“Photos, once slices of a moment in the past — sunsets, meetings with friends, the family vacation — are fast becoming an entirely new type of dialogue,” writes Nick Bilton of the New York Times Bits blog.
Given the shadowy practices of data-harvesting and the ubiquity and permanence of social media information, what kinds of young people will choose to run for office?
By now we’ve been trained to record only those behaviors that reflect well on ourselves, lest our employers interpret our cocktail-crushing prowess the wrong way. But Facebook’s privacy settings are clumsy and easy to circumvent. Elsewhere, blog posts, life-tracking data, consumer preferences, and check-in beacons can just as easily be ripped from their context and misdirected to an unintended audience – and meanwhile, the social networks, publishing platforms and shopping hubs just keep multiplying. For those young people interested in running for office, this poses considerable danger.
In Julie Cohen’s Configuring the Networked Self, the legal scholar reveals how much of our thinking on privacy is stifled by the language of authenticity and illusory control. She begins by reminding us that many of the corporate and political actors who favor strong protection for trade secrets share an economic interest with those who lobby for weaker privacy protection. What connects these two is the desire to commodify information and to harness “infrastructures that render individual activity transparent to third party observers.” Companies want to sell us targeted ads, but they don’t want to reveal how they construct their targeting system. Couched in favorable market language, we’re offered an enhanced, personalized experience, discounts and entertainment, social freedom – in exchange for our participation in an all-enveloping apparatus for market research. Still, we aren’t exactly sure what we’re giving up.
My new essay at The Awl
Highly educated Americans tell the world that young people are increasingly distracted or emotionally incompetent due to incessant pointer-clicking and unrelenting thumb-pressing. From the stuffed genre of airport-friendly socio-criticism, we’ve learned that networked technologies are making us lonely and small-minded. Apparently no one has ever sent Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, or Sherry Turkle, of Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology And Less From Each Other, a tastefully brief Snapchat. In their best-selling sermons, “the Net” is the devil. Search engines, hyperlinks, and texts ensnare our intellect with the seductive fork tongue of reptilian temptation.
That Paul did not emerge from a mountain of seclusion like Muhammad or Zarathustra, that he did not return a walking Deepak Chopra of prophetic wisdom and Gandhian patience, is not so surprising. In fact, Paul’s failed experiment helps to refute the Internet fear mongering that has propelled the notoriety of the professional “thinking about the Internet” class.
“The language of offline VS online dominates the way we think of social media and communication. Sociologist Nathan Jurgenson wants us to move beyond it.”
“The tension between experience for its own sake and experience we pursue just to put on Facebook is reaching its breaking point. That breaking point is called Snapchat.” This begins a sophisticated and accessible essay in The New Inquiry by the sociologist Nathan Jurgenson. Fascinated by photographs and the act of consuming images, Jurgenson discusses how the culture of photography has changed under the ever-presence of social media.
For those who live with status updates, check-ins, likes, retweets, and ubiquitous photography, such an understanding is near inescapable. Social media have invited users to adopt a sort of documentary vision, through which the present is always apprehended as a potential past. This is most triumphantly exemplified by Instagram’s faux-vintage filters.
As documentarians and photographers train their eyes to see the profound in the mundane, or to capture movement and emotion in a still image, professional habits become inescapable ticks. Documentary vision is to gaze at the world always with a picture frame in mind, as if every face, tree, shadow or dinner plate is a potential photograph. If you follow Jurgenson’s description, social media has now burdened us all with documentary vision. The real world is just material for Facebook.
Riffing off his earlier piece on Instragram and the faux-vintage photo (No, just because that filter makes me and my friends look like we are from the 1940s doesn’t make the frame important or worthy of memory), Jurgenson argues that the abundance of our Facebook galleries have lessened the value of the photograph. All the rehearsed posing and desperate retouching coupled with the limitless capacity of smartphone snapping and storing makes our digital museums less memorable, not more. In a culture where everything is seen as a potential, sharable post, smiling for the camera can be exhausting. (Pretend like you are having fun! Cheeeeeeese!)
This is why Snapchat, the app that lets you send temporary photographs, represents a refreshing change up.
Temporary photography is in part a response to social-media users’ feeling saddled with the distraction of documentary vision. It rejects the burden of creating durable proof that you are here and you did that. And because temporary photographs are not made to be collected or archived, they are elusive…By leaving the present where you found it, temporary photographs feel more like life and less like its collection.
Jurgenson goes on to say that temporary photography like Snapchat can actually help bolster the position of traditional photography. Amid the barf-stream of endless “Mimosa Brunch!!!” pics and “Were you in a frat?” bro photos, Snapchat is private and thus a more meaningful affair. It’s deliberately about nowness, not “Can’t wait to post this.” Snapchat’s fleeting impermanence reminds us why we take pictures in the first place.
“The ephemerality sharpens viewers’ focus: Once received, a Snapchat count-down is a kind of time-bomb that demands an urgency of vision, a challenge to exhaust the meaning from the image before the clock runs out. Unlike a paper photo that fades slowly over the years, the temporary photo disappears suddenly. Given only a peek, you look hard.”