Archive for the Postmodern 2.0 Category

Facebook between Anti-Semitism and Breastfeeding

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , on May 11, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan

The Real of Facebook

The Real of Facebook

Recently Mike Arrington of TechCrunch posted a polemic of Facebook’s policies. So it turns out that Facebook does not ban denials of Holocaust and yet they ban pictures of breastfeeding women. This predictably disturbs many people, and has lead to paranoiac suggestions that Facebook is actually anti-Semite, anti-feminist, and so on.

Especially interesting here is the juxtaposition of the two taboos, positioning them from the start as a case of mispositioned censorship — one that should be but isn’t censored, and another that should not be but is in fact censored. This proves to be more problematic the closer one looks at it: of course, people would still get angry even if Facebook does not censor breastfeeding (both not censored), while probably they would be content if Facebook censors both. However, this problematic only rises when there is a displacement of censorship, as is the case at the moment.

Which leads us to a more interesting perspective: what do Jews and tits have in common? As Žižek noted, Jews are the anti-Semites’ embodiment of the malignant object-cause of desire, while breasts are of course one of the forms in which the object-cause of desire appears, according to Lacan. The appearance of anti-Semitic comments on Facebook discussions brings into obscene light this object-cause of desire, while breastfeeding, supposedly through its context, arguably does the opposite: it desexualizes the breasts into  a non-sexual, family-friendly object.

The excuse for the latter’s censorship is of course the usual one: “We knowthere is nothing sexual about breastfeeding, but nonetheless people have warped fetishes,” while the excuse for having no ban of Holocaust denial is, presumably, that all opinions are allowed and must be respected. Of course, the hate speech shown on TechCrunch’s screen-caps are already against Facebook’s TOS (which obviously leads to the rash conclusion that everyone who denies the Holocaust are anti-Semites), but it seems that the core problem is not so much the hate speech as the space for denying the Holocaust whatsoever.

It is here (and not only on 4chan!) that one encounters the Real of the Internet. We start off wanting to promote “safe content” and end up censoring arguably trivial things such as breastfeeding, which recalls the proverbial paranoia that nothing is safe on the Internet (how about pictures of feet and socks, or of children at all, should Facebook allow them when after all people can just as easily take them off of facebook with a few simple clicks and use them as a means of warped public masturbation on another site?). The obverse is also true: we start off wanting to encourage discussions from all perspectives, and end up encountering the hard limit of our so-called postmodern tolerance (every historical account is relative and its truth is questionable, except the Holocaust, the truth of which must be maintained at all costs to keep ourselves from the resurgence of anti-Semitism!).

Youd think it was really easy to moderate a group

You'd think it was really easy to moderate a group

Mike Arrington ends his article with a comment, “Yes, Facebook, this is the side of the line you’ve chosen to stand on,” and posted an obscene image of child victims. I would say that Facebook, being the “sixth largest country,” is fated to continue to find itself in dangerous situations on the other side of the line (remember Facebook’s privacy polemic several months back?) — why? Because Facebook is becoming more and more like a government rather than a system (like Wikipedia, Twitter, or 4chan, which are really more public places than a governed home). And the obscene image, what is it but a symptom dedicated to an innocent Other’s gaze for which the truth of the Holocaust must be maintained?

Accommodating society with their own postmodern paranoia and micropractical ethics is a tough, if not impossible, job. There is a line, a primordial split constitutive of society, which looks different from different sides. In some ways 4chan (especially /b/) is luckier, since it embodies nothing but this split itself. Facebook tried to be careful as it always does, but it looks like once again they got back their message in an inverted true form.

Marblecake, Also the Game

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , on April 29, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan

The Message

That was the message encoded in TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2009 by none other than Anonymous. These 4chan netizens jumped into action and hacked the poll, not only making sure that moot, the founder of 4chan, tops the list, but also being careful to arrange the order of winners up to the 21st so that the list would read, “mARBLECAKE ALSO THE GAME”. TIME already made the list official — epic win for moot and Anonymous — but completely denied the hack. You can read the details of the hack here.

