Take one step forward, another sideways

I had – and I still have, a lot of trouble relating to Rushkoff. Normally, if I was still doing my undergrad, I would simply take it on a purely intellectual approach i.e. see the problem, examine the weaknesses critically, attack, riposte, attack, break a couple of definitions, affirm and “To-What-Extent” conclusion with maybe a re-territorialising of framework. I’ve done that a lot, without actually engaging with material. I’m going to try for a more personal one, if not I’ll just be reiterating my intro to media/comm essay.

The closest I feel to, is maybe Lauren‘s response, except that I don’t feel like the middle generation – not at all and most of all, I feel that Rushkoff is looking at it from a perspective of someone that is already far behind. What did Gibson say before? “The problem with writing about the future, is that it feels dated the moment it’s written”. I’m paraphrasing but that’s the gist of it, and that’s how I feel too.

I was 9 when the first dot-com boom happened. For me, I didn’t care about the jobs or the $100,000 paycheques. For me it was Neopets, having my own geocities website and having several hotmail accounts. You can’t imagine it, giving pure power to a 9 year old. One hit, I was hooked. The things I could do suddenly! I wrote emails to people whom I didn’t know – one of them was Mathematica Grammatica, a company in LA. He had a science website at that time, geared towards kids. I wrote to him saying I wanted to try the bismuth experiment, but couldn’t get it. 3 days later fedex delivered a box to my house, and wrapped between 2 tshirts (which I still own) were the chemicals. (only later later later did I realise I had gotten hold of the email address of the CEO of Wolfram lol) I joined several BBS and since I could lie, I did. I could talk to anyone, be anyone and the sheer power of it was giddy. Then I got an ICQ, and later IRC and it was like boom! Outside the world was exploding, but at home I was flying.

And that’s what I think Rushkoff neglects, that yes it’s about control and power and they are data-mining every aspect of your life but I was to time-travel back, and if you asked me: “would you exchange your freedom for another freedom?” I would say yes. No issue there. Is it that terrible, to be pigeonholed and channeled if you are given the illusion of pure power? I really don’t care if The System knows I prefer dark chocolate to milk chocolate, or that I really dislike carrots, or that yellow is my least favourite colour. Send me more vouchers! Tailor it to my shopping habits! I don’t care. The only real privacy nowadays is reading. After all, who can peer into your head when you are actively reading a book?

There’s the thing here too, about authenticity and names and what he terms: “quality relationships”. OK, what’s a “quality relationship”? Are my relationships any less, because we never meet in physical space? Is there a problem if we exceed Dunbar’s number in friends?

It bothers me because I don’t value my physical friends any less than my online ones – in fact, if I may be so bold to say; I value some of my online friends MORE than my seemingly “real” relationships. My housemate is not from Parsons. Until this year, I have never met her in person. She was a member of the online community I moderated, and I agreed to live with her (before coming to new york, I didn’t even know how she looked like or what her real name was or even basic information like her age. You can say I’m very lucky or very stupid or very both) Come spring break, I’m going up to Montreal to meet another person I’ve known online for 3 years but have never met in person or even talked on the phone. When my lease expires in September, most likely I will pick someone online first and if that doesn’t work out – look for housemates within the school aka. “real” physical friends.

The question is about medium, OK I’ll buy that most communication is done via gestures or body language – but what about delayed communication? What about the pleasure of not needing to face someone? I’m pretty sure the whole idea of why confessions were so popular is because of the screen, the lack-of-seeing, the division between knowing and meeting. What about the fact that humans are remarkably good adopters of mediums, schooling the expression to fit the form? For instance the poliferation of emoticons/kaomoji, where 😀 is a happy grin and T_T is a crying face. Think about the levels of abstraction at play – the abstraction of speech to words; from words to qwerty, from qwerty to screen, and screen to human feeling and back again. Think about how remarkably fast we immediately “get” it, even without translation. Who says we need to communicate only when in physical presence?

Dunbar’s number I think, is mathematical but it doesn’t really capture the entire emotional spectrum of what a “friend” can be. Friends aren’t static things, so even if we have 500 as friends, they can be different level of friends. For instance I have a filter on facebook called Parsons, which limits/shows status only to the friends I have in Parsons. Similarly I employ the same level of filtration in every level of friendship – Dunbar isn’t wrong, we can probably cope with only 150 true “all-in-every-category-friends” but he probably didn’t think about the frenemies (i.e. people like your ex-boyfriend, who is not really your friend but someone you just want to stalk and peer curiously into) or friend-colleagues (i.e. people who post updates on their children, family photos, food and are related only cos you worked with them last summer). Besides that I have several facebook and journaling accounts, which totals to slightly over 1000 friends – does it really matter? Some of them add me simply because I’m a moderator, and they add me as a way of ‘o hay here’s a complaint’ but it never exceeds the boundaries. Is that a friend? It’s only a friend because ‘friend-ing’ is a channel of communication. It’s like picking up a phone. I add you as friend, you pick up the phone.

