I’ve noticed lately how Facebook is telling me about the behaviours of friends, whether they are in a certain restaurant (via Foursquare); whether Michael is playing too much Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and lately there is a ‘Guardian’ and ‘Telegraph’ application which tells me (as if I want to know) what articles they are reading from these UK newspapers. At this point I felt something was deeply wrong. The Guardian is putatively seen as a centre-left, liberal publication (or at least, their readers are described as such), and maybe 5 years ago people would have complained about the way in which technologies are are means of constant surveillance, leaving a trail of one’s activities. There was something menacing about being observed or having our data kept by unknown forces: who, for instance, really looks at our Nectar card points balance when I shop at Amazon or Homebase?
In a way this Foucauldian worry about the surveillance society and a menacing panopticlon is a lost concern. To some extent most citizens of the city-state accept surveillance in tacit ways to many degrees. During the UK riots this year, many surveillance technologies successfully worked to catch many of those involved, the public would surely approve of such an application, and we can at least see a non-menacing rationale of such surveillance in that extent. What I really find worrying, however, is the constant ‘performance’ of social life. This has been emphasised and turned up to such a level which I find insufferable. Twitter friends think that it’s somehow amusing to tell me about a late train in Croydon, or the “woes of waiting for a bus, and then two come at the same time #buskake”; Charlie Brooker, a great cynic of our time, has turned his writing which has insightful pieces on television and his Guardian column, has turned his talent from gold into bowel movements.
I think the thing that is worrying me is that social media can be seen as a means to changing perceptions and challenging orthodoxies to give people a voice. But when individuals are aware of others, they become self conscious and attempt to project some idealised conception of themselves, projecting themselves as they think others expect or wish to see of them. I’m guilty of this myself, Michael and Destre have told me in previous discussions that they are slowly self conscious about this issue and find that social media management is similar to personality management in social interractions. In this way, social media has a fundamentally conservative force, instead of changing perceptions, it enforces the notion of ‘business as usual’, or that the status quo (or some hyperbolised version, where all some individuals do are say proverbs and upload pictures of babies/cats/their six pack/drunken partying). The govenance of social media is under more nefarious hands than governments and shifty mega corporations, its governed by the expectations others have of us. It is true that social media can be used to subvert traditional forms of authority, and unify forms of resistance and can signify ideological and symbolic forms of difference. Social media however can be a conservative force that expresses in a most naked form, our need for approval from others, by emphasising what we think others will like or expect of us as social persons.This mindset preserves the status quo, and also our ways of perceiving change, both within ourselves and without.
It’s also inescapable. I could cynically add: ‘Like us on facebook’ and ‘join us on Twitter’. Words are cheap, if all we have to say are things people expect of us, that’s not freedom, it’s self enforced slavery.