Despite what marketing campaigns might have you believe, technology is designed and programed by the human imagination and put together by human hands. All the materials of which it is composed are resources ultimately drawn from the earth. All the products that magically appear at our doorsteps after a few mouse clicks on pixilated images come from massive warehouses with human workers. On the other hand, this technology relies on moving information that is less concrete but no less politically important. The release of US State Department cables by WikiLeaks, the activities of the hacktivist group Anonymous, domestic spying by the NSA, and the everyday assault on personal privacy are all examples of political fights over the meaning and value of information. In short, our virtual world is suffused with products that shuttle between the material and immaterial, and to understand the political ramifications that go along with this information age means developing a perspective that bridges the physical and metaphysical.

In his book Information Politics, Tim Jordan attempts to develop such a perspective by borrowing heavily, yet effectively, from Gilles Deleuze’s idiosyncratic brand of metaphysics. According to Jordan, new political antagonisms arise whenever “digital media and cultural objects are combined with the distributive and communicative powers of the internet.” He describes these powers through Deleuze’s concepts of “recursion,” “difference,” “mulitplicity,” “active and reactive forces,” the concept of “flows” and “the apparatus of capture.” While Deleuze orients Jordan’s thinking about information, this is not a deep dive into Deleuze’s philosophy. He offers a mere nod towards Deleuze in the introduction of this book, but the rest is the author’s own application of these concepts to a theory of information.1 He comes to define information as “a difference that moves”: information is a constant creation of new ideas and forms, moves across vast spatiotemporal distances, and connects with a vast number of individuals. The aim of the book is to find the dynamics, forces and relations of information within our digital culture that either exploit us or liberate us.

Counterintuitively, Jordan’s application of Deleuze’s abstract, metaphysical concepts is the very thing that gives him some purchase on the physical and material anchors within the digital world.2 Jordan analyzes the platform of ‘cloud computing’. He argues that “the cloud” involves a slippery relationship between immateriality and materiality. We often perceive clouds (and they are often portrayed/advertised) as being ethereal, magical places where our information, of any size, is secure, mobile, and able to be reached from anywhere. Examples include iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox, or Microsoft’s OneDrive. However, there is a necessary materiality to clouds, involving servers, wires, radio waves, computers and buildings. With this in mind, Jordan asks the question: Why is there a rhetorical necessity to foreground immateriality and push the materiality to the background? Cloud users are necessarily entangled in intellectual property relations between their own information and whoever runs or owns the cloud in which it is stored.3 The convenience of storing your information in the clouds has the added complication of legalities that bring into question the property rights of the data being stored. Jordan suspects that this may be the reason for the rhetoric of offering “magic” as the user experience, so that they no longer worry about what happens when their information is saved in the cloud and recursed. He gives the alarming example of iCloud’s terms of services that include “Apple’s right to terminate the service at any point with no responsibility for returning to users anything stored on the iCloud.”4 What Jordan wants to warn us with, by pointing out the materiality of cloud computing, is that the information is always ‘somewhere’, on a specific server and consequently under some jurisdiction and ownership who is trusted with our information. The metaphor of immaterial clouds, he says, obscures issues of trust.

One of Jordan’s most original applications of Deleuzian metaphysics is his description of the natural movement of information as a process of “recursion.” In addition to being a Deleuzian term, recursion is also a technical term in computer programing technique, but the term has the same basic meaning in both contexts. As it applies to information and programing, recursion is the process by which information feeds into itself. It occurs via an input of information into a system which then reuses this data to produce new information. Thus, this flow of information is able to change other flows of information as well as be affected by change—it both creates and is created. Digital systems such as Facebook and Google searches use recursions to gather information or input from their users and then use this data to refine future searches or advertisements.5 However, Jordan notes that recursion is not a simple process of cause and effect. The data-producing-data nature of recursions is not linear because one set of inputs does not just produce one set of outputs, but rather these outputs are returned and used again creating an exponential growth of data. Jordan explains this non-linearity as such, “recursion is not repetition, it is not the return of the same but the return of something that is transformed so that it can be used as if it were the same.”6 This growth contributes to the state of information overload that we find ourselves in by the end of the twentieth century. Recursions become political when those who manage these recursive processes profit from the exponential growth of new information. Because information, which effectively describes our world and guides our interactions, is created through this recursive data process, it becomes imperative to ask who is supplying the information inputs, and who benefits from the recursion of that information? What are the material conditions surrounding a recursive program? What are the political implications of privatizing such recursed information versus opening it to communities? All these are important questions for which Information Politics provides insights. Jordon weighs in heavily, for instance, on the last question of private vs. open information.