I guess the problem is in syntax. There isn’t another word for adding people because ‘friend’. So what turns out is that we’re all friending each other like pancakes rolling in syrup, even if we aren’t using ‘friend’ in the deep soulful emotional (aka. shakespeare) way. My solution? Find a new word besides ‘friending’ and ‘friend’ and people won’t psychoanalyse and overthink it anymore.


6 thoughts on “Take one step forward, another sideways

    • yeah I just can’t feel that way about Rushkoff. I mean I handed my assignments handwritten because that’s how the education system is – but I don’t feel that nostalgic Lanier-esque worry about technology over taking our lives, or that degrading in relationship quality. It’s all the same to me, in the end.

      hahaha don’t be ageist!!!

  1. I don’t feel nostalgic. But you have consider whether the average kid using Facebook has the same level of awareness as a graduate MFA student at Parsons. It’s possible they’re all as developed as you, and all as insightful and talented.

    Then again, it’s possible that most people don’t know that their Google search results are tailored for them. You all know this, of course (right?) Google gives each person different search results based on their usage patterns and IP address, because their real customer is the advertiser and they want to maximize your clicks.

    I’m FINE with that, of course. As long as people know. But people don’t. The search results for things that aren’t going to promote consumption and click-through are not included. Your universe changes.

    I think it’s absolutely okay for you to make a conscious choice that you want to live in an online universe where choices about what you see and find out about are limited by a corporation. Honestly, this is okay. I just want you to know you are surrendering to that entity, and that you have thought about it.

    This is not nostalgia for typewriters. It’s just wanting people to gain some level of awareness about the choices being made on their behalf by programs they mostly do not know exist.

    Do you feel most people under 20 already know this? They understand that they are not the customers of Facebook? They realize the extent of datamining and big data research that’s being done on them? They know that the comments they see and don’t see are edited by Facebook based on their ability to be monetized?

    • Actually, probably – yes? Maybe they won’t know about lower level coding or how to write their own script, but I think a good 80%+ would know. I’m basing this off the level of tech awareness in my home country though (Singapore) where every kid from age 7 onwards has compulsory IT classes and where public education is remarkably standardised and efficient (I went through the standard public school government education) Like when I was 14, all of us had our own weblogs – that was before wordpress; most people were using geocities,angelfire, diaryland or blogger. Livejournal was an eye-opener too, in terms of spreading community awareness. One of the things that stood out most clearly for me was that a student 2 years below me had the foresight to buy a domain and split it; so she was hosting my website and I was paying her.

      I understand your worry, but I think you’re worrying about the wrong age group. If you grew up living in it, breathing it; it’s very difficult *not* to know. Like, I don’t read the newspapers anymore, not even online newspapers. I don’t have an RSS feed either, or even google search news. What I *do* get however, is links fed to me by my friends via twitter or short-text and it’s remarkably different from someone who is 10- 20; years older than I am — they’re still stuck with RSS and reading CNN news sites. They have a different perspective of curation than I do. For them, news is curated via algorithmic searching or web protocols; for me, my news is curated by the people I know or “friend diversity index”.

      The group that you *should* worry I think – is yours. It’s the people who think of it as new and exciting and shiny and want to dive in, but don’t know how or have never been connected before. They never really grew up with it, so for them they can imagine a life outside or had have a life outside before so they don’t have that ummm instinctive awareness of navigating programming? Like my mom, when she first started using Facebook and stuff – I had to set it up for her even though I sent her the link to “How To Protect Your FB Account” page to DIY it. If it was someone my age, they would just read the page and do it themselves. For her, even *with* instructions I had to do it. It wasn’t that she couldn’t read or
      follow, but more like she didn’t know the setup or how to even navigate it at all. It’s those people I find need help the most because they’re excited about it, they think it’s cool and sexy and all that. If you grew up with it, it’s already normalised into your life (so technology just feels like another nessescity, but it isn’t “new”).

