Friday, June 10, 2016

Losing Ourselves to Become Selfies

I really enjoyed reading Edward Mendelson's (Columbia University) "In the Depths of the Digital Age." What it means to be a "person" is changing as I type these words. Mendelson reviews six recent books that explain how the analogue self is now replaced by the digital selfie. Here's a few bullets.
  • "In popular culture, the zombie apocalypse is now the favored fantasy of disaster in horror movies set in the near future because it has already been prefigured in reality: the undead lurch through the streets, each staring blankly at a screen."
  • We now have people "whose only talent is for insistent self-exposure."

  • "Harcourt describes a new kind of psyche that seeks, through its exposed virtual self, satisfactions of approval and notoriety that it can never truly find. It exists in order to be observed; it must continually create itself by updating its declared “status,” by revealing itself in Facebook narratives and Instagram images, while our “conscientious ethical selves” need to be reminded—by ourselves and others—to exist at all. Harcourt apparently does not expect such reminders to have much effect and concludes despairingly: “It is precisely our desires and passions that have enslaved us, exposed us, and ensnared us in this digital shell as hard as steel.”" (Citing Bernard Harcourt, Exposed: Desire and Disobedience in the Digital Age.)

  • We are becoming selfies, not selves.

  • Virginia Heffernan writes that the Internet “stirs grief: the deep feeling that digitization has cost us something very profound,” through alienation from voices and bodies that can find comfort in each other. Digital connectedness, she concludes, “is illusory;…we’re all more alone than ever.” (See Heffernan, Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art. Cmp. Sherry Turkle's Reclaiming Conversation, where Turkle shows how increasing online connectedness increases loneliness.)

  • From Wendy Hui Kyong Chun's Updating to Remain the Same"The habit of constant updating of one’s Facebook status, always reusing a familiar conventional syntax, paradoxically leaves everything the same. “To be is to be updated”: one must update in order to give “evidence of one’s ongoing existence.” Hence Chun’s subtitle: “Habitual New Media.” The Internet, in its vastness, induces a sense of personal powerlessness that can be relieved by joining a crowd—until the crowd reshapes itself, as it always does, and must be joined again. As the Red Queen told Alice, “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”"

  • The internet is more habitual than innovative. (Think about it. Facebook is the land of the eternal same.)