La Nación / Communication and violence is about

  • By Ricardo Rivas
  • Journalist Twitter: @RtrivasRivas

“War is the continuation of television by other means, Karl von Clausewitz would say, if the general were resurrected, a century and a half after (losing his last battle), and he began to zap,” he wrote before ending the 20th century fellow journalist and writer Eduardo Galeano, who also gave me enriching talks over coffee at the Brasilero, that true temple of friendship, at 1447 Ituzaingó Street, in rhythmic Montevideo. “Intensive course in solitary confinement”, Galeano entitled his thoughts on these issues which, in turn, form part of “Pedagogy of Solitude”, a magnificent text from 1998, in which he also advocates a “Communication for peace”. A visionary like few others, he maintains that “real reality imitates virtual reality that imitates real reality, in a world that exudes violence from every pore. Violence begets violence, as is known; but it also generates profits for the industry of violence, which sells it as spectacle and turns it into a consumer object”. How to refute it, with what argument? “Now the media, the mass media, justify the fines of a power system that imposes its values ​​on a planetary scale. The Ministry of Education of the world government is in few hands. Never have so many been held incommunicado by so few.”

Byung-Chul Han: “Today we no longer inhabit the earth and the sky, but Google Earth and the cloud.”

Violence and communication. Great song! And much more so when communication systems, for some time, allow networks to say whatever comes to mind to whoever wants and can about anything. The real reality of our tangled digital lives is constituted as true ecosystems built on virtual reality that, together with real reality – to call it in some way understandable to everyone – gives rise to a mixed reality in which transhumans in search of certainties. Reality and virtuality, no doubt, produce meaning. “Today we no longer inhabit the earth and the sky, but Google Earth and the cloud. Information dominates our living environment. Communication intoxicates us”, says Byung-Chul Han (63) in his book “No-things” (Tusquets, 2021). Perhaps that phrase has been the one I have reflected on the most for many months. It pierced me deeply and consequently I can’t get it to leave me. Those 26 words, those 92 characters can operate as a master key for each of our daily misunderstandings in what has to do with communication systems and social practices. Clearly influenced by Michel Foucault, on many occasions I imagine that Han read and reread “The Order of Discourse” over and over again, a huge and short Foucauldian text that was published by the same publisher back in the ’70s of the last century. “We call the ‘information regime’ the form of domain in which information and its processing by algorithms and artificial intelligence decisively determine social, economic and political processes,” Byung-Chul maintains. Then he addresses the question of power, which is another of Foucault’s concerns and occupations, by the way. “The decisive factor for obtaining power is now not the possession of means of production, but access to information, which is used for psychopolitical surveillance and behavioral control and forecasting” because “the information regime is coupled to information capitalism, which today becomes a surveillance capitalism that degrades people to the condition of data and consumer cattle”. Watch is a word that has always attracted me and attracts me. Information and communication –as tools of power– are usually part of surveillance and social control systems. In his most recent work – “Infocracy” – the Korean philosopher goes further. He critically analyzes the information regime and links “digitalization” with “the crisis of democracy”. And, from that perspective, he states that “today we no longer inhabit the earth and the sky, but rather Google Earth and the cloud. Information dominates our living environment. Communication intoxicates us.”

Fuck! That’s where my thoughts go on this Friday night when few hours separate this day from the beginning of Saturday. The cell phone warned me that, in a few more hours, the hot sale will end. The “big sale”. Thousands of people will now buy with the conviction that they benefit. Disciplined. I remained silent. Another message, now by Whatsapp, told me again that it is time to buy. In this case, tickets to travel everywhere. They’re out of luck, this time, with me. Communication. solitary confinement Violence. As usual? Perhaps. “Today we live in violent communication,” says Professor Óscar Casillas, with whom last Thursday, along with his Mexican compatriot Gloria María Domínguez; Consuelo Wynter Sarmiento and Juan Pablo Calixto, from Colombia; Javier Bernabé Fraguas and Mabel González Bustello, from Spain –a formidable group of academics– participated in an activity organized by the Uninpahu University of Bogotá and the Complutense University (UCM) of Madrid. “I am not referring to communication systems that give rise to violence, to violent acts, no. I say that communication these days has a connotation of violence, although I think the correct word is violent, ”he reiterated as a dialectical way to make the concept clear.

