Sunday, November 27, 2011
We, the Intranets
Lets talk about the internet. It's like talking about the air outside–the mediums through which we experience the world on a daily, regular basis are difficult to observe. Yet, I think, we must. Changes are underfoot which are drastic and vast, and whose effects we will see clearly only in the wisdom of retrospect–which makes cultural memory in the now all the more important. Priming myself for hopefully a deeper examination of it's substance, the two thoughts which seem most appropriate are: in what mode can we begin to regard this network which has become so pervasive–or are we too deeply imbedded within it's pathos? and, how do we, as users, form ourselves in a relation to it?. It appears outwardly that we, who are the component parts, the ground level rudiments of this ebullient hypermodern system, have been fundamentally morphed–our modes of communication and the experiences which mediate the image of the self have warped. We are indeterminately consumers and producers. We expect to receive data succinctly and instantly, and we reach out to others in the same fashion. Through outlets such as Myspace, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, we are allowed the freedom to upload our thoughts and works. We see ourselves displayed inside the planar web of the internet, gauge the subjective quality of ourselves through likes, views, stars, +1’s, favorites, tethered always to the opinions of others. It is the age of a new, radical form of critique and production, bedfellows whose creators do not discern between the output of either–the aim is simply visual product to be consumed by others. Yet in this moment, there is a wonderful freeing, opening of content. The line between professional and amateur is often invisible–if someone wants to practice any kind of art or craft, there is a medium, and perhaps there is an audience. Clearly my writing right now falls into this category.
Yet through this leveling, we have sacrificed the widespread availability and accessibility of products deemed professional–rendered for us as trusted, even elevated–for the innumerable proliferation of amateur practices. Videos abound of one person, stark before the camera (attached to their laptop as a cyclopean eye) speaking blandly of minutia, playing an instrument, doing a dance, always bathed in pearly cerulean blue glow, the aura of the screen. Suddenly we have emerged into a bizarre relationship between the public and the private. When we think of traditionally private activities for pleasure, what comes most readily are activities such as reading, listening to music, taking a walk, whatever appeals most to the person’s sensibilities. Private activities allow us to consider objects outside of ourselves, yet always relating them back to our conception of self–we are the medium through which all sensory activity is passed. Yet in the age of screens–now the principal valance of perception–everything becomes, by a visual necessity, private. We alone are in control of our meanderings through the web, and we skim along the surface. Early internet culture applied the term “surfing” to describe this activity (though certainly this was used to define television beforehand, the same principles hold true), which reminds the user of the planar element of the internet, each page representing a new two dimensional plane, existing within a four dimensional system–thusly surfing is ultimately an inexact metaphor, in that with surfing you are able to behold the scene’s totality in a manner you are not allowed in the internet. Though content and even ourselves, (in facebook form) have become property the public domain, it is always a private experience of discovery–there is no one to hold users accountable, or to wag fingers. This is why facebook “stalking,” or early cases of cyberbullying, or the pirating of all types of creative media is a reality. We are publicly shared, and privately plundered.
Interruption. No longer jostles us. We have become dependent on cuts every few seconds, obscuring any image of totality, favoring instead (e)motion which rushes at our eyes, a barrage of opulent digital dulcets, offering all substantive interpretation as a ruler dispenses handouts to the impoverished, securing his total control as a trainer offers treats to servile dog, to keep in check any potential work the brain might have to do–its happy hour at the opium den.
When speaking of the personal unit in American culture, the term “consumer” is readily applied. This would seem especially true of the internet and cloud user, chugging through streams of data, gorging themselves on endless entertainment. Though, through the portal of your screen, you are perpetually faced with the new. With inexhaustible content perpetually available to the user, the repeated newness of every visual experience actually serves to bore our minds–because everything is new, it is all the same. Thusly, we cannot be defined as consumers: as the user beings to engage with only pleasurable baseline of mental process, we become closer to grazers, lifelessly loping indeterminately, having long since sacrificed any hopes for reification. One only needs to regard the facial expression of a person engaged in prolonged exposure to the web to know this to be true.
I'll end with some some food for thought, circa 1924, from the terrifically apt essay for our times, Boredom by Sigfried Kracauer: "If one were never bored, one would presumably not really be present at all and would thus be merely one more object of boredom. One would light up on the rooftops or spool by as a filmstrip. But if indeed one is present, one would have no choice but to be bored by the ubiquitous abstract racket that does not allow one to exist, and, at the same time, to find oneself boring for existing in it."