Liquefaction of Society

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By Nathan Jurgenson and PJ Rey:

"While the contemporary information economy predates the public, commercial Internet, the Web has been a (if not the) primary factor in accelerating the trend toward Liquid Modernity. Bauman has written about the Web before, especially about how Internet dating furthers liquid relationships and love (2007); however, further reflection is in order because developments on and around the Web continually seem to reinforce his thesis. In fact, the Web seems to liquefy just about everything it touches; be it things, people, or, of course, information. The rise of the Web has created more liquid markets and products, concerns particularly important to Bauman (2000). With the Internet, there has been a rise of renting products that were once typically owned. The “transumer”1 is, in part, one who encounters “stuff” temporarily as opposed to accumulating it permanently. Zipcar, Netflix, Spotify and an increasing number of other examples where individuals rent rather than own demonstrate that, for many—especially the young and/or affluent—the physical amassing of “stuff” is undesirable; so, they have begun to rent items that previous generations tended to accumulate. “Stuff”, for many, is decreasingly allowed to solidify on our shelves and in our attics, instead flowing in a more liquid and nimble sense through consumers’ lives. Also, the rise of “virtual goods” (Lehdonvirta et al., 2009)—digital commodities such as gifts on Facebook or weapons on World of Warcraft—highlight the trend is towards “lighter” exchange as opposed to the solid and heavier exchange of physical goods. Just as things have grown more liquid, so too have people (Bauman 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007). Social media exemplifies this point: users of sites such as Facebook or Twitter can communicate with more people, more quickly and across more time and space. For example, a photograph of a friend can be taken and immediately posted to a site like Facebook, shared and commented on by “friends” around the globe. The social feedback loop has been intensified and made more rapid. This is in addition to other fairly recent technologies, like commercial flight, that allow us to physical transport our body around the globe, albeit at a pace slower than information can travel. When one of these flights crashed on the Hudson River in New York City, an individual snapped a photo on his mobile phone and posted it to Twitter. Within an hour, that image was disseminated across the globe and the photographer found himself being interviewed on cable television. By the morning, the photo ran on the front page of various print newspapers.2 The examples above demonstrate how the Internet—an informational sphere—has massive implications on the physical world of material products and flesh-and-blood bodies. Liquefaction is a major example of how the offline world is “augmented” by the online (Jurgenson and Rey, paper in progress). Products, markets, people and most everything else is growing more liquid online." (


Essay: Wikileaks'_Liquid_Information_Leaks_for_a_Liquid_Society