McGill University

Dr. Scott Kushner studies the paradoxical interface between analog humans and digital machines.  He completed a Ph.D. in French at Duke University in 2009, taught in American Studies at Rutgers, and currently holds an administrative position at McGill University.  His work has appeared in The Communication Review and is forthcoming in New Media and Society.

<h3>Network Inactivity</h3>

The dominant discourses of networked computing are centered on activity and movement.  Devices and apps help users do things and go places, often with the twin goals of managing attention and channeling goods, services, information, and money.  Paradigms like ‘hyperconnectivity’ and ‘everyware’ cast software as agent and constant monitor as users share, rate, create, curate, and manage.

This paper adds two counter-discourses, outlining a more nuanced view of network use and the ways users do (and don’t) contest power.  First, though invisible to databases, inactivity is a crucial part of the everyday experience of networked computing.  The inclusion of inactivity imposes ethical consequences: users must be understood as more than the sum of their doings.  Some theoretical account must be given of the full spectrum of actions and inactions, of what is perceptible to computers and what is not.

To the activity/inactivity binary, a neutral term is added.  Users experience both the data points, software collects and the moments in between.  The human-computer interface is not as seamless as hyperconnectivity, nor as hopeless as pure stasis.  Everyday network use becomes a key site, if not of revolution, then certainly of invention, contestation, and life itself.