Here is an excerpt from Mashable regarding this piece of news:

The Internet has different rules. The folks at Time just learned about it in a very amusing way, as their third annual poll for the world’s most influential person was topped by moot A.K.A. Christopher Poole, founder of the legendary memebreeding forum 4chan. And, though the results of the poll are obviously skewed, the list is now official nonetheless.

Remember, it’s not Barack Obama, not Oprah Winfrey, not Pope Benedict XVI, but moot. He received 16,794,368 votes and an average influence rating of 90 (out of a possible 100).

The Internet does play by a very different set of rules indeed. Who is moot? I am not asking about who he really is in real life, his personal history, and so on, but what can the existence of this 21-year-old founder of 4chan who became this year’s most influential person on Earth tell us about the culture we are living in?

moot has been quoted to say, “My personal private life is very separate from my internet life. There’s a firewall in between.” It is very interesting to note that moot did not use the phrase “real life” to denote his “personal private life”. That alone I think is really telling — clearly, moot, like many of us, has an online life more real than his private life.

4chan has been described as the “Wild West” of the Internet. The rawest of lands and coarsest of media, the home to Internet vigilantes as well as the most homophobic, misogynist, and racist users, often with amazing hacking skills, 4chan represents the face of posthuman subculture today. And I am not even trying to romanticize it as we often romanticize a Wild West — go to 4chan today to /b/, the random bulletin board, and you will see what I mean, if you haven’t. There is nothing romantic about it, save perhaps the total assault they do on culture on a daily basis.

The growth of a subculture, a raw resistance of any kind at all, always presents us with the Real of antagonisms of the culture we are living in. 4chan is the antithesis of Facebook, and moot is the antithesis of Mark Zuckerberg. When we discuss the Internet, we often forget today about 4chan, about the nameless, faceless commons that is Anonymous, about the glorified Master signifier that is moot. When we discuss cultures, we often forget about their breeding place, the Wild West, the grafitti brick walls of the anonymous crowd.

The TIME 100 hack tells a lot about the times we are living in. In a way, we can even say that TIME ultimately got what they wanted — they decided to do an online poll, and online, moot is indeed the most influential person. Invisible he may be, but one only needs to see the number of memes penetrating our Internet lives today, from Rickrolls to LOLcats but also “epic” phrases — indeed, 4chan can take any meaningless thing and imbue it with the object-cause of desire because they themselves embody the faceless gaze of the commons — to see how true this is. Because our times are heading towards that critical direction again: where culture can no longer be dictated, when minds can no longer be censored, and when a handful of people can turn a historical media cultural event upside down.

Slavoj Žižek says that in order for our times to grow, “maybe we just need a different chicken [fetish object]”. The problem so far regarding democracy is that “we know the system is corrupt, but does the system know it is corrupt?” — in other words, we continue to do it because we know it works even if we don’t believe that it works. I think the recent message-encoded TIME 100 hack proves otherwise — the system itself knows that it is corrupt, and it is only the big media companies that are losing and continue to pretend everything is OK. And fortunately, the technological apparatuses that be no longer serves them but the faceless crowd.

I’m going to have a marblecake and celebrate.

mARBLECAKE

mARBLECAKE (not mine)

This is Just a Theater for the Media

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan
The only winning move is not to play

The only winning move is not to play

Stay calm – Nothing will happen to TPB, us personally or file sharing what so ever. This is just a theater for the media.

That was Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi (a.k.a. Brokep)’s response to the conviction of The Pirate Bay. But of course, we won’t stay that calm, even if it is just a theater. Yes, hopefully it will be an epic win anyhow, but not only that — I hope it will also be an epic lost to such judgements in the future.

A quick recap of the news for those who haven’t heard. Five days ago The Pirate Bay was sentenced to a year in prison for its four defendants and some 3.5 billion USD in fines.

The sheer confidence of TPB guys upon that verdict astound me. It reminds me of the conviction of the communists of the olden days that they will finally win. Which has to do with a lot of things that I have been having in mind.

When I say communists, with the thought traditions I come from, I meant that fully as a compliment. It has been said often that the revolutionaries of today’s copyright laws are “modern-day communists”. Many defenders of copyright reformation — the supporters of Creative Commons, etc — would reject this idea. My guess is that they only know communism from its common abuses they have heard, the image of the gulag looming over them. But does not the very fact of them defending a right of a “common” whatsoever points to communist thinking?

