Law in the Internet Society

Andrei asks, regarding behavior targeting, “Is the individual's autonomy threatened when corporations get very good at selling him things? Or is the harm to society as a whole?”

According to Daniel Dennett, consciousness is a draft of thought selecting itself to be expressed in physical behavior. Consciousness at any single moment is merely the influence of a victorious mental process, and the conscious self is a “center of narrative gravity” that has woven a tissue of experiences into a coherent story about itself. I think it’s useful to apply this model of consciousness--metaphorically and loosely--to the development of a creative self. In order for an architecture of subjectivity to be constructed, we need multiple stimuli engaged in fruitful agon. A walk through a public library or bookstore may expose us to a provocative title and unsettle our expectations, enabling us to develop new lines of thought. This is not just an individual event but a societal one, as a society is not only a site of norms and standards but of cross-currents and organic growth.

In the alternative, behavioral advertising networks produce recursive experiences, because the subject is identified in terms of his or her prior choices. A tour of might only present us with an echo chamber. Previously in a liminal space of possibility, the subject’s growth is now arrested. This may or may not matter to the individual. And it may be paternalistic to suggest that people should not have their desires catered to so as to be reinforced but rather challenged in order to spark creativity, but if we are serious about thinking about human nature being fundamentally creative (and that’s as far as I’m willing to go when it comes to speaking about human nature), then any attempt to curtail the explosive fertility of that nature should be resisted, either legislatively (not likely) or personally and communally.

We can consider in part the problem identified by Cass Sunstein in 2.0. People’s political preconceptions, Sunstein warns, are reinforced by their Web surfing activity. This might not be a problem worth considering, as this so-called problem is ultimately a problem of auto-causality: the person making the conscious choice to validate unexamined, received ideas should be free to do so. It’s another thing to say this decision should be made by another party. We can just as well apply this to consumer desires and behavior. I think it’s desirable to have a community of people whose imagination is piqued, confused, or contested by competing stimuli.

So I don’t think we’re just talking about accepting behavioral targeting, but about accepting a pernicious notion of human behavior: that it is calculable because observable, and that in the interest of economic efficiency should be conditioned.

Is the individual the irreducible unit of social organization we are trying to protect?

In a word, no. It could be that the postmodernists are right, and that the centered individual is a kind of residual fiction that was useful during a time in intellectual and political history where property needed an elementary unit of social organization to which one could confer property rights. The individual qua Cartesian subject is perhaps less coherent in a culture of difference. We have been hailed into a multicultural society where, in a bid to enlarge the circle of people we are willing to refrain from colonizing and/or oppressing, we are asked to consider different sexualities, genders, cultures, and spiritualities as perspectives on the human condition. Moreover, we are asked to be bold enough to regard these Other practices (as gender is a practice, as culture is a practice) as potentially our own practices, so that however much we may insist that the totality of the self is an inscription of the self’s past experiences, ultimately that self is very mercurial.

Thus, privacy is not important to me because it’s a notion necessary for the protection of a person’s integrity, the inner kernel of their being, if such a thing exists. Rather, privacy is important because we must protect emerging discourses, practices, and identities. These nascent voices are at risk of being disciplined by an onslaught of strategically and accurately positioned advertisements hoping to head off change and growth. Marketing practices in general are suspect because they are in the business of manipulation and deception, but it is their very disorganization that makes their consumption potentially productive—for both the individual and society.

-- AlfonsoJimenez - 10 Jan 2009



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r1 - 10 Jan 2009 - 09:09:57 - AlfonsoJimenez
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