Report from Unlike Us #3

Unlike Us is a loose network of artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers who work on ‘alternatives in social media’. The goal of Unlike Us, which has been initiated by the Institute for Network Cultures (INC) is the promotion of alternative and decentralized social media software as well as the analysis of the cultural, political and economic structures that go along with the major social media platforms. The third Unlike Us Conference, that took place in Amsterdam on 22–23 march 2013, has taken this task a step further by shifting the focus from the critique of social networking platforms towards a more general analysis of social media. While alternative software solutions (such as Lorea.org) and counter culture (such as the Facebook Demetricator or the Anti Social App) were still issues discussed in the panels on Political Economy and decentralization/distribution, the talks as well as the discussion at the coordination meeting were also drawing upon the larger contexts around social media: if media is becoming „social“ because of what users make of them, does the analysis and also the organizational framework has to move beyond Facebook and focus on more general questions such as distraction (Petra Löffler), networking (Tristan Thielmann) or engineering (Bernard Stiegler)? In this context the discussions brought up questions like how authentic the narrative of the swarm of small fishes collectively eating the big shark actually is, because the nodes of the swarm are lacking connectivity.

Another central debate were mobile use-cases around social media ranging from the commodificiation of urban spaces and a completely new generation of data mining in the context of location based services (Leighton Evans) to young people’s mobile discourses on prepaid social media and mobile internet (Marion Walton). The question of place does not only apply for our digital footprint like communication profiles, travel logs, access control systems or payment methods but with the rise of the internet of things and ubiquitous computing, we engage with technology in ways that set up new hybrid forms of agency. Hence, the content we produce for social networks can no longer be seen as a conscious process of status updating, but is a task that is increasingly processed by the bots and tools of our everyday life („I bought a product on gift.com“, „I created a playlist on spotify“ etc.). This increasingly applies to our movements as well: to our „social graph“ we need to add a „place graph“ that is based on tracking and tracing of our spatial relations („I ran 4 miles with nike – cheer me up!“, „I checked in @theshoppingmall“). It will be interesting to observe how social media transforms the use and the appearance of spaces and places, when territoriality becomes a kind of authorship within our interactions.

Overall Unlike us has done a great job by assembling a variety of artistic, activistic and scholarly approaches for contemporary critique on social media. However, after three conferences, what is the future of Unlike Us? As the resources of the Institute for Network Cultures are limited, how can the efforts go beyond the discussions of the network? Which other parties are willing to involve themselves not only by showing interest but also by committing manpower and resources? Could a research consortium be a promising way to sustain academic approaches? Is the topic broad enough to kickstart a festival? Would pursuing funding strategies disconnect scholarly, technological, artistic and political parts of the network from each other (please join the discussion on the mailinglist)? Those who have not participated in the conference can check out the in-depth coverage on the Unlike Us Blog, the vimeo channel as well as in the brand new Unlike Us Reader the covers many of the conference’s talks. (image credits: INC, conference flyer)

Disclaimer: this post was written for and first published on postmedialab.org

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