To some extend, Twitter, with its 140 character limit and its encouragement of instantness and impulsive comments, has turned its users into bot-like creatures, who keep tweeting the same lines, the same reactions, the same ideas, the same arguments. If you are a Twitter user and don’t believe this, just type “[often used word(s)] from:yourusername” into Twitter search. Looking at my own results was pretty uncomfortable.
Sure, there is more humor and irony on Twitter than what you can expect from the encounter with a customer service bot. But only among a subset of users. And only as long as the discussion doesn’t touch sensitive topics such as [enter random object of outrage]. If that happens, everyone sticks to their pre-fabricated text blocks and appears to follow a very narrow conversation protocol.
A quarter-century ago when I first wrote about VR, Jaron Lanier was talking about how we could all become lobsters. Today, porn-VR entrepreneurs are talking about how we can all become lizards. Plus ca change…
From “Behind the Scenes of Tori Black’s Virtual Reality Porn Debut,” by Sarah Ratchford in Vice:
[VR porn exec] Young says this is a good opportunity for people to gain more agency over their identity.
“I think there’s going to be almost like a renaissance. People are going to be able to explore their sexuality in a way that they’ve never been able to before.”
“It’s crazy too, because people may not choose to represent themselves the way that they are in the real world in a VR space,” he says. “You know, I might talk to you and you like lizards, and you’re a big lizard. And I’m an ice cream cone. But if that’s how I choose to represent myself as an avatar, then so be it. And we can still step into a space and have an exciting, interactive and intimate connection with each other.
“[You can] assume the body you like, assume the gender you like, the race you like, and be yourself and explore sexuality. It’s amazing; it’s what we’re on this planet to do.”
…I ask [actress Tori] Black what she thinks, whether she needs her real world boundaries to apply in virtual land.
“I don’t care what my avatar does,” she says, “because my avatar isn’t who I am. So yeah, all the things that you want me to do that I decline, go ahead and have my avatar do them and be like, ‘Hey, look! She finally did it!’ I’ll be like yeah, great. It didn’t cross any of my boundaries because it’s all in the computer… I’m completely disconnected.”
She says the virtual porn landscape is a place for exploration, and those who are uncomfortable with the idea of lack of consent just shouldn’t get involved with it.
From a 2012 Pitchfork interview with Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus:
Pitchfork: Why is that car-crash track called “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With the Flood of Detritus”?
Stickles: We had this song [on The Airing of Grievances] called “Upon Viewing Brueghel’s ‘Landscape With the Fall of Icarus'”, so I borrowed the syntax. It’s kind of the sequel. In the painting from the original song, in the corner, you see this tiny guy falling into the ocean. It’s been interpreted as: It’s a big world, and people go about their business, and little tragedies are happening all the time, and what are you going to do?
That was my experience in seeing this car crash. It’s horrible, but you can’t do anything but get on with your life, however insignificant it may seem. In our case, we were going to play a concert. What can you do? Nothing. It is scary. It is brutal.
Pitchfork: On the album’s first track, “Ecce Homo”, you sing about how everything’s worthless…
Stickles: … I meant for that to be hopeful. Because in the absence of meaning we have the power to create meaning. Everything is worthless, yes. But because of that, it’s our privilege to decide what is actually worthwhile for ourselves and our own standards. We have the power to create our own morality and determine our own values.
90-year-old sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, interviewed in El Pais:
The question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task: you have to create your own community. But communities aren’t created, and you either have one or you don’t. What the social networks can create is a substitute. The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You feel in control. You can add friends if you wish, you can delete them if you wish. You are in control of the important people to whom you relate. People feel a little better as a result, because loneliness, abandonment, is the great fear in our individualist age.
