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<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium Part One, sectio
Patrice Riemens on Mon, 7 Apr 2014 13:28:19 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium Part One, section #10

(section 10)

Substitutes for presence and emotional solace

Many question marks remain on the issue of language, which is, as we wrote
earlier, the second boundary of human, and hence, social, experience.
Social network algorithms are in any case much less sophisticated than the
human language, the semantic web is still in its infancy, and hence, for
the time being, it is up to the users to make themselves better understood
by machines, which they do by compulsively updating their online profile,
by holding back on their emotive expression in order to fit into the 140
signs limit (the prescribed Twitter format), or by endlessly clicking the
'Like' button.

The first (human) boundary, the body, gets an even more brutal treatment.
One must physically adjust to the social media, by being instantly
reactive, and by training for a new digital mobility - literally so: the
motricity of one's fingertips, so as to handle ever smaller keyboards and
touch screens. It is the eye, however, which moves into the driver's seat
as, and despite the (yet unfulfilled) promises of 'virtual reality', the
screen presents the sole access point to these media. Touch, taste, and
smell are entirely absent (save for some video games where there is some
touch simulation - but still only through the screen). These senses are 
under-used in real life also, anyway. Hearing has to cope with low-quality
sounds: those from an mp3 device, or the ringtones of a mobile phone,
which are rubbish compared to to analog stereo. And yet, what is expected
from social media is always the contact with others, hence a physical
contact, even if it has to be mediated. Seen in this light, all social
media are a way to substitute for presence and make it possible to create
simulacra which conceal absence and physical distance. They restore
somewhat the otherwise fading remembrance of the other. Without social
media, our daily life might well-nigh become insufferable, now that we
have become accustomed to be reachable at all times, while at the same
time being able to organize the procrastination of our physical presence
since we do not possess the gift of ubiquity. Yet still, as Facebook has
promised us, we feel that we take part in the creation of new, shared
world while comfortably ensconced in front of our computer - without
running the risk of confrontation with the dangers of the physical world.

And that is not the whole story. Everything comes and happens faster
online, everything appears much more real than in reality, and everything
looks so much more - intense. So how to be with one hundred, or one
thousand, 'friends', and interact which each and every one of them? How to
keep up with all the information about people, groups, firms, newspapers,
all interesting, all influential? Well: mission impossible! On the
contrary, with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media this form of
simultaneous presence is substituted by sharing the platform prescribed by
the social medium, and becomes the experience that shapes the pattern of
everyday life. Yet, paradoxically, if you want to be socially more active,
and to train and let grow your digital self, you need to be more passive
in the physical sense. You need to spend a lot of time on your profile in
order to make it attractive and popular. You need to exercise for many
hours everyday, you must commit yourself to hands-on interaction with
smartphone and laptop. During all these hours spend online the body
becomes one big eye, with which one exercises to surf, without (being able
to?) totally immersing; the hearing is hardly ever used, yet one is always
at the ready to satisfy solicitations coming from the reality 'outside'.

Real experience then becomes rarer, but also more boring and repetitive
compared to online sociality, where everything is both more plentiful and
more fluid. It may even become tricky, since there are no 'friends' like
on Facebook in reality, nor subscribers like on Twitter. Erzatses for
presence keep reality at a distance and even tend to substitute for
reality itself, and this in an ever more convincing and less constraining
manner. Tools increasingly monopolize the very demands they pretend to
satisfy and fast become the only response possible, irreplaceable and
inevitable [43]. If everyone moves by car it becomes quite dangerous to go
on foot, even if traffic is slow. If everybody communicates by way of a
mobile, it will become difficult to find someone to chat to: the passer-by
you see in the street do talk to somebody, but that somebody stands at the
other end of an electro-magnetic spectrum. To sum it up, the real has
become much less attractive as one prefers to remain seated and use only
the glance, plus a remote and a keyboard, instead of getting up and going
out to explore reality with one's whole body and all its senses. There is
an anthropological transformation going on, which is governed by the media
as these are able to make us forget that they are mere instruments of
mediation: instead they have managed to come between our bodies and our
perception of reality.

