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Tuesday, 9 November 2010

"I can't believe you made me watch that right before bed."

The loss of the body, right?
That's transcendence, that's the dream.
A free-floating spiritual self. That's what I want when I read.
The loss of the body.

I broke out in a Zuckerberg sweat, my heart went crazy, I had to stop and lean against a trashcan. Can you have that feeling, on Facebook? I’ve noticed—and been ashamed of noticing—that when a teenager is murdered, at least in Britain, her Facebook wall will often fill with messages that seem to not quite comprehend the gravity of what has occurred. You know the type of thing:

Sorry babes! Missin’ you!!! Hopin’ u iz with the Angles. I remember the jokes we used to have

When I read something like that, I have a little argument with myself: “It’s only poor education. They feel the same way as anyone would, they just don’t have the language to express it.” But another part of me has a darker, more frightening thought. Do they genuinely believe, because the girl’s wall is still up, that she is still, in some sense, alive? What’s the difference, after all, if all your contact was virtual?

-- Zadie Smith, Generation Why? (The New York Review of Books, November 25th)

Gosh a mighty, Twitter blew up few days ago with Zadie Smith's pointed essay in the New York Review Of Books on 'The Social Network' and the failure of Facebook. She argues, with a good deal more erudition than I did, that the movie is deeply enjoyable, wildly inaccurate and is a movie about 2.0 humans made by 1.0 humans (Fincher & Sorkin) who are desperately looking for Zuckerberg's Rosebud. The drive to create Facebook wasn't sexual, it was evangelical - specifically about information. Zucker berg speaks constantly about the need to index the soul, or least the version of the soul that conflates with 'the shit you like and the shit you don't largely care for:

most of the information that we care about is things that are in our heads, right?
And that’s not out there to be indexed, right?”

It’s like hardwired into us in a deeper way: you really want to know what’s going on with the people around you,” he said.

Zuckerberg's New Yorker Profile

Here comes the big meme in Smith's argument, the quotes that have been stripped and tossed around Twitter with most fervency:

When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned.

Just under a week ago, I posted my last entry on this blog, replete as it was with my customary linkage, which spreads the reader wide and thin across the internet.

Last week I bleated in my phd seminar that the act of sending the reader away gives them agency, the choice to return - or not - to the original text**or disappear down a rabbit hole of cyber discovery. THAT'S why, aliceemma, I made an aesthetic choice not to code it so your browser opened up new tabs. You choose your path. You leave, you stay, you come back. Or not. There's an artificial sense of throughline, your last destination disappears as the new one loads.

So like the pixelly version of Alice that we are, we take our Victorian sensibilities and our terrible claws and we venture out into the wilds of the web. Well exciting. Woo.

Last week I created a link to a youtube of the back of the word 'perform.'

It took the reader to a video which was, in the creator's (one nade00 ) words:

A montage about the sad stories in gymnastics. I cannot even imagine the pain of training your whole life for a dream then having it taken away.

Footage includes Julissa Gomez, Christy Henrich and Yelena Mukhina, whose stories are perhaps the greatest examples of tragedy in gymnastics.

Also included is Sang Lan, who is a very inspiring amd courageous woman. She has managed to keep a positive outlook on life and do many great things. She hopes to be one of the final torchbearers at next year's Beijing Olympic Games.

The other gymnasts I chose because they were perhaps the best examples of gymnasts forced to retire in their prime, or before their career even really began.

I also included those who never lived up to expectations, those supposed to be the next big thing who were then forced to watch their dreams slip away in the spotlight.

Julissa Gomez
Christy Henrich
Yelena Mukhina
Alexandra Huci

The song is 'Bittersweet Symphony' by the Verve.




I clicked 'play' on the video.
Those terrible 90s strings started up
The titlecards flew by:

My inner Jackie Collins smiled.

I moved the scrubber quickly acroos the 6:11 minutes of footage, because god knows I had no time to watch the whole thing.Youtube is a colour in my paintbox, a moodpiece. A quick gag.

My housemate stopped me last night and said:

-- I read your blog. I can't believe you made me watch that thing right before bed.
--What? What? It was funny. So portentous. And hugely overtaxed glamour girls failing because of wild expectations, that's like one of themes right? I didn't watch it all the way through. Was it bad?
-- I think you better watch it.

