Why we are tracking

26 Jan 2015

In this short essay, concerning why we are tracking, I will try to frame tracking as an evolutionary developed skill that humans need to survive. From an evolutionary point zero life must reflect upon itself in regard to its surrounding world as a kind of societal self-synchronization in this regard (Spencer 1890, Luhmann 2000, Tække 2014, 2011). I was inspired by Jill Walker Rettberg’s book: “Seeing Ourselves through Technology” and her presentation at the seminar: “Tracking Culture” arranged by Anders Albrechtslund in Aarhus January 2015.

Before language

Even animals have a kind of tracking themselves and each other. They have fixed action patterns for how to behave and if one in the herd behaves wrongly they are killed or excluded. You could say that this is a form of biologic based automatic tracking where a behaviour is seen through a pattern of biological selected legal behaviour.

Oral language

When language emerged humans began to install standards and norms for how to behave beyond the instincts in narratives and myths (Lévi-Strauss 1984, Habermas 1981, 77). These orally mediated myths made it possible to monitor how others in the tribe behaved as a standard for behavior (Ong 1982). We can imagine an evolutionary process where tribes with standards better adapted changing climatic etc. conditions have had advantages. When an individual was in a situation of choice it was possible for him or her to reflect over how to behave according to the orally stored standards. This is a kind of self-tracking and when the standards were used to monitor the behaviour of others it was a kind of tracking others, a kind of surveillance.


With writing the records was written down. Now society developed as hierarchies, people was counted in censuses, taxes was calculated, time was measured with sundials and water clocks. This was a huge acceleration of the societal self-synchronization. For instance people now were able to leave their hometown and travel to get resources and come back and receive back what was their belongings because every thing could be written down (Hallager 1997). The king in the center could send messages or laws out to the periphery, e.g. saying that men who owned this or that must pay tax and his soldiers could track citizen’s behavior in accordance to the law. In this period a few Greeks and later Augustine began to reflect over themselves as individuals in relation to the order of the world.


With the printing press it became possible to compare meaning from different books resulting in doubt like we saw with Descartes (Luhmann 2012, 249). Now standards was reflected back on people because now there were books saying how the prince or, for instance, the baker looked and behaved – or about how people from Florence were dressed (Eisenstein 1983). Now self-reflection in third person emerged as morally self-tracking like we see with Hume and Locke (Taylor 1996) and existentially self-tracking (Montanige). Especially puritans began to report about how they morally managed to live in accordance with their standards in form of diaries (Rettberg 2014). People began to draw themselves in paintings, and write diaries to try to observe themselves or track how they behaved in comparison to others, or to understand them self or to try to see themselves in different contexts (Rettberg 2014).

Analogue electronic media

With the analogue electronic media the societal self-synchronization again was accelerated, now even the lousiest TV series showed how every type of citizen was backstage (Meyrowitz 1985). Therefor people now had to be reflected on what could not be hidden from their backstage and include that into their behavior to present a self that were consistent over time. People used their knowledge from the electronic media to track the behavior of others and themselves. People took photos of themselves in mirrors to see themselves in different contexts and in this way try to understand themselves as humans (Rettberg).

Digital media

With the digital media we see that the need for tracking oneself and others find many new forms which generally seen is different kinds of automation of tracking. For instance tracking your blood pressure, how many steps you walk, or how you sleep. People also write about themselves on social media and blogs and get response in comments and likes from their social networks. For instance people write now I am together with this and that person on this restaurant on Facebook. People also take selfies to try to understand themselves by seeing themselves in different situations making it possible to comparer with pictures of other persons. Companies monitor what people are talking about and do and like to earn money on them. States monitor their citizens and sometime citizens from other countries to prevent terrorism or for instance to tax them.


After the printing press society have tented to be more and more dynamic and changing. For instance Zygmunt Bauman writes about liquid modernity, and Anthony Giddens about late modernity to express how every thing, technology and the social itself continually are altering character. In Medium theory, Innis formulated an important distinction between time bias and space bias. If a medium has a time bias society will be stable with few changes over time and the other way around with media having a space bias (Innis 1991). Looking at the historical developments media have tented to get a higher and higher degree of space bias resulting in changes in standards at different places in geographical space and increased asymmetrical self-synchronizations (Rasmussen 2003). At the same time we know that the self is a relational construction in need for accept and recognition form the social (Mead 1936, p. 204). If self-tracking is a basic inherent accessory in the human mind necessary for our survival performed dialectically between the individual and the collective it is not peculiar that individuals use automated digital ways to try to synchronize with the social using digital media to track themselves or that society tries to monitor its citizens. On the other hand it is important to discuss and reflect upon the implications – which is the idea behind the suggested research program: Tracking Culture, by Anders Albrechtslund.


