Networking in the Digital Machinery of Control Society

May 8, 2012

To draw from the ideas of Gilles Deleuze in Postscript on Control Societies, the correspondence between society and a machine as a means of expressing the social forms capable of producing them and making use of them (1995, p.180), proposes an interesting comparison for the sequential understanding of the public library as part of a sovereign, disciplinary and subsequent control societies.

After the decline of sovereign societies and demise of monasteries in which hall libraries housed rear collections of handcrafted books available to an elite group of literate society, the library became closely associated with the printing press of the industrial revolution. As a means for standardization and reproduction of books, a vehicle for the wide circulation of information and ideas for mass consumption and a tool of the emerging capitalism, both served the rhetoric of progress of mankind and forced a general impetus for reform of disciplinary society. In the wake of the digital revolution and at the culmination of what Deleuze identifies as control society, the computer replaced the printing press and its virtual networks cast a shadow over the primary function of the public library.

The principles of control through digital means were slowly infiltrating and put into use within the institutions. New ‘sociotechnical principles of control mechanisms’ (Deleuze, 1995, p.182) such as Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) systems were brought into libraries for the purpose of automatic identification and scanning of electronically stored information of a book. While RFID tags are ideal for the purpose of inventory, automated sorting of material or as a security devise, the control system pose an issue of privacy. As tags can be read from distance information could be collected from an unwilling source or recorded by external agencies as each book is leaving the library, and if coupled with a GPS system its use may be expand to locate items beyond the confinement of the library walls.

Simultaneously, as the new information technologies allowed power relations to be expressed at a distance ‘in the action of one brain on another’ (Lazzarato, 2006, p.179) the physical nature of books rendered the public library futile. Virtual information networks has changed our relationship to knowledge. Not only do we see a change in the types of items on the library shelves, the shelves too are virtual. As internet expands public access and erodes physical boundaries, its defies the realities of both time and place. As digital media calls for a library without books, the internet initiated the demise of the public library as a ‘disciplinary site of confinement’ (Deleuze, 1995).

While Deleuze declares the downfall of the institution (1995, p.178), the library has also been announced as the ‘last public institution’ situated as an isolated entity in a highly commercialized civic structure composed of an increasing amount of privatized enterprise (Rem Koolhaas in Klingmann, 2005, p.255).

In the quest of its rescue we se a commercial and digital appropriation of the public library. In the digital production and trade of knowledge, the library too is giving way to capitalist venture. By inviting event, private enterprise and commerce into its public realm, it is tuning up the level of spectacle and establishing corporate affiliation in the fear of loosing its attendees, providing new means through which its disciplines and knowledge can extend its social and cultural influences.

So does the library truly stand outside the new networks of control? Or is it reasserting itself as part of what Martin Reinhold calls the organisational complex, to form a ‘node in a communications network within and between disciplines and regimes of knowledge and production’ (2003)? If we are indeed ‘in the midst of a general breakdown of all sites of confinement’ (Deleuze, 1995, p.178), perhaps the library must play the important role as a compass in navigating an increasing abundance of virtual knowledge; this nervous system of communication networks, a ‘pattern’ of ones and zeros (Reinhold, 2003). Can the library be to the urban infrastructure of communication and information what Google is to the World Wide Web? Or better still, an independent mediator and human interface to information in the Cybernetic system of feedback from machine-to-machine and machine-to-human (Reinhold, 2003)?

– Mimmi Frendin

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