Nor do I want to imply that pirates will become like the old communists — lost, defeated, only able to bathe in fantasmatic nostalgias of the past, the very term under which all its fights were conducted now terribly corrupted. If anything, the term “piracy” has gone through an entirely different set of fate: it began as a negative word for selfish bands of criminals, but today speak to adress heroes defending the rights of the common good, to tear down the walls of market oppression. If trajectory of terms mean anything, and we have known since structuralism that it means quite a lot, we should see something even bigger emerge from the pirates.

Between this and communism

Between this and communism?

So, does the idea of piracy mean anything for the idea of communism? Would we see, emerging from it in its totality, a global Event? They say that we are much closer to the end of the 19th century in terms of the unhealthy cynicism presented by most of the society today. One realm, however, stays incredibly strong, positive, even militant in its conviction, and there is no cynicism at all about its longevity, although (or perhaps especially because) it acts outside the state. This is the realm of the defense for the digital crowd, the commons of the posthuman era. Movements such as the very recent Blackout Europe, in fact, rings so much more bell of truth, of chance, and of undying faith in the strength of the commons than, say, the recent G 20 protest.

Indeed, in every place of today’s defense of physical political struggle, we always see an element of cynicism — we already know that the struggle will just be another lost, at best another media sensation. The Pirate Bay, on the other hand, claims that their struggle will be another win, that it is just the media masturbating themselves with a theater. In fact, I personally have never seen a struggle for a digital/Internet rights movement imbued with any dose of cynicism whatsoever.

Does this attitude, and more specifically does Brokep’s amazing confidence not point to a faithfulness of an Event, one that all Leftists today are supposed to need?

Some people I know suggest that communist conferences and otherwise Leftist ones should be taken to the streets and factories instead of being kept inside lavish college buildings. While I applaud the anti-bourgeois spirit of this kind of criticism, it also presents us with a false trap — the political spaces and topologies today is such that I remain a pessimist that doing conferences in factories would only confuse the problem further while making it look like enough of a sensation to do much more. My suggestion would be otherwise — why not do a communist conference in an exclusive cruise liner instead, so that when the conference achieves nothing, we are confronted right with that fact instead of an “academic” or even a “worker” sensation that we have done something significantly meaningful?

Perhaps we are just looking for political movements in the wrong places with the wrong issues. What Marxists need to remember today is that we are already posthumans. All that is solid has melt into air. What had been Marx’s future is our present. Boycott all media products — we have nothing to lose but our chains.

Hey, lets do a communist conference here!

Even doing a communist conference here won't matter

The Twitter Hysteria

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , on March 14, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan
Are all Twitter users insecure like her?

Are all Twitter users insecure like her?

Twittering stems from a lack of identity. It’s a constant update of who you are, what you are, where you are. Nobody would Twitter if they had a strong sense of identity.

Angry? Here’s another one:

Using Twitter suggests a level of insecurity whereby, unless people recognise you, you cease to exist. It may stave off insecurity in the short term, but it won’t cure it.

Curious what it’s all about? Here is the full article for you to read.

Annoying as those statements may be, we should not get caught up in our emotions and just disapprove them as having no degree of truth whatsoever, although we must admit that when they said that tweeples do not say “What do you think of Descartes’s second treatise?” you really know they got things wrong.

After all some of us do ask questions like those on Twitter — and start a terrific discussion while we’re at it. Don’t believe me? Try following these people. There are lots more, but I just linked the ones that happened to debate most recently on the precise issue brought up by the article. Sure, some of them may tweet about mundane daily things (if you don’t want mundane daily things and only philosophical content and computer stuff, I have a twitter friend on this extreme end — perhaps a few others?). But really, the reason I followed them was not because I want to fabricate an imaginary connection with the person (in the loose non-Lacanian sense of the term), but because we spark interesting discussions. And although we don’t, I still follow people like Guy Kawasaki not because I think they’re such great guys but because they post links to interesting articles.

Tempted to continue my rant

Tempted to continue my rant

I’m tempted to continue my rant, but let’s get serious. Just sign up to Twitter if you haven’t, and follow the people I linked to, and you can see right out that Oliver James the clinical psychologist and David Lewis the cognitive neuropsychologist may be less intelligent than the people they talk negatively about.

