Nowhere are media to be found among the list of beings that Bruno Latour’s Inquiry into Modes of Existence has so far discovered. Even the concept of “communication” does not belong to the metalanguage of Latour’s pluralistic ontology. It would seem that these basic concepts of modern social theory are subsumed under the ideas of “association” and “mediation” and thus not a suitable matter for differentiation into networks of their own. However, the list is not complete. The door is open. But the threshold is high. The master himself does not make it easy to get through the door. In order to be acknowledged as a mode of existence, a network must have its own kind of crisis, hiatus, rupture, or breach, that is, there must be some reason, why actors make efforts to associate in a particular way. Furthermore, a network must have its own trajectory or direction of establishing continuity and jumping over the gaps. Legal associations are different from scientific associations, and these again are different from religious associations. Third, a network must also meet certain conditions of felicity or infelicity regarding what counts as “truth” for it. Quite obviously, legal truth conditions are different from religious, political, scientific, or artistic truth conditions. Fourth, networks “institute” beings of a certain mode and they do this for a certain purpose, function, or what Latour calls “alteration.” If a mode of existence, or a being, cannot be identified by these criteria, then it has no place in the list of modes of existence that the AIME project is assembling. Despite these hurdles, we ask if media and communication do not demand to be considered as modes of existence in their own right. Can a future media studies be based upon communication and media as a specific mode of existence?
Architecture is becoming more reflective. Not because architects are theorizing more about what they do – they have always done this –, but because the conditions of the possibility of architecture are themselves becoming an object of architectural design. Stan Allen’s post-semiotic architecture of infrastructures is an example. According to Allen (Infrastructural Ubanism), “Under the dominance of the representational model, architecture has surrendered its capacity to imagine, to propose, or to construct alternative realities.” (50) This implies a new program for architecture in which design does not exhaust itself in autonomous, representative buildings, but is concerned primarily with “the production of directed fields in which program, event, and activity can play themselves out.” (52) Concretely, Allen is talking about infrastructures, that is, not specific buildings, but “the site itself…the conditions for future events…the construction of surfaces, the provision of services to support future programs, …the establishment of networks for movement, communication, and exchange.” (54) All these things such as transportation systems, energy grids, communication networks, and so on can be seen as the conditions of the possibility for architecture in the sense of objects and buildings. For readers of Castells’ Information Society this sounds a lot like what Castells calls the “space of flows,” that is, the hardware and software that creates a global network of simultaneous action beyond any local places, traditions, cultures, and identities. Although Castells has not entirely given up the conflict and even contradiction between the global and somewhat virtual space of flows on the one side and the physical and fragmented space of places, he has come to recognize the role of architecture in “making places in the space of flows” (Space of Flows, Space of Places: Materials for a Theory of Urbanism in the Information Age, in The Cybercities Reader ed. S. Graham, 2004). Castells cites such projects as Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Calatrava’s bridges, telecommunication towers, airports, Moneo’s AVE station in Madrid, and Koolhaas’s Lille Grand Palais. Many other multipurpose megastructures in the form of transportation or communication hubs could be added to the list. In these structures what is designed is infrastructure, the network of the network society. It is not place but flow that is the “object” of architectural design. It is the flow that becomes the place we live, work, play, shop, etc. Contrary to Castells opposition between flow and place, what these examples show is that it is the space of flows that is becoming the place in which we live, work, and construct our identities.
Microsoft introduced the Internet to the world in 1994 with the slogan: “Where do you want to go today?” Everyone who booted up Windows 95 was routinely asked this question. Although the Mad Men did not consider this global image advertising campaign a great success, Microsoft’s slogan says something philosophically important about the digital media revolution. Digital media, and above all the Internet, have something to do with space, with where you are and where you are going. The importance of new media for the concept of space has for the most part been formulated in negative terms. Digital media are said to annihilate space, to shrink great distances to the movement of a computer mouse, and create a networked global space – Castells speaks of a “space of flows” – in which everything and everyone are open and available all the time. This is indeed what Microsoft is saying; you can go anywhere; there are no limits to movement, space is no longer a barrier or a hindrance to communication, flows of information, and cooperation. In the Internet space is replaced by cyberspace, a virtual reality, a paradoxical expanse containing the whole world in the dimensionless realm of bits and bytes. Much has been written about the dangers and advantages of cyberspace. In the meantime, so-called virtual reality has become so important for work, shopping, business, education, and all other areas of life that it cannot be thought of as a domain of its own, somehow separated from the “real” world. Physical space and cyberspace have merged to become what could be called a “mixed reality.” But how are we to understand space when it is mixture of contradictory elements. Is the philosophy of space after the advent of digital media doomed to speak of a spaceless space similar to what Castells has called the “timeless time” of the network society?
It is no secret that theories of informational privacy based on defining privacy as restricting access to information or maintaining control over information are losing credibility. This is because they think of information as a kind of thing that can be locked up in a safe place, whose ownership can be clearly ascertained, and whose control is possible. These are assumptions typical of an industrial society based on personal property rights and markets of exchange. The digital revolution has made many of these assumptions obsolete. Information is not a thing, there is no “place” where information can be locked up, and ownership as well as control is vague and contestable. Among those thinkers searching for new interpretations of privacy Helen Nissenbaum (Privacy in Context – Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life, Stanford University Press, 2010) has elaborated a theory basing privacy on what she calls “contextual integrity.” “What people care most about is not simply restricting the flow of information but ensuring that it flows appropriately…” (2). Consequently, when we talk about a right to privacy, we are talking about a right to “appropriate flow” of information and not as is often assumed about a right to secrecy or to absolute control of personal data.
Legal practice has in fact relied more on what people expect than on abstract definitions of privacy. Being left alone, as Warren and Brandeis described privacy, is a matter of reasonable expectations within a certain social situation. Such a situation Nissenbaum calls a “context.” Society is made up of many different contexts, such as education, health care, politics, business, family, etc. In every context there are norms and rules that govern the flow of information. When functioning properly, these “informational norms” “define and sustain essential activities and key relationships and interests, protect people and groups against harm, and balance the distribution of power” (3). When people feel that their privacy has been violated, it is always with reference not to abstract concepts of access and control, but to the informational norms governing the particular context in which they are acting. What privacy means varies from context to context.
Luciano Floridi is one of the few philosophers of the digital age who radically reinterprets issues such as informational privacy on basis of an informational ontology (see The Ontological Interpretation of Informational Privacy, in: Ethics and Informational Technology, 2006). Being is information. The world consists of information and not things or people. People do not possess their personal information, they are their personal information. Privacy therefore should not be understood as an issue of possession and control of data, but as a matter of personal integrity. Stealing and misusing personal data should not be compared to stealing and misusing someone’s possessions, for example, their automobile, but instead to kidnapping. My data is not the same as my auto, but rather much more like my body.
If information is a state of being and not a state of having, then what constitutes privacy? Floridi defines privacy in terms of the “ontological friction” regulating the flow of information in the “infoshpere.” The more friction blocking, disturbing, slowing down, and attenuating the flow of information, and the more effort it takes to bridge the gaps between information, the more privacy can be ascribed to information. Correspondingly, the less the flow of information is regulated, slowed down, hindered, the less this information can be considered private. Private and public are not different spaces, for example, the privacy of my home as opposed to public spaces like the shopping center or the train station. Digital media do not knock at the door and ask permission before entering. They are ubiquitous. Privacy is neither a space, nor a thing, but a state of being.