Thanks to Luke Robert Mason for video production
Video by Luke Robert Mason
As promised more details about this event (below). Thanks to the organizers from Turku for putting together what looks to be a wonderful two day event unpicking the notion of affective capitalism.
AFFECTIVE CAPITALISM SYMPOSIUM
UNIVERSITY OF TURKU, FINLAND
5-6 June, 2014
Follow these links
Various circumstances in the run up to my BKM appearance back in Dec last year prevented me from doing the talk I had intended to do. It’s a bit of a jumble as a result. This is more an experiment with a range of virality and post-virality ideas than an articulation of neuroculture and noncognitive capitalism – mainly focusing here on noncognitive HCI.
As the transition from virality to neuroculture becomes more evident I will of course elaborate on, for example, the mereological problem at the centre of Wittgenstein’s brain/body emergence and the assemblage theory that replaces it etc etc.
Thank you very much to Erich Hörl for the kind invite and Robin Schrade for his wonderful effort to bring in the visuals.
A good point perhaps at which to very briefly introduce some early thoughts on the spread of a dystopian neuroculture and its relation to Deleuze’s control society.
The Dystopia of Noncognitive Control
Like so many other popular journalistic portrayals of neuromarketing an article published in The New York Times in 2008 titled “Is the Ad a Success? The Brain Waves Tell All” is in seemingly incontestable awe of the claims that unconscious consumption can be measured directly at the brain. “Never mind brainstorms. These days, Madison Avenue is all about brain waves.” In all fairness, the article does at first strike a note of caution by recognizing that “some consumer advocates question the role of biometrics in ad research.” It partially acknowledges, as such, concerns over what it calls a “blending” of Weird Science and Mad Men, which “will give marketers an unfair advantage over consumers.” But these concerns are summarily dismissed; not least because the passionate adoption of biometrics and brain imaging technology by marketers is a logical response, they claim, to the slowing of the US economy after the banking collapse in 2008. Since neuromarketers are only really interested in how people feel and react in these difficult financial times there should be little cause for concern. As one marketing representative puts it, neuromarketing does not aim to “meddle with normal, natural response mechanisms.” It is just interested in what consumers are paying attention to. This is after all an attention economy in which the drivers of focused mental engagement are at a premium. Robert E. Knight, the director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California (a chief science adviser to a Berkeley based neuromarketing company) says “[w]e’re not trying to predict an individual’s thoughts and actions… [or] trying to input messages.” There are no electrodes fed directly into the brain. Participants are willingly rigged up to noninvasive brain imaging technologies, galvanic skin response devices and eye tracking software. These tests are generally carried out in the very early stages of product research and development so that brands can be readily primed for consumption. So in many ways there is nothing new here. The goal of market research has not changed. It has always sought to attract attention by conditioning and anticipating consumer experiences in advance with the intention of seducing and guiding intent by mostly subconscious means. The difference today is, however, that the data captured from these experiences purportedly comes directly from cognitive and noncognitive registers in the brain. As a result, the capture of anticipation becomes a series of correlative cognitive and affective triggering exercises quite often spanning the lifetime of a brand. This is how the Mad Men of neuroculture claim to be able get inside the buying brain and guide it, often unconsciously, toward purchase intent.
As uncritical and overhyped as it maybe, popular media discourse surrounding neuromarketing point to something both familiar and unfamiliar about the kinds of control circuits and technologies of power consumer societies are subjected to in the 21st century. On one hand, neuromarketing is endemic to a recognizable trajectory of marketing power that has, in the past, sought to capture the attention of a population confined to their living rooms via mass media television channels. However, today, the aim is, it seems, to adapt to networked, mobile media so as to expand marketing control. Of course, this kind of control needs to be grasped in contrast to the violence of sovereign control. It is a power that does not need to be physically administered, inherited or possessed, but rather becomes furtively distributed through a population. Similarly, in contrast to the disciplinary architectures of enclosure found in Foucault’s factories, prisons, schools, clinics etc.; control has become an open modulating force, which can change from point to point and from one moment to the next. There has in fact been a deepening of this post WW2 power distribution in terms of marketing. In comparison to the Mad Men of the mid twentieth century, for example, who reached out directly to the masses via the broadcast media; marketing power today is increasingly indirect. On the other hand, what I suggest here is that the neuromarketer endeavours to expand networked power far beyond the usual reach of mediated communication. Via mobile and ubiquitous network technologies marketing has not only been able to connect to the masses at an interpersonal level, but it has also drilled down into infrapersonal communication flows; tapping into cognitive and affective transmissions emitted by what we might call the networked dividual; that is to say, the endlessly divisible body; brain, neuron, neurochemical substances, molecules, atoms, and the infinitely small society of the monad. This is a point where the digital network intersects with the neuronal network. Moreover, neuromarketing is a technology of power intended to control thought noninvasively. This is no Orwellian dystopia. There is certainly no need for Cold War style electrodes to be directly fed into the brain since the soft controls of the dystopian imagination of William Burroughs and Aldous Huxley have been provided with a neuroscientific universe in which to live. Control today is therefore difficult to pin down. There are no wires. Control has become much softer, and, as such, more difficult to escape. Premediated persuasion, anticipatory reward systems, and brain absorption become the watchwords of an all pervasive neuromarketing. It is, as a consequence, imperative that those who enter into this neurocentric world of shadows do so with (a) a sense of how the present appears to be mapped onto these dystopian imaginations, and (b) an escape plan.
(Draft excerpt from forthcoming book: Brain: Rethinking Nomadic Thought in Times of Neuroculture. Illustration by Dorota Piekorz)
Mentioned this example in my BKM talk on Tues as an illustration of the hyperbole surrounding neuroculture. Interesting response in the Guardian by Robin McKie (science editor). So yes, more old folksy assumptions are once again “proved” by brain imaging. More of what Shulman calls fMRI phrenology perhaps?