But as I said what they say deserves a closer look. It’s not pure bullshit. We do have people on Twitter who go on emo rant mode 90% of the time saying how worthless their life is (no, I won’t link, if only so that you vain followers paranoically think it’s you). It’s obvious that they get no better by doing so.

Jacques Lacan said that the art object occupies the place of the analyst. By this he means it occupies the object a, but not necessarily the analytical discourse. So too with the Internet, and Twitter in particular — here is an ultimate proof of that. Why Twitter in particular? Because of the space of speech, of course — an illusion of connection, if you want to call it that, since it does belong to the Imaginary register, which is especially true on Twitter where people don’t listen to you but nonetheless hear you. I told you our unfortunate friends got some things right!

What things right? That connection on Twitter serves as an object-cause of desire. They are wrong, however, in saying that this object-cause of desire must be located along with the subject, producing a hysterical discourse with symptoms such as those James and Lewis mentioned (insecurity, lack of identity, etc.). As I tweeted, the problem is, do you let it speak the truh, or are you too busy trying to speak that object little a?

Slavoj Žižek once said that the Internet merely confirms how virtual our lives already had been. What a beautiful way to put it. If nobody would Twitter if they had a strong sense of identity, we should then ask, what will they do instead? For we have always been living a virtual life.

It’s not about Twitter, after all. Twitter just makes it more visible. We have always been attracted to connection. We have always been attracted to those who hear us without having to really listen to us or know us, those who see us on the streets from the corner of their eyes, those who peek at our sexual lives. We have always been fascinated by those as we are fascinated by art. That’s what Twitter is all about; that’s what the Social Web is all about. We love those things, those object-causes of desire. Consuming them in no way makes us an insecure hysteric all of a sudden.

Just in case your friends on Twitter

Just in case your friend's on Twitter

Social Networks and Mind Evolution

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , on March 7, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan

Real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitised and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf. Perhaps future generations will recoil with similar horror at the messiness, unpredictability and immediate personal involvement of a three-dimensional, real-time interaction.

 

Photograph by Chris Jackson/Getty Images, taken from The Guardian

Photograph by Chris Jackson/Getty Images, from The Guardian

Several weeks ago there was a post in The Guardian UK titled “Facebook and Bebo risk ‘infantilising’ the human mind”. Gosh, I thought, not another one of those technophobic critics again! If the name of Susan Greenfield was not mentioned right at the beginning I probably would have just read a few lines and close my browser’s tab. So luckily Greenfield was mentioned, and when she is I know it’s going to be neuroscience, and it’s going to be not so much technophobic as exciting.

And I was right. Sure enough, there were technophobic tones here and there, but tones of fascination with the brain are more prevalent. It is particularly the paragraph quoted above that took my attention. Also, the conclusion of the article reads as such:

But Greenfield warned: “It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations. We know that the human brain is exquisitely sensitive to the outside world.”

This is an exciting fact. A critical theorist shouldn’t be tempted to look at this merely in the vein of some cheap “postmodern” attitude of criticizing the hegemony of mathematical neuroscience while it represses the contingency of the discourse of knowledge and therefore oppresses certain minority discourse about the brain and the spirit and such and such. Rather, one should ask what truth lie behind these claims and how they will effectively play out.

As for myself, I am highly pleased that we have such articles. At least I know that I am not the only person to make the claim that Web 2.0 is changing our minds much more radically than we may think. Of course I was never the only one, but it is disconcerting to note that most of those who think so belong to the school that call themselves “New Age”, with which I never want to be associated.

Greenfield does it in terms of neuroscientific psychology. Her points, I think, are correct. I also think they deserve much more elaboration from a proper psychoanalytic point of view. After all, psychoanalysis proper is psychology, so should it not make much more sense that they work together in criticisms? Perhaps the now fashionable divergence of the fields (one to neuroscience, another to a “materialist-transcendental” Deleuzian approach) should not be embraced so dearly, after all.

