Archive for interpassive subject

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.

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.