Posts tagged with ‘R. Horning’
Social media promises a society in which anyone can and probably should investigate anyone, rationalizing a social hermeneutics of suspicion through the provision of the means to execute it. Paranoia is built into the culture, to the extent that we all embrace social media.
What’s at stake in claiming something is literary is different from claiming that some book is good. What counts as literary is a moving target, but it’s not always moving in one direction.
Of all the Trollope novels I’ve read (and, God help me, I’ve read at least 20), The Vicar of Bullhampton (1869-70) is perhaps the oddest. Its story lines are very loosely tied together, with a murder investigation taking a backseat to the gripping legal drama over whether a dissenters’ chapel will be built too close to the vicar’s garden. The love story is highly undercooked, with the eventual groom barely a character — virtually nothing he says or does is more memorable than Trollope’s initial description of his elaborate mustache. We’re invited to root for his long-suffering rival, but he is exposed in the end as something of an entitled baby, his persistence less a mark of his character than his lack of it.
As with today’s social-media free laborers — another set of semi-self-aware spies — their ordinary-schmuck amateurism turns out to be a difference-making advantage that allows them to achieve what professionals can’t. Because they work without knowing what they are working on, they can produce untainted results and unexpected innovations without demanding a proprietary interest in them. The fact that they prevail against all adversity not only vindicates the ends-based moral reasoning for setting them up as sacrificial lambs but also neatly foretells of the proletarianization of erstwhile professional vocations.
The spylike pursuit of information rather than knowledge makes us function less as thinkers than processors, personal computers — and inefficient, low-powered ones at that. We are not the subjects who know things or intentionally produce knowledge; we are instead means of circulation — objects through which information passes with more or less noise in the signal. We become not only part of a network but part of a circuit. We are pawns in a larger game, “a fly caught in the cog-wheels” as Vandassy, the narrator of Epitaph for a Spy, puts it.
In his essay for the Baffler about the disappointed expectations about flying cars and whatnot, David Graeber makes the often overlooked point that capitalism circumscribes technological development as much as it instigates it. In other words, technology can be developed to protect the status quo, not trasform it. When corporations and the governments that serve corporate interests look to fund technology, the criteria relate to whether the expected fruits will serve to reproduce the existing order of things — that is, whether the technology will strengthen capitalism. The criteria is not necessarily whether overall human life will be improved, obviously. (For example, Klout exists.)
When my paranoia threatens to surge out of control, I’ll sometimes fantasize about being a spy. It gives my suspicions a purpose. It seems to dignify my furtiveness, even reverse it. Rather than try to avoid people, I can pretend I am keeping them under observation, and what is at stake is not whether they like me, but some larger question of whether they can be trusted, in the abstract. It seems like a way to defeat self-consciousness to disappear into a mission. Rather than feel powerless, a cog in an grueling and indifferent social machine, I can turn my observations into discoveries of other people’s secrets and wonder whether I know too much. I can start to pretend that maybe there are good reasons I often feel I’m being kept in the dark. It’s for my own safety.
Please forgive the amateur futurism I’m about to launch into here, but it’s easy to see how the ineffability of friendship will be banished for ordinary people, becoming the province and mark of the elite. Just as executives reserve the right to not be quantified at work, mystifying their work as an emanation of their personality, so will elites evade privacy-invading social media as a way to express and conserve their power. “I don’t need to be on Facebook; I’m important enough to be told individually about parties, which are too exclusive for such broadcasting anyway.” In a reversal of Facebook’s Ivy League-only origins, social life for elites will recede from social media and will seem like “elite behavior” to participants precisely because it is unmediated. For elites, the motto will be “pics and it never happened.”