Archive for cyberculture studies

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.

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.

Arse Elektronika 2008 Report!

Posted in Announcements! with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Eating My Cake and Having It Too

Eating My Cake and Having It Too

So I was not able to get permission to enter the US for Arse Elektronika, but as host Johannes Grenzfurthner put it, we managed to trick the State department by filming my lecture beforehand and doing a telepresence via Skype connection. Don’t know Arse Elektronika? Check these links out:

Click here if you want yet more links.

And it was wonderful! I kept following Bonnie Ruberg’s twitter-updates on the event and watched as dozens of photos are being uploaded, and of course the MP3 recordings of the talk. You can find all of the MP3s here, but of course, I’ll be generous and provide a direct link to my talk and the massive all-star closure panel, in which I had the chance to clarify certain things I left out in the original talk. Here they are:

Bonni Rambatan — From Computer-Mediated Sex to Computer-Generated Sexuality:
MP3 | Video | Lecture Notes

Arse Elektronika 2008 Closure Panel, featuring all participants:

There is also a launching of Pr0nnovation? monochrom’s Arse Elektronika Anthology, and of course I’m getting my copy. Get yours here for $25.

And, last but not least, Flickr photos!

But ah, if you also have photos or want to browse more, just join the Arse Elektronika 2008 Flickr group!

So yeah, it was a lot of fun — very sexy, truly geeky, and all the time critical and intriguing. Though I cannot say I fully agree and endorse all the views of the speakers, nonetheless they are smart people worth listening to, far from your usual daily hedonist club. I am very glad that the Skype telepresence and filmed lecture screening went well (not to mention properly fitting the futuristic sci-fi setting!).

The only downside, though (beside missing all the live physical fun), is that it turns out to be pretty hard to predict how long you should talk and how detailed you have to explain things, since I cannot see the audience’s expression. In hindsight, I don’t think I did too well on the Q&A. My paranoid fantasy of me never getting my real point across still haunts. But I guess satisfactory audience understanding is my objet a, much as the electric sheep is the object-cause of desire for your stereotypical android.

UPDATE (10/06): Oh, and hey, there is now a picture of my televised self taken by Mela Mikes. Also, my talk is now available on TPM’s YouTube channel. Go and watch it if you haven’t, TPM readers! ;)

Of Facebook and Porn

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , on September 27, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

image credit: Mashable

Much debate has been going on lately surrounding the idea of whether Facebook is actually killing online porn. Although the idea has been around for almost a year and a half on Mashable, it looks like that it is just now with the recent publication of Bill Tancer’s Click: What Millions of People do Online and Why it Matters that people debate about it. Many say no, that it is only a matter of statistics, that people still surf for porn but use other mediums to find it (e.g. UGC sites like YouPorn or P2P networks), etc. And although I tend to agree with those who say no, I still consider it nevertheless important never to underestimate the changing ways of online communication.

The question is not whether porn is dying or not — while piracy may be killing the big industries, I am sure that people will still be looking at online porn for a long time. The question is why are people so attracted to other things that are not porn at all? This is not meant to be an ironic comment — when you think about it, unless you’re serious about using them as a professional networking tool, social networking sites and MMOs barely have more productive things to generate than online porn. So why go for social networks at all?

The typical answer is of course that we wil always still need social connections. But is not the opposite rather true — we are getting more and more tired of real social connections, and we leave it up to the web to do it for us? The logic of the Žižekian interpassive subject applies all too well — with Facebook, we can just add a friend and forget about making a real connection with her/him without feeling guilty about it! Is this not why we love the social Web in first place — because talking and connecting in real life needs too much effort?

Pornography, I would claim, has the same logic. Recall the standard implicit moral disclaimer that real-life sex will never be as good as pornography (it is much more awkward, has so much more bad sounds and smells and unpleasant tactile sensations, we have to constantly negotiate our partner(s)’s bad taste remarks, etc…). Is this not why we can enjoy watching pornography without feeling jealous to the people behind the screen — because we know perfectly well that, if we are in their place, having the real experience, things may not turn out as good as our fantasies? Cybersex is much less tiring than real sex, but nevertheless fantasy can be sustained just as well. The computer already reach orgasms for us.

How, then, should we read the correlation between the rise of Facebook and the decline of porn into the mainstream Web? It is not the usual one that maintains how the Internet is finally put into better use by having less LOLcats and porn. Nor it is the other usual skeptic one that argues that porn is not declining at all, but moving into another realm of the Web, as it were, as mentioned above. My thesis here is much more pessimistic: I would claim that this only proves that we are not only satisfied with externalizing sex so that we do not have to do it (and whenever we do it we need more and more enhancements to keep up with our fantasies and be able to forget the dirty, tiring, awkward parts — dildos, cocaine, viagra, anal beads… — to such extent that there are no longer “real” sex), but that we now find more and more an injunction to externalize our human connections — to “map out [online] every possible human connection” we have, as Mark Zuckerberg famously put it.

I should warn once again, however, that all this is not even meant to be a criticism of the social Web, but a pointing out of its strength. If anything, I will be the first person in any room of skeptic intellectuals who would shamelessly say out loud that he loves technology outright — I am far from being a technophobe; one could even call me a Promethean. Let us just not have too much illusions about it — but neither too much illusions of what the subject essentially is.

