5/28/10

Social Media: A Cultural Revolution?


Can Social Media Undermine Capitalism?

What makes social media a radical subculture is that in the name of digital democracy, it assigns a higher importance to the feel good concepts of "social capital" and popularity than the monetary rewards that can help grow economies and build nations.

Most social media blogs, websites and conversations are designed to be captured and read by machines, not humans, with the purpose of monetizing data provided freely when you click yes in a user agreement box.

That data is mined by monitoring services who store it in a computer "cloud" and sell or trade it to other companies who use it in an attempt to add value to products and services that they market via other channels.

Social media is not the huge e-commerce websites operated by Amazon, Wal-Mart, and others. Nor is it a part of the software industry that powers PCs, business, government and mobile devices.

It is a social, not a business movement. It is dominated by Caucasians with the cultures of the Indian subcontinent well represented. African-Americans and Hispanics are at the bottom of the social media food chain.

Social media is an elite trying to get over on the mass market. And right now, mainstream business is doing more to reach out and help guide social media than social media is doing to reach out and listen to business.


Class warfare between capitalism and communism played out for 150 years and with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the U.S. crisis globalism is the eye in the triangle atop the financial ecosystem.

Without a rival economic system to challenge it, globalism now competes with itself. And, in the process of doing so, may be incubating its own enemy within.

Emerging from its cocoon with some help from the venture capitalists on Silicon Valley's Sand Hill Road, the brave new world known as social media seeks to the flatten the entrepreneurial focus of the emerging digital economy.

It's becoming a playground of blogs, tribes and conversations that reduce business from being the driver of market and oligopoly capitalism into an experience of stories, feelings and the wisdom of online crowds.

In the United States, social media tools like blogs, Twitter and fundraising websites helped Team Obama carry the banner of "Change You Can Believe In" to victory in 2008.

Now, however, the White House is using social media to avoid a failed presidency and manage expectations downward as the US attempts to rebound from the economic crisis in the midst of a global credit crunch.

Social media is too new for slow moving government bureaucrats to regulate it, so its deceptive practices and bad actors get off easy with "guideline" status. Ethics and anti-corruption gurus like Lawrence Lessig don't go near that part of it .

And since its all about advertising and marketing conducted in the form of conversations designed to shape consumer and business opinion about products and services there is no return on investment (ROI). Nothing is sold directly, therefore there's nothing to tax ... a big reason globalism likes it.

If you want to mobilize millions for earthquake relief in Haiti social media is a great tool. But the short attention span of social media Tweeple don't remember Bangladesh, a disaster ten times worse than Haiti that just had its 40th anniversary and hasn't recovered yet.

In the serial world of social media the next event will push Haiti off of the top slot on the Tweet Deck and social media users will be jonzein' for something new.

One more reason why the American Psychiatric Association has classified a key group of online behaviors- like the games people play on Facebook- as addictions in the forthcoming DMS-V, just like heroin, crack, gambling and alcoholism.

The risk factor of assimilating the same globalist and American values that precipitated the current economic malaise is why nations like Brazil, China and France, with strong national infrastructures, have tough laws governing the internet. And its why social media advocates like US secretary of state Hilary Clinton interfere in the domestic affairs of China, accusing Beijing of not being open to Washington's concept of internet democracy. That's how the Opium Wars got started...

Major global companies like Pepsi and Ford are nurturing small budget experimental social media programs designed to promote causes and understand the consumer habits of younger generations.

Social media's upside offers cheap, online advertising platforms at a time when companies and ad agencies are seeking to do more with less money.

Social media blogs and websites are also designed to capture data developed through online, debates, webinars and conversations. Bill Gates says the world should put less emphasis on developing cars that offer fuel economy and focus on low polluting vehicles that do less damage to the environment and cost $35,000.

Broadening that discussion, Carlos Ghosn at Renault-Nissan and Ratan Tata of Tata Motors are talking about fuel efficient cars available now that help roll back the pathology of underdevelopment and cost just $4,000 in India, and elsewhere in Southern Asia.

It remains to be seen if social media can earn its keep by promoting and managing a key sustainabilty conversation like this one.

Its a tough call because social media is having a problem exhibiting adult behavior associated with mainstream business values.

Social media is virtual and detached. From the viewpoint of behavioral psychology it behaves as an adaptive angry child, rather than as a stable, nurtured child because it is virtual and nobody nurtured it.

Few social media companies have produced a steady, profitable bottom line or are reluctant to show it fearing regulation and higher taxes from the Obama administration.

Those who provide the human capital that helps power social media blogs and websites sometimes work for free as interns, or for wages substantially lower than what basic jobs in mainstream advertising, public relations, and journalism pay.

What makes social media a radical subculture is that in the name of digital democracy, it assigns a higher importance to the feel good concepts of "social capital" and popularity than the monetary rewards that can help grow economies and build nations.

Most social media blogs, websites and conversations are designed to be captured and read by machines, not humans, with the purpose of monetizing data provided freely when you click yes in a user agreement box.

That data is mined by monitoring services who store it in a computer "cloud" and sell or trade it to other companies who use it in an attempt to add value to products and services that they market via other channels.

Social media is not the huge e-commerce websites operated by Amazon, Wal-Mart, and others. Nor is it a part of the software industry that powers PCs, business, government and mobile devices. It is a social, not a business movement.

It is dominated by Caucasians with the cultures of the Indian subcontinent well represented. African-Americans and Hispanics are at the bottom of the social media food chain. Social media is an elite trying to get over on the mass market.

And right now, mainstream business is doing more to reach out and help guide social media than social media is doing to reach out and listen to business.

In contrast to the three martini, gray flannel suit world of Mad Men, the high noise to volume ratio of social media bears a striking resemblance to the unfinished cultural revolution that grew out of the 1960s.

The Mad Men of the 60's didn't get it so an underground press developed to service the big market gap.

In San Francisco Rolling Stone emerged from the underground under founder Jann S. Wenner and developed a business model, reached across the Atlantic and put a global focus on cultural freedom and the notion that "the music will set you free."

Wenner became the Henry Luce of his generation by taking the road rage out of alternative media because he matured, listened and learned from the likes of Max Palevsky of Xerox and William Coblentz, who sat on the board of regents of the University of California.

He patronized rads like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin while moving his enterprise to the center, creating a huge fan base without the aid of Twitter or Facebook that helped open the market space for MTV and later, digital music and movies.

And with the Cold War still going full tilt, every kid with a sense of self in Pinsk, Plauen and Plovdiv hungered to listen to rock music and wanted a copy of Rolling Stone.

Social media has yet to find a visionary leader like Wenner. Proponents of social media say its all about listening and dialogue. But they tend to evangelize rather than educate.

The same crowd wisdom that advocates flat corporate culture, win-win outcomes and kinder gentler conversations defaults to rockstar idolatry among its own politically correct leaders.

Seth Godin, author of the popular book Lynchpin and other tomes, does not even bother to offer his flock of social media followers a place to comment or interact with him at his own website.

Where Microsoft, SAP, Oracle and Linux software applications help people do business smarter, social media is time and labor intensive. Dell Computers, with a reputation as an aggressive, bottom line company, generated a paltry $6.5 million in gross sales through a social media program involving Twitter.

The human capital required to grab that revenue, however, was 100 employees working over a two year period, each generating just $32,500 in business per year. Consistent with the hype surrounding social media, a Dell spokesperson characterized the program as "vibrant."

In their Davos video broadcast Edelman ranked the influence and credibility of social media below TV, industry analysts, and newspapers.

Yet social media thought leaders and influencers behave as if their message is the key message. And as for the power and influence of Twitter, a recent study indicates that while Twitter has 75 million user accounts, a large percent of those are inactive.

About 25% of the accounts having no followers and 40% of the accounts having never sent a single tweet. Moreover, around 80% of all Twitter users have tweeted fewer than ten times.

If globalism wants to paint a positive image of itself, social media can be one of the colors on the palette, but not a primary color.

Social media needs to grow up before living out its half-life like most other social experiments do or it will get co-opted by the globalist whale.

Now, the self image of social media seems akin to a dog or cat looking into a mirror, touching and retouching the mirror with her paw because she has no sense of self.

In the dialectic between communism and capitalism, Lenin is said to have called creatures who exhibit this sort of anomie "useful idiots".

Globalism hungers for malleable human capital and is flattening the personalities of people, national cultures and governments... who are globalism's "useful idiots?"

5/27/10

Webism & The Death of Certainty




The Road to Nihilism

This cult of intellectual appropriation has been most seductively packaged in David Shields' anti-book book, "Reality Hunger." In 587 aphorisms Shields argues that experience itself is "ambiguous." To be alive, Shields unrelentingly hammers at his reader, is to be uncertain.

Words have once again become subversive. Last February, when Helene Hegemann, the 17-year-old German author of the sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll "novel" Axolotl Roadkill, was said to have plagiarized portions of this 2010 book from a blogger, she responded by hurling a grenade of a sentence back at her accusers.

"There's no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity," the Berlin-based writer said, ironically issuing this subversive statement through her venerable publisher Ullstein-Verlag, a business which, for nearly 140 years, has been predicated upon selling copies of its authors' original words.

