations. Some parts are even strikingly parallel. What the Notstandsgesetze, the “Emergency Laws” would have meant for our parents (this role would have played the draft for the US), for us today it is Internet surveillance, three-strikes-out, bail-out, and FRONTEX. The meme #ozapftis (the uncovering of the government malware) is the Watergate of our generation.

Damals, als wg. Sachen wie #Bundestrojaner noch Bürger auf die Straßen gegangen wären.
Those were the times when citizens would have gone into the streets on occasions like that

might @videopunk lament – but I am convinced that this is exactly what happens.

Further reading:
Disrupt politics!
Memetic Turn

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Public relations after the memetic turn

I don’t like the term PR 2.0. It suggests an improved version of something that has been around a long time. Some bugs have been removed, some new features have been added. But all in all, it’s still public relations as we know it. I think this is not the case.

Why? Because we went through something that can be called the “memetic turn” or “memetic revolution”. The concept of course refers to Richard Dawkins memetic theory in his “Selfish Gene”. Basically, memes are bits of information (images, metaphors, jokes), that are spreading through a network. Originally, Dawkinsian memes are encoded in genetic material, but here I will not refer to the evolution of behavior or species, but to the evolution of media. In a nutshell: Memetic communication is destroying society – mass society to be precise. This is because the meaning of memes seldom can be decoded by everyone, but is only available to members of one distinctive community. Think of a picture of a LOLcat “I iz eating your GTD folder”) in comparison to a headline such as “USA declares war on Germany”. The first is memetic, the second isn’t.

Usually we think media evolution interdependent with social evolution. Mass society created mass media and so on. But it is exactly the other way around. When we look at the origin of the nation state, media such as national newspapers, national traditions, national novelists came first. With Benedict Anderson, we can argue that national newspapers created the first nations.

At the beginning of the 21. century, we can clearly see the demise of the national newspaper, national Television or national politics (e.g. the Volksparteien in Germany). At the same time, there is a distinctly non-national medium on the rise: the Internet. In the beginning, we framed this medium in terms of the ascent of the global age and the first iconic representations of the Web always has been the globe.

But the more we look at the Web, the more we discover that it is no global medium, but a tribal one. Ideas travel through the various social graphs not the way global mass media would do, but their path resembles the way information was distributed in the various accounts of classic ethnologists. A large part of online communication is memetic – using strong icons for communications, that can only be deciphered by relatively small tribes, and no longer considered newsworthy for the general public.

And finally, I come to the role of public relations. The bad news is that one of the first casualities of the memetic revolution has been the general public. This is a quirky situation for an industry that has been mostly about telling stories to the general public or to journalists (that in turn translated the stories for the general public).

The good news for public relations is, that after understanding the implications of the memetic turn, there are not fewer but more opportunities to tell your stories. A lot more. But the skills are changing. Public relations is no longer about writing press releases that are attractive to the general public or some vague sociodemographic audiences (e.g. “Entscheider”).

The work of a PR professional resembles more and more traveling shamans wandering from tribe to tribe and delivering their highly special and individualized services to different communities.

The skills include:

– getting to know the relevant tribal audiences and identifying the locations and communal boundaries of the tribes with the help of tools such as social media monitoring

– learning their dialects, rituals, social structure by participant observation at community gatherings online as well as offline (netnography)

– translating the story to be told for the lifeworld of the community

At the moment, the first memetic PR shamans are already mingling with their relevant communities. They are mostly self-taught practitioners, but I am very optimistic, that the skills will be sooner or later be part of the regular curriculum for public relations professionals.

As matter of fact, the memetic turn can also be understood as an appeal to practitioners to return to the forgotten task and original promise of public relations: Go and create relations! Today, one should add: And let them be sustainable relations.

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Disrupt Politics!

[Original German Blog Post]

“You will never be happy with strangers,
They would not understand you as we,
So remember the Jarama Valley
And the old men who wait patiently.”
Alex McDade

“Er sagte, es krache im Oberbau, und es krache im Unterbau. Da müsse sich sogleich alles verändern.”
(“He said, it cracked in the superstructure, and it cracked in the base. Thus everything would have to change at once.”)
(Bloch über Benjamin)

Communities persist by their members taking tasks within the community, fulfilling duties and profiting from the communally achieved successes. In the state’s society, the citizens delegate parts of their tasks and duties to the state’s administration. Over the last two hundred years, the citizens of the so called western world had handed over more and more even of some of their very intimate responsibilities to the state – care for the sick and elderly, birth and death, social security, education of children and much more.

