In order to optimize our efforts for change and betterment we need to use the Internet and its accompanying hard-and software, This is the conclusion of my review of Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, which I’ve titled,
GOOD DESCRIPTION, POOR PRESCRIPTION
Crary describes—accurately, I believe—how the Internet and its attendant hardware (PCs, mobile phones, and the like) and software (e.g., Google) have integrated individuals into “the 24/7 operations of information processing networks” (p. 24). Almost everyone is (so to speak) all in and, he says—again, accurately—there’s no way out: we’re in “a switched-on universe for which no off-switch exists. . . . [N]o moment, place, or situation now exists in which one can not shop, consume, or exploit networked resources, there is a relentless incursion [of the Internet, mobile devices, and the like]. . . into every aspect of social and personal life” (p. 30). Crary’s description of the all-in-no-way-out relationship between individuals and their society/universe—a relationship in which individuals are integrated into the larger system in which they are a part and, thereby, controlled by it—is not unique. It’s similar to Marcuse’s one-dimensional society, McLuhan’s “world of total involvement [of] everybody” (The Medium is the Massage, p. 61), and Wolin’s “inverted totalitarianism” (Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism). It’s a notion as old—and as accurate—as Rousseau’s, “man … is everywhere in chains”, as well as a basic tenet of anthropology and sociology and, of course, an empirically established principle of behaviorism and system analysis.
Crary’s contribution to our understanding of the contemporary situation, although not unique, is significant because he shows, more clearly than anyone else I’m aware of, the centrality of the Internet, PCs, electronic networks, and so on, in the one dimensionality of our contemporary situation.
Crary is displeased with our situation, with “the homogeneity of the present” (p. 19), and wants “radical social transformation” (p. 121). Some (I include myself) propose that we find the levers for change and betterment within the existing situation; that is, within the Internet world. No way! says Crary. We must “struggle . . . elsewhere”; that is, we must initiate and form our struggles outside the Internet world, in “already existing relationships forged out of shared experiences and proximity” (Ibid.). In addition, “we must “subordinate. . . . electronic media” to these efforts that we’ve developed outside 24/7 electronic media networks. Otherwise, the Internet, electronic networks, et al. “will . . . reproduce and reinforce the separations . . . [and other Crary-undesired phenomena] inherent in their use” (Ibid.).
Crary and his elsewhere outside radicals are as likely to succeed today in producing “radical social transformation” as did their 1960’s Marcusian-outside-radical-goal counterparts. Consider the accomplishments of Marcuse’s lauded leftist intelligentsia, the socially marginalized, “the unemployed and the unemployable …. outcasts and outsiders, and the exploited and persecuted” (One-Dimensional Man, p. 256). Angela Davis comes to my mind, as she did to Marcuse’s, but she is/was a social transformer? Eldridge Cleaver, another 1960s persecuted leftist radical, transformed himself in 1975 from Black Panther to fashion designer, then, to Christian Republican and, later, to other personae, but that’s it in terms of Cleaver and transformation. At best, Crary’s elsewhere radicals, Marcuse’s leftist intellectuals, the persecuted, et al, as well as all other outsiders, however named—bring about incremental change; the only kind of change (excluding divine intervention or similarly-sized disasters) there is. Those (again, I include myself) who want to increase the effectiveness of incremental changes which, over time, result in breakthroughs and a significantly better situation, must use the Internet and its accompanying hard- and software. Otherwise, we fail to optimize our efforts to move the Internet world in the right direction.