Ethics of Sharing, Adulthood and Online Culture

I have recently written about sharing (halfway down the post) in the context of new experiences producing new configurations of intimacy and estrangement. Cathie McGinn has an interesting and, for me at least, provocative post on her blog about the tension between the public/private distinction and the socio-technical convenience of sharing online. She argues that bad behaviour online is often justified by the trigger of emotional states. This seems logical, most bad behaviour by well-adjusted adults is often due to being upset. I want to propose an alternative to the possible cause of why this is happening.

Rather than being lawless and consequence-free, thus implying that what one does online is of little importance, I suggest the opposite is true. When you write under your own name and write about your own life in such a way to share it with whoever cares to google you, there is a burden of absolute importance placed on what you share. Everything written has to be worthy of your life and the future consequences of your life forever archived in the global google database.

There is ethical challenge here, of having to be worthy of one’s own life and the events that constitute it. It means that if you do want to share, then you’d better live in a way that is worthy of sharing. I believe this is what Cathie meant by everyone living in glass houses. This is not about living an exciting or hedonistic existence, but of living a reflective and satisfying one. Therefore, if there is a trend toward so-called ‘peep culture’, then it is not about the tabloidisation of everyday life into bite-sized titilation of 140char or less, but a far more ethical mode of existence.

Problematic for me is the discourse of adolescence and adulthood that Cathie draws upon to make her point. I have talked about adulthood and this notion of ‘growing up’ in the past. We “grow up online”, she is concerned with the “genuinely awful behaviour performed by otherwise functional adults”, which reminds her of her “giddy immediacy of my teenage years”. I have little time for fuckwits online or off. If people want to carry on like fuckwits online, then the solution is not to barricade their online personas with a firewall of anonymity, but to become better people and stop behaving like fuckwits! LOL! Of course, we have the distinct capacity to emphasise and to care for others in need. Sometimes this means forgiving others for social transgressions, and going to war against bullies with a brilliant fury when they start picking on people. People need to be worthy of the capacities of social communication technologies, rather than sublimating them into their fragile egos.

Cultural Politics of Unhappy Little Vegemites

There have been various critiques already mobilised regarding what is at stake in this uFail 2.0 iSnack 2.0 shenanigans. I like Chookspot’s critique on on nationalistic grounds where the unveiling of the new name was likened to someone in the US arse-fucking a bald eagle as the quarter time entertainment at the Superbowl.

It reminds me of Tom Soutphommasane’s piece in the Australian about the Aussie political left reclaming patriotism. Pride in your country is pure ideological expression. I have never experienced ‘Australia’ and yet I live here. It is therefore interesting that Vegemite is taken to be a cultural icon of national significance. Maybe I have never lived anywhere long enough without Vegemite to properly appreciate it? I know I was once in the business of sending Vegemite care packages to a girlfriend who moved to the US.

As a structure of feeling, patriotism can mobilise bodies into action. Surely Autralian patriots understand that Vegemite was fucked as soon as it was sold? (Or not sold as much as through a process of mergers and aquisitions became controlled by Kraft US.) Getting mobilised and angry about the image of the brand is a bit farcicial when the structural existence of the company left our shores years ago. Maybe this is what ‘cultural politics’ actually is?

It would be interesting to find out who was behind the Vegemite iSnack 2.0 debacle. My experience working in a ‘creative industry’ is that the ‘creatives’ are often hampered by the (middle) management structure and all the pre-thinking that gets done. Pre-thinking isn’t forethought; in fact, it is almost the opposite of forethought. ‘Pre-thinking’ is what you do when you incorporate what you think your immediate boss is going to think about what you are doing, and this has to incorporate what that person’s immediate boss is going to think and so on. This continues until it reaches a point where you need to incorporate the thinking within thinking within thinking of someone who has no fucking idea about the very real constraints and opportunities that guided your creative process to begin with.