How these delegated tasks would to be carried out, is defined by the process of representative decision-making of the parliamentary democracy. Elected representatives are mandated to take care over the span of several years. To fulfil these tasks, skilled persons have to be paid for and provided with their working means. And that those specialists would use their assigned means just about as planned in the society’s decision-making, an administration is needed on top.
***

Facebook is regularly compared to a nation that, regarding its population, would rank third in the world, after China and India. What makes Social Networks (and first of all Facebook) so nation-like?

In Social Networks, people affiliate with each other to communities, communicate and exchange. In most cases the exchange is rather personal; even when thousands of Arab women gather at the Persil Abaya Shapoo Facebook page, under the roof of their favourite detergent, it is at first sight all about the small things of every day’s business.

But not always things would stay to the small and private. Egypt, Tunisia, Libia, Spain, or the demolishing of Stuttgart’s main station – during the last months, huge groups of people came together, at first, to share their views, but then to form a common will – the common representation of no longer willing to accept the state of things, and finally to get organised and to jointly protest. And because the Networks it was always transparent, in how far others would join the movement, the protesters can be sure not suddenly be left out in the rain.

The protests’ content is always the getting back of responsibility and influence, that have – depending on the society’s shape rather or rather not be given up voluntarily. This calling “We are the people” is thus not without problems. Just because it is many that gather and articulate around some issue does not yet mean that a majority would share this opinion. Often the majority’s will is totally unclear, like with the Stuttgart main station. And even if it can be taken for granted that in deed a majority of those concerned would support the protest, important corrective features of democracy like protection of minorities and other, indisputable rules are lacking, that in our understanding of statehood should not be subject of change even by majorities of votes.
***

Politics will less and less work by delegation. The election terms appear to us completely inapropriate in length – but shorter terms would likely just lead to permanent campaigning and not to better representation of the will. Party platforms appear to us as irrelevant and inadequate, as the shallow content of mass media news. By the new communities and the preassure they can build through Social Networks, political decision-making is shaken. However it is not the case, that just a new variety would step alongside the established channels of representative democracy, just as Internet usage would not be additional or substituting to newspapers or other traditional media of the society.

Initiatives trying to somehow get “Net Politics” into parliamentary processes are necessarily longing to short to really stop the distortions. The speed, flexibility and intransigence that is demanded by the protesting people (attributed by mass media sometimes as angry citizens), are hardly to be balanced with whip, delegates’ conferences or presidential councils, without which a parliamentary-democratic system cannot be organised. As a stand-alone movement that is formed for realising a model for the entire society, like e.g. the Green Party in the eighties, the rather loose and spontaneous communities of interest are neither really suitable.
***

It will happen; for party politics, the newspaper’s fate is imminent. It will not help to tinker with politics 2.0 like with the symptoms of some illness. Openness in mind, admitting that even a system could fail that has been for centuries, should give us free sight of the alternative, that may lie before us. Only giving many options a try and allowing errors will bring us into the position to transpose what we treasure in the old world into the new. This change does not happen by itself, not due to nature’s law. Especially the technological infrastructure that enables the new, is shaped. If we care about how politics in future should look like, we have to take things into our own hands, not at last on the technological development and shaping of the new communal systems, like e.g. the culture in the Social Networks.

On Techcrunch, Semil Shah, regarding the uprising in North Africa, had reflected, to interpret the revolution as a new Social Media product. If therefore – like he says – start-ups would be needed, that would transform some political function into Social Media, I cannot really see. I think the infrastructure of existing Social Networks, Smartphones, video and photo networks would probably already be sufficient. In one thing, however, I totally agree:

Politics – there is no greater market to disrupt.

Read more:
Memetic Turn

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Contact

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Joerg Blumtritt

@jbenno

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What is the Memetic Turn?

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“The Hanged” from the Tarot Deck of Charles VI., Paris, early 15th century.

