It seems to me that Facebook, et al., represent capital’s current attempt to reconcile the productivity of subjectivity with capitalism and neutralize the liberatory potential inherent in that productivity. Social media allow us to expand our identity and the amount of work we can sink into it without that work prompting an escape from or an elaboration of alternative to capitalist relations. At the same time, that flow of work becomes increasingly deployable by capital to make profit as it sees fit even as it retains its unique meaningfulness for the worker. In other words, socialmedia compel labor not through wages but through the promise of apparent self-actualization.

Rob Horning, Facebook and living labor

It seems to me that Facebook, et al., represent capital’s current attempt to reconcile the productivity of subjectivity with capitalism and neutralize the liberatory potential inherent in that productivity. Social media allow us to expand our identity and the amount of work we can sink into it without that work prompting an escape from or an elaboration of alternative to capitalist relations. At the same time, that flow of work becomes increasingly deployable by capital to make profit as it sees fit even as it retains its unique meaningfulness for the worker. In other words, socialmedia compel labor not through wages but through the promise of apparent self-actualization.

Rob Horning, Facebook and living labor

With its veneer of conformity, suburbia imparts a sense of aggrieved, threatened individuality, but more important, it gives its children a constitutive myopia about it, making it impossible for them to see that the ambitious discontentedness, the certitude that one is far more special than the mediocrity of shopping malls and chain restaurants and the rest, is part of the code for reproducing the suburbs, not a disruptive mutation. In short, it would be weird if you didn’t feel alienated. Radical alienation is the first step toward cynicism and pliancy. You meet people at a high school reunion and discover that actually you all hated the same thing back then — yourself. It just got expressed in different ways: listening to Van Halen, listening to U2.
- Rob Horning, Outgrowing Oneself

With its veneer of conformity, suburbia imparts a sense of aggrieved, threatened individuality, but more important, it gives its children a constitutive myopia about it, making it impossible for them to see that the ambitious discontentedness, the certitude that one is far more special than the mediocrity of shopping malls and chain restaurants and the rest, is part of the code for reproducing the suburbs, not a disruptive mutation. In short, it would be weird if you didn’t feel alienated. Radical alienation is the first step toward cynicism and pliancy. You meet people at a high school reunion and discover that actually you all hated the same thing back then — yourself. It just got expressed in different ways: listening to Van Halen, listening to U2.

- Rob Horning, Outgrowing Oneself


One of the tragedies of getting old is seeing this perspective confirmed in the indifferent destinies of commodities that were once far more than mere commodities to you. Distinctions that seemed crucial, epochal, even existential, are slowly eroded until you are forced to admit to yourself that maybe they never existed at all. Or at best, the distinctions were not ontological, not in the intrinsic nature of the things you cared about, but were instead historically contingent. Which in turn means your sense of self, the differences that were so salient and so definitive of how you thought of yourself, were also contingent, historical artifacts.

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One of the tragedies of getting old is seeing this perspective confirmed in the indifferent destinies of commodities that were once far more than mere commodities to you. Distinctions that seemed crucial, epochal, even existential, are slowly eroded until you are forced to admit to yourself that maybe they never existed at all. Or at best, the distinctions were not ontological, not in the intrinsic nature of the things you cared about, but were instead historically contingent. Which in turn means your sense of self, the differences that were so salient and so definitive of how you thought of yourself, were also contingent, historical artifacts.

