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Xárene Eskandar
Los Angeles, US
Immortal since Apr 4, 2007
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    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.
    From Xarene's personal cargo

    Social Networking Tools and our Future Society
    Project: The Total Library
    In the chapter titled Author as Producer of Walter Benjamin's Reflections, he introduces Sergei Tretiakov's 'operating writer', and how his/her mission, as opposed to the 'informing writer', is "not to report but to struggle; not to play the spectator but to intervene actively". This description is of the author not as activist—because an activist behaves reactionary—but the author as producer, one who creates the revolution field for and with the proletariat. The activist writer is counter revolutionary as that writer "feels his solidarity with the proletariat only in his attitudes, not as a producer." Then there is the 'hack writer' who within his bourgeoisie class utilizes "the productive apparatus... by improving it in ways serving the interests of socialism." Literature, photography, music and theatre are used as examples of such tools, their political functions being to show the world as it is.

    Either tool can take either stance (bourgeoisie or proletariat). The photograph for instance can present a scene capitalizing on the image of a beautiful world; with a caption, however, it can be utilized by the producer author to tell a completely different story. In case of music, Hanns Eisler observes that "music without words gained importance under capitalism". Change is impossible without words, which then makes a concert of words added to music a political meeting. Words, however, have now been assimilated into the Capitalist culture and visuals have been utilized as a political tool to be added to the music. (But now visuals are also absorbed. So what is the next emergent smooth space for production and political action? Is it reverting to the epic theatre of Brecht, the re-emergence of the soapbox and it's interruption of our thoughts and actions in order to open room for new attitudes?)

    The internet, a smooth space with no boundaries for interaction and information exchange is also a tool, with its political function being the absorbing of borders and nationalities and it's ultimate function as a production apparatus, as Benjamin puts it, an apparatus "which is able first to induce other producers to produce, and second to put an improved apparatus at their disposal. And this apparatus is better the more consumers it is able to turn into producers-that is, readers or spectators into collaborators." (The example of his time was Brecht's epic theatre.)

    In The Smooth and the Striated, Delueze and Guattari talk of the constant shift from striated space to smooth space and back. Neither space can exist on its own, and one continually sets the stage for the other to spring up from within it. A rational, gridded city as an example of the striated, will always have in it the smooth space of organic neighbourhood growth, community groups and homeless drifters. The internet first serving as a point-A-to-B information exchange route (point-to-point movement being a characteristic of striated space as opposed to smooth space where points do not terminate a path), became a space for people to become producers, creating and sharing new information, activities and ideologies—Benjamin's description of the ideal production apparatus in the hands of the proletariat. However, as prescribed of organic and planned forces intermingling, the smooth space of the internet has bred a new striated space of 'social networking tools', tools which threaten the act of production.

    With "social networking tools", such as facebook, we have stopped communicating directly with each other and instead 'update' our 'status' via 'wall posts'. We do not personally invite our friends with a phone call or email, but create an 'event' in the confines of the 'social networking tool' which our network of real-life friends may not learn of if they are not a part of that insular network. We don't express grief or even news of losing a grandparent other than by creating a status update that you are 'going to a funeral'. The empathic connections between members of a society are cut, and without the feelings of kinship, care, respect, etc. the human connections in a society are severed and social responsibilities to each other are lost.

    Adorno and Horkheimer, in The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception, point out that "No mention is made of the fact that the basis on which technology acquires power over society is the power of those whose economic hold over society is greatest. A technological rationale is the rationale of domination itself. It is the coercive nature of society alienated from itself." We have become a smooth space of no-resistance, no production, no thought, no action, ready to be taken in by the controlled space of the anti-social tools.

    These 'anti-social' networking tools have eliminated the theatre of face-to-face interaction and have removed words from the music of social engagement and of physically hearing voices and emotions resonate through bodies and space. The 'haptic' functions of the smooth are now only 'optical' functions of reading gridded information; our organic and boundless movement across the internet is placed in the striae of 'groups' we belong to; we are no longer producers, but are readers, consumers and employees of the machine of Capitalism.

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    Comments:


    sedmonds     Wed, Nov 19, 2008  Permanent link
    I probably would not categorize this work as rant, if I did not feel the teeming frustration myself.