The symbolism of Tarot – similar to that of alchemy – forms a pre-modern memetic system. Tightly knit into other more or less esoteric programs of meaning, like Qabbalah or astrology, its images are at first illustrative – they picture very well, what can be seen on it, at second they bear an arbitrarily assigned symbolic value. The particular with memes as well as with metaphors is there creating a common space of meaning between several human beings, by which these different beings identify with.

“Literacy, the visual technology, dissolved the tribal magic by means of its stress on fragmentation and specialisation and created the individual.”

“The tribalizing power of the new electronic media, the way in which the return us the the unified fields of the old oral cultures, to tribal cohesion and pre-individualist patterns of thought, is little understood. Tribalism is the sense of the deep bind of family, the closed society as the norm of community.”
Herbert Marshall McLuhan

“Everything is divisible, thus there cannot be an individual.”

“The meaning of such symbols [of letters] is largely independent from colour: a red or a black “A” mean the same sound. […] Thus the current explosion of colours points to the tending to loose importance of unidimensional codes like the Alphabet.”

“History begins with the invention of writing, not because text keeps the processes, but because it transforms scenes into processes: it creates the historic consciousness.”
Vilém Flusser

ממטית המהפך

Writing and Society are tied together in an immediate way. With text, particularly the newspaper which shall become the first real mass media in the 19th century, people are able to get informed homogeneously over large distances. However, it was of course not before the advent of the railroad and telegraph that this would have been of any importance. These are the fundamentals on which for the first time a truly supra regional economy – the national economy could develop. The local community, the village, at the same time decreases in its aspect of being the common destiny, like already been declared by Tönnies.

“Newspaper is the glue of society”, as exclaimed recently by Helmut Heinen, president of Germany’s Newspaper Publishers’ Association.

But some aspects seam to resonate no longer with this proposition, like Daniel Schulz had also replied to in Der Standard by responding to the newspaper man: “Not the paper, but the images of cats are the glue of society!”

Daniel was not correct, although – I am convinced about that – did mean the right thing. Images of cats are not the glue of society but of communities! Thus they are not only to the least extent the glue of society but even more, what I will explicate in the following, they will even corrode society.

These images of cats – in my own community’s case it is more images of fowl, especially of runner ducks – are very special signs, closely related to metaphors, allegories or emblems. Although not fully in the mind of its inventor, it is now common to call this kind of image-signs memes. The meaning of memes is often hermetic, not to be understood outside the community in which they are shared.

Within memes – which are usually hardly iconic but rarely abstract signs – is often concentrated a complete universe of meaning and relationships, by which the members of a community are connected to it. Memes are common spaces of projection of our unconsciousness: “In the darkness of an exteriority I may find, without recognising it as such, my own interiority or the mental.” (C.G. Jung on the allegories in Alchemy).

Memes thereby take the function that in the pre-modernism the metaphor and especially the allegory would have held:

With metaphors things can be made visible, that could not be told explicitly. “Metaphoric imagery broadens the horizon of the thinkable by shattering the boundaries of mental rationality and thus opens essential spaces of possible articulation for speculative thoughts.” writes Jörg Zimmer. By equalising non-identical terms, it makes manifest the connective attributes; metaphors generate identity between the otherwise differentiated. Metaphors, though, express at first those images in the mind of the speaker (“sender”); the receiver of the metaphor will initially not hold the identical image in his mind, but populate the metaphor with his own associations. In the same way, in which the meaning attributed to the metaphor by its sender becomes similar to the meaning, the receiver puts into it, the metaphor generates identity between different persons; metaphors generate communality.

Memes act contagious. You are infected, if you have once identified yourself with.
***

History of Turns

The Linguistic Turn, like described above, was the consequence of a population growing together and becoming increasingly well educated with high literacy and the technological infrastructure of mass transport and mass communication over large distances. With the Linguistic Turn of modernism the ancient communities get dissolved, societies – nations and states form and newspapers, resp. mass media are the glue of these societies. The metonymy removes the metaphor as leading trope in rhetoric: “Berlin declares war to Paris”.

