Ever since, years ago, I coined the expression “McFB way of life” and particularly since my intriguing FB articles (Is there life after Facebook I and II) have been published, I was confronted with numerous requests to clarify the meaning. My usual answer was a contra-question: If humans hardly ever question fetishisation or oppose the (self-) trivialization, why then is the subsequent brutalization a surprise to them?
Not pretending to reveal a coherent theory, the following lines are my instructive findings, most of all on the issue why it is time to go home, de-pirate, and search for a silence.
Largely drawing on the works of the grand philosophers of the German Classicism and Dialectic Materialism, it was sociologist Max Weber who was the first – among modern age thinkers – to note that the industrialized world is undergoing a rapid process of rationalization of its state (and other vital societal) institutions. This process – Weber points out – is charac-terized by an increased efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control over any ‘threat’ of uncertainty. Hereby, the uncertainty should be understood in relation to the historically unstable precognitive and cognitive human, individual and group, dynamics. A disheartened, cold and calculative over-rationalization might lead to obscurity of irrationality, Weber warns. His famous metaphor of the iron cage or irrationality of rationality refers to his concern that an extremely rationalized (public) institution inevitably alienates itself and turns dehumanized to both, those who staff them and those they serve, with a tiny upper caste of controllers steadily losing touch of reality.
Revisiting, rethinking and rejuvenating Weber’s theory (but also those of Sartre, Heidegger, Lukács, Lefebvre, Horkheimer, Marcuse and Bloch), it was the US sociologist George Ritzer who postulated that the late 20th century institutions are rationalized to a degree that the entire state becomes ‘McDonaldized’, since the principles of the fast food industry have gradually pervaded other segments of society and very aspects of life (The McDonaldization of Society, a controversial and highly inspiring book of popular language, written in 1993).
Thus paraphrased, Ritzer states that (i) McEfficiency is achieved by the systematic elimination of unnecessary time or effort in pursuing an objective. As the economy has to be just-in-time competitively productive, society has to be efficient as well. Corresponding to this mantra, only a society whose forms and contents are governed by business models, whose sociability runs on marketing principles is a successfully optimized polity. Premium efficiency in the workplace (or over broader aspects of sociableness) is attainable by introducing F.W. Taylor’s and H. Ford’s assembly line into human resources and their intellectual activity (sort of intellectual assembly line). Even an average daily exposure to the so-called news and headlines serves an instructive and directional rather than any informational and exploratory purpose. Hence, McEfficiency solidifies the system, protecting its karma and dharma from any spontaneity, digression, unnecessary questioning and experimenting or surprise.
(ii) McCalculability is an attempt to measure quality in terms of quantity, whereby quality becomes secondary, if at all a concern. The IT sector, along with the search engines and cyber -social clubs, has considerably contributed to the growing emphasis on calculability. Not only the fast food chains (1 billion meals, everybody-served-in-a-minute), Google, Facebook, TV Reality Shows, and the like, as well as the universities, hospitals, travel agencies – all operate on a nearly fetishised and worshiped ‘most voted’, ‘frequently visited’,‘most popular’, a big is beautiful, matrix. It is a calculability which mystically assures us that the BigMac is always the best meal – given its quantity; that the best reader is always a bestseller book; and that the best song is a tune with the most clicks on YouTube. One of the most wanted air carriers, AirAsia, has a slogan: Everyone can fly now. In the world where everyone is armed with mobile-launcher gadgets powered by the micro-touch, soft-screen & scream tech to add to the noisy cacophony – amount, size, frequency, length and volume is all what matters. Thus, a number, a pure digit becomes the (Burger) king. Long Yahoo, the king! Many of my students admitted to me that Google for them is more than a search engine; that actually googalization is a well-domesticated method, which considerably and frequently replaces the cognitive selection when preparing their assignments and exams. Ergo, instead of complementing, this k(l)icky-Wiki-picky method increasingly substitutes the process of human reasoning.