Eisenstein, E. (1983). The Printing Revolution in early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge Uni. Press.

Habermas, J. (1981). Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns. Band1 Handlungsrationalität und gesellschaftliche Rationalisierung. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.

Hallager, Erik (1997). Skriftkulturens tilstand år 2000 før vor tidsregning. In Hallager, Erik og Finnemann, Niels Ole 1997: Skriftkulturens tilstand år 2000 før og efter vor tidsregning. Center for kulturforskning ved Aarhus Universitet.

Innis, H. (1991, [1951]): Bias of communication. Canada: University of Toronto Press.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. (1984). Mytens struktur, I Fallos, 5 Århus 1984 pp. 6-32 [1955].

Luhmann, N. (2012 [1997]). Theory of Society – Voulme 1. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Luhmann, Niklas (1995). Social Systems. Stanford University Press. California.

Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, Self and Society. London: Univ. of Chicago Press.

Meyrowitz, J. (1985). No Sence of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior. New York: Oxford Uni. Press.

Ong, W. J. (1982). Orality & Literacy. Reprinted 2000. Cornwall: Routledge.

Rasmussen, Terje 2003: Mobilitet og medieforståelse. Et arbejdspapir: http://www.media.uio.no/personer/terjer/mob%20og%20medieutv..pdf

Rettberg, J. W. (2014). Seeing Ourselves through Technology. The Internet: Palgrave Macmillan: www.palgraveconnect.com

Spencer, Herbert (1890). The Principles of Psychology. Williams and Norgate. London.

Taylor, Charles (1996). Sources of the Self. Cambridge: Cambridge Uni. Press.

Tække, J. (2014). Mediet sprog som strukturel kobling : forudsætningen for Homo Cogitus Socius. i Systemteoretiske analyser: At anvende Luhmann. red. / Gorm Harste; Morten Knudsen. Frederiksberg : Nyt fra Samfundsvidenskaberne, 2014. pp. 235-261.

Tække, J. (2011). Media as the mechanism behind structural coupling and the evolution of the mind. Paper presented at LUHMANN IN ACTION: EMPIRICAL STUDIES OF STRUCTURAL COUPLINGS, International University Centre of post-graduate studies (IUC), Dubrovnik, Croatia. http://pure.au.dk/portal/files/35259305/Dubrovnik_Taekke.pdf

Social Ambivalence: Facebook the Nonhuman Actor

8 Oct 2014

With Facebook we see a built in commercialization of our communication infrastructure to an unprecedented degree. Instead of choosing transparency, Facebook chooses to build its own business motives invisibly into the software architecture, so that it becomes a nonhuman actor. Behind our back Facebook monitors us and directs our communication and behavior in a way that is unpredictable for us.

At the macro level, we have seen similar phenomena before in previous media revolutions, like censorship in relation to the printing press and television. Historically seen, such measures may hold back development for a while, but in the longer term, society will takes full advantage of the opportunities the new media provide. So in this view Facebook’s model has a limited life, before the transparent affordances of digital media will take effect.

At the micro-sociological level, following Joshua Meyrowitz, every time a new communication medium comes into being, it results in new situations, which we need to develop new and adequate norms to cope with (Meyrowitz 1986). Until new norms have developed the new situations caused by the new medium, give rise to social ambivalences because we cannot cope adequately with them. The digital media generally give rise to a number of social ambivalences, because our system of norms needs time to catch up with the new situations, provided by the digital media. E.g. is it okay to concentrate on your smartphone while drinking coffee with your family, or during school time?

When we look specifically at Facebook, the company’s implementation of business motives in its software architecture gives rise to a number of ambiguities, that result in social ambivalent situations for its users, that is not caused by the new situations and possibilities of the digital medium.

The argument of the paper is, that Facebook instead of just providing us with the opportunities of digital media – which the company does - also provides us with ambiguities resulting in social ambivalences. It is also an argument that these ambiguities may hold back the evolution of new norms that are adequate with the new medium environment. In the following the paper put forward six ambiguities caused by Facebook’s functional architecture.[1]

Uncertainty about Facebook’s use of our content

It is unclear how far our “Status Updates”, photos and activities are spread out on Facebook. For example, it is unclear whether and when Facebook’s third-party companies are using our “Likes” for advertising purposes in relation to other users.

Uncertainty about who gets our Status Updates

We do not know how many of our “Friends” who will get our “Status Updates” in their “News Feet” – it is regulated by algorithms (EdgeRank) shaped to optimize the time we spend on Facebook. Only few of our “Facebook Friends” actually get our “Status Updates” in their “News Feed” and we do not know whom it is.