Read More

By definition, hype is never a surprise, an accident. In fact, we know when something has gone “viral” precisely because it hasn’t been hyped in advance; its spread is unexpected. Why something like Rebecca Black’s “Friday” caught on is a legitimate question, the birth of meme-ology. Something like Lena Dunham’s HBO show Girls is another matter. It is not a meme. It can only be understood within the context of its preparatory promotion. As Powers argues, “Hype is a state of anticipation generated through the circulation of promotion, resulting in a crisis of value.” The crisis of value is in part aesthetic — the intensity of hype implies the thing in question can’t stand on its own and can’t attract its own audience.
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By definition, hype is never a surprise, an accident. In fact, we know when something has gone “viral” precisely because it hasn’t been hyped in advance; its spread is unexpected. Why something like Rebecca Black’s “Friday” caught on is a legitimate question, the birth of meme-ology. Something like Lena Dunham’s HBO show Girls is another matter. It is not a meme. It can only be understood within the context of its preparatory promotion. As Powers argues, “Hype is a state of anticipation generated through the circulation of promotion, resulting in a crisis of value.” The crisis of value is in part aesthetic — the intensity of hype implies the thing in question can’t stand on its own and can’t attract its own audience.

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I am drawn by this design that seems to make no place for me, that makes no concessions to anything a person like me would find appealing. I am also drawn by the thought of listening to a revered musician’s rejected work. It gives me intimations of immortality — I’ve got so much time left that I can burn some of it listening to Beautiful Vision instead of Astral Weeks. I’m not worried about time. I’ve beaten the hype cycle. Listening to “bad” albums also indulges that arrogant side of fandom that leads me to believe that I can hear the greatness in records lesser fans are beguiled by. I am the only one who appreciates their merit; I alone understand where Morrison in his genius was coming from. I too am an artist, an artist of listening.
"Heroic Tedium and Anti-Nostalgia"  |  Read More.

I am drawn by this design that seems to make no place for me, that makes no concessions to anything a person like me would find appealing. I am also drawn by the thought of listening to a revered musician’s rejected work. It gives me intimations of immortality — I’ve got so much time left that I can burn some of it listening to Beautiful Vision instead of Astral Weeks. I’m not worried about time. I’ve beaten the hype cycle. Listening to “bad” albums also indulges that arrogant side of fandom that leads me to believe that I can hear the greatness in records lesser fans are beguiled by. I am the only one who appreciates their merit; I alone understand where Morrison in his genius was coming from. I too am an artist, an artist of listening.

"Heroic Tedium and Anti-Nostalgia"  |  Read More.

Rigorous Self-Critique

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I found this written on a post-it note on my desk under a pile of papers, and I can’t remember what it was supposed to be for. I think it might be the conclusion to an essay I may never have written.

The desire to feel like an individual is a false need instigated by capitalism to make us productive in the social factory and to make us consume more in pursuit of a reified authenticity.

Not surprisingly, I find myself persuasive, but this still has problems. Talking about the truth or falsity of needs is probably counterproductive; it doesn’t change the fact that they are experienced and that they have behavioral consequences. Still, I was trying to get at the idea of individualism as a distortion of some inarguable human requirement of social recognition, which need not take the form of being heralded as unique, as some novel innovation on the general form of “human being.” The falsity is in failing to see alternatives. (Often, what’s false is the or in “true or false.”)

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Value-seeking surveillance and The Hunger Games

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I just finished reading the first book of The Hunger Games.Given my hobbyhorses, it’s probably not surprising that  I read it entirely as a novel about the ramifications of having to live as if life is a reality-television show. [UPDATE: Having seen the film, that seems an inescapable interpretation.] That is, it’s designed to appeal to teenagers (and everyone else) who all live with the unavoidable pressure of being scrutinized as a source of entertainment. The novel explores the effects of living under constant value-seeking surveillance, what it does us to know that someone is always trying to get something out of watching us (even if it’s just marketing data) and not being sure how far we should play along with and play to the unseen eyes.