So what is my Lacanian take on this issue of what I call, for lack of a better name, a “mind evolution”? Social networks and Web 2.0, even the computer logic in general, play a world of difference in the subject’s relation to the big Other, the socio-Symbolic order, as well as his relation to his own object-production. In the social Web, we have fluid identities (we consciously construct online identities), confusion of time (we can undo many things we did not want, we can think about what we want to say in a chat before hitting Enter), and virtually eternal memory (objects of our production never disappear and can be reproduced endlessly), to name a few that I think are the major. Is this not proof that the basis of language and society itself (the notion of forgetting, of property, of not-knowing, of spatial interaction, of temporality, etc.) is changing?

My point in this post had been but one: something is happening in the human mind, and questions are popping up about this change. Analysis should not be given up to neuroscientists alone, but to critical theorists as well. We are in dire need of a coherent cognitive mapping, one that I believe psychoanalysis proper will help greatly.

The White Bentley Chase Did Not Happen

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan

Such was Jason Quackenbush’s response #5 to the polemic that has been going on the the blogosphere about a live-tweeting event of a certain suicide last month. Yes, I know this is very much a late response, but you will forgive me for I was isolated from the blogosphere in the past two months. I knew of the story just a while ago from my good friend A.V. Flox, who blogged about it herself. Five days later Amber Rhea responded rather harshly to A.V.’s post, saying that accusations of technology being awful has always been going around for ages in virtually every era.

Simulacra by Tatchapon Lertwirojkul, which has nothing to do with our post

Tatchapon Lertwirojkul's Simulacra, which has nothing to do with our post

I agree with them. Yes, all of them. Well, I’m a Lacanian, and Lacanians like to bring seemingly contradictory things together and show how they are two sides of the same coin. This is what I’m going to do here.

But before that, a quick recap of what happened. On the eve of February 10th, there was a white Bentley chase in LA that lasted for three hours before the driver pulled over in front of a Toyota dealership and finally killed himself. Let us quote A.V., who tells it in a much more eloquent manner than I could ever do:

The white Bentley stopped in front of a Toyota dealership near Universal City after a three hour chase on Hollywood Freeway and Interstates 5, 10 and 405. The stand-off began at around 11:00PM PST, with hundreds tuning in to the FOX11ABC7 and KCAL9 live feeds online.

Before long, Twitter streams were on fire with commentary from people around the world about what was happening. People watching gave in to speculation about the identity driver, debating whether it was hip hop singer Chris Brown, charged earlier with assault—allegedly against his girlfriend, the singer Rihanna or rapper DJ Khaled, as well as the reason for his fleeing.

As time passed with no action, the public became more and more irate. Jokes followed, including the creation of the fake account @WhiteBentley, which ran a stream of comments as though he was the driver inside the car.

The jokes soon turned sinister, with many expressing someone should just shoot the driver down and save the LAPD thousands, and still others suggesting the driver end his life to avoid repercussions of the extended chase. Then, after news reports began coming in that the driver might indeed have shot himself and the ABC7 cameras zoomed out to avoid exposing the public to a gruesome scene, the disappointment was almost unanimous.

“They aren’t going to zoom in and show us the possible brains, bullshit!” a chilling tweet read.

The driver and law enforcement personnel involved were no longer human to those of us watching. Moving around inside our computer screens, they had become characters in a play put on for our entertainment.

Fascinating. Of course, I could not agree more: people inside the computer screen have become characters in a play put on for our entertainment. Let’s get back to Jason Quackenbush. The same idea, of course, underlies his post. He mentions Baudrillard, whom he likes the more “the older he gets”, and evokes Baudrillard’s famous statement that the Gulf War did not happen and applied the same idea to the suicide tragedy.

I am not a Baudrillardian. I like Baudrillard, but to me his ideas are a little simplistic, and I could never be convinced of his idea of a postmodern rupture after which all things implode into a simulacra. I do not like the technophobic tone, often with hints of a nostalgia for the past, detectable in his works, but also in most postmodern philosophers including today Paul Virilio. And this is where I agree with Amber Rhea. “What’s the current monster of the week?” she said, “The formula seems to be: pick something relatively new and use it as a scapegoat; wring hands; bemoan the direction society is heading (downward, one presumes); repeat in 2-3 months.”

