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.