Crowdsourced reviews ensure we don’t get duped. They thus provide a modicum of regulation in a far too laissez-faire milieu. But they also confine our lives to the wan pleasures of the predictable, to the safe wagers we’re sure to receive a return from, rather than allowing us to tempt fate or bet the house.
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 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.
The social hierarchies reproduced by consumerism are also engineered to suit capital, naturalizing the sorts of ritual consumption that suit its perpetuation: rather than potlatches and festivals, we orient our consumption through such ideas as invidious comparison, competitive conspicuous consumption and self-presentation as branding. Rather than use consumption to stabilize identity and render it secure, we end up using consumerism to chase the impossible dream of unfettered individuality, of identity that is entirely free of contingencies, of finding the goods that represent us and no one else for only those rare soul mates who can interpret them. We search and search for these people, destined never to find them, no matter how many fleeting glimpses of them we catch in the mirror.
In traveling, we want to discover the existence of a world beyond ourselves without leaving the world we constitute for ourselves. Consumerism, with its brands and banalities, mediates that contradiction, embedding the familiar within the extraordinary, if not refiguring the former as the extraordinary. We can assimilate everything the world can throw at us as long as it can be reducible to the game of personal identity. Or at least we can rest assured that we can always retreat into the nonplaces that are the playing field for that game.
Contemporary existence has seen pataphysical logic move from the avantgardist margin to the quotidian center. The nonsensical excesses of pataphysics one can now find in the very warp and weft of the social fabric, while pataphysics itself, appropriately enough, has sailed far out of sight of the shore of the normative values it once critiqued.