Note that Hegemann didn't just place authenticity above originality within her pantheon of creative values. The teenage writer's statement actually denies that originality—a central assumption of the creative economy for the past 150 years—exists.

"There's no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity."

In Hegemann's creative universe, where it's impossible to be original because everything has been said before, all that is left for the author to cultivate is the virtue of individual authenticity by, it seems, transparently reorganizing other people's work.

But in the shadow of the death sentence Hegemann imposes upon originality, what distinguishes authentic from inauthentic writing?

According to Hegemann, it's the uniqueness of the author's organization of other people's material, rather than the uniqueness of his or her writing, which defines authenticity.

As she told the daily newspaper Berliner Morgenpost, "I myself don't feel it is stealing, because I put all the material into a completely different and unique context and from the outset consistently promoted the fact that none of that is actually by me."

Artistic truth, for Hegemann, lies in the supposedly collaborative creativity of the remix.

But it's not just Hegemann,who is questioning the central creative dogmas of the last hundred years. The Creative Commons mass movement on the Internet, the meteoric success of Pirate political parties in Europe, and an increasingly widespread ambivalence about the value of copyright are all both cause and effect of our contemporary zeitgeist.

This cult of intellectual appropriation has been most seductively packaged in David Shields' anti-book book, Reality Hunger, a "manifesto" that follows the trajectory of Hegemann's thinking.

If Hegemann deploys single sentences as grenades to blow up the traditional cultural establishment, then Shields has written, or, perhaps, borrowed (since he acknowledges that many passages in Reality Hunger aren't quite his own words), a bomb of a book designed to explode all our assumptions about writing, truth, and creativity.

In 587 aphorisms, organized in sections with titles like "doubt," "memory," and "blur," Shields fires the same polemic, arguing that experience itself is "ambiguous." To be alive, Shields unrelentingly hammers at his reader, is to be uncertain.

Reality Hunger

Like any good polemicist, David Shields' ideas are provocative, simple to repeat, and deep in their implications.

In Reality Hunger he wastes no time in declaring them: we live amidst a movement of artists "who are breaking larger and larger chunks of 'reality' into their work."

These artists pursue a "deliberate unartiness"; theirs is an art that's finely crafted to look "seemingly unprocessed, unfiltered, uncensored, and unprofessional."

It's "Zapruder's Super-8 film of the Kennedy assassination," The Eminem Show, the essays of David Foster Wallace, art that's "at once desperate for authenticity and in love with artifice."

The reality it offers is one fit for the Internet age: fragmented and frenetic, always questioning the line between fact and fiction, as comfortable with mediation as a second skin, happy to glorify the feeling of reality above reality itself. The ethos of this art is what Shields aims to speak for in Reality Hunger.

A spokesman must know how to convey his message without coming off as dull or condescending, and in Reality Hunger Shields uses a tried-and-true method to do so: the book itself exemplifies the very art it means to dissect.

It consists of 617 aphorism-like fragments that range from a sentence to a paragraph in length, loosely grouped into 26 sections under headings like "mimesis" and "collage."

Arranged to suggest connections but lacking the tissue to make these connections palpable, the fragments create an invigorating reading experience because each one incites us to think -- rather than doing the thinking for us.

Part of the genius -- and the treat -- of Reality Hunger is that Shields gladly disregards boundaries, whether temporal, cultural, or artistic. Leapfrogging across centuries, continents, and cultures, the book feels sweeping and concise, timeless and timely all at once.

That Shields' deconstructions-by-fragment absorb contemporary phenomena like James Frey, hip-hop, and J.T. LeRoy makes it clear that he is interested in our particular historical moment, yet his ability to trace commonalities across cultures and centuries suggests the more fundamental ideas linking our "reality hunger" with previous eras.

Thus in fragment 10 we start in Rome, circa the 2nd century B.C., with Terence: "There's nothing to say that hasn't been said before."

A few pages later fragment 32 informs us that "the word novel, when it entered the languages of Europe . . . meant the form of writing that was formless, had no rules", and then just a few pages after that fragment 38 seems to prefigure the modernist novel: "Emerson called the new literature he'd been looking to 'a panharmonicon. Here everything is admissible -- philosophy, ethics, divinity, criticism, poetry, humor...'"

In charting this progression, is Shields arguing that writing has continually embraced formlessness as a way of making it new? Or perhaps he's claiming that as human knowledge has expanded, writers have had to create new forms to integrate it into their works.

Yet how would your answer change if I showed you fragment 53: "Suddenly everyone's tale is tellable, which seems to me a good thing, even if not everyone's story turns out to be fascinating or well told."

Reality Hunger is such a kinetic read because it's continually opening itself to new possibilities. Though the book can be read straight through, its network-like form works best when readers order the 26 sections as they choose.

Shields would likely smile approvingly at such a reading: in a nod to the creative commons that is essential to all art -- and perhaps also as an acknowledgment that his thesis is more novel for its assemblage than its constituent parts -- most of these fragments are quotes whose only attribution comes at the back of the book.

Those who insist on knowing everything can spoil the fun and flip back to see which fragments are Shields' and which are not (though Shields' source notes are often purposively vague).

These same people will be bothered that Reality Hunger is more of a breathless incitement than a laborious tract; the rest of us can enjoy the rush of thought as we scoop up fragment after addictive fragment and revel in Shields' uninhibited free-flow of ideas.

That, after all, is the joy of reading this wonderfully inconclusive provocation.

Shields' collage-like book seethes with the electricity of the possible, -- on every page it evokes that wonderful feeling that comes just before the synapse fires and your brain lights up in thought. It makes one hungry to discover the art that lives up to this thrilling manifesto.

5/25/10

Social Media: We Slave for the SocMed Corporation


Divisions of SocMed Corporation

Social Networking Is Covert Work

We are increasingly connected in social networks and may thereby seem to have more community in our lives than in the days of suburban angst and dyadic withdrawal into the claustrophobic nuclear family.

It has opened a whole new space in which people can construct identity, replacing what was lost as the workplace became deadening.

So it seems that the wage relation may no longer define people, and not only because fewer of them are drawing wages. It used to be that what compelled work was the threat of starvation.

Now it is “compelled” as immaterial labor, by the promise of being someone and earning social recognition on terms favorable to the existing social order. The surplus generated by human cooperation can be harvested online without people even realizing they are working.

That is, social life can become a covert job regardless of whether or not people think they are employed or getting a wage.

They just need to be maintaining their friendships and their creativity online — escaping the alienation and isolation brought on by suburbia, by meaningless work, by anomie and loneliness.


Work once provided a culture and a sense of belonging, an identity derived not only from the skills required but from the social rituals enacted on the proverbial shop floor and the cooperation and collaboration that takes place there and after hours.

These social bonds are the ultimate source of the “general intellect” from which social value ultimately springs.

Workplace solidarity offered a potential source of resistance to administered consumerism — which itself is an appealing meme to consume:

From the ideal of workplace cooperation stems the sentimental, nostalgic representations of lost working-class culture, as well as the tropes of contemporary workplace-based sitcoms, which offer a fantasia where the only work that takes place is the elaboration of each employee’s personality.

But the production of identity, though it relies on an audience, is no longer a collaborative project undertaken at work. Suburbanization and commuting have all worked to destroy work-life integrity — often under the ironic banner of convenience.

The transformation was fairly complete in the United States by the end of the Reagan–Bush era

The classic model of contemporary mass society is provided by the suburban or exurban location of industrial and commercial working spaces. The horizontal patterns of home construction produce low density living arrangements.

Hence the nuclear family, the shopping center, the mass media constitute the nexus of social relationships that often effectively countervail the collective tasks performed at the workplace.

This sounds a lot like what I grew up with in a 1980s exurb. Work was regarded as a drag, identity hinged on what you could get at the mall (by far the most significant and most anticipated destination in everyday life).

The overriding problem was to find ways to connect meaningfully with peers and to escape the sense of being marooned with family in a detached, isolated house.

In a sense, such feelings of disconnected isolation manifest one of the vintage contradictions of capitalism: the tension between the need to commodify labor yet still capitalize on labor cooperation in the workplace.

By streamlining work processes in order to deskill them, workers themselves began to become superfluous, and work deadening. But capital needs to extract the surplus value workers produce when they collaborate.

They can’t be demoralized to the point where they become unprofitable. This capitalistic dead-end loomed in the 20th century as “Fordist” industrialism no longer could cohere.

A delicate balance, then, must be struck between making work suck for workers (to keep it unfulfilling and alienating for them so they remain willing to sell off their labor power cheaply and seek life satisfaction in consumerism), but at the same time making being with one’s fellow workers seem fun (so we will inadvertently create value through our collaborative relations with them).

And yet we mustn’t get so cozy with co-workers as to start figuring out we could be productive without bosses — especially since the “means of production” for postindustrial work can be no more expensive than a laptop and an internet connection.

Who's the boss?: social networks' new paradigm of "play-bor"

The advent of networked sociality offers a new way for capitalism to strike the balance. Enthusiasts for online culture often present it as though it offers a solution to the problems of atomization and the “crisis in leisure.”