Arse Elektronika 2008 Coming Up!

Posted in Announcements! with tags , , , , , , , on September 6, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Arse Elektronika 2008

Arse Elektronika 2008

Hi, TPM readers! I’m excited to announce that Arse Elektronika 2008 is coming up in less than three weeks! If you happen to be either 1) a culture/sex/tech theorist, 2) a sexy geek, or 3) a geeky pervert and are in or near San Francisco in September 25th to 28th, go and grab your tickets now because it will be an event you wouldn’t want to miss out!

Since I am all three above, I am privileged enough to be a speaker, and I’ll be presenting my latest research paper titled “From Computer-Mediated Sex to Computer-Generated Sexuality: An Outlook on the Posthuman Sexual Trope” (abstract available here — scroll down to my name) on the final day (September 28th) at 1 PM. I had a little trouble coming to the States last time (the country won’t let me in), but this time things should (hopefully) work out.

For those of you who cannot come, I will post a download link to my lecture notes in PDF on this website after the event is over. An audio recording of my lecture will also be available at a later time.

Stay tuned to The Posthuman Marxist, and see you in San Francisco!



And this also means I will be canceling ALL my future appearances in the United States indefinitely. I cannot tell you how this news frustrates me. But I will continue to provide links to resources on this website.

The Dora Democracy

Posted in Pop Culture with tags , , , , , on September 1, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Dora the Explorer

Dora the Explorer

Our democracy today feels more and more like a derivation of the popular children’s show Dora the Explorer. The reason for this is clear: note how Dora interacts with the children as though they really have a role to play. Recall her catchphrase, in her awfully cute voice: “We could not have done it without your help!” — does this not echo our ironic presupposed faith today that our false democracy could not be possible without our help? In fact, as the show, it very well is possible.

The irony, of course, does not stop there. Are we not actually aware that there is something very wrong with democracy, as the viewers of Dora are aware that they are only playing games with the show (ask any children, they are not idiots)? The problem is thus not that our democracy is a false one, but how we react to the fact as such. Like watching Dora, the falseness of democracy itself seems to me to become more and more of a mere spectacle to today’s society — part of the entertainment comes from assuming that other subjects really believe in the spectacle. The problem is not that the show is purely a fake — if anything, we prefer fakes, in more senses than one — but that we view ourselves as subjects supposed to enjoy instead of active political agents, the latter replaced by a fantasy of subjects supposed to believe, i.e. the presupposed other children with whom Dora and Boots would not have made it past the three obstacles.

Let us go a little bit deeper and notice how cursors play a significant role in the show: Dora the Explorer introduces children to cyberculture. But at the same time, recall it’s message: your interaction is merely a fake (even in the games, I would argue, that take the form of non-avatarial play, but I will not develop that here) but nevertheless you must enjoy this fakeness! Topped with other warning messages in original DVDs and the now popular anti-piracy curriculum for kids, it seems that we are never supposed to actually play an active role in what seems to be an interactive realm.

I’m not putting up a case against Dora specifically here — in fact I actually like the show — but what I intend to bring into light here is that we should never dismiss the inherent ideologies that cultural artifacts for children play, despite its apparent cuteness and political correctness (the Hispanic Dora, etc.). If anything, we should not reject the conservative Right’s incessant ramblings of “What are they teaching children these days?” but instead turn the question around against them.

Hello, World!

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

“Hello, World!” is the standard opening template of the WordPress blog. It is also the standard template for test runs of computer language. It is fascinating – to me, this statement is precisely the mark of the beginning of the posthuman. Humans greeting the entirety of the world using a computer – precisely such is the beginning of how we became posthuman. “Hello World!” shifts the subject of action of saying “Hello” not only to the other side of the screen, but also a paradigm that this other side of the screen is so much more superior than our biological side, perhaps even divinely so, seeing the grandeur of the object. If “Enjoy!” is the superego of the postmodern society, as Slavoj Žižek put it, I would argue that “Hello, World!” is the superego of a society of the Postmodern 2.0, with all its trends of user-generated content and increasing connectivity and user-friendliness. It is not even an understatement, I am tempted to claim, that “Hello World!” is, simply, pure ideology. In a Marxist definition that ideology is what society does without realizing that they are doing it, does this simple sentence not precisely reflect today’s injunction to be connected, to say “Hello” to the world? It is no longer a voyeuristic society, as Baudrillard put it, but an exhibitionist one – not a consumerist society, but – to use Don Tapscott’s term – a prosumerist one. Where do we lie in this society? What does “Hello, World!” promise us? If the postmodern presents false freedom and false cynicism, does Postmodern 2.0 give us a false sense of social connectivity and open public sphere? More fundamentally, in Lacanian speak, to what imaginary world are we saying “Hello,” using what kind of imaginary self? Are we still living in the same postmodern world of simulacra, or has the proliferation of interactive New Media shifted us into yet another different world, a new stage of culture, one of New Simulacra? And, more importantly, what subject position does the famed simple sentence “Hello, World!” assume? What are its implications for our cultural, political, and biological life? What are we?

Hello, World, and welcome to the age of the posthuman :)