"the media would like uys to believe that they are tools for accessing the
life experience whereas they have in fact become portals which merely
propose /frames/ (pre-scripted experiences as story-boards), all the time
translating (transmitting?) what can be lived and what can be accessed on
the network [...] A cloning the life experience takes place, not in the
meaning that the media could stand in for the experience, but because they
impose themselves as the necessary condition of that experience: they
force themselves on us through the enticement of that old madam called
Technology, whose number one asset always has been her ability to whisper
"may I help you" in our ear." [44]

So, what is the purpose of social media? We are happy to switch on our
computer and to see all our Skype contacts, to check out new mail messages
in our in-box, and to find the stuff we have posted being commented.
Social media reassure us about the existence of a thriving world outside -
and that we are truly part of it. Every SMS, every tweet, every ringing of
our mobile, do not have a merely communicative function, but they also,
foremost, reassert our confidence that we really have a presence within a
social network. The frenzy rounds of /attention-distraction/ which is the
outcome of social media usage is partially due to the fact that these
technologies are, after all, relatively young. We are still in the
learning phase of the encounter with real life.

And if we are in need of reassurance, it is because we all, to some
extent, are living in constant fear of being left behind, and left alone.
In a paradoxical way, social media are a source of both (re)comfort and
frustration. We need to check out all the time that we do indeed exist,
especially on the social plane, since we always run the risk that 'the
others' are getting together sans us, or that they are enjoying themselves
somewhere else. To find that out in real time is a real bummer to our
self-esteem. Social psychologists talk about a positive 'desertion
syndrome' and have labelled it FOMO (/Fear Our Missing Out/) [45]. We are
indeed less and less exposed to being alone, to silence, to slowness, to
depth (of thought), maybe because, ever since we have thrown out
everything about ourselves online, to stay alone would mean to have to
face an insufferable inner void and move around with a body whose
connectivity 'limbs and senses' have been severed, or with other words: to
(have) become a cripple. The development of digital social media is a
phenomenon that might be understood within a long-term process of
dis-embodiment together with an increasing focus on the sight at the
expense of other body-senses, and this through ever new media-centered
technologies. We do have a long history of distancing ourselves from
reality and attempting to master it from the outside, through an
all-powerful vision (eyesight), while at the same time trying to be part
of it without getting hurt in the process. In a certain sense we have
here, in a nutshell, the whole history of the technical system of the
western world. We will return to that aspect at length latter on. But for
now, let's take a step back, as far as the physical body is concerned, and
take a step forward, with regard to online sociality. Now, we are going to
look at the political condition, stricto sensu, of digital social

End of section 10

(to be continued)

Part II: The Libertarian World Domination Project: Hacking, Social
Network(s), Activism and Institutional Politics


[43] Ivan Illich remains an essential source on technological tools and
the technical approach that underlies them, even if his analyses are
somewhat dated by now. The contraposition he discerns between industrial
tools and tools of conviviality remains very timely, however: "I choose
the term "conviviality" to designate the opposite of industrial
productivity. I intend it to mean autonomous and creative intercourse
among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment; and
this in contrast with the conditioned response of persons to the demands
made upon them by others, and by a man-made environment. I consider
conviviality to be individual freedom realized in personal interdependence
and, as such, an intrinsic ethical value. I believe that, in any society,
as conviviality is reduced below a certain level, no amount of industrial
productivity can effectively satisfy the needs it creates among society's
members." Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality (2007 - ?):
(the original text note quotes from a translated book, which of course I
couldn't find on-line. This fragment, however, matches that quote quite
exactly -transl.)
[44] Franco La Cecla, Sorrogati di presenza. Media e vita quotidiana,
Mondadori, Milano 2006, p26.
[45] John M Grohol, FOMO Addiction: The Fear of Missing Out:

Translated by Patrice Riemens
This translation project is supported and facilitated by:
The Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
The Antenna Foundation, Nijmegen
(http://www.antenna.nl - Dutch site)
(http://www.antenna.nl/indexeng.html - english site under construction)
Casa Nostra, Vogogna-Ossola, Italy

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