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If we want people to be able to live with themselves and their shortcomings (if they are to have their “fig leaf”), we need to have irrational distributions of power and privilege that seem like a matter of luck. Then losers can tell themselves they are unlucky rather than inept or incompetent, and this leads to greater welfare for all, at the level of well-being if not in material terms. But propagating the myth of meritocracy also serves as a  justification for inequality and is even more effective as a divide-and-conquer tactic. The illusion of meritocracy creates a kind of prisoner’s dilemma where it becomes more beneficial to outcompete other individuals rather than cooperate for the broader social good, because you never can be sure whether others are cooperating or merely pretending to while building their personal résumé.
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If we want people to be able to live with themselves and their shortcomings (if they are to have their “fig leaf”), we need to have irrational distributions of power and privilege that seem like a matter of luck. Then losers can tell themselves they are unlucky rather than inept or incompetent, and this leads to greater welfare for all, at the level of well-being if not in material terms. But propagating the myth of meritocracy also serves as a  justification for inequality and is even more effective as a divide-and-conquer tactic. The illusion of meritocracy creates a kind of prisoner’s dilemma where it becomes more beneficial to outcompete other individuals rather than cooperate for the broader social good, because you never can be sure whether others are cooperating or merely pretending to while building their personal résumé.

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In Wild in the Streets, teenagers secure the right to vote, vote themselves into power, and have all adults imprisoned in camps where they are kept high on LSD until they die. In The Greening of America, Reich explains how most Americans are trapped in Consciousness II — his jargon for the organization-man mentality, for the technocatic meritocratic Corporate system that made everyone into uptight, status-seeking drones with no “real” self — whereas the new youth movement is attaining Consciousness III, authentic and self-actualized beings who take the “individual self as the only reality” and groove on genuine “experiences.” Reich represents these stages of consciousness as progressive, heading toward inevitable overturning of the social structure, but it’s interesting how closely they parallel Boltanski and Chiapello’s three successive “spirits of capitalism” — the hegemonic ideology that justifies capitalism and neutralizes critique. What Reich sees as “mind blowing” becomes the basis for ideological corrections; his Consciousness III is the new spirit of post-Fordist capitalism, wtih its championing of flexible, liberated worker-entrepreneurs who scorn stability and embrace openness to new challenges.
I signed up for Pinterest without really knowing what it was, out of a general sense that it is important to reserve a user name on any service that’s garnering attention. When I found that it was an image aggregator, I didn’t understand what the fuss was about. Why would I want to serve as a volunteer photo researcher? How is Pinterest any different from those Tumblrs set up to display a mosaic of images? Is it supposed to be a Twitter of images or something? I couldn’t imagine what I would use it for, so I sort of forgot about it.
But recently Pinterest has entered the mainstream, as a para-retailing apparatus presumed to appeal mainly to women. The site’s supposed femaleness has occasioned a lot of theorizing, some of which Nathan Jurgenson details in this post, as has its anodyne commerciality. Bon Stewart argues that Pinterest, since it discourages self-promotion and relies entirely on the appropriation of someone else’s creative expression, turns curation into passive consumerism; it allows for the construction and circulation of a bland sanitized “Stepford” identity. In other words, it becomes another tool for enhancing our digital brands at the expense of the possibility of an uncommodified self.
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I signed up for Pinterest without really knowing what it was, out of a general sense that it is important to reserve a user name on any service that’s garnering attention. When I found that it was an image aggregator, I didn’t understand what the fuss was about. Why would I want to serve as a volunteer photo researcher? How is Pinterest any different from those Tumblrs set up to display a mosaic of images? Is it supposed to be a Twitter of images or something? I couldn’t imagine what I would use it for, so I sort of forgot about it.

But recently Pinterest has entered the mainstream, as a para-retailing apparatus presumed to appeal mainly to women. The site’s supposed femaleness has occasioned a lot of theorizing, some of which Nathan Jurgenson details in this post, as has its anodyne commerciality. Bon Stewart argues that Pinterest, since it discourages self-promotion and relies entirely on the appropriation of someone else’s creative expression, turns curation into passive consumerism; it allows for the construction and circulation of a bland sanitized “Stepford” identity. In other words, it becomes another tool for enhancing our digital brands at the expense of the possibility of an uncommodified self.

Read More.