People no longer have the sense that they live in a world in which friendship and community-making have become as rare talents as good cabinet-making.

Instead we are increasingly connected in social networks and may thereby seem to have more community in our lives than in the days of suburban angst and dyadic withdrawal into the claustrophobic nuclear family.

It has opened a whole new space in which people can construct identity, replacing what was lost as the workplace became deadening.

So it seems that the wage relation may no longer define people, and not only because fewer of them are drawing wages. It used to be that what compelled work was the threat of starvation.

Now it is “compelled” as immaterial labor, by the promise of being someone and earning social recognition on terms favorable to the existing social order. The surplus generated by human cooperation can be harvested online without people even realizing they are working.

That is, social life can become a covert job regardless of whether or not people think they are employed or getting a wage.

They just need to be maintaining their friendships and their creativity online — escaping the alienation and isolation brought on by suburbia, by meaningless work, by anomie and loneliness.

These same ideas also emerged earlier, in the workplace, to complement the shift to a postindustrial service economy. The product manufactured, more often than not, is affect — emotions, pleasures, the other side of the coin of domination. Maurizio Lazzarato, in Towards an Inquiry into Immaterial Labor details this shift in broad terms.

Immaterial labor — “audiovisual production, advertising, fashion, the production of software, photography, cultural activities, etc.” — makes apparent consumption into a form of production. It “gives form and materializes needs, images, the tastes of consumers, and these products become in their turn powerful producers of needs, of images and of tastes.”

Work becomes a matter of creating an environment in which these things can flow.

To that end, management encourages communication and networking within the workplace, which would seem like a good thing if it weren’t merely a higher form of compulsion:

The management watchword “you are to be subjects of communication” risks becoming even more totalitarian than the rigid division between conception and execution, because the capitalist would seek to involve the very subjectivity and will of the worker within the production of value.

He would want command to arise from the subject himself, and from the communicative process : the worker controls himself and makes himself responsible within his team without intervention by the foreman, whose role would be redefined as a role of an animator.

What this phase of transformation still succeeds in hiding is that the individual and collective interests of the workers and those of the company are not one and the same.

Web 2.0, likewise, is not a solution to the atomization problem but is instead its apotheosis, the social factory. Its space is preformatted, proscribing autonomous spontaneity.

People can only express their being as media — as digitized, quantifiable expression. It makes life pursuits into odd jobs of consumerism — shaping a fashion trend here, hyping a band there, making connections between disparate products, orchestrating synergies.

Online sociality materializes the notion that people are no more than a series of signifiers articulated serially, in prescribed, administered commercial spaces.

That they are nothing more than their latest status update, and whatever response this managed to generate. Selfhood has become a broadcasting project, not the holistic, lived experience one might wish it to be.

Once, the struggle was to articulate a real, authentic-seeming identity within a work world dictated by the needs of capital. It was a matter of “not selling out” even though one sold his labor power in a way which perpetuated the system.

Now, the problem is different. Before workers developed identity and a sustaining culture in opposition to management, subverting the workplace by ingraining within it a kind of resistance, a conspiracy against capital that played out as the preservation of one’s own personal aims.

But in the new system of immaterial labor, social networking and the pseudo-employment of public self-fashioning, making one’s identity is part of the production process that is subsumed under capital.

It proceeds within commercial spaces, to suit the mutual ends private citizens share with businesses. Their respective brands become co-extensive.

5/24/10

Social Media Should Be Renamed "Drone Media"



The reams of Twitter-produced nonsense pile up in "Murmur Study"



"Hello World! or: How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love the Noise"

Generic Tweet: "Hello, World. It's Me"

Last fall, I attended a visual culture studies lecture at which the speaker compared the passage of information through modern social media to the Greek furies: an unstoppable, immaterial swarm-force.

As a participant immersed within this loosely organized horde, each of us has unlimited potential to empower ourselves by acquiring and conveying an astounding amount of information, as well as entertainment.

But many are less occupied with this potential than with our new pseudo Diary 2.0, placing all of the mundane musings, vain and searching selves, and guarded realities of the world laid open for the eyes of all.


Artist Christopher Baker's social media-based installation work, currently on display at the Visual Studies Workshop and accompanied by a fascinating essay by guest curator Marni Shindelman, reflects upon both the trends in the current behavior of online humans, and exhibits some tools he's developed to navigate the sea of social media culture.

The first work the viewer encounters in room one of the gallery is "Murmer Study," a "live Twitter visualization and archive" in which a computer selects tweets containing the noncommittal yet universal words "argh," "meh," or "hmph" and feeds them through a row of 20 wall-mounted thermal printers ticking out long reams of messages.

The mass of thoughts pooling on the floor might have been discarded to oblivion by the actual thinkers, but are immortalized online and within the encroaching mass on the bookstore's floor.

Baker has touched on something crucial: the sheer volume of appearances of those specific nonsense thought-words conveys the current near-universal need to connect, or at least display, all of the time, about everything. Not everyone in the world is part of the online community, but so many who are seem to be privileged enough to have nothing to say.

Blame the attractive confessional aspect of the online environment - Twitter used to ask "What are you doing?" but has shifted to a rather more poignant "What is happening?", while Facebook prompts "What's on your mind?" - coupled with the fact that we spend so very much time online.

But Baker's work also subtly points out that this new mode of human behavior exists because of the existence of the venue. Technology now leads human behavior, and has created a new class of it.

Gmail's superpower server boasts the end of discarding emails, enabling us to permanently digitally archive each and every online communication, presumably, for eternity.

Baker's piece "My Map (Self-Portrait)" is a visualization of the artist's own social network created from 60,000 emails in his personal archive, spanning 1998-2010. The glossy print forms an image of connectivity:

Tiny names and tiny photos ring the exterior of a large hoop. Within the circle, glowing arced fibers connect the people to one another using email address fields of "to," "from," and "cc" as data to create "an open source family tree," says Shindelman.

Thicker, brighter lines indicate a higher occurrence of connection; the whole resembles a globe wherein Baker manifests and puts to order a section of that invisible web which connects us all.

The constant access provided by mobile devices ensures that, in a sense, we're never truly alone anymore. But we've also seen a partial shift from direct human-to-human communication of phone calls, email, and Instant Messenger to message-in-a-bottle-esque status updates and tweets, while re-tweets and the transmitting of "memes" and viral videos are passed like batons in a cyber relay race.

The audio-visual element of online culture is captured in "Hello World! or: How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love the Noise," the title a clever nod to Kubrick and the unstoppable nature of this beast.

The info-card on the wall boasts that the work contains "thousands of unique video diaries gathered from the internet," with singers, hack lecturers, earnest conspiracy theorists, and all other sorts striving for an audience.

But in this setting inundating the viewer with rows upon rows of images meeting at the corner of two walls. Speakers situated behind the viewer spew out a cacophony of sounds to accompany the images.

The scene in the dark room reminded me of nostalgic-futuristic movies with an omniscient character enthroned in a room that glitters with surveillance videos. The overwhelming noise makes it hard to single out a particular monologue most times, and impossible to connect a voice with one of the videos.

Baker's work shows that our technology-given delusions of our uniqueness and importance, as well as our delusions of omniscient-access to the wide, strange entirety of it all, don't really pan out, but zooming out from the minutiae provides an account of a massive cultural shift.

While we're captivated by the direction of the current technology is rapidly pulling us in, it's very possible to drown in the vast ocean of what is offered.

We can't really contain it all or understand it at once, but by manifesting the virtual into physical form, Baker collects the finite and fleeting into a permanent documentation we can reflect upon and begin to understand.

A social-phenomena-savvy colleague of mine recently compared the current state of the internet to the Wild West; at present it's a fairly democratic, free-for-all scene (less so than in Napster's heyday), but we really can't expect this sort of strange freedom to last.

The online wilderness is fading as we shift our lives deeper into the virtual realm and capitalism puts up the fences there, too. It will be interesting to see how those changes will dam the current tide.

5/23/10

Fuck Social Media! We Need Socialist Media


Capitalist Media Domination

A socialist-oriented media reform group is calling for new federal programs and the spending of tens of billions of dollars to keep journalists employed at liberal media outlets and to put them to work in new “public media.”

The group, called Free Press, is urging “an alternative media infrastructure, one that is insulated from the commercial pressures that brought us to our current crisis.”

There are grounds for introducing a counterweight to the mainstream media which is heavily slanted towards spreading capitalist ideology.

This has been exacerbated by the rise of right-wing media outletst, such as the Fox News Channel and talk-radio demagogues.

Josh Silver of the Free Press attacked the “bellowing ideologues” on the air and declared that “The entire dial is empty of local news in many communities.”

Local news has been shortchanged by stations airing conservative personalities with national programs such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Michael Savage.

The Free Press media reform is in a position to provide those complaints to the FCC. It claims nearly half-a-million supporters and a staff of 30, mostly in Washington, D.C.

As part of the proposed new “media infrastructure,” Free Press is calling for a $50 billion “Public Media Trust Fund” to underwrite the creation of new jobs for journalists.