So I watched. It was kitschy and horrifying in about equal measure, the sports channel camera hovering in a bird's eye view above the broken body of Sang Lan, and backstage shots of the ubiquitous coffin entourage as one by one, desperate, painfully sinuous teenage girls are laid out to Bittersweet Symphony.

The internet is rife with snuff. Within two minutes I could have you networked in to any given amount of death. We all recall the big stories: Neda Agha-Soltan's youtube'd execution by a sniper in the Iran riots, the journalist Daniel Pearl whose execution was videoed and disseminated widely throughout the web. The herky-jerky last movements of Saddam Hussein caught on a mobile phone.

I'm not going to link to them. They're easy enough to find if you want them. And it's not as thought the novel has never appropriated the real life and pain of others for the effect of a glorious motif. It doesn't make it any less corrosive.

It's far too late to get self righteous. Though I have never watched these executions my fatuous hummingbird sensibility makes me just as culpable. And the way I read now is so bound up in the way I use the internet: lightning fast, concept hungry and skimming, skim, skimmed.

The loss of a physical self online means the mind can flip, jump and skip across concepts, divorced from the reality of the body, of shattered bone. The casual destruction of the body in a few clicks. Just because I would have been horrified by the content of this gymnastics video doesn't negate the fact that I perpetuated its glibness, its synth strings, its absence of empathy.

Sorry babes! Missin’ you!!! Hopin’ u iz with the Angles. I remember the jokes we used to have LOL! PEACE XXXXX

I don't think what Smith sees here on the dead girl's Facebook wall demonstrates a lack of empathy or understanding of tragedy. I don't know that it's any different from any graveside monologue, which, in the face of mortality is usually shot through with banalities, (ooh, the roses have come through lovely this year) the domestic - in this case the text msg (LOL! PEACE XXXXX) we talk to the dead in the dull, commonplace language of the living. The idiom isn't the problem, babes. The Facebook-sited interaction ain't the worry.

The horror is the 28 open tabs in Firefox alongside the Facebook memorial.
I'm buying train tickets
I'm learning Spanish, I'm spam, I'm grieving my lost angles,
I'm Marc Jacobs S/S 2011. I'm the reason I'm never more than 5 lines per paragraph.

That doesn’t mean that promoting the rapid discovery and retrieval of information is bad. It’s not. The development of a well-rounded mind requires both an ability to find and quickly parse a wide range of information and a capacity for open-ended reflection. There needs to be time for efficient data collection and time for inefficient contemplation, time to operate the machine and time to sit idly in the garden.

We need to work in Google’s “world of numbers,” but we also need to be able to retreat to Sleepy Hollow. The problem today is that we’re losing our ability to strike a balance between those two very different states of mind. Mentally, we’re in perpetual locomotion. . . .

-- Nicolas Carr, The Shallows

Empathy doesn't disappear when it's situated online. Hell, the sports channels were the ones outputting the gymnastic carnage. But the internet user's penchant for montage, the overview and a mania for indexing mean we are easily reduced. Of course, as Zadie Smith says fiction is also a form of reduction of the self: the boiling down of the particular into narrative coherence. Perhaps what she finds so unsettling is seeing these narrativising tools in the hands of anyone with a cable modem.

It's the challenge of every online reader to pay the right kind of attention. This form demands so much of us, the ethics of modulating or attention can be overwhelming and I have been failing too much. I won't delete a thing. I'll let all the old body of work stand, flabby and fragmented. Let every over-buffed gym coach and copy editor scream.

According to UEA Medical Centre, I am growing a new self even now. How disappointingly 1.0 of me.


alice emma said...

interesting. I think there's some things to be thought about (in an open ended, inefficient way)and i'm sure they are being thought about and written about... about who are these tributes directed to? Are they like the notes on the flowers that get dirty by the side of the road? who reads them? who is the supposed reader of any wall post? certainly not just the profile (i hesitate on the next word... owner... not right... i really don't know what the word is - moderator? or is author better if we are talking about narratives?)
How does not knowing who will read what you write change what you write? But not only that you don't know who will, but that ANYBODY COULD. I don't put a lot of things out there in the void. Do you think of it as a void? I suppose there is no space there at all.
What voice do you use if you don't know who's going to hear it?
Have i gone off topic?
And it's alright, Wigmore. I'll just right click and open a new tab myself thanks.