By Tim Hardy
“I am always ten seconds away from deleting my twitter account,” Mark Fisher announced last night at the launch for Paul Mason’s new book.
It’s a sentiment I share.
Life in the age of social media too easily becomes a kind of strained public performance with our tweets and status updates the canned laughter that stands in for real joy because we are too exhausted and disconnected to experience the life in front of us.
About 18 months ago I deleted nearly a decade’s worth of my online presence because I felt sickened by the behaviours that the existing structures of social media seem to be encouraging.
While I appreciate the transformative power of technology, I am often nostalgic for certain qualities of everyday life that we have lost due to the ubiquity of networked devices. Nor are the dangers of a creeping surveillance state lost on me.
I was an early adopter but I am not a digital native. When I am on twitter, I am aware that I am not in the moment: my attention is elsewhere. I turn to it for distraction when I should be doing other things. This is not healthy.
Even when discussion online is political, too much activity reminds me of Zizek’s description of interpassivity:
Even in much of today’s progressive politics, the danger is not passivity, but pseudo-activity, the urge to be active and to participate. People intervene all the time, attempting to “do something,” academics participate in meaningless debates; the truly difficult thing is to step back and to withdraw from it. Those in power often prefer even a critical participation to silence – just to engage us in a dialogue, to make it sure that our ominous passivity is broken. Against such an interpassive mode in which we are active all the time to make sure that nothing will really change, the first truly critical step is to withdraw into passivity and to refuse to participate. This first step clears the ground for a true activity, for an act that will effectively change the coordinates of the constellation.
The Interpassive Subject: Lacan Turns a Prayer Wheel, Slavoj Zizek
However, six months after deleting everything, I started Beyond Clicktivism and the connected twitter account @bc_tmh in spite of all these reservations.
For all the dangers, the potential to reach large numbers of people through social media, including those who do not have the mobility or the means to meet otherwise, has a value that cannot be underestimated. Mainstream media attention still stands as the only gateway to wider audiences but the border controls are becoming more and more porous.
Even then I was unable to bring myself to create a new Facebook account. To me, it is a personal data Ponzi scheme and I have no time for walled gardens.
As Mark’s fellow panelist James reminded us, “We must not forget that Facebook is a factory. If something appears to be free it is because you are generating wealth for it. The news of the Facebook IPO just confirms how much that is worth.”
Aaron Peters is quick to point out that there are things that are free for radical, world-changing reasons: the open source software that runs a significant proportion of our technological infrastructure and projects like Wikipedia are two high-profile examples. It’s a qualification with which James would doubtless concur. Otherwise Aaron agrees about the image of social media as a factory. He is very enthusiastic about recent talk of using the Facebook IPO date as the signal for a mass deletion of accounts.
While the existing open source alternatives currently replicate the self-branding performativity I find so alienating about popular social media, at the very least they offer a way out of commercial data silos and the possibility of changes to their structures that are not motivated solely by profit.
It’s a very compelling idea. What would happen if there was a run on Facebook on the day it went public? What would it take to make this happen?