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.