I am interested in the people behind the decission making process because clearly it is distributed across a number of people. No half-intelligent, switched-on person from my generation would ever suggest iSnack 2.0 as a serious contender for the new name of the Vegemite product; but such a name is derived from some hyper-mediated version of the popular culture to which my generation belongs. Therefore, there must have been a creative trajectory where someone exposed decision makers to such a culture and the respective marketing buzzwords (buzzwords like ‘buzzword’) that belong to it, but the ultimate decision was made by someone who has no fucking idea about the absolute ridicule generated by such a non-ironic marketing gesture.

Maurizzio Lazzarato has argued that what contemporary advertising does is not sell us a product as such, rather it sells us a world within which the product exists and within which we want to exist (and therefore have to consume said products to belong, etc). What world does Kraft think we are living in?

Perhaps iSnack 2.0 is actually a post-ironic critique of the alienating effects of commodity captalism? (No, it isn’t. Well, not yet.) The only way for Kraft to retrieve something from this is to push it to the absolute absurd limit. Create a world within which everything literally is iBullshit, like an appropriation of the Ikea existence from Fight Club, which kind of made Ikea cool in some post-ironic fashion: everything becomes empty branded commodity and it’s ok, because we KNOW it is.

I have fail on my mind at the moment.

Fail Fail: Multiplicities of Fail

So I have incorporated too much internet geek-speak into my everyday vocabulary. I understand it is an attempt to speak in a variation of language different to that I am exposed to in the office while being able to express the difference and make sense. If I spoke in high-Deleuzian then it wouldn’t have the same impact. Sometimes it helps me think through things, too. I have been thinking a lot about fail.
A fail is a stuff up. You’d imagine in a dialectic of fail, then a win would be the direct opposite. A win would be when something goes right. The dialectic of win/fail is suitable for the sloganeer-captioned demotivationals, as the discursive punchline to a visual joke, but not for the multiplicity of fail that we encounter everyday. I joked on my facebook profile update that I should have done a PhD in fail as it would have better prepared me for the real world. Although comical, it wasn’t really a joke.
I just realised that I need to make a decision. Real change only occurs when you realise you have failed at failing. A fail in the common argot is a stuff up of monumental proportions involving embarrassing or unfortunate circumstances. There are many other minor fails when something goes wrong, however. These minor fails are not fails as such, there has not been a failure as such, merely another turn of events that have not worked out as well as they possibly could. For example, getting stuck in traffic because of someone else’s fail (car accident), is not a fail because as a Sydney driver I expect the possibility of a traffic jam in the conditions of possibility for driving. The fail of the traffic jam is precisely what I should expect to happen, so I’d argue that even though I’d call it a fail, it is not really a fail as such.
On the other hand, there are real fails and not just the humorous demotivational kind. These are when you fail at failing. The regular way to understand a fail is if something has not worked out as well as it possibly could and one way to understand it is in terms of fulfilling the expected conditions of possibility for whatever had to work out. There is another fail, bigger and smaller at the same time, subjacent to the fail, a kind of meta-fail. This is a failure of expectation that allows one to cope with the possible outcomes of a course of events. The actual event of the fail punctures something in your perception of whatever is happening and what fails is not so much the course of events fulfilling possible experience, but the conditions of possibility that give the events their fail consistency.
The fail fail is something else, it provides an opportunity to reconfigure the expectations by which the conditions of possible experience are given their sensible consistency. Fail or win, when the fail fails, it means you can reconfigure how your relate to events and whether or not they are actually fails or wins.
All this has come to the fore because I just realised that I need to make a decision. Real change only occurs when you realise you have failed at failing. That even though something may not have turned out exactly how I expected, it may not have been the course of events that fail to live up to expectations and rather it are my expectations that fail to live up to the course of events. I have been busy seeing how these events will play out, rolling the dice and upping the ante at every opportunity, but I don’t think things have worked out. Simply sublimating events as fail is too easy. I need to make a decision that is worthy of my fail.

What is Journalism, Tom Switzer?

Tom Switzer has a go at Jason Wilson over whether or not there is a left-leaning bias in professional journalism in Australia.