      But you know what really terrifies me? It’s not my generation that’s in power, it’s yours (or yours before, idk – how old are you???). It’s the people who still think technology is “new” so they either excessively glorify it (like the Apple worshippers or companies who think “Social Media” is the in-thing) or they excessively think of it as a threat and want to return so some Luddite fundementalism (like SOPA/PIPA groups; or crazy people who think you can control the ‘nets)

      And well, people under 20? do you think they care? LOL! People under 20 or heck – people of any age; some people just want to be public, post nude photos of themselves and you can’t stop people from being idiots. They’re hormonal teenagers looking for sex partners, do you think they really care about what the internet really is, when they’re out trying to be as public as possibly and aiming to get their 5 seconds of fame? get real! The internet only made it easier, but if people want to be dumb about it, no amount of harping will stop them. It’s like that bit from clockwork orange, everyone goes through the windup stage where everything is an impluse and you can’t think straight. Heck when I was a teenager, my main concern was whether I was popular enough for the dude I liked to go to the dance with me; whether I could skip school tomorrow and pretend to be sick; whether I had enough money for drinks later, whether the dress I liked would be sold out on ASOS — the internet was only a photo uploading service, who gives a shit what they do with it? <—– that would be the attitude of a 15 year old self tbh.

  2. Evidence points to the contrary. People under 30 are less likely to be able to distinguish between an ad an editorial, less capable of determining the validity of a source, and so on.

    But I think you miss my point. I am a much more hopeful advocate of the net than you are. I think we can change the world with it. I am not worried. I am not like Nick Carr or someone concerned about the net.

    I wrote about the instinct. Read my book Playing the Future, which introduced the terms “Digital natives” and “screenagers,” and explained this instinctive thing to grownups. Believe me, I was the ONLY one on that side of it for ten years. And if you’re up on C++ and understand the rhetoric of these spaces, that’s great. More of us need to achieve basic literacy, and I think it would be great to teach this in school. Not because I am old, but because programming is like the alphabet.

    I just saw an opportunity. I think I have too much hippy hope that we could use the net to break out of centuries of programming and control. I thought I saw an opportunity for people to actually come to grips with how their world has been put together, and now I’m watching that window pretty much close.

    But humanity, or some portion of it, will go on.

    It’s fascinating that you see this as generational. That whole concept is derivative of a marketing ploy started in the 1950’s, precisely in order to prevent people of different ages from breaking through. See each other as different, or as the enemy, rather than looking at ways we are being exploited by corporations.

    • Do you have a source? Is the evidence specific to a country, or socioeconomic age group? Did they consider that, maybe people can’t tell the difference because all news is now pushed by agenda or lobby group, to the point that everything is an advertisement for something else now? And that below age 5, critical differentiation isn’t there yet?

      Nah I’m not missing it, I’m disagreeing with you. I’m saying that Programmed or Be Programmed is written by someone disappointed by the lack of Digital Revolution, and that’s how I’m reading it. I don’t think we can change the world with it, because people don’t care about changing the world that much – it sounds flippant but, the people who want to change the world are akin to the people who actually produce new stuff for the nets aka. 5% of the entire population. The rest of the 95% are youtube voyuers, people who comment THANK YOU FOR THE FREE SCANS!, the seeders of your BiTorrent and so on. They’re also the people who give $1 for climate change charity groups, but continue to use SUVs and hairspray.

      I’m speaking of this from experience. I started running a community when I was 14; back when we only had 10 members. Now it’s a group of 15,000++ members, and god knows how many lurkers. The truth is, most people use the internets as a desultory thing, they want their stuff and they want it NOW. The people who actually produce content – fansubbers, uploaders, translators, scanners, fanfiction writers, torrent makers; are by and large a very small percentage and this very small percentage is made even smaller when people Grow Up. I’m in my twenties, and what I really want to do is give the community up to someone younger and more active so that I can do my homework, go out into RL and other things (to actually run a community, you need at least 6hrs a day for mod shit) but guess what? NO ONE WANTS TO. Everyone *likes* the idea of it but when the push comes to the shove, no one wants that kind of responsibility. It’s not easy, and it’s really too much unpaid work. Not to mention that its not really something that you can put on your CV. Like one of my friends, she’s an unemployed university dropout and she runs her own server for WoW raids and guilds. She’s obviously great at organising and strategy, but can you really put that as a job? Can you imagine going: “Hi I’m S, I’m 25 and I spend 15hrs a day online putting together teams across several timezones so that we can take down some dragons and all share the spoils?”

      I dunno – maybe in US you guys don’t have generations until marketing spiel came up with it. Where I come from, the concept of generations have always existed. Like everyone born within the same generation and age-hierachy all have the same middle name (in families) For instance my middle name (in character) is 卓; so my sister and all my female cousins share the same middle character of 卓 as well. It’s like a kind of ranking, so when you meet someone you don’t address them by the wrong thing.

      This kind of “generations” thinking exist in other forms in society as well. Like birth year. For instance my government IC number (something like social security, but not) ends with a “#C” which denotes children born within a certain generation. It’s useful for the govt. because our education system changes every 4 years so it does create a certain generational difference.

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