Sunday, June 17, 2012

Levinas and the Face-to-Face Network

To answer a few questions about the rationale for schlepping data from place to place by foot, I'm going to go off in a radically different direction than just talking over tech specs.  Part of the philosophical underpinning of the entire programme is rooted in Emmanuel Levinas's notion of the "face-to-face" encounter.  Peer-to-peer and friend-to-friend networks seem to have some of the same elements, but that actual encounter of the human being on the other end-- the Other, so to speak-- is a profoundly alienating experience.  Not only do I not know from whom I'm getting the music or movie that is being shared, but in most cases it is in my best interest not to know.

The first batch of mp3s I ever received came before I'd ever installed Napster.  A friend of mine was something of a whiz when it came to magically finding music, and he handed me a CD he'd burned.  I believe most of the White Zombie music I currently may or may not have on my computer is descended from that CD.  There is a moment of vulnerability in sharing files via the Sneakernet, but that's part of the point: I know that the person sharing with me actually values me enough to see my face and not kick my ass.  Indeed, Levinas states that the face protests to the observer, "Do not kill me."

The face-to-face is an ethic that comes before morality or taste.  It is the agreement that we will have a discussion, that we will form a network, that we will agree to at least keep talking.  I might share files p2p, but face-to-face I'm sharing an experience.  So the point of this network is not so much its efficiency (though it can be far more efficient than using the Internet) but instead the connections it forms with data.  I still know where all my White Zombie came from, and that's a layer of fun that I don't have with so many other files.  In the same way, I should also thank Aunt Linda for that 3.5" diskette of Tetris clones way back in the day.  Tetris will always be connected with you in my brain because of that.

Sharing should mean caring, no?


  1. this is an important blog, that asks very relevant questions about info sharing
    ...we were sneakerneting microforms in our art mail back in the day when it took a stack of punch cards to make an 8 bit image the face to face thing did not matter for us that we are in exile, off the grid on the other side of the portal out of the matrix, it is much more important. VR does not get close to the real thing when we are talking face to face

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience! Those information-sharing relationships can mean a lot, even if it's just the mailboy or the intern who gets stuck schlepping letters back and forth.