Making information the nexus of political conflict allows Jordan to highlight the way different political categories such as race, class, gender, the environment interact with one another, including times when possible liberation struggles in one conflict fuel exploitations in another.7 There are two different ways that information politics interacts with the forces of exploitation and liberation: one is within a struggle between informationally defined groups (such as users and managers of data), and the other is between information and existing political conflicts. In the latter, information and information technologies are used as tools for liberation or exploitation in an already existing political issue. For example, the under- or mis- representation of women in online gaming fuels the already existing issue of sexism. In the former, information is a political issue in itself—revolving around the conflict of users and managers of data. Yet this elevation of information to a metaphysical entity might raise some doubts as to whether information really counts as a separate political antagonism. It seems correct to say that information politics, when not used as a tool, can be a useful lens from which to view these familiar conflicts; one can analyze a political antagonism through its entanglements with the digital. However, one could question Jordan’s insistence that information is a separate form of exploitation and liberation.8 On the other hand, there is something unique and politically interesting about information that he points out at the end of his book.

For Jordon, information has a particularly politically interesting quality: it is a “non-rival good” meaning that “possession by one does not exclude simultaneous and full possession by another.”9 With this realization, Jordan criticizes the right to individually own information (or the “fetishisation of information as a property of identity”10), and instead proposes a notion of information as “simultaneous and complete use.” This interesting quality, that is characteristic of information, may be the defining feature of information as a separate/new political force. What Jordan emphasizes when he speaks of information as “simultaneous complete use” is its ability to be used at the same time, by many, and all can share the benefits of this information. We have a tendency to think of information as exclusive property—we use this language when criticizing clouds and social media networks for taking and recursing “our” data. However, Jordan interestingly turns this standard criticism around at the end of his book.

This rhetoric of “our” data, of ownership of information as property, actually undermines the goals or potential of information liberation. For one, this is the same logic that for-profit platforms and securitizing intelligence agencies use to secure private ownership over your recursed data. Jordan summarizes, “Information cannot be both open to simultaneous complete use and be a rival good… Once information is conceived as non-simultaneous incomplete use it can then exclusively benefit one group by being drawn off from another group.”11 Instead, Jordan proposes that we consider ourselves “digital citizens” (not passive “digital subjects”). This implies active participation and responsibility, and finding ways to make non-exploitative exchanges. Jordan describes a “distributive commons” that would work as a “liberatory information environment.”12 In this virtual community, he describes information as “always-already part of webs and interconnections to which this information contributes and from which it gains its ‘sense’, its difference.”13 Reactive forces are always trying to capture and enclose information for exclusive and selective use – this is what creates “haves and have-nots”. This is why Jordan believes it is imperative that we create cyber worlds where information is allowed to flow and recurse freely but responsibly as ‘simultaneous and complete use’ for all information citizens.

  1. Jordan, Information Politics, p. 2. 

  2. Patricia Pisters offers a similar discussion of the way Deleuze links physical and metaphysical aspects of technology in an essay for the Los Angeles Review of Books commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Deleuze’s death. See, “Deleuze’s Metallurgic Machines”.  

  3. Jordan Information Politics, p. 88 

  4. Jordan Information Politics, p. 89 

  5. For instance, when users conduct a search through Google, or “like” a Facebook page. 

  6. Jordan , Information Politics, p. 39. 

  7. Jordan Information Politics, p. 214. 

  8. Jordan Information Politics, p. 3. 

  9. Jordan Information Politics, p. 194. 

  10. Jordan Information Politics, p. 202-203. 

  11. Jordan Information Politics, p. 199. 

  12. Jordan Information Politics, p. 206. 

  13. Jordan Information Politics, p. 208.