Anyone who’s ever spoken to me about the internets knows I’m a bit obsessed with the concept “n-1“. Lifted from the intro to Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, the concept essentially represents an inversion of the Enlightenment analytic framework: rather than starting from a singular unit or object and building an understanding outward, one instead takes the always too-big multiple as a starting point and subtracts. The point is to not only foreground the numerous networks of relations that constitute the object, it also highlights the provisional nature of each analytic moment – that, in effect, the act of a reading is also an act of writing, a specific choice to arrange a system of relations in a certain way. In that act of arranging, one also must acknowledge the possibility of an alternative.
It works for so many things: for a kind of phenomenology of Twitter; the logic of the database; understanding how digital has changed the idea of “the collection”; and so on ad infinitum.
I’m wondering, though, if I haven’t reached a kind of limit in my personal embrace of n-1.
I only say this because of a feeling of dislocation lately. For years, I’ve spoken about immersing myself in the web’s ceaseless flow – of the glut of RSS feeds, the rushing stream of Twitter, or the never-ending cluster of tabs. Well-managed, that’s all and fine and good. It just takes a well-tuned ability to focus on what’s important to oneself, and quickly and efficiently cast off what is not.
But I now realize that, at least for someone like myself, that kind of decentred approach in which one is constantly left attempting to constitute a relationship to the sea of information – orienting oneself not only ideologically, but pragmatically in terms of ‘the attention economy’ – can be draining. It can be overwhelming. I’ve recently found myself paralyzed, partly because I’m always seeing so many different sides of things, but also because uttering an opinion – something I have to do to pay the bills – often takes the form of attempting to get all sides of an argument right. I find it leaves me stretched – as if I am writing as a mythical neutral character rather than myself.
It’s as if what I need is a centre – or something like a home.
A home is a space of self-definition, or a way to anchor oneself. It is a metaphor for an outlook, an ideological position, a social grouping, or an identity. It must, lest it descend into dogmatism or rigidity, be a porous concept. And for many, finding such a space specifically online would be unnecessary, because their lives are not lacking that belonging. Mine, however, happens to. And I realized that I was missing a home – a locus from which to speak outward, rather than constantly attempting to find my footing on a sand dune constantly slipping away from itself.
All of this is a very long-winded way to say that Snarkmarket, that bastion of optimism and smarts, is cranking up again, and has expanded beyond its core triumvirate of Tim Carmody, Robin Sloan, and Matt Thompson to include, oh, about 20 or 30 other members of the Snarkmatrix, including me. Already there’s a few fascinating posts up with very cool comment threads. The whole thing feels very retro and very pleasant, and I’ve been finding myself feeling not only more invigorated, but also just a bit calmer: as if what I needed wasn’t more organization, or more self-control, or less distraction – but simply to have a place or community in which I felt like I belonged.