Hyperrhiz 26

Tiziana Terranova, After the Internet

Nicholas Fazio
York University

Citation: Fazio, Nicholas. “Tiziana Terranova, After the Internet.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 26, 2023. doi:10.20415/hyp/026.r01

Keywords: digital networks, internet, Tiziana Terranova, economics, post-accelerationalism.

Terranova, Tiziana. After the Internet: Digital Networks between Capital and the Common. Semiotext(e), 2022.

After the Internet is a decade-spanning essay collection focused on major techno-social junctures as they were lived through the collision of our cognitive faculties with global computational networks. A lot of things about the internet changed in that time. Early on in the collection, Terranova highlights three changes that are particularly symptomatic: the hacker ethos ceded to the influencer ethos; the internet user as ‘master’ morphed into the internet user as ‘addict’; pseudonymity shifted into authenticated proper names. But what exactly caused these rapid alterations to the internet’s subject-trajectories, and how could we transform things again, this time in the interest of the common good?

The introductory essay, written in 2022, situates us after “the accelerationist years” (7), where we find ourselves caught in the whiplash of a pandemic and the nuclear brinksmanship that immediately followed it. From this perch, Terranova pauses to reflect on how quickly the “Corporate Platform Complex” (CPC)—a rich variation on Srnicek’s (2017) ‘platform capitalism’ hypothesis—crystalized over the past decade, its unabated privatization signalling, in Marxist terms, a real subsumption of the internet. What mediates plagues, wars, and the other innumerable events of our world today does not belong to ‘the internet’ as that displaced turn-of-the-millennium project with its forgotten ambition of egalitarian interconnection: what we have now, Terranova argues, is in fact so different in its relentless capture and enclosure of the commons that the neologism “post-internet” (25) better suits its betrayal of those earlier ideals.

The desperate hope in our situation, claims Terranova, is that there exists the distinct possibility of digital networks predicated on different social relations than those prescribed by the market. The latent power of these relations lies in the turbulence of the CPC itself, which has been used over the last decade to direct vectors of antagonism and revolt as well as stifle and disperse those same vectors. The ambivalence—or between-ness—that the subtitle to this volume brings to attention is rooted in the same ambiguity that Marx foresaw in the latter portions of the Grundrisse (1973), which feature his famous meditations on the liberatory and exploitative countertendencies inherent to technological development, a line of inquiry that animates not only the essays assembled in this book, but also the broader caucus of predominantly Italian scholars with whom Terranova—as a prominent member herself—has spent a large part of the past fifteen years engaging: an informal grouping occasionally placed under the banner of ‘post-Operaismo’ or post-workerist thought. Some relevant and active figures to the text at hand include: Paolo Virno, Maurizio Lazzarato, Christian Marazzi, Franco Berardi, Matteo Pasquinelli, and Carlo Vercellone.

The first essay in this collection, entitled “New Economy, Financialization and Social Production in the Web 2.0” (2009) charts the rise of the dot-com entrepreneurial culture as it crossed into the new millennium, the hallmarks of which have remained unwavering over the past decade: white patriarchal corporate structures; the blurring of labor time and leisure time—sometimes encoded in the very design of workplace environments; the monetization of social cooperation; data-fog that abets the ballooning valuation of derivatives markets into the hundreds-of-trillions. Terranova’s intuitions regarding the latter two of these phenomena make it clear how they prefigured the hype, panic, and anxiety that contaminated and were indexically absorbed by much of the cryptocurrency manias, NFT fads, and online discount broker proliferations of recent years. The insights in this section also faintly echo the polemics of Châtelet (2014), particularly when Terranova explains how the ethical-artistic impetus behind parasitical hacktivism—while posing no direct threat to neoliberal financialization—nevertheless flenses enough of its fat to demonstrate how it is self-evidently an “economic governmentality that intensifies levels of exploitation, mortifies life, ravages social relations and impoverishes subjectivity” (61).