Also, the use of the existing federal AmeriCorps program “to include journalistic activities as part of its mission” in the form of “journalism positions” and “journalism projects.” AmeriCorps is a federally-funded national and community service agency.

The group is also urging a direct federal bailout of liberal media institutions, declaring that “The Department of Labor could design a program aimed at keeping reporters employed at existing news organizations or at new outlets.”

Free Press explains, “If the government were to subsidize 5,000 reporters at $50,000 per year, the cost would be $250 million annually, a relatively modest sum given the billions coming out of Washington.”

In addition to the $50-billion “Public Media Trust Fund,” another one of the proposals from the Free Press group is a $50-million “government-seeded innovation fund for journalism,” described by Craig Aaron of Free Press as “a taxpayer-supported venture capital firm that invests in new journalism models.”

The socialist nature of the proposals should be hailed as a challenge to the corporate controlled media, which is funded by advertising that preaches consumerism and greed.

Craig Aaron is one of two Free Press staffers who have been employed by the liberal magazine In These Times and previously worked at Ralph Nader’s Congress Watch.

The group’s policy director, Ben Scott, has been an aide to Senator Bernie Sanders, an openly declared socialist who has criticized the media for covering both sides of the global warming debate. Another Free Press staffer was an activist with Planned Parenthood.

All of the controversial recommendations, which are certain to find a sympathetic ear among leftists, are included in the new 185-page book, Changing Media: Public Interest Policies for the Digital Age.

It was officially released in Washington on Thursday, May 14, at the Free Press summit held at the Newseum, a museum dedicated to the journalism profession. Several hundred people showed up in a cramped conference room that one speaker laughingly described as “cozy.”

Although Free Press didn’t want to examine the problem of conservative bias contributing to the decline of traditional media, the Newseum’s fifth floor, the News History Gallery, includes a film about right-wing media bias.

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), which is already subsidized by the U.S. taxpayer through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which itself gets $400 million a year in federal payments), wasn’t good enough for acting Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Michael Copps, who delivered a keynote speech.

He declared that we need a PBSS-”a Public Broadcasting System on Steroids” -based on the extraction of more dollars from hard-pressed American taxpayers.

“One that can’t be done on the cheap, and we’ll hear laments that there’s not a lot of extra cash floating around these days,” Copps said. “But other nations find ways to support such things.”

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Free Press was launched in late 2002 by media scholar Robert W. McChesney, journalist John Nichols and Josh Silver, our executive director. Today, Free Press is the largest media reform organization in the United States, with nearly half-a-million activists and members and a full-time staff of more than 30 based in our offices in Washington, D.C., and Florence, Mass.

Free Press and the Free Press Action Fund, our advocacy arm, are nonprofit organizations that rely on the support of our members. Please click here to make a donation or learn about member benefits.

Our Purpose

Media play a huge role in our lives. TV, radio, the Internet, movies, books and newspapers inform and influence our ideas, opinions, values and beliefs. They shape our understanding of the world and give us the information we need to hold our leaders accountable. But our media system is failing.

This failure isn't natural. For far too long, corrupt media policy has been made behind closed doors in the public's name but without our informed consent. If we want better media, we need better media policies. If we want better policies, we must engage more people in policy debates and demand better media.

That's why Free Press was created. We're working to make media reform a bona fide political issue in America. Powerful telecommunications, cable and broadcasting companies have plenty of lobbyists to do their bidding. We're making sure the public has a seat at the table, and we're building a movement to make sure the media serve the public interest.

Free Press believes that media reform is crucial not just for creating better news and entertainment, but to advancing every issue you care about. A vibrant, diverse and independent media is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy.

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5/21/10

Social Media Are Watching You


Social Media & Corporate Tracking

On Foursquare, you’re under an ever-watchful eye, but don’t feel its sinister side since you earn rewards and become “Mayor” of some trendy hangout if you rack up enough points. But start thinking about the increasingly tipsy trail you’re leaving, and who might be tracking you.

Maybe it’s just an uneasy significant other thinking: “If you’re out, then why aren’t you ‘checked in?’” But what of the extra-close scrutiny being given to eager job applicants by pink-slip-happy managers?

True, Foursquare is not quite a 1984-style apparatus of state control. Nursed on venture capital, it is, in ambition at least, a commercial enterprise.

But add several more layers—ubiquitous social networking tools like cheap camera phones, incessant Twitter posts and vanity-soaked sites like RandomNightOut, updated every day with pictures of hundreds of bleary-eyed partiers—to the mix, and Orwell’s metaphor for social control begins to hit home.


Not too long ago, if someone were spying on you, you’d feel creeped out. Protests were joined, organizations created, battles fought to protect one’s civil liberties. But now the concept of personal privacy is nearly dead. That’s right: Millions of Americans are obsessively spying on themselves for fun.

At the moment it may mostly be a group of tech-consumed city dwellers, but the New York-centric social networking application Foursquare—which invites you to report your own movements to the Web via a smart phone—has racked up a million users virtually overnight.

Drew Grant, a 25-year-old media blogger, explained how she signed up before the app went viral and admits to feeling “left out” when she’s not checked in.

Even George Orwell, who raised the specter of evil Big Brother keeping tabs on everyone 24/7, would have blushed when she happily admits, “Its like an omniscient tool.” Oh, she also plans to tattoo a Foursquare icon soon.

Bill Brown, a privacy activist who produced a guerilla version of 1984 in the subway to protest Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) surveillance of public space, says he’s shelved mentions of Big Brother when talking to young people: “Its meaning has been emptied out by reality television.”

Maybe a more fitting analogy to illustrate the disappearance of privacy under global capitalism would be Sauron’s all-seeing

Eye, from Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings trilogy, a metaphor for the police states of the 1930s. Whichever you pick, the main difference is that now authority is largely in “private,” corporate hands—and has a friendly face.

It’s hard to deny Foursquare’s appeal to a recession-blitzed generation of young people. Mostly under-employed and working from home (or a nearby coffeeshop), they’re isolated. But check into an East Village bar, drink a couple of Brooklyn Lagers and watch the ’hood light up as “everyone” checks in.

That’s when something clicks: The entire city is a pinball game, and you’re a player. “It’s a very seductive scene,” Grant explains. It almost makes one believe founder Dennis Crowley’s pitch in the triumphant New York magazine April cover story that, on Foursquare, “Your happiness and your productivity is higher.”

On Foursquare, you’re under an everwatchful eye, but don’t feel its sinister side since you earn rewards and become “Mayor” of some trendy hangout if you rack up enough points. But start thinking about the increasingly tipsy trail you’re leaving, and who might be tracking you.

Maybe it’s just an uneasy significant other thinking: “If you’re out, then why aren’t you ‘checked in?’” But what of the extra-close scrutiny being given to eager job applicants by pink-slip-happy managers?

You don’t need to be the post-collegiate web-video dude who was ejected from a social media “meet up” at Barramundi on Clinton Street by the cops this winter—after throwing a drink in a girl’s face—to acknowledge the negative possibilities inherent in the Foursquare set-up. Do something you regret, and you’ll never be able to deny it, much less live it down.

True, Foursquare is not quite a 1984-style apparatus of state control. Nursed on venture capital, it is, in ambition at least, a commercial enterprise.

But add several more layers—ubiquitous social networking tools like cheap camera phones, incessant Twitter posts and vanity-soaked sites like RandomNightOut, updated every day with pictures of hundreds of bleary-eyed partiers—to the mix, and Orwell’s metaphor for social control begins to hit home.

Foursquare is only the latest example of America’s fascination with trading away what the Electronic Frontier Foundation calls “locational privacy”—for convenience and safety.

Cellphones, E-ZPasses, MetroCards, drug store customer reward programs, some Wi-Fi services and CCTV cameras can all be used to build a database comprised of your movements.

As anyone who sees a psychiatrist, attends political rallies or scores a little weed should know, “locational privacy” is the operational cloak that maintains the status quo. But to the army of IT flaks who dominate the blogosphere—and set the narrative by which the Web defines itself—a desire for privacy is something to be scoffed at.

But the campaign for an increased ability to spy on innocent bystanders received a massive push May 1 when an improvised explosive device was found in a vehicle parked in Times Square.

Ironically, while CCTV images of the terrorists’ vehicle are numerous, a more deadly outcome was averted by old-fashioned intelligence: a street vendor who alerted police of smoke coming from the parked SUV.

At 2 a.m. the next morning, standing in front of the army recruitment office in Times Square, Mayor Bloomberg, with police commissioner Ray Kelly at his side, said that the attack was just more proof that Homeland Security funding should keep flowing to NYC because the city is “where the target is.”

On May 3, some light was shed on Bloomberg’s statement when it was reported in the Times that an apparatus had already been planned for Midtown that will consist of “

"...ublic and private security cameras and license plate readers [that] would be able to record and track every vehicle moving between 34th and 59th streets, river to river.”

The article added that NYPD officials hoped the system would eventually be able to successfully profile potential threats by how much time they spend circling Times Square:

“[T]he networks would be able to notice whether a car was circling any area suspiciously.”

