Law in the Internet Society
Sharing my poo on Instagram – the new popular hyperreality

The ready availability of Internet and social media have changed the way people share and gain information, but how deep is this change? Is it only superficial or does it alter humans more broadly?

This question is only meaningful given a timescale. I doubt you need the answer at any of the five year, hundred year, thousand year scales, but they would differ completely, making the existing question meaningless. Why is this the right place to begin an essay? You should state an idea, and show how you can develop it.

Internet and social media are not the first technological innovations that have the capacity to broadly alter the way we communicate. Certainly, the emergence of the international postal service, telegraphs and telephony shortened communicational distances and news were learned faster. One would also imagine that they lead to more commerce and more reasonable decisions as better information was available. During all these technological changes, the old-timers were complaining and saw the technological change as altering the world. The new generations were in general less prone to see the experience in so dramatic terms.

They couldn't see a change at all, in fact, if they were born after it. But those who lived both before and after the development of telegraphy were right that it changed the world. Less than the Net does, because the Net connects people, not places, across the scale of humanity rather than across even extensive geography. But enough for the old-timers to have been completely right, a proposition you seem to be working yourself up to denying.

So what about the Internet and especially the social media? We can pin down the changes that it has brought to the way we interact we each other, but is it possible to delineate a more meaningful change to the human nature?

On a longer time scale, and without reference to evanescent details of unimportant technology, yes, tentatively. But that's not what you're doing here.

Information is shared more easily and more rapidly and hence the conversations in real-life will also be somewhat altered. The major difference probably with previous technological changes is that we now access more information regardless whether we want it or not. When friends meet face to face they need to change less factual information as they already have more background information about each other. This might lead to less time spent on trivial factual talk if we consider it trivial as maybe value is also built through the common experience. On the other hand it means more time is spent online in gathering the information that otherwise might have been gathered through face-to-face interaction.

These are the relatively trivial details that come from not reimagining the scale of human interconnection and the resulting changes in the structure of social life. Once you expand the time scale and begin to focus on the consequences of: (1) the pervasive change as individual brains develop in coexistence with the Net from birth; and (2) the consequences of complete interconnection of all members of the species, which is heretofore unachieved by organisms on Earth, you can see why your way of thinking about the question you pose won't get you anywhere.

Although some changes seem to be more meaningful. Sharing images of one’s everyday life through social media has become a prevalent practice. It has become so important that many people see things as meaningless unless they are shared on social media or on search engines. Sharing what is meaningful creates value in people’s eyes. In line with Jacques Rancière, it can be argued that this essentially what aesthetics and politics do – set the boundaries and share what is meaningful. This is what human interaction more broadly is largely about – sharing our meaningful experience and constructing our social capital through the feedback we receive from others for what we have considered to be meaningful and hence sharingworthy.

Yes. But these are merely transitional phenomena. The issues that matter have to do with the presence or absence of something we have quaintly referred to as human freedom once the Net actively socializes every human mind and potentially constantly surveils every human body and registers every human thought.

Social media allows people to share what is socially meaningful for them in a new way that allows also for more feedback. There are many ways how to put one’s social capital on display, but social media is probably the most efficient of them. The more traditional ways of showcasing one’s social capital are not immediate like social media. Telling someone a story or showing them photos after time has lapsed from the original event is not as effective as an immediate immersion in the experience. The other people might be impressed, but there is more potential to impress them through immediate sharing via social media. Social media can cater better to the insatiable vanity and craving for recognition. Thanks to Instagram people can immediately share their everyday experience with the people in their social network (which probably in large part also overlaps their face to face contact network) who in turn can immediately give their feedback for the shared experience. The experience gains value precisely thanks to sharing in social media. But social media differs from other ways of sharing meaningful experience in that it provides a very easy feedback that allows one to assess their social experience and automatically feel the satisfaction of approval by others. Unlike telling a story or showing pictures face to face or in a one-to-one setting, sharing experiences on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and their likes allows to address a wider audience and gather their feedback in a shorter amount of time. By sharing experiences with more people, the sharer increases the chances of receiving positive feedback, which feeds their vanity and desire of recognition. Thanks to social media they can gain a bigger sense of recognition.

This has lead many people to consider their life experiences as less valuable if they are not posted on social media. A nice dinner is still tasty, but eating truffles is also enjoyable for the fact that other people are aware that the person in question has eaten truffles. Although they high market value of truffles certainly partially derives from their distinct taste, another large part of it is the social construction of admiration for truffles. Hence eating truffles does not simply mean engaging in the culinary pleasures of allowing one’s tongue to get acquainted with the rimose texture and full taste of the delicate mushroom but engaging in an act of social distinction and recognition that shows both – the possession of wealth necessary to allow this experience and being in the cultural know to take pleasure of such learnt pleasures as truffles. Social media cannot do much for the actual physical tasting experience, but it can greatly enhance the accompanying social experience. The greater pleasure of social recognition allowed by social media creates an addiction for the enhanced social recognition.

For Jean Baudrillard contemporary culture creates a hyperreality that imitates the real and makes it more real in the eyes of the consumers of that contemporary culture. Internet and the experience of sharing the banal everyday enterprises of all people have popularized the hyperreality. For the post-modern cultural theorists hyperreality was distinguished by its use of symbols that are widely known and come to carry meanings even distant from their meaning in the reality. Social media internet operates a different change – it can use these same symbols, but its diversion from more traditional ways of one on one communication is operated by the process of sharing and receiving feedback. This process creates a new reality that is deceivingly called the virtual reality. Increasingly the more meaningful social experiences find place within this new realm called the virtual reality. Because the means of sharing meaningful experiences and receiving feedback in social media can satisfy the desire for recognition and vanity better than the traditional means of communication. When the new reality is what conditions what is a meaningful social experience and how it is shared, either it is the new primary reality or the distinction has become meaningless.

Gustav Kalm

This is an essay that more or less successfully avoids discussing its subject, primarily by pretending, whenever it senses the need to get to the root of the matter, that it is instead an essay about someone called Jean Beaudrillard, who as a matter of fact didn't know shit about anything having to do with the Net.

I think the best way forward is to drop that stuff where it belongs and make an actual attempt to think about your nominal subject. Given an appropriate context for historical speculation, which means using meaningful timescales and considering phenomena of larger than dust-mote size, what does the Net do to the nature of human social life? Such an inquiry doesn't lead to a single answer: it leads to the recognition of multiple possible futures, some desirable and some undesirable. We may then try to isolate the threads of causation that lead to more or less desirable outcomes, and attempt to intervene in present social processes with the intention of improving the probability of longer-term outcomes we can celebrate rather than fearing.

Such a process of thought is possible. Some of us who had the earliest possible opportunity to do that thinking, who have decades of experience in doing it, and who were expert in the technologies involved from the beginning, have already begun acting to achieve a better future. You've spent some months at least in contact with the nature of their thought, taught to you first hand by one of those who began the journey at the beginning. Wouldn't it make more sense to write in some sort of contact with those ideas, rather than throwing out all the work already done in order to write about some foam on the surface of the ocean called "Instagram," now merely another arm of Facebook, and some nonsense calling itself Jean Baudrillard?


Webs Webs

r8 - 23 Aug 2014 - 19:31:21 - EbenMoglen
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