    For the past fifteen years, I have found that I am communicating less, even as the net gets bolder. The flash and flick'r of the web has created more false barriers than the old BBS communications of my past.

    Seemingly, I felt more excited about meet old BBS buddy, while standing in line at V for Vendetta.

    With sort explanation, I noticed a cowhide 'CDC' bag and inquired if that was a 'Cult of the Dead Cow' bag. And yes, it was. So, twenty years later without having messaged or communicated with that BBS fellow, there was this persistent link. Only made visible by shared experience.

    Now, it is early on the West Coast and I will probably have to reshape this digital drip, but I hope you get the point: social networks are less useful than I had hoped as well.

    Social Networks are not social, because they don't appear to value our good use of time.

    Thanks for letting me "rant".
    Xarene     Wed, Nov 19, 2008  Permanent link
    You're right on with 'shared experience.' It is the embodied experiences we share that makes friendships and connections 'real'. If the digital connections were enough we would hold, for example and since it is coming up, Thanksgiving dinner in Second Life or make a Thanksgiving Dinner Group on facebook and all stay home.

    I have found numerous occasions where email exchanges or twitter updates were recited and its emotional effects replayed in physical meetings. If the digital exchanges were adequate, why should there be a replay of the events and communications? Do we meet over lunch to have the same conversation as yesterday?

    Social networks have employed brilliant marketing by offering something we already do, which is making friends. They are capitalizing on the 'popularity syndrome' and have reduced everyone's mentality to Junior High and how liked and popular one is, is proportional to how many facebook/myspace friends one has. This number doesn't say anything about one's character other than 'collector'. What we do not realize is how these tools have actually stripped away our ability to physically connect with other people; to understand what true friendship and human connection is; to understand the values that make a human relationship a 'friendship' rather than 'acquaintance'.

    Try poking one of your facebook buddies to bail you out of jail. It is not funny considering that is the only kind of friend some kids are growing up with.
    sedmonds     Thu, Nov 20, 2008  Permanent link
    Food for thought: The Golden Record on Spacecraft Voyager.

    Here is related information on The Golden Record.

    Here is a link to the Voyager's recorded greeting in English. Also, the record contains greetings to the Universe in 55 different languages.

    Spaceweaver     Thu, Nov 20, 2008  Permanent link
    For quite a while I am busy with the issue of how web communication and social networks affect human contact and social interaction. I do resonate with the concerns you raise regarding the 'digitization' of human emotions and mental states into bite size packets of information with very little meaningful content. Regretfully, this seems to become the zeitgeist of social networking. Perhaps it is only a transitory phase until technology catches up with more complex means of interaction over the web, or perhaps it is a shift in our concept of human contact. Yet, I do not tend to idealize human direct communication either. Most of human interactions, I would dare say the vast majority of it, does not rise above the very superficial 'status reports' and lo-tech gossip. I suspect that the great success of social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter reflect the fact that these tools do serve most of human communication needs if not by quality by volume.

    An interesting riddle I would like to share here is could we design web tools that will help, even drive their users to increase the depth and quality of their interactions?
    Xarene     Thu, Nov 20, 2008  Permanent link
    Whether it is us catching up or our technology catching up, right now, with the current state of the two, social networking tools, are subversively damaging the emotional and psychological potentials of a generation of humans who are not yet caught up. Maybe every shift has causalities.

    Your comment on social networking "serve most of human communication needs if not by quality by volume" is exactly your critique of human interaction being "superficial 'status reports' and lo-tech gossip." Social networking tools are exactly superficial, 'high-tech' gossip. Quantity is not what matters in contact and communication and many people are growing up with little to no experience of what quality in human contact is. If out of 100 encounters only one has quality, it makes a difference in the development of human emotions than never having that one experience. Some emotions such as empathy can only be cultivated from direct human contact. Without empathy, we're not human.

