World Siliconization

The irresistible expansion of digital liberalism points towards regulating, for the sole purpose of benefit, the course of life through algorithms.

Parade to mark the 750th anniversary of Berlin. Berlin, 1987

Parade to mark the 750th anniversary of Berlin. Berlin, 1987 | Thomas Uhlemann, Bundesarchiv | CC BY-SA

We live in a hyperconnected world that philosopher Éric Sadin has been analysing for some time. In his book “La humanidad aumentada” (Caja Negra Editora, 2017) Sadin postulated the emergence of a “parallel humanity” capable of more efficiently processing the large quantity of information that is generated, giving rise to an algorithmic governability that puts our sovereignty at risk. In his new book Sadin analyses the birthplace of digital technologies with its base in Silicon Valley and traces in what way they seek to redefine our existences through digital ecosystems. We publish an advance extract of the book “World Siliconization. The irresistible expansion of digital liberalism” which will be published in June 2018, courtesy of Caja Negra Editora.

Historically, colonization meant aggressive domination attempts aimed at seizing power over territories by force. This meant it either met with fierce resistance or alternatively achieved a cooperation that was spurred by self-interest. It proceeded from the imposition of one order over another pre-existing order, targeted towards the exploitation of natural resources and human energies with a view to enriching the conquering forces and the countries they belonged to. This is not the case here; we are talking about an endogenous will that considers that this economic and cultural ideology presents, beyond its original source, a universal value that has become the pattern for the measurement of the economic vitality of countries and that, by of the evidence of its truth, must be actively imported and implemented.

It is a “self-colonizing” impulse moved by two driving forces that act in combination. Firstly, through the proselytism of actors who, having updated their “conceptual exploitation system” and with a touch of grace, disseminate the precepts of the “silicon bible” everywhere. A powerful movement is underway, manifested in the expansion of a doxa that is disseminated by industrialists, the majority of economists, universities and the major schools, future strategy agencies, think tanks and lobbying organizations of all orders, management theoreticians or even the front covers of journals that celebrate left, right and centre the start-uppers that are “breaking moulds”. The “Franciscan” dogma is preached at TED conferences to the beat of slogans that can be “shared” in 140 characters, or to major professional masses under the form of preaching sessions pronounced by “expert priests” who confirm, with the aid of their slide summaries and through “acquired experiences”, the truth of the silicon gospel.

But the core of this followership, in addition to these “natural influencers”, is the political class that encourages it – and beyond the right/left confrontation, within a socio-liberal consensus mainly present in democracies – convinced that “from now on it is necessary to adapt to whatever Silicon Valley does”.[1] Positioned at the advance posts of world siliconization are the elected representatives and heads of State administrations, on the same footing as industrialists. It would be false to say that they “would be overcome”[2] because in truth they are proceeding towards to the institutionalization of the spirit of Silicon Valley at the heart of increasingly numerous and varied organizations in the public sector.

What is La French Tech?

The “self-colonization” of territories then occurs, because after the halfway point of the first decade of the 21st century, fascination is no longer happy to be passive, but is manifested through specific actions, through the construction of valleys around the five continents, under the form of industrial parks and “incubators” designed to favour the creation of start-up enterprises, to connect the different actors and to annex themselves without delay to the data economy train. They are “valleys of knowledge” that in the vast majority of cases form the corporate purpose of “public/private consortia” according to new state and liberal standards related with territorial rearrangement. These “poles of competitiveness” benefit from grants agreed by the territorial governments or collectives and sometimes have labels bestowed upon them by committees of experts that attest to the importance of these new national causes, such as the “La French Tech” label. This aims to rival the powerful eagle that is Silicon Valley, and exhibits as its logo a red cockerel, apparently generated by a synthetic images program dating from the 1990s, that is staring into space and in an acceptably rigid and ungainly posture. Does this icon, with its outdated design of surprising modesty, express a subconscious confession regarding the impossibility of truly rivalling the original model despite the announced intentions? Because the cockerel is never going to turn into an eagle and it will always be the latter that, at the end of the story, devours its flesh and its soul. It is a kind of lesson similar to a La Fontaine fable, but updated and worthy of consideration.