It is unclear how such a program would distinguish a car driven by a would-be bomber from that of a theatergoing family looking for a parking spot. But we’ve only just begun to mine all the data available out there.

5/18/10

We Mainly Use Social Media to Market Ourselves




Self-Promotion

Branded goods, though they meet some of the same underlying needs, serve as occasions for us to demonstrate our art of living. They permit us to show how we manage to live in a unique personal style that nonetheless can be readily classified and prompt more or less accurate assumptions about our class status.

Our self-conscious consumer practices add to the surplus of meanings, diminishing the integrity of them all — that is to say, the surplus of meanings weakens any one meaning’s tie to any one product or gesture. The opportunity costs of affixing one meaning too firmly to something grows. We want nothing to be weighed down.

By facilitating the process by which goods cycle through meanings, we start to function like little advertising agencies, sending out marketing messages of our own, with our personality as the medium and our friends as the audiences whose attention we broker.

We consume the identity that we hope the goods will convey in the process of broadcasting it to others. The greater the scope of our broadcast, the quicker the goods exhaust their signifying potency for us. We then need a new message to send, new consumer goods to send them with.

Throughout the process social media provides the infrastructure. It affirms the commercial relevance of our behavior, translating that relevance into a source of self-esteem while capturing the behavior in a medium where it can be more readily monetized, where it can circulate more freely and widely.

As we go about our brand-manager marketing functions online, abolishing the use value of goods so they can serve superficial display, the “use value” of identity itself begins to vanish as well.

The idea of stable self becomes meaningless — we go from moment to moment, eager for chances to display ourselves. In the process, we make ourselves obsolete.

Have the contradictions inherent in capitalism heightened to such a degree that “social relations among things” and “material relations among people” are now so obvious as to be undeniable?


In Monopoly Capital, Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy argue that the emergence of oligopolies in most sectors of the economy makes price competition between corporations more or less obsolete.

The main problem facing big business then becomes how to invest the profits so that capital accumulation can continue. According to Baran and Sweezy, the key is stimulating consumer demand through what they call the “sales effort.”

They point out that “the economic importance of advertising lies not primarily in its causing a reallocation of consumer expenditures among different commodities but in its effect on the magnitude of aggregate effective demand and thus on the level of income and employment.”

Marketing doesn’t tell us what to buy so much as to persuade us to buy more, to enjoy ourselves more by possessing things. And as long as demand growth can be assured, then investment in the elaboration of further production capacity can be justified and profits won’t sit idle, their value deteriorating instead of increasing.

From this view, the whole of culture under monopoly capitalism becomes a reflection of this overriding need to stimulate demand.

Accordingly, the activities of everyday life are increasingly redefined as commercial activities, requiring or culminating in purchases that validate or certify the activities, or serve as souvenirs that retroactively justify the effort.

Media evolve to facilitate marketing efforts designed to overcome our natural inertia against burdening ourselves with goods and persuade us that “more is better” is simply common sense.

The sins of gluttony, avarice, envy, and sloth are reinvented as virtues: abundance, luxury, ambition, convenience. Discourse in the public sphere is dominated by marketing messages, making casual conversation about products the lingua franca of consumer capitalism.

Shared recognition of brands binds society together and promotes wordless communication in the language of products.

But how does that cultural shift take place? Marketing efforts, Baran and Sweezy argue, work “to induce change in fashion, create new wants, set new standards of status, enforce new norms of propriety.” But this is misleading. It evokes an image of a centralized command-and-control culture industry that dictates what people will want and compels them to enjoy it.

The culture industry would seek to impose conformity, a uniform devotion to hits whose runaway success recoups the losses of the inexplicable misfires, those occasions when the hapless masses manage inadvertently to thwart their minders by rejecting the hype.

And the culture industry would also tell us when to discard our goods for new and improved ones, regardless of whether we believed they needed to be improved.

To choose a quintessential example: if cars suddenly had tail fins, then one was sure to get a car with tail fins. If suddenly they had no tail fins, one followed suit. Why these fashions were being changed was presumed to be a matter of indifference to the drones who irresistibly obeyed the cultural marching orders and surrendered aesthetic autonomy.

That model, though it captured the imagination of mid 20th century cultural critics (Baran and Sweezy included), was more important as a cautionary tale than a depiction of how consumer culture actually functioned.

As Thomas Frank illustrates in The Conquest of Cool, advertisers by the 1960s were already manipulating the ideas of conformity and individualism to suit their ends. In the masterful hands of marketers, the twin threats of conformity and exclusion formed a flexible dialectic.

The same products could make us feel like unique individuals and part of the zeitgeist simultaneously, all without ever entirely resolving our underlying anxiety about our place in society. Consumer goods were not to be about fulfilling humdrum requirements of everyday life — the sorts of banal needs that we all alike share.

They needed a cooperative effort from marketers and enthusiastic consumers to help them transcend the quotidian. If one was content with commodities rather than branded goods, one was content to be a commodity oneself. The conformist danger lay in being generic.

Branded goods, though they meet some of the same underlying needs, serve as occasions for us to demonstrate our art of living. They permit us to show how we manage to live in a unique personal style that nonetheless can be readily classified and prompt more or less accurate assumptions about our class status.

So the particulars of what we should buy is not a top-down command. Particular manufacturers have a stake, obviously, in their specific product being adopted, but from the oligopolist’s perspective, that is secondary to the general demand problem.

And such dictates would compromise consumerism’s most seductive quality, its promise to help us feel like individuals despite the loss of meaningful work by which to distinguish oneself and the disappearance of the local-community backdrop against which to stand out.

Well-advertised consumer goods, Frank argues, “symbolically resolve the contradiction between their role as consumers and their role as producers.” By associating novelty with rebellion, advertisers succeeded in giving obsolescence a “new and more convincing language.”

Obsolescence starts to occurs automatically, as we have internalize a constant craving for novelty. And gradually we begin voluntarily to take on responsibility for keeping the fashion wheel turning, as a way of demonstrating our productive capabilities.

In our minds, we “produce” our own rebellious identity; from the point of view of the culture in general, we enrich the language of obsolescence, producing a surfeit of meanings.

As a result, material culture doesn’t need to be occulted with contrived, manufactured boredom. The boredom comes to seem authentically our own. We don’t need ads to become disgruntled with what we have. Rather, our own carefully cultivated impatience prompts our sense of exhaustion with what is.

This exhaustion results from the apparent rapidity with which we can exhaust the meaning of goods. Outside of monopoly capitalism, Baran and Sweezy claim, such a possibility is nonsensical. What a good “means” would be secondary to what use we could make of it. But under monopoly capitalism, “saleability” takes priority.

They quote Thorstein Veblen, who argued in 1923 that “much of what appears on the books as production cost should properly be charged to the production of saleable appearances” — distinctions or novelties that will make a good stand out in a saturated market.

Monopoly capitalism requires that we consume more than we need, driving us beyond use value to identity-driven consumption. Whatever underlying use value that goods may possess becomes a mere alibi; consumption as sheer self-fashioning becomes accepted as appropriate, requiring no apology.

Necessary illusions: oligopolic Capital spurs consumption in the midst of plenty.

Goods, then, aren’t valuable because they are well-made, but because they are rich with connotation. What makes those connotations valuable is that they appear transferable to the purchasers, who are accordingly able to make themselves more saleable, whether in labor markets or in the social market for attention, or in the amalgam of both that is taking shape in the world of social media.

Thus we shape our identity in the same manner we repeatedly observe the identity of goods being shaped; the process of brand construction becomes a model for the process of personality development. This makes us into brand managers, preoccupied with the vitality of our personal brand as it is conveyed through goods.

Because goods now function mainly as props for self-expression, their durability is beside the point. No matter how cheaply made they are — even if they came from H&M or Ikea — there is little chance of their disintegrating before we are sick of them. But their semiological half-life can be counted in days.

We spend the meaning in goods by constituting a particular identity in a particular moment for as broad an audience as possible. If the meanings persist beyond that moment, they threaten to interfere with the later displays by which we will hope to reestablish ourselves in some new way.

The gesture of establishing identity, not the putative usefulness of a good, is the point of consumption. The goods unfortunately linger to become vaguely embarrassing markers of discarded selves. We discard them of our own accord. We tire of them as they become merely useful, like my old guitar.

Thus the meaning of obsolescence has changed. For 20th century cultural critics, the problem with obsolescence was waste; the advertising system that supported it disguised from us our potential to be satisfied with what we had and channeled social labor into a cesspool of frivolity.

Economic planning becomes irrational, guided by whimsy. But with the complete elaboration of the code of consumer goods and practices, the nature of the problem has changed.

It’s impossible for us to consume without making a lifestyle statement, without inviting judgments of who we apparently are trying to be. Nothing we do is innocent of commercial implications, nor do we expect it to be.

We are not worried about wasting the use value dormant in the goods we already have. To stand content with the belongings we already own is to retreat from the social sphere and the possibility of social recognition and identity authentication.

We crave obsolescence, which is now understood as the process of neutralizing undesirable meanings of goods, clearing the space of signification for new acquisitions. We need the goods to become obsolete faster, so their meanings can be discarded (and potentially rehabilitated down the road in a wave of nostalgia).

