digital self is no longer fun
Addiction to novelty is the new pathology
looking for escape routes, not exactly moral righteousness for being offline
I refuse to be one thing. I’m two things, three things, a hundred things at once, and I’ll be a hundred different things tomorrow. I don’t want the convenience of being collapsed, defined, optimized for legibility. I want to be aerated, blobby, and porous. I want to be the sea around an archipelago, a society of islands harboring uncountable species. I want to be a distributed self, an assembly that assembles with others, that refuses — or more appropriately, exceeds — hyper-rational, neocolonial frameworks, hierarchies, and ways of seeing.
"I’m afraid of becoming an idiot. In this age, you don’t need to think. You don’t even have to look for things; they’ll be found for you. You don’t have to remember things; it’ll be remembered for you. The diggers before us bought illegal CDs and brought them into the country. The digger generation before that could go and look for things on cassette and vinyl. We did our digging on YouTube. Even then, we didn’t have artificial intelligence systems to analyse our tastes and recommend new songs for us. I had to go all around finding things one by one and listening to them. I would make lists of songs I was hearing for the first time, and then later I would go looking for similar ones, creating my own personal playlists. I ended up listening to a lot of music. These days, I can go on Spotify alone and they’ll recommend 10 songs that are similar to the one I just listened to. Their recommendations aren’t actually bad. If you look at our generation, there’s a lot of knowledge but no thinking – lots of information, no contemplation. You’re constantly acquiring information, so the information acquired before gets crowded out by the new information, and your own ideas go away. It feels like everyone’s floating around knowing where to fit on."
“You have to be somebody,” Jaron Lanier writes in You Are Not a Gadget, “before you can share yourself.” A fine sentiment, but I prefer Marilynne Robinson’s formulation in which she speaks of a not-so-ancient era when we prized the gorgeous difficulty of becoming a person. “Truly and ideally,” she writes, “a biography was the passage of a soul through the vale of its making, or its destruction, and that the business of the world was a parable or test or temptation or distraction and therefore engrossing, and full of the highest order of meaning…” In our era, our souls do not pass through a vale but ascend to a different Valhalla, one built in binary code, where those albums of selfies will surely outlast us. I shudder to think of myself eternally marooned in that afterlife, squished between ads for diet pills and a poorly lit pic of a meal recently consumed by a “friend.” If anything, such documents will speak to those old enduring hungers. But like so many other fixations, just because we crave it doesn’t mean it will nourish us.
I am attracted to ellipsis, to the unsaid, to suggestion, to eloquent, deliberate silence. The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary. It is analogous to the unseen; for example, to the power of ruins, to works of art either damaged or incomplete. Such works inevitably allude to larger contexts; they haunt because they are not whole, though wholeness is implied: another time, a world in which they were whole, or were to have been whole, is implied. There is no moment in which their first home is felt to be the museum.
| Louise Glück, "Disruption, Hesitation, Silence", in American Poetry Review, Vol. XXII, No. 5 (1993), p. 30
If we are constantly performing the self to the ubiquitous and persistent audiences that social media platforms provide, then interiority is no longer central to selfhood and no longer assumed in the same way. Instead, our performances establish ourselves for others, and how those performances are received conveys a sense of selfhood back to us.