Whether run along a conveyor or embedded in a network, a human serves the same end: the resplendent valorization formerly reserved for objects. Only when human beings become sympathetic objects will objects become sympathetic. Only then will guillotines be embraced as readily as fond relatives or long-absent lovers.
Though Facebook’s “Like” button may be good news for big business, it’s dreary stuff for people who actually … well … like things, because watered-down liking has changed our relationship to the world in the way that marketing, a few decades earlier, changed our relationship to consumer items. With marketing’s advent, the world suddenly fell in love with the idea rather than the utility of things; with a stroke of the ad-man’s magic pen, an automobile, that greasy machine with four wheels intended to get man (or woman) from point A to B, turned into a means of orgiastic celebration, and a carton of orange juice, the sweet fluid of squashed citrus pulp, magically transmogrified into an elixir capable of curing everything from cancer to crabs.
Botsman and Rogers’ championing business as the solution to the social problems business has created is certainly pragmatic, but it feels a bit like surrender, an admission that the institutions of consumerism and their motivational apparatus can’t be bettered, and that they will continue to constitute our lifeworld. The authors can’t be faulted for their unmistakable enthusiasm for mitigating the selfish individualism that consumerism inherited from capitalism’s early days. But their vision stops far short of the kind of transformation that could make “sharing” and “collaboration” into something other than marketing buzzwords again.
The burden of my belongings has never felt so heavy. But the powers that be say that this is the only way to save the United States. We must spend ourselves into the grave to keep the engines of commerce humming along and (supposedly) spreading wealth hither and yon. Only now do I see how mentally ill I’ve become as a result of this onerous ideology. It’s work, this buying and caring for things. And it’s work that makes me wish I was unemployed.
Fashion tells you that you are a fool to prefer the experiences to the range, and it applies “social pressure” to make you change your view. By following fashion and disseminating its dictates and by innovating on its terms, we create additional value for the retailers of fashion-oriented products — a description that is coming to embrace virtually everything that can be bought and sold.
By facilitating the process by which goods cycle through meanings, we start to function like little advertising agencies, sending out marketing messages of our own, with our personality as the medium and our friends as the audiences whose attention we broker. We consume the identity that we hope the goods will convey in the process of broadcasting it to others. The greater the scope of our broadcast, the quicker the goods exhaust their signifying potency for us. We then need a new message to send, new consumer goods to send them with.
If GDP is the only social aim worthy of a state’s attention, then this would seem good, inevitable advice. Forget the metaphysical mumbo jumbo and concentrate on what can be counted. But asking the government to scale back educational subsidies is hard advice to accept, even if it would end the arms race in advanced degrees and the credentialing inflation that makes a master’s a prerequisite for more and more jobs. To pursue such a course is to dismiss the idea that education enriches human potential altogether (or, if you prefer, it defines human potential in terms of industrial output alone). But it’s far preferable to believe that higher education can help people live richer, fuller lives and can make us aware of new possibilities and different ways of thinking.
The automated platforms we are using to be social cannot recognize nuances of trust or the situational ethics of disclosure. It only understands on or off. It fails to distinguish between contexts; its uniformity across the network is designed to eliminate the existence of context. The context is presumed always to be self-presentation; as far as the platforms are concerned, any information given is divulged precisely because it will be attached to the divulging person’s record. It recognizes no other function. It relates data to a user and stores it.
Every relationship has its own specific character, its own lifespan, its own seasons. Some bloom, then wither quickly, while others root themselves deeply in the years. Facebook aims to do nothing less than deny relationships their specific character submitting them to its algorithmic regime of prompts, goads, alerts and suggestions. Facebook seeks nothing less than to discipline friendships to the demands of the marketplace, which places an ever-increasing premium on the production of consumer data. Facebook gets you to work on relationships by making relationships into work. And even if the relationship no longer exists, even if you no longer exist, one imagines humming servers dumbly issuing their commands over the transmission lines
Once, the struggle was to articulate a real, authentic-seeming identity within a work work dictated by the needs of capital. It was a matter of “not selling out” even though one sold his labor power in a way which perpetuated the system. Now, the problem is different. Before workers developed identity and a sustaining culture in opposition to management, subverting the workplace by ingraining within it a kind of resistance, a conspiracy against capital that played out as the preservation of one’s own personal aims. But in the new system of immaterial labor, social networking and the pseudo-employment of public self-fashioning, making one’s identity is part of the production process that is subsumed under capital. It proceeds within commercial spaces, to suit the mutual ends private citizens share with businesses. Their respective brands become co-extensive.