We think about spam and noise as ‘technical’ media categories. Engineers and computer scientists present these categories as machine disturbances that should be eliminated. But even if we try to ignore them, both spam and noise are part of our everyday life experiences with media. Despite being an inseparable part of our lives, we actually know very little about these media categories. How do specific behaviors in media become categorized as deviant? How do these categories affect the way we engage with, and understand media? This book focuses on Media Distortions, because examining what is considered to be deviant can tell us a great deal about what is considered to be the norm. In short – it is about media power.
Up until now scholars have conceptualized media power mainly with visual concepts. Scholars from surveillance studies who use Michel Foucault’s visual approaches to power, for example, argue that the more you can see, the more power you have. But this approach is problematic especially when analyzing multi-layered spaces such as the internet; it doesn’t tell us the whole story. It is impossible to see through the labyrinth of networks, companies, people and bots that are involved in this ecosystem. Media Distortions argues that using sound allows us to think and examine power in a more productive way; sound’s ability to cross boundaries and fill spaces with its presence is essential for mediated spaces. Listening, noise, rhythm and sound are concepts that allow us to conceptualize strategic movement between multiple spaces simultaneously. It is exactly these multiplicities of spaces, people and objects that sound reaches and reconfigures. Media Distortions offers a sound studies mix with feminist technoscience analysis of how media practitioners are constantly tuning in and out to listen to people’s behavior and establish what is deviant or normal.
Media Distortions tells 3 stories and shows how media companies use 7 strategies to reconfigure territories and people. The main argument is that media practitioners have been using processed listening and rhythmedia as part of 7 sonic epistemological strategies to (re)produce subjects and territories. The first three strategies are associated with processed listening: the creation of new experts (who has the authority to measure, categorize, record and have access to the database), licensing (who gave the experts the authority to conduct knowledge production practices) and measurement (which tools, units and practices are used to measure people’s behavior); the next four strategies are related to rhythmedia: restructuring territory (how
do media companies change the architecture of mediated territories to create a
certain sociality), training of the body (the way the architecture and different
types of training are meant to change and influence people’s behavior to produce
specific subjects), and de-politicizing (the way changing architecture and influencing
people’s behavior is meant to dissuade them from organizing and protesting). Each story is broadly divided into these two processes, the first part of each story focuses on restructuring of territories while the second part focuses on restructuring of people. The outcome of these strategies is the production of subjects who behave in an efficient and economically desired way through media.
Shifting the attention from theories of vision allows media researchers (and others) to have a better understanding of practitioners who work in multi-layered digital spaces, conducting processed listening – tuning in and out to continuously measure and record people’s behaviors to produce a dynamic archive. This knowledge is then being fed back in a recursive feedback-loop conducted by a particular rhythmedia, constantly processing, ordering, shaping and regulating people, objects and spaces. Such strategies (re)configure the boundaries of what it means to be human, worker and social.
Tune into the 3 Distortion stories:
The 1st distortion story examines the production of noise by Bell Telephone Company in Early 20th Century through restructuring of New York City and the training of their telephone operators.
The 2nd distortion story examines how the digital advertising industry reconfigured the internet territory and what is a legitimate type of communication (web-cookies) while making spam an illegal one in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The 3rd distortion story examines how Facebook engineers the social with 4 filtering machines – architecture, algorithms, its workers and users – in the last decade while filtering out the antisocial.