The Immense Machinic Phylum
In Marx's time, there was only the inside of the factory (with a concentration and intensity incomparably lower to that of today's corporations) and the outside, the latter among a handful of apparatuses such as the railroads. Today, they are everywhere except in critical theory. They are everywhere and especially in our daily lives.

I wake up in the morning, turn on the lamp, and I provide the catalyst that "activates" a network. If one follows the electric flows passing through an infinity of networks, one will trace things all the way back to the nuclear power plant. As I make breakfast, I put machines to work (the stove, the refrigerator, etc.), which, depending on the case, free up domestic work or increase its productivity. Still half-asleep, I turn on the radio, which subjects speech and voice to profound "machinic" transformations. The usual spatial and temporal dimensions of the sound world are suspended. The human sensory-motor schemas on which sound perception is based are neutralized. The voice, speech, and sound are deterritorialized because they lose every kind of relationship with a body, a place, a situation, or a territory.

Before going out, I make a phone call. In what time and space does the conversation take place? Once outside, I take out money from an ATM that gives me orders (enter your password, take your card, and take your money!). If I make a mistake, the machine refuses to give me the money and "eats" my card. To take the subway I have to submit to the orders of another automaton, the ticket machine, which fills the emptiness left by the humans at the ticket counters.

If I have not had the time to read the newspaper on the Internet, I buy it and experience "speech" and, in particular, political speech, which, unlike Arendt's theory, does not express itself through the voice but rather through "objects and matter," in other words, speech that, as with the radio, is no longer logocentric but machine-centric.

If I have a problem with unemployment or my welfare check, I contact a call center which each time asks me to press I or 2 or 3. The same thing happens when making an appointment with the electric company, subscribing to an Internet service, obtaining information about my bank account, and so on. I have to figure things out for myself even if I lose time doing it, since it is impossible to find a human being within these networks. Moreover, the time that I lose is time gained by the company or institution, time that I have graciously made available to them.

I make a call from my cell phone connected to a satellite or I send an SMS. I take a taxi guided by the non-human voice and intelligence of GPS --- "in one-half mile go left, then turn right," etc. In the afternoon I order books online, I Skype with a Brazilian friend, and I respond to my e-mails; I plug into different information networks-political, cultural, etc. I send an instant message on my computer.

At the supermarket, I fight with the automatic check-out that is supposed to save me time, while I do the work, for free, of a clerk usually employed part-time. If I buy a plane or train ticket online, I avoid going to the station, but I must, however reluctantly, carry out unpaid "work" that increases the productivity of the train company or airline. My perception of the world is filtered through the images on television (3 hours 30 minutes per day on average), movies, the Internet, etc., etc. 99.9% of the music that we listen to is recorded and distributed by every kind of machine. Even at the local library the "loans and returns" are no longer handled by human beings but by machines. Humans are left to deal with the breakdowns and ensure that humans function correctly as component parts of the assemblage.

We could all continue the list of our relationships, whether problematic, indifferent, or pleasurable, with the machines that "assist" us daily in even our smallest everyday activities. In modern-day capitalism, we are surely not confronted with an economic, social, and political model of production of "man by man," as cognitive capitalist theory maintains. We are faced with an immense machinic phylum that, in one way or another, affects us and forces us beyond logocentrism.

--- From Signs and Machines: Capitalism and
the Production of Subjectivity

Maurizio Lazzarato
Joshua David Jordan, translator
© 2014 MIT Press
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