(iii) McPredictability is the key factor of the rationalized McDonalds process. On the broader scale, a rational (rationally optimized) society is one in which people know well beforehand what (and when) to expect. Hence, fast food is always mediocre – it never tastes very bad or very good. The parameter of McFood is therefore a surprise-less world in which equally both disappointment and delight are considerably absent. McMeals will always blend uniform preparation and contents, as well as the standardized serving staff outfit and their customized approach. In the end, it is not about food at all. What makes McDonalds so durably popular is a size, numbers and predictability. (All three are proportionately and causally objectivized and optimized: a meal, who serves it and those served – until the locality and substance of each of the three becomes fluid, obsolete and irrelevant. And what would symbolize this relativization and /self-/trivialization better than a clown – well-known mascot Ronald of McDonaldland). In such an atmosphere of predictability or better to say predictive seduction and gradual loss of integrity, the culture of tacit obedience (ignorance of self-irrelevance through the corrosive addiction) is breeding, even unspotted. Consequently, more similarities than differences is the central to a question of predictability, on both ends: demand (expectation, possibility) and supply (determination, probability). No wonder that even the Pirates offer just a routinized protests under only one simplified and uniformed, ‘anonymous’ mask for all.
(iv) McControl represents the fourth and final Weberian aspect for Ritzer. Traditionally (ever since the age of cognitivity), humans are the most unpredictable element, a variable for the rationalized, bureaucratic systems, so it is an imperative for the McOrganization to (pacify through) control. Nowadays, technology offers a variety of palliatives and tools for the effective control of both employers (supply, probability) and customers (demand, possibility), as well as to control the controllers. A self-articulation, indigenous opinionation, spontaneous initiative and unconstrained action is rather simulated, yet stimulated very seldom. Only once the wide spectrum of possibilities is quietly narrowed down, a limited field of probabilities will appear so large. To this end, the IT appliances are very convenient (cheap, discreet and invisible, but omnipresent and highly accurate) as they compute, pre-decide, channel and filter moves, as well as they store and analyze behavior patterns with their heartless algorithms. (The ongoing SOPA, PIPA and ACTA fuss or any other rendering stringent regulative in future does not constitute, but only confirms and supplements its very cyber nature.)
Aided by the instruments of efficiency, calculability and predictability, the control eliminates (the premium or at least minimizes any serious impact of) authenticity, autonomous thinking and independent (non-consumerist) judgment. Depth and frequency of critical insights and of unpredictable human actions driven by unexpected conclusions is rationalized to a beforehand calculable, and therefore tolerable few. Hyper-rationalized, frigid-exercised, ultra-efficient, predictable and controlled environment subscribes also a full coherence to the socio-asymmetric and dysfunctional-emphatic atmosphere of disaffected but ultimately obedient subjects (‘guided without force’, ‘prompted without aim’, “poked, tweeted & fleshmobbed for ‘fun”, ‘useful idiots’, ‘fitting the social machine without friction’). Hence, what is welcomed is not an engagement, but compliance: a self-actualization through exploration challenges while consumerism confirms – status quo. Veneration of nullity!
Ergo, the final McSociety product is a highly efficient, predictable, computed, standardized, typified, instant, unison, routinized, addictive, imitative and controlled environment which is – paradoxically enough – mystified through the worshiping glorification (of scale). Subjects of such a society are fetishising the system and trivializing their own contents – smooth and nearly unnoticed trade-off. When aided by the IT in a mass, unselectively frequent and severe use within the scenery of huge shopping malls (enveloped by a consumerist fever and spiced up by an ever larger cyber-neurosis, disillusional and psychosomatic disorders, and functional illiteracy of misinformed, undereducated, cyber-autistic and egotistic under-aged and hardly-aged individuals – all caused by the constant (in)flow of clusters of addictive alerts on diver-ting banalities), it is an environment which epitomizes what I coined as the McFB way of life.