Ambiguity of “common” frame of reference

It adds confusion that Facebook is not a community, but consist of as many parallel networks, as there are users. Many get the feeling that they communicate with all of their friends and thus will be met like they do within a community. In contrast to community communication, the few friends who actually see our “Status Update” will not have a common ground to respond from. Instead, our Facebook friends often do not feel commitment enough to “Like” or “Comment” because these “friends” do not have a common frame of reference, and mostly care about their own reputation and social identity.

Uncertainty about when to use filters

It is unclear when to filter out other people’s access to our profiles and when other filters us, and why they do it. The way it is now, some because they cannot see through the many private settings, choose to “defriend” looser relationships (Sørensen 2013). In addition, we do not get feedback explaining why other users filter our opportunities to see what they write, or prevent us from writing on their “Wall” - or why they “defriend” us.

Uncertainty about news criteria

It adds confusion that Facebook is a quasi mass media, as we do not know its news criteria or mechanisms of viral spread. Suddenly we all sit with an editor’s responsibility, and risk making a fool of ourselves or write something illegal.

Uncertainty about social obligations

It is unclear how much we have to be on Facebook, and how active we have to be there, to meet our social obligations to our Facebook friends (and EdgeRank), as well, as it is unclear when and how much we can take the liberty to go on Facebook in regard to the persons we are physically together with.

All these uncertainties make it ambiguous and socially ambivalent to be on Facebook. But if we’re not on Facebook, we exclude ourselves from a large part of the societal communication. It is a built-in commercialization of our communication infrastructure to an unprecedented degree.

Imagine a parallel to the old postal mail

Imagine if you sent a letter to some particular addressees, and the letter also was distributed to others, while not all of them, you had addressed, received it.

It would perhaps be bearable to live with sending letters for free on the condition that there were printed advertisements on the envelopes. But if information about yourself, and what you were doing, and who you sent letters to, was printed with your name and photo on others envelops, in their mutual correspondence, it would probably be too much for most people.

Business motives built into the architecture

Instead of choosing transparency, Facebook chooses to build its own business motives invisibly into the software architecture, so that it becomes a nonhuman actor. Behind our back Facebook monitors us and directs our communication and behavior in a way that is unpredictable for us. If Facebook, or this medium’s replacement in the future, gave up the nontransparent elements and instead optimized transparency of the functional architecture, it could act as a part of the evolutionary process, where not only social norms on the user side are developed, but where the medium itself were part of this process, being accommodating in designing its functional architecture to be so clear and transparent as possible.

Not only Facebook but also Google cause - through their algorithms – that the outlook and possibilities offered by digital media are amputated and distorted. Similar transitional phenomena, has been seen before under previous media revolutions. Historically, such measures may hold back development for a while, but in the longer term, society will takes full advantage of the opportunities the new media provide. But the ambiguities keeps the development back for a while, and in that period it makes it harder to overcome the ambivalences that the new media throw us in.


Finnemann, N.O. (2001). ”The Internet – A New Communicational Infrastructure”. CFI monograph Series. Vol 2.

Sørensen, A. S. (2013). Facebook – kommunikation for kommunikationens skyld. In Tække & Jensen (Ed) Facebook - fra socialt netværk til metamedie. København: Samfundslitteratur. Pp. 117 – 136.

Meyrowitz, J. (1986). No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior. New York: Oxford Uni. Press.

[1] The concept of “functional architecture” I have from Finnemann (2001).

Jesper in 2010

11 Aug 2010


This year I am working with the concept of structural coupling. First I made a paper that I presented in Dubrovnik in April:

Tække, Jesper 2011, Media as the mechanism behind structural coupling and the evolution of the mind. Paper presented at LUHMANN IN ACTION: EMPIRICAL STUDIES OF STRUCTURAL COUPLINGS, International University Centre of post-graduate studies (IUC), Dubrovnik, Croatia.  http://pure.au.dk/portal/files/35259305/Dubrovnik_Taekke.pdf

The concept addresses one of the major theoretical problems, namely the problem of how otherwise differentiated forms of being continuously adapts to each other and thereby mutually enabling each other. Now I am working on a paper for the: Power and Participation: The 25th Conference of the Nordic Sociological Association in Oslo 4 – 7 august 2011. In this paper I compare Luhmann’s concept of Structural coupling with Latour’s concept of translation and illustrate, in two analysis of Twitter, the strengths and weaknesses, and the similarities and differences of the two theories.

Together with Michael Paulsen I have also got a research project through which is called Socio Media Education.


This year the major project is that I am the editor of the journal MedieKultur, which is the Danish localized international journal within media studies. Michael Paulsen stands by me, but come on, so much work there are in it! Our special issue is on the street, or rather, online in November. There are ten articles most in English but also one in Swedish and a couple in Danish. The topic is ‘Luhmann and the media’ and I hope this special issue creates more awareness and interest in Luhmann as a media theorist.