With the illustrated magazine and in particular with television, the 20th century brings the Iconic Turn – images transmitted by mass media. Going with the merging of the once competing national societies to supranational blocks of NATO, Warsaw Pact or European Community, the visually powerful media deliver an internationally valid repository of images. These technologically mass distributed images are mostly non-metaphoric; they show mainly, what can be seen on it.

The News-at-Six become the nation’s camp fire and the utopia of solidarity between people far above the narrow space of a community seams to become reality.
For the coarse grid of the political and economical contexts of the second half of the 20th century, these mass media are able to supply an audience of millions daily with the little relevant intelligence, necessary for national cohabition: the wood-cut party policy in the parliaments, the interplay of ones owns nation with other states, the crude news of a constantly growing economy, always held in plain language, comprehensible also for “people with moderate education”. Irony is the figure of the Iconic Turn – often however in form of cynicism.
***

Since the 1980s there are visible signs of corruption on mass media, although at first concealed by the enormous success of private television resp. after the fall of the iron wall by the backlog demand of former Soviet sphere of influence.

At once it was no longer so important to read what would have happened on the international theatre on the previous day. The glue of society began to become brittle. And the Web just came handy for this development. No longer getting informed – but arranging yourself the things you take as necessary. Like the famous German social researcher Renate Köcher had realised in horror from the longitudinal surveys of her Institute for Demoscopy at Allensbach: people do not get informed differently now – strictly speaking they would not let themselves get informed at all! Mass media do not get substituted in their function, it is more that they vanish away. And not physically – people still watch television – but in their effect.

Our social graph, the network of our communal relationships supplies us with the things that we would want to know about. This is the filter that before was formed by the editorial teams of the media. We organise our relationships by the Net, like in former times we as the citizen of the state would get oriented by mass media. “The end of the Grand Narrative” by which post-modernism is often described, means history becoming a collection little stories. This is “Atemporality“, where “literature collapses before our eyes“. Mass media’s standard language gives way to the vernacular dialects of Net culture. “New media are new archetypes, at first disguised as degradations of older media.” (McLuhan)

The membership in these new memetic community is not to be compared with the “being born into a community” of pre-modernism. Those are relatively loose structures, partly only temporarily stable and we are rarely exclusively at home in just one of them. These communities are kept together symbolically by Memes.

This Memetic Turn marks the transition into the post-modern age. The dwindling influence of the national structures with at the same time dissolving international political structures leads to also to their medial tools becoming dull.

Thus it becomes clear how the revolutionary movement in Spain is related to the overthrow in Tunisia and Egypt. It is fascinating to see how the seemingly lacking of formulated common goals and any form of constituted organisation swamps the old media, still thinking in terms of society. It is the Hash-Tag that brings people together, the #spanishrevolution-meme as projective space, above which people synchronise on their longing for a different form of living together in a post-social communality, no longer controlled by ineffective party policy.

Further reading:

Modernism is our classical antiquity

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Memetic Turn

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“Der Gehenkte” aus dem Tarot Karls VI., Paris, Anfang 15. Jhd.

Die Symbolik des Tarot – ähnlich wie die der Alchimie bildet ein vormodernes Mem-System. Eng verwoben mit anderen mehr oder weniger esotherischen Sinn-Programmen wie Kabbalah oder Astrologie sind die Bilder darin zum ersten illustrativ – sie stellen durchaus auch das dar, war darauf zu sehen ist, zum zweiten besitzen sie den willkürlich zugeordneten symbolischen Wert. Das Besondere an Memen wie an Metaphern ist, dass zwischen unterschiedlichen Menschen ein gemeinsamer Bedeutungsraum entsteht, über den sich diese Verschiedenen identifizieren

“Literacy, the visual technology, dissolved the tribal magic by means of its stress on fragmentation and specialization and created the individual.”

“The tribalizing power of the new electronic media, the way in which the return us th the unified fields of the old oral cultures, to tribal cohesion and pre-individualist paterns of thought, is little understood. Tribalism is the sense of the deep bind of family, the closed society as the norm of community.”
Herbert Marshall McLuhan

“Alles ist teilbar, und es kann kein Individuum geben.”