Tom Switzer used to be the editor of opinion at the Australian newspaper, which perhaps provides a reason for his confusion over what journalism actually is. It is comical even to me that I would have the audacity to correct such an obvious error made by an ex-editor of a national Australian newspaper and now academic fellow at a prestigious university research centre. For starters, ‘opinion’, op-eds or whatever, is not journalism. The basic function of journalism is to report on newsworthy events before, after or while they are happening. Journalism does absolutely nothing else. All the other crap that the media industries pump out under the heading of ‘news’ is an unfortunate side-effect of the newspaper industry, and then 24-hour cable news networks, having to fill the ‘news hole’ in between the advertisements in their publications and broadcasts. (See the opening chapters of Boorstin’s classic text The Image on ‘pseudo-events’.) If newspapers contained only actual news then they would only be a dozen pages or so, published every few days.

It is obvious from Switzer’s piece on the Institute of Public Affairs website that he does not make this distinction. This is telling of the utter poverty of actual journalism in Australia. Someone who should know the difference between actual journalism and other types of media that engage with newsworthy events, but elides such a difference, is unfortunate. A good example is this observation from Switzer:

“The ABC has jettisoned all semblance of impartiality on the issue; its journalists, with rare exceptions, now campaign with a constant stream of scare stories. (Within two weeks recently, the otherwise excellent Lateline broadcast the doom-and-gloom scenarios of Bob Brown, Tim Flannery and Clive Hamilton, whereas in the past two years only one sceptic has been a studio guest – Ian Plimer, in May – and his scholarship was subjected to highly unbalanced, even contemptuous, scrutiny in a news segment just before he himself was interviewed.)”

Are a current affairs style TV shows ‘journalism’? What news is being distributed through these shows? There is no ‘news’ per se on current affairs style televsion shows. They are like magazines compared to a newspaper. Journalism can be practised through such TV shows, of course, but that is not what we normally expect of it. Switzer then goes on to make the disclaimer about how he is not suggesting ‘there is [a left] cabal in newsrooms’; of course he is not, because he is not talking about ‘newsrooms’.

What is actually at stake in these debates is a continuation of the culture wars. The debate is over the character of ‘debate’ itself played out in these magazine-style TV shows (or magazine-style newspapers in Switzer’s case). Conservatives are attempting to argue that the journalism profession itself is at stake; journalism has nothing to do with presenting ‘debate’. Hearing Tim Flannery or Clive Hamilton talk abvout the environment is not a newsworthy event. It is a product of the unfortunate desparation of media organisations to produce coverage of ‘issues’, not ‘news’. Hence, Jason Wilson’s observation that John Howard bipassed the entire ‘debate machine’ in the media for the direct conduit of talkback radio. The reporting on the PM talking about ‘issues’ is a newsworthy event. Conservatives want to be able to force the ‘conversation’ about ‘issues’ back into the terrain where reportage is without mediation. See how there is a slight of hand here?

Hopefully, with all the pay-wall shenanigans happening at the moment, we can go back to a (perhaps idealised) time of real news instead of this posing punditry.