    The only way a web tools can work is if it makes the user get out and touch someone. I watched anthropologist Nina Jablonski's talk on skin and human contact. We've evolved for so many thousands of years with the need for touch embedded in our system, that a sudden removal of it will be catastrophic in the survival of the human race. Robots don't look after each other without being told to.
    rene     Sun, Nov 23, 2008  Permanent link
    Whenever people bemoan the move away from physical contact that is supposedly happening in out time, I tend to argue the following: First of all, one has to wonder how much social networking in reality takes away from people getting together when they're still going to school and to work, not to mention the ever growing opportunities to see bands and other events at en ever growing number of venues. On the other hand I firmly believe that further virtualization of our world is inevitable and that the impact that will have on our physical existence will continue to change. Still, as is usually the case with technology-driven changes the new modes of existence will not replace the old ones but modify them and more often than not be complementary.

    Which is not to say that there won't be a fair amount of alienation in the process (i.e. mass migration to cities causing alienation from the natural environment, etc.), but there is no reason to assume that people will soon lose interest in other people. Nevertheless, I believe that, whatever one's priorities, people are wasting enormous amounts of time transporting themselves to the sites of their education or their jobs that could be put to better use. All that is needed to at least partially remedy that maybe an enhanced visual component to our online communications, which will bring people together from all over the world and foster new communities. This doesn't take away of the power of minds communicating without any visual representation which in many instances adds a dimension to intellectual discourse, but it will at least to some extent restore people's propensity for social bonding.

    In effect, rather than impeding physical contact, our increasing virtual immersion may ultimately elevate the status of physical togetherness to highly valued privileged moments and levels of intimacy that may exceed today's personal relationships and broaden one's circle of friends.

    Still, direct physical confrontation is not always an advantage because it may bring with it a whole series of physical effects that may just as soon be a detriment to social relationships. After all, the body, with all its complex chemical reactions and visual connotations is often a source of interference. Cyrano de Bergerac, for example, could only relate his deepest poetic feelings to his beloved through the mediation of a stand-in delivering his words, just like we on this site mostly share our thoughts through made up user names and icons, feeling little or no need to refer to our physical existence.


    Spaceweaver     Sun, Nov 23, 2008  Permanent link
    Rene, reading your comment here, and your previous posts about optimization, I came up with an interesting observation about the evolution of human interaction while moving from a pastoral civilization to an urban civilization, and next from an urban civilization to a webbed civilization. The number of contacts statistically available to every person is generally on the increase, while the space and time allocated to each interaction is generally decreasing. In urban environment we have much less physical space allocated to interaction but much more interactions than was possibly available in pastoral environment, and so is with time allocation. On the web we are left with very little physical space if at all. Our presence is squeezed into a few lines of text, an icon or a video frame at best, while the time of interaction is becoming shorter and shorter as it is exemplified by the growing popularity of Twitter and Facebook kind of interactive tools (not to mention SMS replacing vocal interaction). Our exposure to others, however, expands exponentially. I am not entirely sure about that, but at the moment this seems to be a long term consistent trend having to do with acceleration in general. I do not know, for example, how virtualization (virtual worlds, augmented reality) will fit into this trend, and whether it will redefine this seemingly inverse relation between exposure and the spatio-temporal aspect of interaction by the introduction of new virtual dimensions of interaction.

    Your optimization posts certainly support this view; they highlight how much sense it makes in terms of contemporary culture and technological capability to keep on optimizing space and time, and ephemeralize, so to speak, our interactions and actually the whole substratum of our civilization.

    At the moment it seems that as a civilization we are going through a process for which the miniaturization of silicon chips is a most appropriate metaphor. Like transistors on silicon chips we are squeezed into an ever diminishing physical space, with an ever increasing rate of events between individual components (which means less and less time per interaction), and an ever increasing connectivity. At a certain point our physical embodiment might not fit anymore to the kinds of interactions our civilization prefers. Does it seem far fetched? Am not sure about that. This might be a phase transition of unprecedented consequences, and we might already be heading there.

    This is only a sketch of an idea, will have to go deeper into this: Is this a sign of condensation and distillation of intelligence? If so what would be the carrier of such distilled kind of intelligence? How would it interact? What would be its relevant dimensions of manifest? (also Greg Egan's Diaspora comes to mind here).
    Xarene     Sun, Nov 23, 2008  Permanent link

    "I could die for the touch of a woman like thee" D.H. Lawrence


    Cyrano's motives in sending another to recite his words for his object of affection can be seen as an attempt by him to increase the desire of his desired one. The desire to physically touch, hear and see is the basis of the culture of "fans" surging to see a movie star or rock star or author or anyone for that matter whom we have a mediated experience of. This is simply because of the overwhelming superiority of "live" physical senses. Why did girls scream and cry and desperately tried to touch the Beatles or Michael Jackson? Why do we still flock to concerts and talks and such and go up and shake hands all doey-eyed with those whom we admire? There is something to be said for seeing, hearing and feeling the real thing.