The superfluity of advertising messages helps guarantee that in part, ensuring that goods’ possible meanings are quickly supplanted with new, contradictory ones, making them all fundamentally superficial.

But our own efforts to consume productively, to speak the language of rebellion through consumer goods, also assure that their meaning is depleted.

Our self-conscious consumer practices add to the surplus of meanings, diminishing the integrity of them all — that is to say, the surplus of meanings weakens any one meaning’s tie to any one product or gesture.

The opportunity costs of affixing one meaning too firmly to something grows. We want nothing to be weighed down.

By facilitating the process by which goods cycle through meanings, we start to function like little advertising agencies, sending out marketing messages of our own, with our personality as the medium and our friends as the audiences whose attention we broker.

We consume the identity that we hope the goods will convey in the process of broadcasting it to others. The greater the scope of our broadcast, the quicker the goods exhaust their signifying potency for us. We then need a new message to send, new consumer goods to send them with.

Throughout the process social media provides the infrastructure. It affirms the commercial relevance of our behavior, translating that relevance into a source of self-esteem while capturing the behavior in a medium where it can be more readily monetized, where it can circulate more freely and widely.

As we go about our brand-manager marketing functions online, abolishing the use value of goods so they can serve superficial display, the “use value” of identity itself begins to vanish as well. The idea of stable self becomes meaningless — we go from moment to moment, eager for chances to display ourselves. In the process, we make ourselves obsolete.

Pop Divas Push the Sexual Envelope






Kinky Sex & Pop Culture

Take a look at recent mainstream pop videos - divas like Beyonce, Gaga and Christina Aguilera. You'll see not just sexual imagery but kinky sexual imagery. Is the whole world secretly a fetishist or do latex and riding crops just mean "extra" sexy?

The combination of sex and music is nothing new. Even the combination of sex and music videos (MTV is almost 30 years old!) seems a bit expected. But look to mainstream pop videos, and you see not just sexual imagery but kinky sexual imagery. Is the whole world secretly a fetishist or do latex and riding crops just mean "extra" sexy?

I don't think I can scream "trend!" just yet, but when you have both Christina Aguilera and Beyonce releasing their titillating new videos in the same week, you take notice.

In "Why Don't You Love Me?" (above), Beyonce channels fetish model Bettie Page. The homage is half pure retro indulgence and half kink allusion.

Compared to other contemporary examples, Beyonce's kink is subtle: a 1950s household in which she cleans in pearls and skintight outfits and the brief shots of her thin riding crop in one hand. I don't think she's alluding to her equestrian activities here.

Christina, on the other hand, goes so far kink in "Not Myself Tonight" (above) that she even sports a crystal-encrusted ball gag.

Not to mention the ballet boots, various collars, latex/PVC outfits, riding crop (again), bondage, eating from a bowl on the floor, hoods, a hand job ring, and OMG is that liquid latex?! I'm sure I'm missing more fetish accessories.

Not that Christina hasn't done something similar before, as her Xtina chaps from "Dirrty" come to mind, and less obviously, that light blue latex number from "Candyman." But this video almost makes you want to safeword.

Is it so blatantly kinky because Christina is secretly a latex-loving, designer-fetish-wearing, dominant-but-switchy kinkster in the bedroom? Or does the kink explode because she lumps various homages to Lady Gaga and Madonna in the same video?

Which, by the way, you can't talk BDSM in music videos without talking about Madonna. Yeah, OK, I'm trying to look at a contemporary trend, but Madonna laid the framework with "Erotica" and "Human Nature" and "Justify My Love," just to name the more obvious (and very NSFW) examples.

Madonna was shocking and outrageous and delighted in her deviancy. Remember, these were pre-everyone-has-internet days.

Now, though, we're able to have eager beavers like Violet Blue gleefully point out all the fetishes in Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" [above].

The fetishes and kinks we see in current music videos aren't shocking per se, but then again, we live in a time where BDSM is less stigmatized and it's not quite as pervy to purchase a first-timer's bedroom bondage kit or a feather tickler.

The internet has made a lot of this possible. In reading different editions of SM 101 and The Bottoming Book/The Topping Book, you find that the internet allowed kinksters to come out of the woodwork somewhat safely and anonymously and find each other on sites like FetLife or collarme.

More people can look into BDSM on the internet, and that sort of fulfilled curiosity makes a collar with a D-ring on the front somehow less scary and more sexy.

Now that MTV doesn't air videos anymore, or at least not while people are awake, these videos live in the internet world, the same one that has pushed BDSM into a more mainstream light.

It's not a conscious thing, as in Rihanna soaks in a tub of champagne and thinks, "I should wear a leather catsuit in my next video because the internet is slightly kinky and catsuits are kinky." It's a subconscious path in a more diverse and varied world.

The network of people we connect with and contact (however remotely) has influenced the way we think nowadays, and that includes how we think about sexuality. Just think about how many people were willing to sit through the scat play in 2 Girls 1 Cup.

And 2 Girls 1 Cup these popstars are not. It's hard to say whether these women include a kinky prop or outfit because they secretly enjoy dressing up like cops, but it's certainly a thought to entertain.

Many people engage in kinky sex without labeling, realizing, or acknowledging its inherent kinkiness. How many people out there think it's hot when your partner pins you to the wall? Pulls your hair? Spanks you? Tickles you? Dresses up in naughty costumes?

For some, this is "sexy" sex, the kind you have when you've been thinking about it for a long time or you two haven't done it in a while. For others, this is the sex they have.

Who's to say whether Beyonce really does enjoy beating the crap out of her pony boy or whether the crop just fit into the Bettie Page feel of her video? Either way, I'm turned on and downloading the single.

5/16/10

iPad Puritanism






No Nipples on iPad

For an electronic device named after feminine hygiene products, the iPad isn’t loving the lady parts. Because of Steve Jobs’ desire for “moral responsibility,” pornographic content is blocked from the iPad. The device has a stringent anti-nipple policy and this extends to art photography.

In order to publish on the iPad, magazines like Dazed & Confused and Vice, which often include nudity, will now have to censor their work.

An insider at Dazed & Confused said that they nicknamed the iPad version the “Iran edition” of the magazine and a spokeswoman for Germany’s news and gossip newspaper Bild quipped, “Today they censor nipples, tomorrow editorial content.”

We need to be nice to magazines—they’re an endangered species and the iPad was supposed to save them from their spiraling death pool! And no one’s going to read magazines without nipples!

Just kidding about that last part. But maybe if nipples weren’t considered “pornographic,” people wouldn’t make such a big fuss about women breast-feeding in public?

The iPad hype reminds me of the end of "I, Robot." Where the AI decides, to fully follow the 3 laws, it must protect humanity from itself. I think this runs up close to a God complex? Protecting the sheep from making potentially "harmful" decisions.

Isn't that what a mom is for in our lives? I don't remember Apple being there for my first birthdays. Maybe they should just make my tools, and let me work with them how I see fit. Even if it is just to relieve some stress. Reply

Letting people choose what they want sounds nice but there are a startling number of idiots out there. Given completely free choice, we're likely to have Palin leading a movement to burn libraries. Some sober leadership is necessary if you want to keep things on the rails.

Steve Jobs may not be God but he's certainly the archbishop of capitalism. The whole idea behind these devices is to charge you for the apps, creating a revenue stream for Apple.

Not only are the devices overpriced, overhyped, and the apps way too expensive, Apple's intent is to limit the user and promote partnerships with certain corporate interests.

It's merely more corporate control.

If people want to be suckered into the limitations of that, fine, but they should be aware of the intent.

I wonder if the people who are in favour of the App Store only selling / carrying apps that Apple gives its blessing to would have the same opinion if Wal-Mart was the only place they could buy music, and they only allowed you to purchase classical music, because they were against the sale of metal, rock and roll, punk, new age, electronica, etc?

If you could just go to a different app store, that wasn't run by Apple, and acquire porn or apps not approved by Apple, then this argument would be pointless.

However, my understanding is that you can only install apps from the AppStore, so they are essentially censoring what you can run.

What next? No controversial books from iTunes? A censorship of any book or podcast from iTunes that is critical of Steve Jobs or Apple? This has the potential to become a slippery slope if it continues in the current direction.

Someone should point out to Jobs that porn was one of the deciding factors that caused VCR to win out over betamax. It's amazing that Apple can get away with this sort of thing.

Restricting your freedom in order to "protect" you? Apple are not the freaking government. I do not need protection from porn, thank-you-very-much.

Steve Jobs Brings Us 'Freedom From Porn'

For many years, tech fans have known that Steve Jobs will occasionally respond to messages directed to his well-publicized email address.

Most of the time his responses consist of snappy one-liners, often containing a nugget of new information. But it’s rare to hear about a full-on debate, with Jobs offering some rationale behind Apple’s highly controversial decisions.

That’s exactly what happened last night, when Gawker writer Ryan Tate got irritated by an Apple ad describing the iPad as “a revolution” and shot off an email to Steve Jobs.