“Die Bedeutung solcher Symbole [der Buchstaben] ist von Farbe weitgehend unabhängig: ein rotes und ein schwarzes ‘A’ bedeuten denselben Laut. […] Daher deutet die gegenwärtige Farbexplosion […dass] eindimensionale Koden wie das Alphabet neigen, […] an Wichtigkeit zu verlieren.”

“Mit der Erfindung der Schrift beginnt die Geschichte, nicht, weil die Schrift Prozesse festhält, sondern weil sie Szenen in Prozesse verwandelt: Sie erzeugt das historische Bewusstsein.”
Vilém Flusser

ממטית המהפך

Schriftlichkeit und Gesellschaft hängen unmittelbar zusammen. Durch Texte, insbesondere die Zeitung, die im 19. Jahrhundert das erste echte Massenmedium wird, können Menschen über große Distanzen homogen informiert werden. Dies war auch erst seit Aufkommen der Eisenbahn und der Telegrafie wirklich von Bedeutung. Diese sind die Grundlage, auf der sich erstmals eine wirklich überregionale Volkswirtschaft – die Nationalökonomie – entwickeln kann. Die lokale Gemeinschaft, das Dorf, verliert im selben Maß ihre Eigenschaft als “Schicksalsgemeinschaft”, wie bereits Tönnies festgestellt hatte.

“Zeitungen sind der Kitt der Gesellschaft” ruft in diesem Sinne unlängst Zeitungsverleger-Präsident Helmut Heinen aus.

Aber irgendetwas scheint an dieser Aussage nicht (mehr) zu stimmen, wie auch Daniel Schulz als Replik dazu im Der Standard geschrieben hatte, indem er dem Zeitungsmann erwidert: “Nicht Zeitungen, sondern Katzenbilder sind der Kitt der Gesellschaft!”

Daniel hat nicht recht, obwohl er, davon bin ich überzeugt, das richtige meint. Katzenbilder sind nicht der Kitt der Gesellschaft, sondern von Gemeinschaften! Damit sind sie nichts weniger als der Kitt der Gesellschaft, sondern vielmehr bin ich überzeugt, wie ich im folgenden ausführen möchte, dass sie die Gesellschaft sogar korrodieren werden.

Diese Katzenbilder – im Fall meiner eigenen Community sind es Bilder von Geflügel, insbesondere von Laufenten – sind ganz besondere Zeichen, eng verwand mit Metaphern, Allegorien oder Emblemen. Obwohl nicht ganz im Sinne ihres Erfinders, hat sich eingebürgert, diese Art von Bild-Zeichen als Meme zu bezeichnen. Die Bedeutung der Meme ist oft hermetisch, außerhalb der Gemeinschaft, in der sie ausgetauscht werden, nicht zu verstehen.

In den Memen – also meist wenig ikonischen aber selten abstrakte Zeichen – konzentriert sich oft ein ganzes Universum von Bedeutungen und Verbindungen, die die Mitglieder einer Gemeinschaft mit dieser Gemeinschaft verbinden. Meme sind gemeinschaftliche Projektionsräume unseres Unbewussten: “Im Dunkel eines Äußerlichen finde ich, ohne es als solches zu erkennen, mein eigenes Innerliches oder Seelisches.” (C.G. Jung über die Allegorien der Alchimie).

Meme übernehmen dadurch eine Funktion, die in der Vormoderne Metapher und insbesondere der Allegorie innehatten:

Mit Metaphern lassen sich Dinge anschaulich machen, die nicht explizit gesagt werden könnten. “Metaphorik erweitert den Horizont des Denkbaren, indem sie die Grenzen der Verstandesrationalität sprengt und so der Darstellung spekulativer Gedanken unverzichtbare Räume möglicher Artikulation eröffnet.” schreibt Jörg Zimmer. Indem Metaphern nicht-identische Begriffe gleichsetzen, machen sie die verbindenden Eigenschaften deutlich; Metaphern stiften Identität zwischen ansonsten Verschiedenem. Dabei drücken Metaphern zunächst die Bilder aus, die ihr Sprecher (“Sender”) im Kopf hat; der Empfänger der Metapher wird zunächst vermutlich nicht das identische Bild im Kopf haben, sondern die Metapher mit seinen eigenen Bedeutungszusammenhängen füllen. In der Weise, in der die Bedeutung, die der Sender mit seiner Metapher verbindet, ähnlich zu der Bedeutung wird, die der Empfänger darein gibt, stiftet die Metapher auch Identität zwischen unterschiedlichen Personen; Metaphern stiften Gemeinschaftlichkeit.