She left the bit with the most toast crumbs

The title of this post from a poem I am working on. For me it expresses the way we form relations with the world around us both in terms of intimacy and estrangement. What follows is an improvised meditation on the way I am trying to grapple with a feeling of loneliness and relations of different intimacies and estrangements with the world, through Deleuze’s concept of the ‘fold’.
One of the most useful concepts in the complete Deleuzian armoury is the post-Kantian conception of the fold. The two main ways the concept has been understood is to think the fold as one way to grapple with the complexity of the event and the second is to rethink subjectivity as an extension of the cosmos. To combine them: We are each an event; that is, a fold of the cosmos that ‘develops’ (‘develop’ in the sense of an old analogue photograph would develop) complex intimacies and estrangements with the world as the lived duration of our existence. In different ways, we welcome and refuse, back and forth, over and over, various elements from our existential ecology on various levels that begin with the pre-personal all the way through to the most arcane and perverse fantasy.
A fold is not just a spatial gathering, each fold has a temporality. This is where it gets crazily complex. Derrida’s concept of hauntology captures some sense of the way we relate with folds that have endured long before we ever came into proximity to them. They have an existence that haunts the present with the duration of what has already been. Similarly the Derridean notion of the ‘to-come’ captures some sense of the way we sometimes come into proximity with events that have started happening but have not yet ‘developed’ into such a form that is definite. There is a sublime power of hope in the gap between the eventual and the event. The complexity arises once you realise that the temporality of events follows no discernable pre-established order, and certainly not some echo of socialised modernist, familial or ‘adult’ temporalities. The future of one event is already situated in the past of another of a different temporal scale and rhythm. Then you introduce the power of imagination motivated by the sublime hope of the eventual to embrace or discard various potentialities between events, and the distinctly human capacity to intuitively apprehend the patterns of potential and turn them into possibility…
Tonight I am thinking about the fold in terms of intimacy and estrangement, because as I have been writing a book review with all my tools of scholarly practice, my music, my apartment and my cigarettes to keep me company, I couldn’t help but feel the gnawing sense of loneliness encroach upon what is my relatively solitary existence. Solitariness has been discussed by various commentators as the withdrawal of communal efficacy in the day to day lives of most people; this has never much concerned me, community in and of itself is pleasant but often feels like a distraction. Instead of a simple dialectic of public-shared and private-restricted as being able to define the relation between solitariness and loneliness I have realised that I am very good at managing various configurations of intimacy and estrangment with the world around me. Recently there have been some disruptions to this, and I am trying to figure out what the implications are, of how much of the flow I should be going with.
For example, many of my friends and colleagues have noted that I share a lot about my life either on this blog, or my Facebook account, or now on Twitter. Some even imply that I overshare. But my sharing is a performative feint. What I share is view on some events of my life — what Deleuze in his book on Foucault would call the production of a visibility. (Very simplisitically, oversharing then is a kind of overexposure.) The composition of my sharing produces a kind of matrix of intimacy and estrangement in relation to and from me. On an affective level, I work to implicate readers in the event of my to-ings and fro-ings. I have often experimented, especially on Facebook, with different types of status update. All this may seem a little bit demented, even sociopathic, and maybe it is, but it developed almost as an accident of always being both remaindered as ‘other’ but included as ‘us’ at the same time. Lived experience is very different however, because it is not merely reportage on events, but the real engagement with future compositions of intimacy and estrangement with as-yet indiscernible folds of the world.
Anyway, the counter-intuitive point I have been trying to think through is the way the development of new intimacies can awaken both old and new estrangements. Folding new and exciting elements of the world into the composition of my subjectivity has somehow made me reassess my solitary existence as instead being one of loneliness. When you meet new people or rediscover old friendships you are not simply becoming intimate (at whatever degree from romantic to almost sibling-like and everything in between) you do not simply form a relation with a person as an object, but a person as a fold of the cosmos and folds of folds, whole universes of meaning.
All of this has happened over a matter of weeks and is a bit surreal, so I have come to a number of tentative, but nevertheless sufficient stop-gap conclusions.
1. The miasma of estranged intimacies and intimate estrangements I am currently experiencing is a powerful force. ‘Miasma’ in the sense of the ancient Greek ‘pharmakon’ (from which ‘pharmacy’ is derived), which can be both poison and medicine depending on the measure. Ethically I need to harness this force and use it to soberly affirm something good in the world. In this circumstance, the ‘good’ is mostly personal in character.
2. I need to be brave to affirm this force. I am brave, almost to the point of stupidity sometimes, so that is ok.
3. I need to learn to appreciate new estrangements and new intimacies whatever their composition, both the potential (that is, imagined future states of) disappointment and excitement are part of this. I am trying to do this through measures of active ‘letting go’ and ’embracing’, rather than a paranoid-reactionary ‘slipping by’ or ‘clingingness’.