France, which in other times qualified as one of the major colonial powers and had difficulty in freeing itself of that sin, today subjects itself enthusiastically to a model that contributes not only towards altering its historical industrial specificity in favour of the silicon model, but even dismantles a large quantity of legal and political achievements among which some were forged by the country itself and inspired the world. We believe in vain that every country possesses its own identity, that each reconfigures things in its own way, and that probably included in the colonization process is the granting of a “local tonality” to the hegemonic standard. Beyond the superficial phenomena, the only thing that counts is the main structure which, in this case, ignores diverging and potentially honest concepts to commit to an outrageous unilateral ideology aimed at regulating, for the sole purpose of profit, the course of life through algorithms.

Sunset over Silicon Valley. California, 2016

Sunset over Silicon Valley. California, 2016 | Anthonyavalos408, Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA

It is appropriate to proceed with an analysis of the “contagion of ideas” or an “epidemiology of representations”, to re-use the terms coined by Dan Sperber.[3] In other words, examining certain psychological mechanisms that, by force of straddling wide and remaining current, engender social macro-phenomena. It is necessary to be able to capture any affection that exists in what depends, largely, on a belief in a form of salvation based on vague suppositions. It is the reason for which gurus of all kinds represent the new stars of professional conferences, and are invited to assert their expertise in the midst of a singular context that mixes uncertainty with regard to the viability of the model and a sense of ineluctability with respect to its future realization. They offer a guarantee of faith, justifying through the clairvoyance of their “vision” the fairness of the conviction, because what has characterised the digital economy from the advent of the so-called “net economy”, from the mid-1990s to date, is that never was an industrial movement based so largely on haphazard conjectures and projections more than on confirmed realities and patent results. These are exercises in euphoricizing futurology that precede the events and are necessary for the legitimation of initiatives, contributing especially to converting any sceptical counter-discourse into something marginal.

And in this aspect what also occurs is that a threshold is crossed: we witness a high level of enthusiasm related with a mysticism out-dazzled by a spellbinding Merlin, ridiculously dressed in a Superman outfit, who liberates us from the angst of the times. It would be necessary to change, then, from a psycho-sociology[4] such as that preached by Gilbert Simondon, whose aim was to relieve psychological components that influence technical evolutions beyond their apparently “natural” course, to a psychopathology that is as much Silicon Valley itself as the “desire for Silicon Valley” and that together constitute a new syndrome that ought to be included in the list of new mental illnesses of our times: psycho-siliconism. We know to what point Frantz Fanon, a judicious and methodical author writing on colonization and de-colonization struggles and also a psychiatrist by profession, linked colonization phenomena with psychiatric disorders through the forms of disposession that they induce. And this analysis underlines the dual form that contemporary disposession takes. Firstly, disposession with respect to our collective power of deliberation in relation to a phenomenon supposedly inevitable and imposed under thoughtless and guilty haste. And secondly the disposession , more determining although in a different way, of the autonomy of our judgement through the fact that the biggest influence of this economic model depends on the neutralization of the free decision-making capacity and spontaneity of human beings.

[1] “It is necessary to adapt to whatever Silicon Valley does”, affirms Paul-François Fournier, of the bpi, in Liza Kroh, «French Tech : label affaire», Libération, 5 January 2016. The bpi (Banque Publique d’Investissement [Public Investment Bank], also “Bpifrance”), is a public establishment that assigns support funds aimed at start-up and “La French Tech” companies, with a budget assigned to this that, when created in 2012, ascended to 600 million euros and was increased to 1.4 million euros per year in 2016.

[2] See certain articles or works that assert, wrongly, that the political class will lag behind the general digital “innovation” movement or even that it will not “understand much about contemporary technological mutations”. This mistaken postulate supposes firstly that the truth is on the side of those who have understood and integrated the nature of the aforementioned evolutions and that then hide the living and recent mindfulness of political heads to sustain, through public funds, the development of the “data economy”.

[3] Dan Sperber (1996). La Contagion des idées. Théorie naturaliste de la nature, Paris, Odile Jacob.

[4] Regarding the notion of “psycho-sociology”, see Gilbert Simondon (2017). Sobre la técnica, Buenos Aires, Cactus.

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