This is a cyber–iron cage habitat: a shiny but directional and instrumented, egotistic and autistic, cold and brutal place; incapable of vision, empathy, initiative or action. It only accelerates our disconnection with a selfhood and the rest. If and while so, is there any difference between Gulag and Goo(g)lag – as both being prisons of free mind? Contrary to the established rhetoric; courage, solidarity, vision and initiative were far more monitored, restricted, stigmatized and prosecuted than enhanced, supported and promoted throughout the human history – as they’ve been traditionally perceived like a threat to the inaugurated order, a challenge to the functioning status quo, defiant to the dogmatic conscripts of admitted, permissible, advertized, routinized, recognized and prescribed social conduct.
Elaborating on a well known argument of ‘defensive modernization’ of Fukuyama, it is to state that throughout the entire human history a technological drive was aimed to satisfy the security (and control) objective; and it was rarely (if at all) driven by a desire to (enlarge the variable and to) ease human existence or to enhance human emancipation and liberation of societies at large. Thus, unless operationalized by the system, both intellectualism (human autonomy, mastery and purpose), and technological breakthroughs were traditionally felt and perceived as a threat.
Consequently, all cyber-social networks and related search engines are far away from what they are portrayed to be: a decentralized but unified intelligence, attracted by gravity of quality rather than navigated by force of a specific locality. In fact, they primarily serve the predictability, efficiency, calculability and control purpose, and only then they serve everything else – as to be e.g. user-friendly and en mass service attractive. To observe the new corrosive dynamics of social phenomenology between manipulative fetishisation (probability) and self-trivialization (possibility), the cyber-social platforms – these dustbins of human empathy in the muddy suburbs of consciousness – are particularly interesting.
Facebook itself is a perfect example of how to utilize (to simulate, instead of to stimulate and empathically live) human contents. Its toolkit offers efficient, rationalized, predictable, clean, transparent, and most intriguing of all, very user-friendly convenient reduction of all possible relations between two individuals: ‘friend’, ‘no-friend’. It sets a universally popular language, so standardized and uncomplicated that even any anonymous machine can understand it – a binary code: ‘1’ (friend) ‘0’ (no-friend), or eventually ‘1’ (brother/sister), ‘1/0’ (friend), ‘0’ no-friend – just two digits to feed precise algorithmic calculations. Remember, number is the king. Gott ist tot, dear Nietzsche – so are men.
Be it occupied or besieged, McDonalds will keep up its menu. Instead, we should finally occupy ourselves by de-pirating enormous tweet/mob noise pollution in and all around us. It is a high time to replace the dis-conceptual flux on streets for a silent reflection at home.
Sorry Garcin, hell is not other people. Hell are we!!
In his emotionally charged speech of December 2011, President Obama openly warned the US citizens: “Inequality distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists (…) the wealthiest Americans are paying the lowest taxes in over half a century (…) Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1%. One per cent! (…) The free market has never been a free license to take whatever you want from whoever you can…”
(The Oswatomie High School, Kansas, 06 December 2011, the While House Press Release).
Two months before that speech, the highly respected, politically balanced and bipartisan Budget Office of the US Congress (CBO) released its own study “Trends in the Distribution of Household Income between 1979 and 2007” (October 2011). The CBO finds that, between 1979 and 2007, income grew by: 275% for the top 1% of the US households, 65% increase for the next 19% of households, less than a 40% increase for the following segment of households of the next 60%, and finally only an 18% income increase for the bottom of 20% of the US households. If we consider an inflation for the examined period of nearly 30 years, then the nominal growth would turn to a negative increase in real incomes for almost 80% of the US households; a single digit real income increase for the upper 19% of households; and still a three-digit income growth for the top 1% of population.
According to the available internet search engine counters, this CBO study has been retrieved 74,000 times since posted some 3 months ago. For the sake of comparison, an average clip of great-granddaughter of ultra-rich, billionaire Conrad Hilton is clicked on YouTube over 31 million times. Roughly 3 million Americans would represent the top 1% of its population. Who are other 99% – pardon, 28 million individuals – interested in trivial clip/s (with obscure but explicit lines: They can’t do this to me, I’m rich) of Miss Paris?
Remember what I asked at the beginning of this article: If humans hardly ever question fetishisation or oppose the (self-) trivialization, why then is the subsequent brutalization a surprise to them?