Meme wirken wie ansteckend. Man ist infiziert, hat man sich erst einmal damit identifiziert.
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History of Turns

Der Linguistic Turn, wie oben beschrieben, war die Folge einer eng zusammenwachsenden, immer besser gebildeten Bevölkerung mit hoher Alphabetisierung und der technologischen Infrastruktur von Massenverkehr und Massenkommunikation über große Distanzen. Mit dem Linguistic Turn der Moderne lösen sich die alten Gemeinschaften auf; Gesellschaften – Nationen und Staaten formieren sich und die Zeitung bzw. die Massenmedien sind der Kitt dieser Gesellschaften. Die Metonymie löst die Metapher als Leit-Trope in der Rhetorik ab: “Berlin erklärt Paris den Krieg”.

Mit der Illustrierten und vor allem dem Fernsehen kommt im 20. Jahrhundert der Iconic Turn – massenmedial vermittelte Bilder. Parallel mit dem Zusammenwachsen der ehemals konkurrierenden nationalen Staats-Gesellschaften zu den supranationalen Blöcken der Nato, Warschauer Pakt oder Europäische Gemeinschaft liefern die bildstarken Medien einen international gültigen Bilderschatz. Diese technisch massenhaft verbreiteten Bilder sind fast völlig unmetaphorisch; die zeigen im Wesentlichen das, was darauf zu sehen ist.

Die Tagesschau wird das Lagerfeuer der Nation und die Utopie scheint Realität zu werden, dass es tatsächlich einen Zusammenhalt von Menschen weit über den engen Rahmen einer Gemeinschaft gibt. Für das grobe Raster der politischen und wirtschaftlichen Zusammenhänge der zweiten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts sind diese Massenmedien in der Lage, ein Millionenpublikum täglich mit den wenigen relevanten Nachrichten zu versorgen, die zum nationalen Zusammenleben notwendig sind: die holzschnitthafte Parteipolitik in den Parlamenten, das Zusammenspiel der eigenen Nation mit den anderen Staaten, die groben Neuigkeiten einer relativ konstant wachsenden Wirtschaft, stets verständlich gehalten auch für “Menschen mit mittlerer Bildung”. Ironie ist das Stilmittel des Iconic Turn – häufig allerdings in Form von Zynismus.
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Seit den achziger Jahren des 20. Jahrhunderts gibt es deutliche Zeichen von Abnutzung an den Massenmedien, zunächst noch in vielen Ländern überdeckt durch den enormen Erfolg des Privatfernsehens bzw. nach dem Mauerfall durch den Nachholbedarf in der ehemaligen sowjetischen Einflusssphäre.

Auf einmal war es nicht mehr so wichtig, zu lesen, was auf nationaler oder internationaler Bühne am Vortag geschen war. Der Kitt der Gesellschaft begann, spröde zu werden. Und das Web kam dieser Entwicklung genau entgegen. Nicht mehr informiert werden – sich die Dinge, die man glaubt, wissen zu wollen, selbst zusammenstellen. Wie Renate Köcher aus den Langzeitstudien ihres Instituts für Demoskopie in Allensbach mit Schrecken erkannt hat: die Leute informieren sich nicht anders – sie informieren sich streng genommen gar nicht mehr! Die Massenmedien werden in ihrer Funktion nicht substituiert, sie verschwinden viel mehr. Und zwar nicht physisch – die Menschen sehen unverändert fern – sondern in ihrer Wirkung.

Unser Social Graph, das Netz unserer gemeinschaftlichen Beziehungen, versorgt uns ab jetzt mit den Dingen, die wir erfahren wollen. Das ist der Filter, den früher die Redaktionen der Medien gebildet hatten. Wir organisieren unsere Beziehungen durch das Netz, wie wir uns früher als Bürger im Staat über die Massenmedien orientiert hatten.

