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Symposium: Unintended Consequences

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: Has the Internet created a social myth too big to fail?


A full-day symposium with Professor Marcus Breen (Bond University)


9:30-5:00pm, 19 November 2012

La Trobe University City Campus, 215 Franklin St., Melbourne

The Internet in its present form has undergone a number of ‘conceptual evolutions,’ yet at its base it remains an open network of computers programmed to exchange packages of data. In the 1960s Cold War hysteria prompted the United States to create a decentralized network capable of withstanding a nuclear strike. By the 1990s the Internet had developed into a world wide web for mainstream use. While inventors saw the technological potential of the network, it has been the ideological enthusiasm of developers that has propelled the Internet through the last two decades with the promise of its utopian applications. We are now living amongst a certain cynicism of commentators on the scope and application of Internet culture that marks a regression of the hype surrounding online potentialities.

'Unintended Consequences' aims to discuss to what degree it is necessary for us to rethink our current ideological and practical conceptions of the Internet. Its speakers will address and explore issues surrounding the following: 

* From both a capitalist and counter-cultural perspective, did the Internet develop in the 1990s into, what Georges Sorel would call ‘social myth,’ an inspiring fiction? 
* If so, how have our aspirational visualisations of the Internet developed since the 1990s (e.g. as a democratizing space, as the free market in its purest form)?
* Are the Western values of freedom and the individual that underpin our expectations of the Internet being subverted by its unregulated nature?
* Is there a common ‘intentionality’ to the Internet and if so, how can we mitigate against the various ‘unintended consequences’?
* Are good intentions ‘good enough’ to explore the limits of ‘hive mind’ and ‘crowd-sourcing’ projects? Or will these concepts come into their own through more corrupt means?
* Are we witnessing the establishment of a global social brain?
* In what sense is ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ becoming endorsed (or not) as relative concepts online (e.g. through ‘play,’ social media profiling, collaborative editing - Wikipedia)?
* Is social networking introducing a new paradigm for morality in our everyday lives?
* What exactly are we sharing when we ‘share’ online? To what extent do we affirm or concede parts of our own identity in discursive practices on social media platforms?
* To what extent is intrusive, Internet surveillance tolerated by the general public who wish to benefit from combined online connectivity and locality to ‘personalize’ place?




Marcus Breen of Bond University exposes the social myth of ‘web 2.0 society’ by confronting us with two dystopian aspects of Internet culture: pornography and jihadism. Breen argues that transgressive knowledge circulates freely through the individual’s private engagement with Internet via the computer monitor, thereby dissolving the previous collective nature of media consumption and its societal principles.

Artist, games researcher and media scholar at La Trobe University, Hugh Davies is the creator of the Alternate Reality game, The Darkest Puzzle, a game that explores the ethical limits of serious gamification. Inspired by the events of 9/11, The Darkest Puzzle leads gamers through a labyrinth of evidence, conspiracies and game meta discussion. Davies offers a critical approach the “hive mind” and popular phenomena, such as “crowd-sourcing”.


Scott McQuire, media scholar and urban theorist at the University of Melbourne, focuses on the permeating impact of networks on situated and material spaces of the urban everyday.  McQuire addresses the ambivalent nature of pervasive networks in terms of the spontaneity and serendipity so important to the modern city, as well as their utilization as intensive integrated surveillance.

Alex Lambert probes aspects of the mediated gaze and intimacy on Facebook through his research into social media at Melbourne University. Many have identified the voyeuristic enticements of Facebook publicity, though this is only part of the story. Lambert explores how users experience a paradoxical moral backlash against mediated watching. This 'desire not to see' has socio-cultural significance that escapes popular theories of privacy on social network services.

Based at Swinburne University, social media researcher, Jenny Kennedy, critiques the rhetoric of sharing in social media with special emphasis on the cultural imaging of these practices. She argues for the need to examine how 'sharing' is used discursively to frame particular activities in a digital or communicative context in particular. Moreover, sharing is being utilized as a rhetorical neutralizer between three social media actors: those that provide content to social media platforms; those that 'own' such data; and those that access and make use of it.


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