Three hours later, at nearly 1AM, Jobs replied, and a passionate email debate ensued. The email exchange is mainly focused on Apple’s stranglehold on the iPhone OS platform, and its decision to force developers to build applications using Apple’s tools.

Tate is clearly agitated throughout the exchange (in his blog post he notes a few things he regrets writing in his email responses). For the most part Jobs seems to be level-headed, though he does take a jab at Tate at the end.

Through it all, though, one thing is clear: Jobs is on a mission to reinvent computing. He’s well aware of the controversies, and for better or for worse, it sounds like he genuinely believes that what Apple is doing will lead to a better future.

You can read the entire exchange on Gawker, but here are a few interesting responses from Jobs:

Tate:

If Dylan was 20 today, how would he feel about your company?

Would he think the iPad had the faintest thing to do with “revolution?”

Revolutions are about freedom.

Jobs:

Yep, freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom. The times they are a changin’, and some traditional PC folks feel like their world is slipping away. It is.

Here’s a later back-and-forth (note the jab Jobs takes at Tate at the end):

Tate:

Was it a “technical issue” when Microsoft was trying to make everyone write to the Win32 API? Were you happy when Adobe went along with that?

You have the chance to set the tone for a new platform. For the new phone and tablet platform. The platform of the future! I am disappointed to see it’s the same old revenge power bullshit.

PS And yes I may sound bitter. Because I don’t think it’s a technical issue at all — it’s you imposing your morality; about porn, about ‘trade secrets’, about technical purity in the most bizarre sense.

Apple itself has used translation layers and intermediate APIs. Objective C and iTunes for Windows are testament to this. Anyone who has spent any time coding knows the power and importance of intermediate APIs.

And I don’t like Apple’s pet police force literally kicking in my co-workers’ doors. But I suppose the courts will have the last say on that, I can’t say I’m worried.”

Jobs:

You are so misinformed. No one kicked in any doors. You’re believing a lot of erroneous blogger reports.

Microsoft had (has) every right to enforce whatever rules for their platform they want. If people don’t like it, they can write for another platform, which some did. Or they can buy another platform, which some did.

As for us, we’re just doing what we can to try and make (and preserve) the user experience we envision. You can disagree with us, but our motives are pure.

By the way, what have you done that’s so great? Do you create anything, or just criticize others work and belittle their motivations?

Social Media: Fast-Track Ego Trip


Can Social Media Give You an Overinflated Ego?

Lately, I have been spending some time thinking about how people react to social media fame. What happens when you reach 1,000 Twitter followers? 5,000? 20,000? 100,000?

How do you react when your blog is suddenly getting significant traffic and people are hanging on your every word? Some people can take it in stride without letting it go to their heads while other people end up with enormous overinflated egos.

Compare this to the reaction to fame that professional athletes, actors, musicians and celebrity CEOs face.

Some people completely change (new house, new cars, new friends, new spouse, etc.) while others continue to live in their old neighborhood with existing friends, and remain grounded despite their fame. While social media fame isn’t the same, I see similar reactions.

I was reading a Harvard Business Review blog post by John Baldoni where he was talking about egos in sports and applying the same ideas to business.

He mentioned this quote: “It’s okay if other people think you’re God, but you’re in trouble if you start believing it.” This really resonated with what I’ve been seeing in the social media industry.

For some people, it may already be too late. For those you you who can still be saved, here are a few tips for keeping that ego in check (these are Baldoni’s recommendations, modified to apply to social media):

* Remember that your Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn friends or fans are not your real friends. Real friends are the people that stick with you during tough times.

* Don’t take yourself too seriously. When people butter you up with praise and tell you how awesome you are, politely thank them, but don’t believe it.

* Everyone has shortcomings — I certainly have my share. Whenever your ego starts to take over, think about something that you need to improve and remember that you are an ordinary human being who makes mistakes and has weaknesses.

Social Networking, Ego and Religion

I’ve recently been thinking about Social Networking in terms of Ego and Religion of all things!

I believe Blogging, Tweeting and Facebook status updating is one big ego trip. What better validation of one’s self can there be than sending out a message to hundreds of listeners and having them ‘Like this’, Retweet or comment positively on it!?

The Parallels between social networking and organized religion are hard to ignore in my opinion. With most networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, etc..its’ all about Following people and spreading messages.

Followers could otherwise be referred to as disciples who subscribe to the preachings of the Blogger/Messianic figure and by agreeing with his views and recommending to others thus follow his particular Gospel.

Then there’s the networking or connecting aspect which is akin to joining a group or Cult which has in place as it’s leader the group founder or Moderator.

Summation? Social Networking is the newest Religion!

Ego-tweeting: Twitter glitch lets users add

celebrity followers, game the popularity contest

A Twitter glitch has allowed users to game the popularity contest by making it appear that celebrities had subscribed to read their mini-blog postings known as tweets.

The flaw, which Twitter said it has fixed, allowed users to add anyone else as a follower of their tweets. Normally, the other person has to initiate such "following."

It's unclear how long the flaw existed and how many people took advantage of it. Twitter Inc. says it's looking at the issue.

A side effect of the fix was that for about an hour last Monday, Twitter users showed zero followers while the company fixed the problem.

People who exploited the bug got more than an ego boost from having famous people appear to be their fans. For a time, those celebrities really did become their audience and received the tweets from people who had fraudulently added them as followers.

Twitter recommends that users who were fraudulently added as a follower to someone else's account should click "unfollow" to take themselves off those lists.

The company emphasized that updates on accounts set with privacy restrictions weren't made public because of the bug. Information on such "protected" accounts is hidden from public view, unless the account owner approves specific people to view updates.

Twitter Is Not a Very Social Network

According to a group of researchers at Korea's Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Twitter is not a very social network.

After analyzing over 41 million user profiles and 1.47 billion follower/following relationships, the researchers concluded that only 22% of all connections on Twitter are reciprocal.

On Flickr, this number is closer to 68% and on Yahoo 360 it's 84%. The large majority (78%) of connections between users on Twitter are one-way relationships.

What's even more interesting than the small number of user pairs is that 68% of all Twitter users aren't followed by a single person they are following. As the researchers rightly note, this makes Twitter more like a broadcast medium than a social network.

Given that Twitter was set up for these kinds of non-reciprocal follower/following relationships, it doesn't come as a surprise that many users would use Twitter to follow breaking news channels and celebrities.

The fact that almost 80% of these relationships are one-way relationships, however, does come as a surprise and hints at how Twitter's mainstream users use the service more as a news medium than as a social network.

5/14/10

I've Fucking Had It with Facebook




I'm Preparing to Commit Facebook Suicide

With FaceBook ever encroaching on my privacy, the value of maintaining a profile on the popular social network approaches considerably diminishing marginal utility.

FaceBook is becoming a web monster. The disadvantages, security concerns and time sink for managing these FaceBook profiles are starting to outweigh the actual benefits of using the service in the first place.

This is the law of diminishing returns applied to Social Media. More and more sharing and personal data exposure from FaceBook leads to less comfort, security, and utility with the service.


For the first year of the one and a half years I interacted with the service, I generally enjoyed using FaceBook.

It was a great mechanism for hooking up with old friends, for after-hours chit chat with colleagues and followers of my blogs, and a nice tool for keeping up with the goings on of my friends and family.

I began to rely on FaceBook heavily as a personal information management tool and for contact aggregation. When it was simple, and it did what I needed it to do, it was a good thing.

But there was no “Missing Manual” for using FaceBook or any sort of social network. Nobody told me it was a bad idea to accept every single friend invitation.

Nobody told me I wasn’t supposed to engage in every single invite to participate in stupid movie quizzes and so forth. Nobody told me that having 50 apps connected to your profile was a bad idea.

In the first six months of using FaceBook I made all the stupid mistakes that FaceBook noobs do, which is that they go overboard. So once I realized all the stupid things I was doing, I began the process of locking things down and minimizing my exposure.
Operation: FaceBook Lockdown

I pulled all the FaceBook apps other than the ones I needed for external API connectivity to Twitter and my blog updates. I told people I would not engage in any more games/quizzes and ignored all group and cause invites.

I continued to accept all friend requests, because I thought this was relatively harmless and there was no reason why I couldn’t be accessible to all of my readers and fans on FaceBook. So I thought I had things under control.

Well, I was wrong.

About six months ago FaceBook became much more aggressive with their default privacy settings and sharing too much personal information. So now everyone had to get a fucking security consultant to figure out how to lock down their profiles at an acceptable level of granularity that didn’t make them a target for identity theft or God-Knows-What.

Suicide is Painless

On Becoming One of the Social Media Dead

FaceBook’s actions have got so many people upset and frustrated that they’ve actually gone ahead and committed FaceBook “suicide” by completely deleting their on-line profiles.

Sites like Seppukoo and the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine have stepped forward to assist them with their electronic euthanasia needs, like the Cloud versions of Doctor Kevorkian.

I have several friends, many who work in the technology industry and that are extremely tech-savvy folks that have recently gone and destroyed their FaceBook accounts the same way, retreating to much more manageable services such as and Twitter and LinkedIn in order to share contact and status information.