But it’s so easy to add or remove friends on the internet that people fail to learn the real social skills, which you need when you go to the street, when you go to your workplace, where you find lots of people who you need to enter into sensible interaction with. Pope Francis, who is a great man, gave his first interview after being elected to Eugenio Scalfari, an Italian journalist who is also a self-proclaimed atheist. It was a sign: real dialogue isn’t about talking to people who believe the same things as you. Social media don’t teach us to dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy…
What happens when we know that someone is faking a feeling? We might sense implicitly that our overworked waiter isn’t actually happy to see us when we sit down at his table, but unspoken social conventions allow us to make as much of a pretense of believing his feelings as the waiter does of performing them. But when we interact with robots that we know have been programmed to give everyone the same friendly greeting regardless of anyone’s actual feelings, that unspoken compact disappears… The risk is not a world run by robots (although employers in Japan already use Smile-Scan machines to analyze the smiles of their service workers). The risk is that outsourcing emotional labor to robots and machines could lead to mass emotional deskilling on the part of people.
Cast of thousands
But we were the real two
And when I’m alone
Before a mirror late at night
I will reveal you
I will reveal you
The most recent Mountain Goats album, Beat the Champ, is a song cycle about professional wrestling. Paste magazine interviewed singer/songwriter John Darnielle and asked him if he would ever write a novel on the topic. He responded with ambivalence.
Darnielle: The thing to do would be to believe it. Most of the time when people write about wrestlers, they want to talk about the conflict between the actual person and this character and so on and so forth. Whereas I think Wrestler’s Cruel Study did this — had the character be the character, like believe that Kevin Sullivan is into the occult. And if you believe that stuff, then it’s more interesting than I think some human interest angle of the man behind the mask.
Paste: Yeah. You should work on that.
Darnielle: Because the mask tell you more about the man than the man ever can.
Andreas Birkbak & Hjalmar Bang Carlsen, “The World of Edgerank: Rhetorical Justifications of Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm,” in Computational Culture:
We found that prudent action in the world of Edgerank is to be authentically engaged and able to engage others. It follows that a central tension in the Edgerank grammar is that between authenticity and automation. The automated calculation of relevance is on the one hand necessary for users in a world filled with signals, and on the other hand always in danger of flattening the world to a point where the user is unable to be affected by it.
[Edgerank is a name, now somewhat deprecated, for Facebook’s scoring system that determines what you see in the newsfeed.]
David Heinemeier Hansson (in Signal v Noise) sees the upside in wanting to be like people you admire:
‘Just be yourself!’ is commonly served as encouragement for people facing challenges in life. Whether that be in personal relationships or job hunts or speaking at a conference. If you’re already the perfect person, that’s sound advice. If not, it’s worth closer examination.
Whoever you happen to be right now, at this very moment, is highly unlikely to be the person you ultimately want to be. Maybe you occasionally have a short temper. Maybe you don’t know as much about programming or speaking at conferences as you’d like to. Maybe you procrastinate too much.
Whatever it is, you could probably stand to be more like other people in a bunch of areas. Being content merely being ‘you’, and whatever incremental iteration on that concept you can scrape together, is a sigh of resignation.
Don’t assume readers know anything at all about who you are or what you think. James Fallows on his Atlantic blog:
I have never before received anything close to this volume of response on Twitter, and it has never been more vitriolic. And all of it from people taking obvious (to me) sarcasm right at face value. Live and learn. I have learned that on Twitter, you cannot assume that you know the audience. In particular, you cannot assume that an audience beyond the one you intend will recognize the difference between sarcasm and sincerity.
Rob Horning in the New Inquiry, July 10 2015:
“Much like cable television narrows our exercise of choice amid the field of possible information to flipping channels, Facebook narrows it to the single action of ‘scrolling down’ through the programming it has seen fit to algorithmically supply….So the problem is not that Facebook users have insufficient control over the algorithm that displays content; it’s that users are willing to use Facebook as their primary gateway to the world, a kind of television with the minor improvement that the local news always includes reports on people you know. This leads to seeing the world only as so much content that Facebook can sort and prioritize and reify and sell. Facebook becomes (much like television had been before it) the medium that confers reality on experience. Until the News Feed algorithm has processed something, revealing its overall significance in our social graph, it really doesn’t properly exist. The moment the algorithm assimilates it is the moment when something actually happens.”