    Aside from cultures resulting from the desires of physical experience, we have terms in our language—english—that relate to touch: "being out of touch with reality" or actions being "tactless" or "touching" or one having "the Midas touch". The topic of language and literature can grow into a book on hundreds of poets and authors writing of 'being in the presence of' an admired/worshipped/despised/... one.

    Now, for those who bemoan those who bemoan loss of traditional senses of being and feeling, it is important to consider the interstitial time of the human specie's transformation from an embodied being into a disembodied or technologically modified entity. Of a few scenarios which can take place, the loss of human connection to each other can threaten the continuity of the "human" race. As we move towards a digital body that engages in digital relationships of any kind—intellectual, romantic, etc—we can lose (and are in the process of losing) the quality of interconnectedness between two and more humans which is only brought on by the sense of touch.

    My concerns of over-involvement in social networking sites are not about humans becoming more, or less, interested in each other; we will maintain interest in our environment and those that occupy it and interact with us. I am critiquing the loss of physical senses which are intertwined with what makes humans human. If physical senses—in particular touch—did not matter there would not be thousands of scientific papers studying our senses in relation to social and psychological behaviour. Touch elicits and modulates human behaviour and early tactile memories shape our future behaviour. The loss of the ability of humans to emotionally and physically connect with one another ends the human race. Therefore, the next step of our evolution—if a purely digital evolution void of physical senses—is an evolution out of our species. In the period of this transformation, from one specie (human) into another (clearly non-human and superior), the human specie will suffer. ('Superior' because I acknowledge our embodied emotions being what makes us, is also our downfall.)

    I agree that occupying digital space in lieu of physical space should alleviate unnecessary migrations and redundancies and inconvenience of physically being somewhere. But the optimization of connectivity should not make us want more and more (digital) connection, and should instead be employed by us to allow us free time in which to play—physically play, run around and chase and laugh and grab and tumble and kiss and cuddle. Right now, we are slave to the web connectivity, "not knowing when to turn off" as Carl Honore puts it.

    So I ask, similar to Spaceweaver's question in his first comment on our role in increasing the quality of connectivity: What can we do to ensure that digital habitation of the human specie does not result in the demise of the specie?
    rene     Tue, Nov 25, 2008  Permanent link
    Xarene: It may be due to the circle I run around in, but I don’t see too many people becoming “slaves to connectivity”. But wherever I go in the world I see people being slaves to mind numbing transportation which in many instances seems to be for few other purposes than habit and tradition. Lately I have been hearing similar complaints as yours about the endangerment of “touch,” just a few days ago in fact I killed time at an airport listening to a little old lady from the UK going on and on that the Internet and videogames prevented people from touching each other. Actually, another old lady, the spectacular Laura Huxley, told me a few years before she recently died about her plans to have old people act as caretakers in nurseries because both vulnerable babies and physically deprived geriatric people have a great need for bodily contact, which may effectively extend their lives. Sounded like a great idea to me.

    As I indicated in my comment, I am the first one to advocate physical contact as a premium value, but I do not quite understand how such activities are prevented by social networking. To the contrary, the Internet tends to bring people together. In a recent poll 69% of people questioned said that they would use Internet dating services, 62% found meeting new people difficult and Google shows close to a million search results for online dating success stories.


    Spaceweaver: Your theory sounds very plausible, although I’m not much of a believer in the either/or proposition of virtual and physical conditions. Even in our immediate suroundings we constantly meet people who live in entirely different timeframes. It is possible to chat on an airplane with a stranger whose mentality might hail from an entirely different century without it getting in the way of our conversation. Time and again I find myself very much taken by your highly appreciated philosophical inquiries, it just so happens that for whatever reason any subject which even hints at trans-humanism causes many people to have an immediate knee jerk reaction. Personally I believe that there is room for several different manifestations of the specie (see description of the Great Enhancement Debate). With regards to our potential demise as feared by Xarene as a result of our increasingly digital existence I’d like to refer an early post
    in which I proposed that:

    the typical sci-fi interpretation that technology is out to annihilate the flesh is just another paranoid expression of Western culture’s obsessive preoccupation with the mind-body split. What we really seem to be after is the opening up of additional channels for a heightened sensory perception that will allow us to explore the full bandwidth of our evolutionary potential.


    notthisbody     Tue, Nov 25, 2008  Permanent link
    my thoughts grew too long, so I put it into a new post -
    HERE
    Xarene     Sat, Nov 29, 2008  Permanent link
    Well, my comments are post-length, but here it goes anyway...