As like the ancient Greeks, these tortured souls met Charon at the River Styx, paid their silver coin and ferried on to the Underworld, never to be seen on FaceBook ever again.

Some of us, who have larger levels of exposure and have built an on-line following must build temples to our lifeless forms. We must emulate the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, where a shell of our former presence must remain as monuments to our living greatness.

Like the Pharaohs, who were regarded as Living Gods, we must also have these temples so that our “worshipers” can continue to receive our blessings and we, as their adoring Gods, can receive their offerings — i.e., their Wall posts and messages. For what is a God without worshippers?

And there are tools for us to do that, fortunately.

What I am now seriously considering doing is turning my regular FaceBook profile into a completely minimalistic stub, de-activating all Wall capabilities and removing all personal information beyond very basic data. My on-line sarcophagus, where only the “inner priesthood” can examine my mummified form.

I will continue to pare down my friends to a manageable number, probably less than a hundred people. As of this writing, I’m hovering around 570, which is still too large for me to feel comfortable.

If I still decide to maintain a Wall on my profile, then only a very small number of people will have access to it: Real life friends, family, and close personal contacts.

This culling and on-line presence segregation not only reduces my level of exposure in terms of “Connections” but also allows me to spend quality time on the Walls of people I care about, which has become increasingly difficult to do with the huge feed of people I’m dealing with now, even post-Grouping and committing mass “friendicide” of about 700 people.

If someone attempts to friend me, I’ll simply point them to subscribe to the Fan Page, where I can still interact with them using a public Wall, and they’ll see updates from me on their FaceBook news feeds, but I don’t have to go through a whole friending process and share all sorts of personal data with them. If someone is really important enough to merit a business contact, they can hook up with me at LinkedIn.

There are of course a number of disadvantages to this. For starters, everything on a Fan Page is public.

But I’m already sending status updates via Twitter and having conversation threads there, so it really won’t make much difference, because I won’t be posting anything publicly that I won’t want anyone else to see.

And there’s always the chance somebody could post something really obnoxious or vile there, so I’ll have to watch it and delete things accordingly.

Unless FaceBook really starts to address my concerns — I’ll be following the traditions of the Japanese Samurai and performing the electronic version of Hara-Kiri, and having myself embalmed and entombed like Ramesses II in the Valley of the FaceBook Kings: my fan page.

5/12/10

Social Media Reflects Late Capitalism


Rampant Individualism

In Sources of the Self, the philosopher Charles Taylor meticulously documents the transformation of the personal identity in Western civilization over the past two hundred years.

He argues that the sources of self-identity have shifted from external and transcendent referents to the internal and subjective experience of the individual.

Other scholars, like Robert Putnam and Adam Seligman, make similar arguments about the decline of community and the collective as an orienting feature of people’s lives.

That many operate as though the sources or personal identity are within the individual self is strongly suggested by the popularity and easy adoption of social-networking sites.

There, networks radiate out from the center – a center that is not a location, a cause, or a common identity, but simply the individual. Sites operate on the presupposition that users are comfortable orienting their social lives around themselves.

And so, it seems, they are, as young Americans easily recast pre-existing relationships and practices of sociability according to site prerequisites.

While the cultural changes that make this adaptability possible have been long in the making, it may be that as late-modern individuals, we have finally begun to create social institutions that reflect and reinforce basic dispositions toward networked individualism and consumption in the intimate sphere.

What is so remarkable about social sites is not, then, how much they change the landscape of contemporary social life, but rather how ell they succeed in reflection its essential dynamic.

Yet, how 'real' is a virtual community? Do the friends and followers we collect mean little more than a desperate attempt to establish our 'selves'? Behind all the hype about sites like Twitter lies a darker reality.

In a competitive, individualized society we're in our own. There is no sense of the collective, something larger, more meaningful than each person's scramble to be noticed, or to hang on to the shirt-tails of a celebrity. When the social media bubble bursts we'll be left with despair and nihilism.

Fetishizing Individuality

The division and alienation that plagues contemporary society can be attributed to a late capitalist mode of production that requires a specialized, divided abstract labor force and an ideology of hyper-privatized individualism to sustain and reproduce itself.

Hannah Arendt laments the loss of a revolutionary public freedom. There used to be spaces and places for everyone to see and be seen in a participatory democracy.

This freedom never adequately existed, but which provides a theory which can be deployed in the formation of a collective praxis that might pave the road to a truly revolutionary and collective freedom).

Arendt attributes the disappearance of that public realm in part to the hyper-privatization of modern society

We may consider this disappearance of the ‘taste for political freedom’ as the withdrawal of the individual into an ‘inward domain of consciousness’ where it finds the only ‘appropriate region of human liberty’.

From this region, as though from a crumbling fortress, the individual, having got the better of the citizen, will then defend himself against a society which in its turn gets ‘the better of individuality’.

Government, which is now the privilege of the few, loses its social character in the eyes of the many. It appears to the masses as an alien force.

Arendt recognizes that this withdrawal from collective interaction is not felt as a loss by the individual subject under capitalism:

"The individual, having got the better of the citizen, will then defend himself against a society which in its turn gets ‘the better of individuality’”.

Instead, the individual finds in this private sphere the only region of human liberty ‘appropriate’ to the commodified space of advanced capitalism.

Hence, the private individual, now feels her isolated individuality as a natural state and, thus, vehemently defends herself against any political practice that advocates communal ideals, for she views them as infringements upon her privacy or ‘violations’ of her individuality.

In a Marxist lexicon, the individual subject fetishizes her individuality and the commodities around her in (unconscious) attempt to make up for her alienation from the products of her labor and her estrangement from the greater network of social relations that constitute the socio-historical totality.

This resistance that the reified individual exerts against any collective body bears witness to the deep penetration of the commodity form into the minds and bodies of society.

It exposes the decrepit state of class-consciousness and collective solidarity today. For, solidarity is ultimately a form of compassion, but the force of compassion has been perverted by the self-preserving and reclusive tendencies of late capitalist society.

Arendt makes a similar claim in On Revolution. She claims that compassion was introduced by Rousseau and functioned as a unifying force in The Social Contract, quickly being taken up by Robespierre and others of the French Revolution.

As she claims, “The magic of compassion was that it opened the heart of sufferer to the sufferings of others, whereby it established and confirmed the ‘natural’ bond between men….”

As such, Rousseau “summoned up the resources of the heart” against the ‘heartlessness’ of reason and countered the indifference of the upper classes who looked on indifferently at the suffering of others.

However, as Arendt asserts, this notion of compassion (which began playing an important role in the formation of modern sensibility) was subsequently ‘discovered’ as an emotion or a sentiment, which took the form of ‘pity’.

Pity, I contend, is the reification of solidarity. For, the sentiment of pity becomes an end in itself, a reified object that is fetishized by the individual. Arendt writes,

"[W]ithout the presence of misfortune, pity could not exist, and it therefore has just as much vested interest in the existence of the unhappy as thirst for power has a vested interest in the existence of the weak.

"Moreover, by virtue of being a sentiment, pity can be enjoyed for its own sake, and this will almost automatically lead to a glorification of its cause, which is the suffering of others."

What was once a galvanizing element of solidarity between members of a body politic has, under capitalism, been reified as a commodity. Pity, a ‘glorification’ of its cause (suffering), is the commodity form of compassion as it becomes a fetish in its own right.

Solidarity is an aspect of the ‘treasure’ that Arendt claims has been lost in modern society. She writes,

For solidarity, because it partakes of human reason, and hence of generality, is able to comprehend a multitude conceptually, not only the multitude of a class or a nation or a people, but eventually all mankind.

It is the place of radical collective praxis today, to form a unity based upon this conception of solidarity and free from the hold of pity.

One that mediates the diverse elements of the socio-historical situation so that they can be grasped as a dialectical unity–as a network of social relations that are subject to change.

For only a body based on this notion of solidarity can galvanize collective consciousness that simultaneously accounts for the differences of the multitude; only solidarity can coalesce, in the words of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci:

"Solidarity is a ‘cultural-social’ unity throughout which a multiplicity of dispersed wills, with heterogeneous aims, are welded together with a single aim, on the basis of an equal and common conception of the world, both general and particular, operating in transitory bursts (in emotional ways) or permanently (where the intellectual base is so well rooted, assimilated, and experienced that it becomes passion)."

This cultural-social unity is brought together by the passion of solidarity. Where pity is the reification–what Arendt calls “the perversion”–of compassion, solidarity is its radical and totalizing form.

Therefore, in order to form a radical cultural-social unity, one must transcend one’s individuality. More accurately, one must extend one’s notion of the self to embrace a greater collective body.

However, we're stuck in the midst of a society whose sensibilities have been wrought through by the processes of reification.

As Marcuse writes, “The so-called consumer economy and the politics of corporate capitalism have created a second nature of man which ties him libidinally and aggressively to the commodity form.”

In this context, the formation of a collectivity united by solidarity would in itself be a radical act.

How much hope is there? If we use social media as a pertinent example of the direction society is taking, then one can only express disgust at the intensification of the individual as opposed to the collective. This is not just late capitalism, it is icapitalism. As in me, myself and I.