With the cell phone silenced, the news of the “great sale” now arrived by mail. A dialog box from the computer told me that it is time to buy, “at unique prices”, all kinds of artifacts in a nearby shopping center. Just walk a couple of blocks to get what you want. Two converging algorithms: the hot sale algorithm –linked to my consumption habits that emerge from the interpretation of my card purchases– and the one that enables geolocation to not only know where I am, but also which is the closest point of sale. “We live in a communication system that is, like any system attached to other forms of relationship, production and life that we have in society that tends to generate large groups so that they are economically and socially feasible,” adds Casilla. “The decisive factor for obtaining power is not now the possession of means of production, but rather access to information, which is used for psychopolitical surveillance and the control and prediction of behavior”, emphasizes Byung- Chul Han who, in addition , assures that “the information regime is accompanying information capitalism, which today becomes a surveillance capitalism that degrades people to the condition of data and consumer cattle.” And what does Casilla say? “Our communication systems tend to become overcrowded”, he emphasizes, and explains: “Not segmented. Although what matters is the individual, ”he clarifies. “They are production systems so that society as a whole is equal and participates on the same platform, but (that goal, desire, to achieve it) builds a single message” that addresses “a large group of people” and that model for the circulation of information is replicated and, in case something is missing, like any message, some social sectors appropriate this type of communication. Óscar exemplifies: “We want to be influencers and for this we try to build a communication system with a single message that – the system – unleashes it to get attention”.

Unlimited violence. As a practical way to consolidate what is expressed and facilitate its understanding, Professor Casilla specifies: “In this context, our communication systems tend to separate, tend to disintegrate, to seek that unique message, at the same time, that they tend or seek that large numbers of people unify in it. We dissociate our societies around communication. But, be careful because this contradiction, finally, will collide”. We listened to him in profound silence. “We cannot continue like this”, he points out and suggests: “We should start building discourses to try to generate new social consensus”. To communication, isolation, virtuality, violence, is added -also as a key word- surveillance. “Surveillance capitalism is a mutation of modern capitalism. Its raw material is the data it obtains from monitoring people’s behavior. Then, it transforms that data, how a specific person acts, into forecasts of how they will act in the future. These forecasts are then put up for sale in a new market mode. It has reached this dominant position thanks to the fact that it opened the first of the efficient paths for the monetization of the online world”, explains Shoshana Zuboff, philosopher, professor emeritus at Harvard University, whom I heard last May 3 in Punta del Este, Uruguay, during the Global Summit for World Press Freedom Day that UNESCO has organized every year since 1993. The struggle for power would seem to have no limits of any kind. Much less ethical. “Information capitalism, which is based on communication and networking, makes disciplinary techniques such as spatial isolation, strict labor regulation, or physical training obsolete,” says Byung-Chul Han.

Óscar Casillas: “Today we live in violent communication.”

Worrying, by the way. People are communication systems. I think and feel that if communication is violent –or tends towards it– a profound change is essential. Thus, perhaps, we will not go anywhere, nor will we achieve peace. The populations of Latin America, the Caribbean, Anglophone and Francophone America, Africa, Europe, Oceania are affected by multiple forms of social violence and a multiplicity of communications that account for them or, why not say it, generate them, even without intending to. So much is misunderstood cruelty. Millions of people watch in amazement. Damn! There are debates that continue over time. Galeano said back in ’98: “A ring of satellites full of millions and millions of words and images revolves around the earth, which come from earth and return to earth. Devices the size of a fingernail receive, process and broadcast, at the speed of light, messages that half a century ago required thirty tons of machinery. Miracles of technoscience in these technotimes: the most fortunate members of the media society can enjoy their vacations on the beach answering the cell phone, receiving e-mail, answering the pager, reading faxes, returning calls from the answering machine to another answering machine automatic, shopping on the computer and distracting leisure with video games and portable television. Flight and vertigo of communication technology, which seems to be a Mandinga thing (name with which the devil is represented, in human form, in some regions of South America): at midnight, a computer kisses the forehead of Bill Gates, who At dawn he wakes up as the richest man in the world. The first microphone incorporated into the computer is already on the market, to dialogue with it out loud. In cyberspace, celestial city, the marriage of the computer with the telephone and the television is celebrated, and humanity is invited to the baptism of its amazing children. In case we are missing something in this great ecosystem of isolated communication, technology –such as Galeano’s Mandingo– offers resources to tempt us not to attend to whoever calls us; not to receive more than “audio messages, because I don’t have time to read” WhatsApp; or so many other vain excuses that say more about those who behave like this than about those who call. It is necessary to change and, much more necessary, to do it.

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