I have also an article in the journal (which Michael has been editor on). It’s about Facebook and follow up on the first article I wrote this year: “Facebook’s communicative space”. It called: “Facebook - a network within the community” and works with the theory of Luhmann, and with some skepticism I have with Facebook, because most communication in this medium just takes place in networks, which are closed to them who are kept out – briefly said - you should not imagine that you participate in a community when you communicate within Facebook.

This skepticism, I also present at the Association for Internet Research (AIR)’s annual conference in Gothenburg October 21 to 23, where I present an accepted English version of the article. Also, at this Conference, I will participate in a panel with, among others Charles Ess - and expand the skepticism about Facebook and discuss implications for the personal socially constructed identity – which of course, on Facebook cannot find confirmation in a community, but only through the random comments you get on your status updates.

This theme I will pursue and write a paper on to the Association of Media Researchers in Denmark (SMID)’s conference in Kolding December 2 - 3.

The day before then, December the 1st., it appears that we have the annual Luhmann seminar - which this year is hosted by Gorm Harste and is about method, or rather on analytical strategies based on Luhmann. I will talk about gathering empirical data on the Internet.

This year, Michael and I, besides an introduction to the MediaKultur Journal, publish two articles on the new wireless communication media’s influence on teaching situations in the Danish upper secondary schools. The first appeared in February in Norsk Medietidsskrift (The Norwegian Media Journal) and is called: “Wireless networks and social norms.” The second appears in the Danish Sociology Journal this fall and is about how power changes hands and forms of expression under the influence of new media.

2010 is also the year where finally the anthology “Luhmann and power” from the publisher Unge Pædagoer, which I am series editor for and have an article in, comes into the bookshops. My article is about how the new media because they are storage media of interaction, etc. at the same time also works as media of surveillance - and how this monitoring impacts on power in organizations. This article I am also about to make an English version of which I am trying to get in the journal Surveillance & Society.

Of cause I also have a lot of supervision and teaching - here is the new and exciting that I, along with Anne Marie Dinesen and Helle Mathiasen, provide a joint master course: “Communication - organization, learning and media”. This is a real Luhmann course where we present one perspective each, and we are going to be more than one professor each time to discuss theory and empirical analysis with the students.

Look at my website where there is a list of publications where articles mentioned here is laid out, linked to, or referred to.

Activities 2009

13 Feb 2009

What I am doing in 2009

My primary research interests are the relations between the social and communication media. For the time being I work with how organizations cope with new media, and how digital network media influence on educational interaction. Theoretically I use sociological systems theory and medium theory.

I am also organizing a conference in December in Aarhus 2009 about Luhmann and the media and a special issue of the journal mediekultur about the same topic in 2010.

In august I published a book about Habermas and Luhmann with graphics by the danish artisk Rasmus Svarre. Its in Danish and is called ‘Samfundets vilkår

I am also preparing an article about Luhmanns theory and organizational power to an antology called: Luhmann og Magt.

In this relation I am going to present a paper on new media and organizational power at the sociocybernetic conference in Urbino in June, and a paper on digital network media in regard to power in educational interaction at the Mediacom conference in Karlstad in August. Again see my publications.

Summer News

20 Jun 2008

I am on summer vacation from June the 28th - August the 4th

14-17 August I am participating in the 24th Conference of the Nordic Sociological Association, at the University of Aarhus. I am chairman at the SIG Research strategies / Strategies of analysis: Discourse, systems, fields. I also have a paper to present in the SIG: Organizational Sociology:

Tække, Jesper 2008: Iagttagelse af internettet som medie i organisationer. konferencepaper til: Violence and Conflict. The 24th Conference of the Nordic Sociological Association, University of Aarhus, Denmark 14-17 August 2008.

August the 15th the anthology: Luhmann og organisation is on the market, edited by me and Michael Paulsen (Unge Pædagoger’s publishing house).

15-18 October I am participating in the 9th annual Internet Research conference (AoIR) in Copenhagen at the IT-University. The theme this year is Rethinking Community, Rethinking Space and I present the paper:

Tække, Jesper 2008: Organizational culture and media. Conference paper to Rethinking Community, Rethinking Space. The 9th annual Internet Research conference. Copenhagen, Denmark, October 15th - October 18th 2008.

December the 1st I am participating in Skandinavisk Luhmann Forums 4th conference in Bergen, Norway: Luhmann og makt: Samfunn, Organisasjon og Interaksjon. I present the paper:

Tække, Jesper 2008: Medieret magt i organisationer. Konferencepaper til Luhmann og makt: Samfunn, Organisasjon og Interaksjon. 4. Skandinavisk Luhmann Forum konference. 1. Desember Bergen, Norge. Læs abstract

See my publication list for more news.