Would be even more interesting however to find some interferences in between biological constituted and culturally inscribed viewpoints…
Talk just confirmed at Bochumer Kolloquium Medienwissenschaft (BKM) on 03/12/2013.
Tony D. Sampson | School of Arts and Digital Industries, University of East London
Noncognitive Capitalism in Times of Neuroculture
In this talk I will expand on the idea of noncognitive capitalism briefly introduced in my book Virality (Minnesota, 2012). There I attempted to grasp some of the conditions of network capitalism through a “resuscitation” of Gabriel Tarde’s imitation thesis. In short, Tarde was fascinated by the brain sciences of his day, and as such, he theorized base social relation (repetition-imitation) as “unconscious associations”, or in other words, social networks of mostly hypnotized brain cells. Here I will rethink what we might now call neuroculture and ask to what extent avenues of current brain science are coming together with capitalist enterprise to shape contemporary social relationality.
I will contend that the looming shadow of neuroculture provokes a series of questions. The first (what can be done to a brain?) explores the interwoveness of often conflicting cognitive and behavioural neuroscientific research, the attention economy and work in the digital industries. The second (what can a brain do?) asks if a brain can be liberated from the objectifying forces of neuroculture. And finally (what is it that thinks?) struggles to look beyond the objectified brain to nomadic assemblages of sense making.
(Goldsmiths Oct 22nd)
Virality then returns to digital networks by referring to two Evil Media style stratagems.
The first, “immunologic,” permeates the very matter and functionality of network security. The binary filtering of self and non-self, and known and unknown, exceeds abstract diagrammatic forces… becoming part of the concrete relations established between end users and the software they encounter.
In contrast to a rhetorical analysis of security discourses, what is acknowledged here is how the immunologic affects the matter-functions of a network, imposing the molar force of the organism on software designed to filter out viral anomalies.
The “immunologic” does more than represent the defense of the organic body via the importation of biological language.
It concretely organizes these defenses in terms of organs or organisms, which ward off bodily threats according to the binary divisions of self and non-self, and known and unknown.
Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous use of the “immunologic” to justify the War in Iraq demonstrates how it can be universally applied across all kinds of networks.
Despite these frequent epidemics of panic and terror, it is contagions of hope, faith, and more significantly perhaps, love that Tarde contends are far more catching.
He clearly regarded love as a powerful political stratagem.
This catastrophic environmental event provokes social instabilities marked by a shift from social hierarchy to social harmony.
As a consequence, love not only replaces the energy of the sun, but it becomes the force by which social power circulates.
Love becomes the very air the Underground Man breathes.
Not surprisingly… perhaps, humans soon become embroiled in a bloody conflict for this precious resource.
On one side, there are those who fight “to assert the freedom of love with its uncertain fecundity.” And on the other, there are those who want to regulate it.
In the forced intimacy of a cave, Tarde writes, there is no mean between warfare and love, between mutual slaughter or mutual embraces.”
…and by pointing to the desire to love as an exercise of biopower, Tarde similarly raises questions concerning what is located between the uncertain fecundity of love and the tyrannies that seek to regulate its flow.
Indeed, there seems to be a very thin line separating…
On one hand, the spontaneity of a love that spreads freely
And on the other, a tyranny of love that controls.
There is nothing more natural, Tarde states, than those who love each other… should copy each other, but love-imitation is a distinctly asymmetrical relation. It is the lover who generally copies the beloved.
So Tarde’s social man is famously the somnambulist. We know how credulous and docile this hypnotic subject becomes… What is suggested to him becomes incarnated in him. It penetrates him before it expresses itself in his posture, gesture and speech.
For writers like Thrift…
… it is the absorption of affect that produces these incarnations.
More relevant perhaps to the age of networks, is the question of what constitutes the nonconscious incarnations of software culture.
Like this, the persuasion-management of the end user occurs via an array of sophist techniques… cropping up like a mesmerizing flow that intercepts points of intersection between attention and inattention, and cognitive and noncognitive registers.
As Evil Media puts it:
The end-user has only finite resources for attention.
In attention economies, where the premium is placed on capturing the eye, the ear, the imagination, the time of individuals . . . it is in the lapses of vigilant, conscious, rationality that the real gains are made.
And despite the hyperbole, the capture of inattention is not really a trick viral marketing can pull off…
The problem with viral marketing is that it’s just not viral enough.
This returns us to the rhizomatic network. Not necessarily the digital networks of the Spam Book though. Rather the neuron network. It was, after all, the discontinuous synaptic event that inspired the introduction to A Thousand Plateaus, as well as featuring writ large in What is Philosophy?
what can be done to a brain?
…and what can a brain do?
Research began in the late 1800s to microscopically trace the discontinuities of the nervous system.
For example, neuropharmaceuticals and technologies, initially developed to diagnose and treat ADD, OCD and dementia, have been re-appropriated by marketers, the military, and for other off-label uses in education and the science lab.
However, alongside the manipulation, enhancement and inhibition of neurotransmitters,
… there is a brain that confronts, and becomes a junction between itself and chaos.
This is not a metaphysics that transcends matter. Instead, the incorporeal spreads on the material surface.
Perhaps this points to a materialist understanding of a synaptic collective, which is as much nonconscious as it is conscious.
Tarde was indeed quick to refer to cerebral imitation functions reaching out to the social world in ways that surpass language. His laws of imitation have not surprisingly perhaps been attributed to so-called mirror neurons.
This prompts only more questions though
To begin with, what kind of neuroculture is this, when it is not the mind or the person, but the brain that thinks.
And lastly, what kind of subjectivity is this which coincides with events at the molecular level of neuron transmission?