* This is the so-called FB3 article (Is there life after Facebook? III – the Cyber Goo(g)lag Revelations). Its early version was first published by the US Journal of Foreign Relations /12 January 2012/.
1. Weber, M. (1951), Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft – Grundriss der verstehenden Sociologie (Economy and Society), Tübingen, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck)
2. Ritzer, G. (1993), The McDonaldization of Society: An Investigation into the Changing Character of Contemporary Social Life, Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press
3. Zappa, F.V. (1989), The Real Frank Zappa Book, Touchstone (1999 Edition)
4. Schlitz, M. (1998), On consciousness, causation and evolution, Journal of Parapsychology (61: 185-96)
5. Fukuyama, F. (2002), Our Posthuman Future – Consequences of the Biotech Revolution, Profile Books, London (page: 126/232)
6. Bajrektarevic, A. (2004), Environmental Ethics – Four Societal Normative Orders, Lectures/Students Reader, Vienna (IMC University Krems), Austria
7. Mumford, L. (1967), Technics and Human Development – Myth of the Machine (Vol. 1), Mariner Books (Ed. 1971)
8. McTaggart, L. (2001), The Field, HarperCollins Publishers
Huawei case: The HiFi Geostrategic Gambit
In a general, comprehensive, strategic outline of the global scenario we can see that China is being harassed on several fronts by the US: commercial pressures, diplomatic maneuvers to block the progress of infrastructure projects (OBOR/New Silk Road), at technological level, the boycott/ restrictions against Huawei. These are some of the current modalities of strategic competition between great powers, without involving the direct use of hard / military power, which we could well consider a Cold War 2.0.
Analyzing the factors and interests at stake, the events in full development during the last months are not surprising, as the advances of the US government against the Chinese technological giant Huawei. Since the arrest of its CFO, Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the founder of the company, to accusations of espionage, boycotts and diplomatic pressure to annul Huawei’s advances in several countries.
Huawei is the flagship, the spearhead of the Chinese technological advance. This onslaught is not a coincidence. While formally not having direct links with the Chinese government, Huawei has a prominent role in the Chinese strategic technological plan “Made in China 2025”, because of its development and implementation of 5G networks, key part of the plan, which are estimated to be available around soon.
The strategic approach is to change the Chinese productive matrix towards a “High Tech” economy, of design and innovation, to position China in the forefront in the technological advanced sectors of the modern economy (artificial intelligence, biotechnology, robotics, automation, the internet of things, telecommunications, software, renewable energies, and the element that is in the most interest for us to analyze, the 5G). In Washington, they do not feel comfortable with Chinese advances.
The Eurasia Group consulting firm argues that the installation of 5G networks will involve one of the biggest changes in our time, comparing its appearance with major breaks in the technological history such as electricity. Some specialists, websites and the press have coined the term “Sputnik” moment, by comparing the potential impact of competition for the development of 5G technologies with the space race in the Cold War at the time.
The 5G will allow the use of faster network data, as well as the widespread and coordinated use of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, smart cities, automation, improvements in health, and in the military field.
The US has put pressure on several of its allies (Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Great Britain, and Canada to name some) to block Huawei’s advances in services and investments in their countries, while restricting the purchase of Huawei’s products and services on North American soil.
While it is true that several countries could give in from the pressure from Washington to “encircle” Huawei and restrict its services and products, so is the fact that many other countries, especially the many that have China as their main trading partner, in addition to all the pleiad of emerging and developing countries that are being seduced by the economic possibilities, and in this specific case, technology offered by China and its companies. What it would imply, a worldwide competition between American diplomatic muscle and Chinese sweet money.
And also in commercial terms, the progress of Huawei into the top of the tech companies is remarkable, due to its production methods and its business model, having surpassed, for example, APPLE among the largest companies that sells mobile phones being only second to Samsung.