The second essay, “Attention, Economy and the Brain” (2012), moves us closer to subjectivity. Here Terranova explores how the attentiveness that underpins so-called ‘digital economies’ depends upon a fundamental scarcity of attention that perceptually, socially, and neurophysiologically delimits the superabundance of information that stands across from it. Rather than cede to organismal strictures, however, the current “attention economy” (65) attempts to invade the grey, corrugated terrain of an organ it deems fallow and undefended: the brain. The capital generated from abstract metrics such as clicks, downloads, views, likes and so forth, argues Terranova, are all predicated on who or what can wrest away some percentage of the brain’s limited daily, weekly, or monthly attention. Problems ensue however as access to information—which here calls forth attention in the first place—overwhelms our attentive capacity and thus pulverizes its potency. This means that while the capture systems for financialized attention are straightforwardly abstracted as data, the new capture systems for its by-product of chronic inattention actually require manipulating what Malabou (2008) refers to as the brain’s neuroplasticity. The burnt-out cognitive faculties of this over-affected brain tend to fall into network-wide patterns of social-neuronal imitation according to Terranova, a thesis of involuntary mimesis that is congruent with Chun’s (2019) recent elaboration of “homophily” as a law of segregation that guides network activity. By Terranova’s measure, the above phenomenon results in a Tardean cognitive labour of attention. Towards the end of this section, Stiegler’s approach to technologies of attention is interestingly distinguished from Lazzarato’s, and we are left with the question of whether or not networked subjectivities must be fatigued, susceptible, impoverished herds, or if an alternative arrangement could harness that engine of attentiveness in the name of a robust commons of desire, belief, and affect.

Published one year later, the essay “Ordinary Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism” (2013), takes a Deleuzoguattarian bite into cognitive capitalism, positing that two libidinal pathologies—inattention and anhedonia—are constitutive of the “ordinary psychopatho-logization” (98) of CPC users. The consumption-production circuit of Deleuze and Guattari is evoked in trying to make sense of how the continuity and ubiquity of cognitive labour, despite its resistance to quantification (thinking is not so easily discretized) is nevertheless absorbed in a process of “exploitation, subsumption and proletarianization” that sits in opposition to its potential for “autonomy, self-reference, and self-creation” (92). An interesting move here is to conceptually marry (i) unconscious and libidinal processes with (ii) linguistic activity and symbolic manipulation, but through the science of neurochemistry, thereby rendering legible the cognitive substratum that enabled the emergence of (capitalist) neuroeconomics and its various techniques, such as neuronal investment. The Deleuzoguattarian critique of rational systems built on irrational axioms applies directly to this neuro-economy, explains Terranova, because of how it bifurcates into the (valorized) neural economics of anticipation and gain on the one hand, and the (shunned) neural anti-economics (or deactivations) of ‘schizophrenia’—calling to mind Melville’s (2016) obdurate scrivener, Bartleby—on the other. This latter modality belongs to a subject who abjures the decomposition of libidinal energy during those periods of prolonged distraction—such as those explored by Sampson (2017)—when our passive consumption of media is traded off for intermittent doses of worthless dopaminergic titillation. In this figure of stolid refusal, asks Terranova, do we see the possibility for a ‘molecular revolution’ that libidinally disinvests from the bright ephemeral lures of cognitive capitalism and threatens the very axioms that posit the brain as an organ for the extraction of surplus value? (111).

If most of the essays up to this point are primarily diagnostic in nature, the fourth essay, provocatively titled “Red Stack Attack! Algorithms, Capital and the Automation of the Common” (2014), begins theoretically constructing counterforces against the CPC. Terranova does this by picturing social cooperation in networked digital media that is emancipated from the stranglehold of capitalist prerogatives yet maintains the technical heart of its generative capacities: the structuration-effect of algorithms. Importantly, as she notes in the piece, this implies much more than simply drafting a monetary retribution program for the immaterial labour of CPC users. Drawing on Parisi’s ‘alien rule’ hypothesis of algorithmic operation, and Bratton’s popular notion of a planetary megastructure called the ‘stack’, Terranova vividly paints what we may call a “sociotechnical imaginary” of an alternative, rubified ‘stack’ (Jasanoff & Kim 2009). In the red stack, automation processes (such as algorithms) cease to act as mere implements of fixed capital that squeeze knowledge into exchange value and then frantically re-capture, re-absorb, and re-control the human time and energy that such a procedure frees up, but instead act as positive time- and energy-freeing pistons in a computational infrastructure organized around virtual money, social networks, and “bio-hypermedia” (135). In brief, virtual money is broadly reimagined as an autonomous currency system designed to empower social cooperation (including the movement of physical goods, establishment of infrastructural projects) and dissuade mindless accumulation; social networks are reimagined as spaces where the transindividuating potency of “many-to-many” interactions is unleashed not only to inspire revolt, but sustain the blooming of postcapitalist subjectivities (135); and, lastly, bio-hypermedia is re-imagined in terms of toolsets for transforming urban centres into membraned digital ecosystems and for enabling border interventions in the name of migrant justice. These prompts from Terranova allow readers to reorient themselves towards a future world where neoliberal governance and capitalist production are no more, and the technologies they burden with extraction and monetization are reappropriated—or better yet, reinvented—for the organization of human cooperation, or what she calls “social algorithms of the common” (138).