In fact Amber made an excellent point, that we can always go further back in time to find this monster. As far back, I would say, as the development of language and tools itself, the very things that make us what we are today instead of cavemen. You see, mankind is a creature that is fundamentally alienated, separated from reality. Deal with it. To bemoan technology is in effect to bemoan language itself. When I said that the white Bentley chase did not happen, it is not because Twitter has created a Baudrillardian rupture of reality, but because nothing really happened. We live in a Symbolic universe, the universe of technology and language, mediated by it, and things happen, be it with drama and empathy or with sheer coldness and chilling morbid jokes, in none other than our imaginations. We always connect with Imaginary relations with other people.

That should not however be an argument to merely dismiss the live-tweeted suicide event as another day in the office. One could not deny that it was a horrible event, and one that can only happen after the invention of Twitter. Technology does change us, in major ways, and we cannot deny that. Does Twitter kill your soul? Perhaps. But let us not forget that the history of technology is a history of human souls being killed over and over and over again since the beginning of time. It is lso a history of their rebirth, of new modes of Being, as Heidegger put it.

Ultimately, the question of the inherent good or evil within technology is a personal wager. We are never sure that technology will bring us good. But let us not die in postmodern simulacra. Let us be a good Badiouvian and realize the militant nature of truth and the good. I’m rooting for Twitter all the way. Kill our souls, if only to make us grow.

What is a Good Twitter Neighbor?

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , on December 11, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
The Twitter village

The Twitter village

As the Web becomes more and more social, as more and more people write how Twitter is a village, we are bound to confront the radical dimension of social interaction, the neighbor in its most elementary form: digital denizens of cyberspace who have “something in them more than themselves” — those whose dimension of enjoyment we could not grasp nor fathom.

In the physical realm, we have all the elementary practices by which we talk about a neighbor: the way they laugh too loudly, the way they count their money, their strange accent, the bad smell of their food, their disgusting table manners, etc, all of which allude to an irreducible kernel of an Other that enjoys differently from us. This dimension, is, of course, the object a, the Lacanian object-cause of desire which arouses spectral apparitions and is the cause of all our prejudices and hatred towards Otherness.

It is interesting to see how this dimension of a neighbor persists even without real contact (the examples above are all little habits that could be seen, smelled, or heard — all needing physical contact). Does not the current trends of categorizing obnoxious people on the Web the ultimate proof that we are very much still prejudiced? OK, it might be a matter of fact that trolls and Grammar Nazis are frustrating idiots without proper knowledge of the big Other of the Internet, but upon reading things like this Top 10 List of People to Unfollow on Twitter or this list of 8 Most Obnoxious Internet Commenters, it becomes clear how social antagonisms in the Social Web is beginning to take its shape.

My point is of course not the standard postmodern multicultural (“defender”) one that demands for more equality for these different types, and so on. (Again, it is funny when we notice how demands for more equality in the physical world is supplemented — and, likely, can only work as such — by the proliferation of online prejudices.) What I would like to call into question is the basic underlying understanding of what being a good citizen means.

There are exceptions, but there is a strong pattern emerging: we tend to find obnoxious those who affiliates too much with his or her beliefs and activities, be it sports, (cynical) politics, plain hobbies, or even attending a conference. If, in the physical world, to use Žižek’s formulation, the neighbor is the one who smells (which is why deodorants are increasingly popular, etc.), in life online, the neighbor is essentially the one who believes.

As the Internet becomes more and more social, the big Other of networked computer systems is born. And the cyborg big Other is the virtual entity for whom we must maintain a safe distance from our own believes and passions, the digital symbolic for which we have to maintain the appearances of disbelief, by tweeting our more “human” side (what we had for lunch, our travels, our day job, etc.) instead. As always, there is an inherent rule which we must understand to fit inside an online community; the obligations behind choices (we are obliged to follow our followers back) and the choice behind the obligations (we can use scripts to follow people or schedule our tweets). A good cyberspace denizen is the one that understands the proper mechanisms of the digital big Other.