Does anyone remember free trade? Competition? What’s up with that? Or was it just a trick? It seems that in the global economic game, the US throws the chessboard away when it loses, and uses the geopolitical muscle, without any problem, following the Groucho’s Marx doctrine: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”
The fears about Huawei’s technology are hiding a power struggle, a hegemonic dispute over technology. So far the accusations of espionage against this corporation perhaps are valid in theoretical sense, but unprovable in facts, what left them as mere speculations. The accusations by the US against Huawei, through the speech of “the threat of espionage” are unbelievable, and hypocritical in some sense, and the speech is marked by a double standard… Who represents the threat?
is the same US that nowadays “advises” its allies and other countries to “protect” themselves against the “threat” of Huawei’s espionage in favor of its government, the same country that spied on its own allies in a wicked way, if we remember the cases that Assange and Snowden brought to light.
We can also highlight recently the Cambridge Analytica scandal – much of which has been well predicted by prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic in his influential manifesto about the McFB world of tomorrow. The Cambridge Analytica fiasco plainly showed the unholy relations between the big technological “independent” corporations like Facebook and Google with the political power in the West.
Technological competition is another chessboard of this new multilevel and multidimensional XXI Century Great Game, where the great actors move their pieces.
5G is the focal point for a global rush to dominate the next wave of technological development – a race many policymakers worry the U.S. is already losing, and that’s why they act in this aggressive way. The strategic competition for advanced, high technologies such as 5G, and innovations in the fourth industrial revolution, will mark the “podium” of the great powers of the 21st century.
The technological new cold war between the two largest economies and powers in the world shows no signs of diminishing, either the strategic competition.
Who will win this Great Game on the chessboards? The patience / precaution and forecast of the game of Go, or the strong bets and bluffs of poker.
The geostrategic chessboard is already deployed. Players already have their cards in hand, and have moved their tokens. Prestige is to come.
Youth in the Global South Must Join Forces for Their Future of Work
I believe that the developing world is full of opportunities for young people because many of us have the energy and eagerness to make a difference in the world. In many cases the solutions to problems in communities are simpler than they appear. It just needs someone to push. I know from first-hand experience that there is nothing more rewarding than creating a venture or project that has an impact.
In 2001 I witnessed a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak among cattle that severely damaged the economy of Uruguay, as well as other countries’ in the region. Many years later, in 2012, after graduating as an electrical engineer and working with small satellites, I heard about a competition for young innovators organized by the International Telecommunication Union. They were looking for technological inventions that could solve a problem in a particular region. I immediately thought about the foot and mouth disease outbreak and used my knowledge of space technology to create a system that could monitor anomalies in cattle remotely. I submitted the idea and some months later found out I had won the competition! With the cash prize I founded Chipsafer, a monitoring platform that analyses cattle behaviour using data transmitted from trackers installed in their collars. Besides detecting anomalies in cattle behaviour and combating cattle theft, Chipsafer can also help improve the decisions farmers make relating to the production process.
Countries from the Global South should join forces to surf on the wave of technological revolution and benefit from innovative solutions like these to overcome challenges and to achieve a better and more sustainable future. That’s what we mean by South-South cooperation.
Young people – students, entrepreneurs, professionals, activists – need to play a part in this too because they are drivers of change. Yet, with 65 million young people unemployed globally, they still face many challenges.
In a few weeks I will be part of a panel at an ILO event in Argentina on the future of work for youth, with a focus on developing countries. It will take place on the sidelines of the Second High-level United Nations Conference on South-South cooperation (BAPA+40).
My fellow panellists will include Rebeca Grynspan, who was a member of the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work, as well as workers’ and employers’ representatives. We’ll look at the issue from three angles; policies for skills development, green jobs, and social dialogue. The aim of the session is to provide recommendations for BAPA+40 participants on the effective integration of youth employment policies into South-South and triangular cooperation (where developed countries or multilateral organizations support South-South cooperation).
I plan to talk about the challenges for youth in the context of the future world of work and discuss the impact of South-South cooperation in promoting decent jobs for youth.
Technology is revolutionising the world, and the world of work is no exception. I believe all stakeholders, whether they are international institutions, governments, employers’ or workers’ organizations, must accept responsibility and take collective action to build the future of work that we want. South-South and triangular cooperation must be part of the answer.