“Das Ende der Großen Erzählung”, mit dem oft die Postmoderne umschrieben wird, bedeutet, dass aus Geschichte lauter kleine Geschichten werden. Schnipsel, die zusammen mit persönlichen Erinnerungsstücken zu Sinnzusammenhängen kollagiert werden. Das ist das “Ende der Geschichte“, bei dem die “Literatur vor unseren Augen kollabiert“. Die massenmediale “Hochsprache” der moderne weicht den vernakularen Dialekten der Netzkultur. “New media are new archetypes, at first disguised as degradations of older media.” (McLuhan)

Die Zugehörigkeit zu diesen neuen, memetischen Gemeinschaften ist nicht vergleichbar mit dem “in die Gemeinschaft geboren werden” der Vormoderne. Es sind relativ lose, zum Teil nur über einige Zeit stabile Strukturen und wir sind selten exklusiv in nur einer davon beheimatet. Diese Gemeinschaften werden symbolisch zusammengehalten über Meme.

Dieser Memetic Turn markiert den Übergang in das nach-moderne Zeitalter. Der schwindende Einfluss der nationalen und die gleichzeitige Auflösung der internationalen, politischen Strukturen führt dazu, dass auch deren mediale Werkzeuge stumpf zu werden scheinen.

Damit wird auch klar, wie die revolutionäre Bewegung in Spanien mit den Umstürtzen in Tunesien und Ägypten zusammen hängt. Es ist faszinierend zu sehen, wie das scheinbare Fehlen von formulierten, gemeinsamen Zielen und jeder Form von verfasster Organisation die alten, gesellschaftlich denkenden Medien komplett überfordert. Es ist der Hash-Tag, der die Menschen zusammenbringt, das #spanishrevolution-Mem als Projektionsraum, über den die Menschen ihre Wünsche nach einer anderen Form von Zusammenleben in einer post-gesellschaftlichen, nicht mehr durch ineffektive Parteipolitik kontrollierten Gemeinschaftlichkeit synchronisieren.

Weiter lesen:
Die Moderne ist unsere Antike
Tribales Trommeln

Categories

I had the meme before it was cool

והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשך על־פני תהום ורוח אלהים מרחפת על־פני המים

Categories

Das Grundrecht auf Sozialhilfe

Artikel 1) Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar. Sie zu achten und zu schützen ist Verpflichtung aller staatlichen Gewalt.

Das Grundrecht auf Achtung und Schutz der Würde für jeden Menschen ist bedingungslos, so steht es in unserer Verfassung.

Als der Bundestag mit den Stimmen der Rot-Grünen Koalition die “Gesetze für moderne Dienstleistungen am Arbeitsmarkt” und damit Harz IV beschloss, hat er versucht, das Recht auf Würde an eine Bedingung zu knüpfen: die erfolgreiche Teilnahme am Arbeitsmarkt.

Viele Menschen teilen die Meinung, man müsse sich ein würdiges Leben erst verdienen, indem man dafür arbeitet; Faulheit müsse sanktioniert werden.

“Die Arbeit als Teil der Menschwerdung des Affen” ist ein Erbe aus der Zeit des frühen Sozialismus. Nur wer sich mit “guter Arbeit” sein Leben selbst verdient, ist schützenswert – vielleicht verständlich aus der Abgrenzung der Arbeiter gegen die Renten-Kapitalisten und den Adel des 19. Jahrhunderts.
“Gute Arbeit, gutes Geld” lautet der passende Claim von Ver.di im aktuellen Arbeitskampf. Und was ist mit schlechter Arbeit? Was ist mit Menschen, die aufgrund von Behinderungen, von Krankheit oder durch einen “Schicksalsschlag” aus dem Berufsleben ausgeschlossen werden? Die bekommen nach der kruden, materialistischen Logik mit Harz IV nicht einmal das Minimum dessen, was für ein menschenwürdiges Leben nötig ist.

Liebe Leute, was hat euch denn so bitter gemacht? Ist es so schlimm, dass es ein paar Menschen gibt, die wirklich nicht arbeiten wollen, dass man darüber seine Menschlichkeit und die Grundlagen unserer Verfassung über Bord wirft?

Großzügigkeit ist die Tugend der Freiheit. (Frei nach Aristoteles “Politik” – eleutheriotes).