Perhaps, even here today, Kierkegaard was right: the only good neighbor is effectively the dead neighbor — the best Twitter accounts are the automated ones who do nothing personal but give links to worthy pieces of information. The good Twitter neighbor is the impersonal cyborg neighbor, the neighbor without the kernel of unfathomable surplus-enjoyment. But then, we need enjoyment for systems to function, which is why we are all suggested to have smiling face photo avatars and occasional talk about the kids and dinner — the legitimized versions of object a as the proper way to enjoy, with all its encoded ideologies.

Ambient Disconnectedness

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

This is disconnectedness at its best

This is disconnectedness at its best.

Blogger AV Flox has a really interesting article in her Love in the Time of Web 2.0 blog, where she writes about the (seeming) paradox of how this so-called age of ambient awareness in fact makes us more disconnected in real life. I think it is not, however, a paradox; already, the Lacanian scopic drive is passive in nature — to put it simply, is not the real promise behind ambient awareness actually to make others aware of us, instead of making us aware of anything?

This logic is not new in Web 2.0. Even in the age of television, do we not like to turn it on all the time even if we do not watch it? The reason, of course, is not the standard one where the TV set is just turned on for some cheap background music or similar reasons, but instead, as some theorists [names needed] have put it, the TV set is turned on to constantly watch us. The gaze is passive, as Lacan was already well aware, and we enjoy films not because we are passive observers, but we have the illusion that the films need us to become properly films. We turn on the TV set because deep down we know it will make the TV set happy.

Likewise, the real problem of the the Web is not this vast overflow of data which we can no longer consume. It’s how we have become obsessed with organizing data as such so that it can properly consume us as proper, visible human beings in all our daily stupidity. Is that not why we developed Web 2.0 in first place — to be sure that we are watched all the time, while we can pretend to watch others while not having to really do it?

Indeed, ambient awareness and being disconnected is not at all paradoxical. It’s not even a matter of which side of the screen we are on — even in online life, I claim, the logic is the same: it is data that watches us, not us consuming data. It is not ourselves, the stupid daily people, that we want to make aware of everything. It is this impossible entity who we assume to have the power to observe everything that has to be pleased. Our role is to provide constant information for this impossible entity, this superego gaze that embody the whole internet. Is this not the reason Twitter is so popular today?

The Web is our Nazca lines to a big Other android. The function of the Internet is not to make each of us connected to everybody else. It is to connect each of us to an impossible, divine entity that we desire to be watched by. Is this not why most of us get anxious when we are offline for too long, as though our entire existence depended on it? To quote Flox, “I think therefore I am, right—but is a thought not really a thought unless it’s a tweet?”

Emoticons Stole Your Passivity

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Yep, these guys did.

Yep, these guys did.

We have today progressed far from what Žižek dubbed as one of the most important inventions of the 20th century, that is Charles R. Douglass’s “canned laughter” of 1950s shows. Robert Pfaller, then adapted by Žižek, was the first to recognize the inherent danger of new media — not interactivity that makes us lazy, but interpassivity that prepares us to do “mindless frenetic work” [citation needed]. When we look at comedy shows on television, the laughter does not function as a mere cue to where we should laugh, but it literally laughs for us — we do not have to laugh to feel good about the show. Likewise, the role of the pornstar today is not merely to enact orgasms that titillate us — they literally reach orgasms for us. The point in watching comedies is not to laugh out loud in front of television sets, but to be able to feel the relief of having laughed without doing the embarrassing, tiring act of real laughter. The point in watching porn movies is not even to masturbate, but to be able to feel good even without having to do all the long, tiring sex/masturbation ourselves.

Emoticons are among the ultimate crystallization of this mode. When we type in the :-)) or :-D symbols, is it not true that we never actually laugh out loud ourselves? But it is not that we are lying to our chat/text message partner/s, since there is already an implicit understanding of this going on (though always an understanding of which is already necessarily denied in the presupposition of the act). And, more importantly, after we type in those icons, is it not true that we, although not having laughed out loud ourselves, nevertheless feel relieved and enjoyed the chat session as though both/all sides laughed and had a good time? Of course, it does not have to be emoticons; it can be all the LOL variations or a simple “hahahaha”. But the point here is clear — we never laugh like that in reality. We do not need to.