Artificial Intelligence in Knowledge Societies: A ROAM Approach – Open Data and AI
The session “Open Data and AI” organized within the framework of “Principles for AI: Towards a Humanistic Approach?” on 5 March 2019 requested UNESCO to continue leveraging its convening power to increase awareness around artificial intelligence and big data, support development of inclusive policy on Open Data and support upstream and downstream capacity enhancement.
The workshop noted Data as an essential element for the development of artificial intelligence. The availability of large amounts of user data through services on mobile phones and internet of things among other sources, has led to a variety of AI applications and services. However, there remain many challenges. These challenges encompass issues of access, privacy, discrimination and openness. Several of these challenges are within UNESCO’s mandate of building inclusive knowledge societies for peace and sustainable development.
Ms Dorothy Gordon, Chair of the Information for All Programme at UNESCO pointed out that “despite the fact that we have a huge interest from many donors, we do not seem to have done very much systematically to prepare African countries to have useful data … [and] in a searchable format that can be combined with other sources to … yield something [beneficial]”. She stressed the need to bridge gaps in terms of the availability of legacy data, setting policy standards, and enhancing capabilities of people to work with local data sets.
Ms Constance Bommelaer, Senior Director of Global Internet Policy and International Organizations at The Internet Society underlined ‘data commons’ as an interesting solution to explore but one that needs a nuanced discussion around ownership and privacy. She highlighted the need to challenge existing notion of competition and a need for “reconsideration of market values and monopolies”. Stressing the importance of access, she shared the findings of a joint study carried out by ISOC and UNESCO that showed how a combination of local language content and better access policies results in immediate economic benefits at the local level.
As a government representative, Ms Veronika Bošković Pohar, Deputy Permanent Delegate of the Republic of Slovenia to UNESCO discussed ‘regulatory sandboxes’ as a means to provide controlled environment for AI. She hoped that Slovenia’s proposed Category 2 Centre on Artificial Intelligence would be able to make several informed decisions, provide insights into technology and societal interface and create mechanisms for continuous monitoring and reporting to reduce risks posed by AI to vulnerable groups.
Speaking as a panelist representing a knowledge organization, Prof. Maria Fasli, UNESCO Chair in Analytics and Big Data at University of Essex noted the lack of understanding on AI and Big Data and expressed concerns for the difficulty faced by the academic community in accessing data collected by large technology firms for research purpose. She further highlighted the need for high quality representative data to ensure that algorithms are not biased.
Given their experience in tracking innovation trends across the world. Mr Marcus Goddard, Vice President of Intelligence at Netexplo Observatory underlined that “access to data is a necessary but not sufficient condition for innovation. Pointing out the general trends in openness, he mentioned that openness is not Silicon Valley’s top priority and convenience seems to be the norm when it comes to launch of new products and services. He highlighted that even as data is being used in smart cities to improve access and sustainability, it is also increasing the threat of surveillance.
Mr Philippe Petitpont, Co-founder of Newsbridge, a Paris based AI and Media startup, presented the scale of the data problem that the media faces today. He remarked that media companies are gathering 30 million hours of video content every year, a number that does not include social media videos. In this situation, extracting useful insights from these videos is a cumbersome task albeit one that can be performed by AI. They try to leverage AI to help journalists process large amounts of data at lower costs.
The session brought the viewpoints of multiple stakeholders to the discussion table and some of the key concerns included were:
- Urgent need to increase awareness around artificial intelligence and big data;
- Developing strategies to strengthen access to data for training machine learning algorithms;
- Supporting both upstream and downstream capacity enhancement to leverage data for benefit;
- Involving private sector actors in the discussion around access to data and data monopolies; and
- Creating systems for addressing discrimination and biases originating through data and algorithms.
The panel members congratulated UNESCO for facilitating important discussions around issues of rights, openness, access and multistakeholder participation in the governance of data and hoped to engage with the organization for further development of issues around Open Data and AI.
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