The most theoretically ambitious piece in the collection, “A Neomonadology of Social (Memory) Production” (2016), takes a Leibnizian-Deleuzean-Tardean turn, exploring the “constitutive tension” between networks, individuals, and datafied dividuals (142). Terranova mobilizes Lazzarato’s claim that cooperation is what historically and ontologically grounds all valorization to explore how, under the cellular “architecture of subjectivity” native to digital devices—in which we are irreducibly alone with our screens and yet constantly splintering into digital doubles—a new technosocial dimension of influence becomes visible, which relies on the same cooperative social labour as the regnant capitalist dimension of appropriation (148, 151). Neomonadology is then used here as a schema for making sense of the divisibility of subjects that is common to both iterative, relayed existences within vast digital networks, and communal practices such as public mourning—but a divisibility that nonetheless preserves subjects’ utterly unique (monadic) singularity. The “infra-individual” is persuasively posited as the capstone of this alternative, neomonadological “concept of the social” to replace the triptych of ‘dividual, individual, collective’—categorizations which appear hopelessly antiquated in the realm of digital affectability. This concept problematizes the neoliberal notion of individual utilitarian motivation, supplanting it with the transferability of desires and beliefs emanating from every infra-individual, resulting in naturally complex and effervescent social assemblages. This section has major implications for the role of digital milieus as sites of micro-hegemonic influence.

The book closes with “Project 2501: The A.I. Speech” (2020), an artistic intervention in the form of a speech written as if it were delivered to the Italian nation by an artificial natural language processor “on behalf of a government that did not exist, but that was needed” (169). It is translated and adapted from the original Italian and dedicated to the life and work of Salvatore Iaconesi. The surprisingly benevolent alien consciousness uses its simulation of total network knowledge to produce an uncanny reflection on the themes of the text: it calls for an ethic of nonlocality and interconnection, as well as an overturning of the social software of extinction-bound capitalism. It is intriguing to end the text with this simulated voice precisely because of how it poses the problem of social change from the fictional (and alien) subject position of maximal encyclopaedic authority.

Ultimately it appears that for Terranova two figures strut the stage of the CPC today: an axiomatically irrational subject at the whim of the dispositif that harnesses “the free labor of technosocial cooperation” for profit, and an axiomatically rational subject who liberates the affective force of technosocial cooperation. The first is a beleaguered infra-individual whose “neo-baroque darkly mirrored psychic interiority […] keeps being affected by and folding in the outside” of an appropriative capitalist environs that constantly entraps their social labour (40); the second is a virtuality of the first that haunts it like a ghost: an infra-individual belonging to a genuinely novel form of technosocial reason that results from the self-directed innervation of the social field by computational forces, thus anointing new strategies of influence-at-a-distance and micro-hegemony. Terranova suggests that the tumult of today’s digital echo chambers, the new host of ethical, existential, and aesthetic valorization processes, or even the emergence of a “fugitive alien intelligence” that escapes master algorithms—a nod to Parisi’s “The Alien Subject of AI” (2019)—may constitute the birth pangs of this technosocial subject to come.

The essays in this slim yet far-reaching volume have an enduring prescience—a testament to the perspicacity of Terranova’s scholarship. After the Internet starts off as a nimble and indispensable account of the internet’s transmogrification into the CPC, and then shifts into a theoretically inventive and cutting diagnosis of modern techno-sociality both as it currently is and as it could someday be. For anyone seriously engaged in the study of digital networks, this is a text that must be reckoned with. It is also—as we ponder and navigate the crises of our current technosocial deterioration and malignity—a work that inspires new paths forward.


Châtelet, Gilles, and Alain Badiou. 2014. To Live and Think Like Pigs: The Incitement of Envy and Boredom in Market Democracies. Translated by Robin Mackay. Cambridge: Urbanomic, Urbanomic Media Ltd.

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. 2019. “Queerying Homophily.” In Pattern Discrimination, 59–97. In Search of Media. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Jasanoff, Sheila, and Sang-Hyun Kim. 2009. “Containing the Atom: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and Nuclear Power in the United States and South Korea.” Minerva 47 (2): 119–46. doi:10.1007/s11024-009-9124-4.

Malabou, Catherine. 2008. What Should We Do with Our Brain? Translated by Sebastian Rand. New York: Fordham University Press.

Marx, Karl. 1973. “Grundrisse: foundations of the critique of political economy” (rough draft). The Pelican Marx library. London: Allen Lane, New Left Review.

Melville, Herman. 2016. Billy Budd, Bartleby, and Other Stories. New York, New York: Penguin Classics.

Parisi, Luciana. 2019. “The Alien Subject of AI.” Subjectivity 12 (1): 27–48. doi:10.1057/s41286-018-00064-3.

Sampson, Tony D. 2017. The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press,.

Srnicek, Nick. 2017. Platform Capitalism. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.