Archive for Twitter

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

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?”