    The mirror-touch synesthesia notthisbody mentions is brilliant if implemented as a mediator of our physical existence and our digital existence. As we currently are—trapped in embodied experiences—I feel it is important to not suddenly cut the supply cord and go 100% digital. We are not 'physically' ready for that...

    I am deeply concerned with the quality of online relationships and communications while we have this dual existence between the disembodied internet one and the forced physical one. notthisbody again points out an example of that concern with his online friends not connecting physically. What is the meaning of either relationship in a scenario like this? Which one is real? How can that difference be resolved? How can we prevent that difference from perpetuating into a situation where we can never tolerate each other physically?

    The reality of communication and of meaning. More real than the real, that is how the real is abolished. Baudrillard, The Implosion of Meaning in the Media


    In the case of your friend's death—I am also very familiar with your experience of life and death crossing over into the digital realm—her subsequent extended life online is a "more real than the real" experience: you know for a fact that she is gone (the reality) but you are faced with this other reality of her, still existing through her online presence which will never die. Unconsciously—and by human nature wanting immortality—we will accept this hyperreality of 'forever alive' over the reality of 'forever dead' and that is how the reality of her physical existence will be abolished. Now consider how some alive folk have as much online activity as dead folk do on their profiles. What is the difference between these two entities, behaving the same?

    The impersonal, one-sided, anti-theatrical and journalistic quotes and status updates are a simulacrum of communication and a false notion of having meaningful information and relationships as a result of these quips. These social network existences "stage meaning" through a "process of simulation". To quote Baudrillard again, in regard to our collapsing social organizations "...[W]here we think that information produces meaning, the opposite occurs." Where we think we are producing relationships, the opposite occurs. It is a simulacrum, which if we face it's reality, we will also be faced with the reality of absolute meaningless and emptiness of the relationship. So we ignore it, justify it and compound it with more of the same. At some point, when communication and meaning are lost, social functions are lost. It will start from the individuals losing themselves and creep in and affect the whole before we know it.

    I am a proponent of losing the body in favour of the mind. This has changed my view of life and death all together. I see the body as something disposable and, for now, a major hindrance to what the mind can achieve. At some point our minds will figure out how to disembody, but disembodiment should not come at the cost of losing our social networks—and by social networks I mean true human-to-human empathic connections. At the same time that I want to disembody, I can not ignore that our emotional and psychological conditions as humans are the result of learned and embodied experiences. Will we have a generation of humans that will lose the meaning of human-to-human real and physical relationships? (I think that is the last generation of humans as we know humans to be.) There are already humans trying to marry non-humans because they can't cope with the perils of physical human connection...
    Xarene     Sun, Nov 15, 2009  Permanent link
    Attention loss feared as high-tech rewires brain
    Xarene     Wed, Nov 25, 2009  Permanent link
    ... and he succeeded.
    Xarene     Thu, Feb 25, 2010  Permanent link
    More for the case on touch.
    Xarene     Sun, May 2, 2010  Permanent link
    Kids and the nature of friendship.
    meganmay     Tue, May 11, 2010  Permanent link
    This is an exceedingly long thread, but I thought I would poke my head in and mention that marrying non-human entities it not new. There is website for people who love more traditional objects, like fence posts, and the Eiffel tower. And I recently found this gem on the guardian.

    I think whether or not this is a problem, its an interesting opportunity to assess the value of face to face connection, which, and I agree with Spaceweaver on this, is often as trivial as online communication, and much more of a time/space investment. It would be good if the two could mutually inform each other. I am very preoccupied with making real life encounters more worthwhile....and I think this is probably an area as important to address as making digital interactions more affective.
     
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