So here is a simple question: why all the fuss? Why do we need our emoticons to laugh for us — can’t we just be happy without all the exaggerated digital laughters (even rolling on the floor!)? Of course, when you chat without enough emoticons, you will simply be perceived as cold, distant, etc. So, there is a necessity demanded by a digital big Other to use emoticons, to indicate that we are somehow always laughing out loud when interacting with another.

The worst thing about emoticons is that they do not only indicate laughter, but almost every expression imaginable; from waving hands to that miserable dancing banana. Of course, we have all the explicit promise of being able to express ourselves more, to compensate (warmth, understanding, etc.) for the loss of voice intonations, etc. But is it not rather the implicit promise that seduce us; the promise to be able to stay distant without any presupposed other knowing it? Rather than “You can show the other how you are now laughing out loud!” is it not more precise to say “You can now let go of all the tiring idle banter and moral injunction to be continuously friendly without the other knowing about it!” Let’s face it: laughing and smiling all the time when we meet people — the standard American big Other — is tiring.

Emoticons, I believe, with all its so-called interactive dimensions, is a much greater invention than canned laughter due to its direct role in multiple-way communication. We can now maintain the posture of being friendly and still obey the standard superego of self-expression and individuality without having to really do it. We do not have to laugh, or cry, or blush, or wave hands, or dance in jubilation. We do not even have to listen (feel free to work and read and not really listen as long as you do not close the chat window!). We only need to be active in texting back, with no more necessity for real passive response. The computer is already passive in our place.

Oversharing, or, the Anxiety of Inverted Fantasy

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

There is a new phenomenon in today’s information society, the anxiety of which becomes pervasive when one realizes the dangers and fragility brought upon by the interconnected Web 2.0 sphere. This is the problem of online oversharing: the tension in finding the right balance of what parts of one’s subjective identity should be put online. This is an anxious search, because, at first, it is understandably hard to realize that the internet is a totally new space with its own novel dynamics; any attempt to categorize it as public or private sphere or any of the classical categories would fail just as miserably as any attempt to introduce old-market commodity dynamics to the remix culture of intellectual property. As such, adapting to the new big Other of the internet becomes even harder.

How much should our online avatar, our novel cyber-embodiment, resemble our stupid, abrupt, physical identity of existence? Of course, we have all the big postmodern theories about how everything is no more than a simulacra, how reality and fantasy becomes blurred, that we live in a state of hyperreality, etc. But I think this idea is a little too naive for today’s society — rather than the blurring of fantasy and reality, is it not more true that the condition of our second embodiment, one I dubbed the monitor phase, calls for an inversion of fantasy? What I mean is quite simple: as our lives are today more and more lived on the other side of the screen, is it not, then, only logical that when the simulation is more real than the reality itself, reality becomes more and more like our fantasies?

It is interesting to take note of the dynamics of anxiety in today’s society compared to the more traditional societies. Oversharing has always been about how one’s speech can uncomfortably alter the other’s coordinates of the Imaginary, much to the discomfort of one or both sides. In the traditional society, oversharing becomes only a problem of how adjusted one is to the big Other, whether one is an idiot, etc. In today’s society, oversharing becomes a pervasive danger, as though one can read another’s mind in a condition where everybody is everybody else’s Big Brother. This is what I call the inversion of fantasy: we have to now struggle harder and harder to create and maintain coherent online profiles that do not tell too much about the truth of our daily, physical being, as we have, as kids growing up, struggled to maintain a coherent social identity with our physical being that does not tell too much about our fantasies. Is not our real, naive, physical self the obscene unconscious of our electronic avatar?

The age of what I dubbed Postmodern 2.0 takes the fantasy-reality dynamics further and more complicated. It is not just blurred, but inverted qua monitor. Of course, this inversion is not a simple one but one that should be noted in a nonlinear function of interactivity (although I do not have the space to develop that here). Slavoj Žižek once noted that we need the excuse of fiction to stage our true identity [citation needed]. A proper move for me is to go one step further and take into account the interactivity of today’s online and digital fiction — Lev Manovich’s move from traditional cinema to digital and “soft” cinema — and question the psychoanalytic dynamics of such processes. Is not today’s anxieties of oversharing the ultimate proof that something radical is going on in the dynamics of our Imaginary order?