Thursday, July 30, 2009

On micro-celebrity culture.

NPR's Kojo Nnamdi sits down with Hal Niedzviecki, author of "The Peep Diaries: How We're Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and our Neighbors (City Lights, San Francisco) and founder of the Broken Pencil Magazine to examine the transition of pop culture into peep culture. Facebook, bloggging and twitter, here we go.

I happen to hate the term, but the observation is on point and something I have been mulling over lately, as any self-respecting element of the synchronicity should be doing.

For the first time in nine years of life in America I feel in tune with it's culture: facebook addiction, voyerism, cybersex, google and wiki over institutionalized learning; all creation digital... self as a brand, self unmentioned, self partitioned for the public eye. Everyone's in the yellow papers now, but IS privacy a commodity to be exchanged for attention, as Hal states? And by the way, what a great name...

I believe there is a place in this whirlpool for a person to preserve their dignity and live in line with the honor of their life and the REAL. For myself, I must formulate a rule in order to stay sane in the pull of this mass addiction:

No digital act shall be taken as an end in itself. Only as a means to create the REAL.

Not vice versa. I will not join the obsession with publicizing one's own life out of the sheer kick of the quasi underground celebrity. What I will give is art. Work. Creation. Yes it may be personal, as any human being is limited by their person, but do not for a second fall into the false assumption that you know me. And I will respect you in return in not assuming that your blog and facebook posts sum up even such a small part of you, as your character.

Creation of the REAL is what justifies it all for me. Under this falls the original premise of facebook: bringing connection to family and friends that are far away. Clearly, it has gone beyond that, into the realm of micro-journalism, micro-celebrity. Simply said, we got our village back, and we must learn to live in it, without detaching from the notion of full life, full emotion and full connection. It is exquisitely satisfying to be a part of a movement, a collective if you will, but at the end of the day it will drive you crazy if your society is only accessible by sitting for hours, in front of a screen, in an isolated room, alone. Might as well start plugging hoses in our necks.

Maybe not everyone goes online in such isolation, of course. Hey maybe I'm behind on this, since I ain't got no hand-held, but the idea of people sitting TOGETHER each on their own computer absolutely disconnected, when they could turn around and... talk is even more frightening. And so, the only plausible way to maintain one's humanity, humility, and honor Life is to treat the damned gadgets as gadgets?

It's tougher than that... Microblogging does create real responses. The sense of knowing a person from their actions and responses to events publicly visible to everyone comes naturally, like in class or at work, and is experienced with fantastic authenticity. But it is NOT who the person is, no matter how revealing their web presence may be. In addition to that, there are minor and absolutely informal, undocumented, sub-groups that form solely around a style of using micro-blogging. Some insist on detached sarcasm, some on emotional honesty, some on religious piety, and others still... spam their way into sex. The more people you have friended the more judgement you may get based on your style of sharing, let alone the things in your life you make public.

What we must remember is that even if people are adopting the ideas of marketing and branding in their web presence, they are not a company, they are not a household product, they are not a character in a book, they are not merchandise attached to a reality series. They are a human being. If you find yourself incapable of feeling compassion for them, think twice before assuming anything else their web presence makes you feel is authentic.

And so, returning to the idea of creation of the REAL. What has been the story of mass media up until now? The printing press, book binding, calligraphy, literacy... It was a process of democratization of an originally elite privilege: to have a voice. In writing, as in lithography, printing has gone hand in hand with the spread of literacy (verbal or visual), but it has never been an end in itself. Even within the art form of printmaking, the idea of a print as a final product is superimposed on its original function and maintained artificially through limiting a number of copies. To jack up the price. And subsequently make the work inaccessible to anyone who can't afford it. The intrinsic power of print, however, has always been in mass communication and mass availability. And that power has been used in facilitating transformation in the realm of the real. From manifestos to newspapers to ad campaigns, a voice is not a trivial ability to posses. It is certainly not a mere vocal chord to satisfy selfish whims of hysteria with attention grabbing fits.

Perhaps, as a society, as a synchronicity, we are experiencing transformation from this choral howl, but as individuals, we are at risk of drowning in it. Perhaps being less obsessed with individuality is not all that bad, and about time (you know... the Age of Aquarius and all that), but there is nothing good in a mass indulging in a lobotomizing and debasing addiction. No matter what cyber life offers, it is a removal from Reality. A tool. If used towards Reality it is of great value, as an end in itself... well, it's the Matrix.


typebalance said...

Mostly agree. I am just confused by your comment on the limited-edition prints. I thought the price was secondary to a weird notion of uniqueness in a limited edition. Maybe.

Care for some artistic in-person activities? I'd love to see you here.


Park Illustration said...

Hey !
I didn't graduate yet. I am still junior. can't graduate soon though ! :p