The internet operates on its own logic. In the world of Twitter, Twitch and Tiktok, fame is the aim and exposure the goal. The influence of an influencer is measured in retweets, reblogs, and runaway memes. The internet-addled man glories in the hashtag that takes on its own life; he revels in the image that entire subcultures make their own. His battleground is “the discourse.” In this ethereal realm of images and threads, prestige comes from being clever, being funny, and being first. One’s internet enemies are to be cancelled where possible, and lampooned when not. The social media addict knows victory when the right words are used by the right sorts.

But not all enemies can be cancelled. Not all fights can be won through clever retweets. The world of flesh and blood does not always work like the world of memes and tweets. Those given responsibility in the world of physical things court disaster when they confuse internet politics with the real thing.

Tanner Greer on spitpost diplomacy.

2022-05-21T02:53:08+10:0021st May, 2022|Tags: , , |

You sound white.

A particularly striking iteration of this phenomenon is a widely shared 2021 musical comedy sketch by the comedian Bo Burnham, entitled “A White Woman’s Instagram.” The skit pokes fun at a certain kind of female Instagram user who likes to post lots of photos of herself and various visually pleasing things — avocados, coffee tables, “A dreamcatcher bought from Urban Outfitters / A vintage neon sign” — along with corny inspirational quotes. It’s a relatively gentle send-up: a poignant segment in the middle of the song makes reference to the anniversary of the death of a parent, hinting disarmingly that the therapeutic benefits of social media use might outweigh the cringe factor. But it’s unclear why Burnham, who is white, feels the need to emphasize that the type of woman he is satirizing is white. Many non-white women also post similar content, so what function does the “white” serve here? It appears to be a sort of built-in insurance policy: perhaps anxious that his caricature of vapid, preening online narcissism might be perceived as sexist by the liberals who comprise his target audience, Burnham immunizes himself against this charge by maintaining that he is on about white women specifically, which implies he is in fact performing some kind of racial satire.

To the extent that one can even parse the satirical point being made here, it seems to go something like this: white people, because they are more coddled and complacent than non-white people, are more prone to indulging in vain, shallow and frivolous pursuits, which deserve to be mocked as manifestations of their racial privilege. But the behavior being cited as inherently white – purely by virtue of being banal and stereotypical – is actually fairly universal, which prompts the question: why link it to whiteness at all? [ . . . ]

What’s the motivating impulse here? It’s probably a mix of things. On the one hand, there’s a well-intentioned desire on the part of the speaker to differentiate themselves from the kind of white person who isn’t sufficiently aware of, or sensitive to, structural racial inequalities — to signal, essentially, that they’re one of the good guys, and that their awareness of the bigger picture is informing their thinking at all times. But this bleeds into another, rather less admirable motivation: a domineering compulsion to lay claim to the moral high-ground at all costs, even if it means resorting to the manifestly ludicrous strategy of belittling your target on the grounds that they are the same race as you.

Houman Barekat on white people accusing each other of whiteness.

2022-05-18T20:20:28+10:0018th May, 2022|Tags: |

Dead dove, didn’t read.

There are a lot of people who use social media that become violently enraged if they view content that somehow doesn’t completely and totally align with their worldview. I’m also talking about a specific kind of internet toxicity here. I’m not talking about racist trolls or violent extremists, I’m talking about essentially online manspreaders. People who seem to compulsively need to assert their own point of view in the comments and replies of other people’s content. These people tend to show up most prominently in fandoms, but they can show up anywhere.

Ryan Broderick on Our Lady of the Eternal September.

2022-05-17T02:22:17+10:0017th May, 2022|Tags: , |

I’ve got mine (until I don’t).

Mainstream observers of economic changes taking place in the late twentieth-century eagerly anticipated the end of traditional class struggle. The working class was being converted into a surplus army of casual laborers too worn out from stringing together temporary jobs to be able to organize—breaking the last ounce of strength in the old-school unions in the process. And those pesky “middle strata” for whose allegiance workers and capitalists perpetually vied would be eliminated. Middle-class professionals who could make the leap into entrepreneurial stardom would be vaulted into the elite; those who couldn’t shape up would face proletarianization and casualization. “The rich are getting richer, and the poor poorer,” the business consultant and academic Ian Angell wrote in 1996. “The future is inequality.” He was not upset about this prospect. [ . . . ]

Boosters of the Clinton-era New Economy earnestly believed their superstar knowledge workers would fuel a pattern of perpetual economic growth that would allow all of those who became rich during the late-twentieth-century era of dislocation to keep getting richer forever. Most of them didn’t expect the surplus capital sloshing around to inflate a housing bubble that would trigger a global financial crisis that would deepen inequality within the ranks of the wealthy—between the fabled 1 percent and the .1 percent—even as it widened the fissure between the wealthy and everyone else. And fewer still expected a sudden shift in cultural norms that would force the powerful, to their great irritation, to start watching what they said to and about women and people of color. And I think it’s safe to say that no one expected a pandemic that would penetrate even the most exclusive suburban enclaves.

On the new class war.

2022-05-12T00:33:05+10:0012th May, 2022|Tags: , , |

The music lovers.

But now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, “Look, we’re sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you–we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.” Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. “Tough luck. I agree. but now you’ve got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person’s right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him.” [ . . . ]

For we should now, at long last, ask what it comes to, to have a right to life. In some views having a right to life includes having a right to be given at least the bare minimum one needs for continued life. But suppose that what in fact IS the bare minimum a man needs for continued life is something he has no right at all to be given? If I am sick unto death, and the only thing that will save my life is the touch of Henry Fonda’s cool hand on my fevered brow. then all the same, I have no right to be given the touch of Henry Fonda’s cool hand on my fevered brow. It would be frightfully nice of him to fly in from the West Coast to provide it. It would be less nice, though no doubt well meant, if my friends flew out to the West coast and brought Henry Fonda back with them. But I have no right at all against anybody that he should do this for me. Or again, to return to the story I told earlier, the fact that for continued life the violinist needs the continued use of your kidneys does not establish that he has a right to be given the continued use of your kidneys. He certainly has no right against you that you should give him continued use of your kidneys. For nobody has any right to use your kidneys unless you give him this right–if you do allow him to go on using your kidneys, this is a kindness on your part, and not something he can claim from you as his due. Nor has he any right against anybody else that they should give him continued use of your kidneys. Certainly he had no right against the Society of Music Lovers that they should plug him into you in the first place. And if you now start to unplug yourself, having learned that you will otherwise have to spend nine years in bed with him, there is nobody in the world who must try to prevent you, in order to see to it that he is given some thing he has a right to be given.

Judith Jarvis Thomson on violinists.

(Now also in convenient video form! Albeit with a mild content warning for, aside from the obvious, a video made by someone pre-transition.)

(Second aside: Thomson’s article, from 1971, is not actually unambiguously pro-choice in the modern sense. And yet . . .)

2022-05-04T20:27:04+10:004th May, 2022|Tags: |

Uneven consumption.

In the midst of various socioeconomic crises of climate, housing, and bills, working-class people are often moralized to about what they should and shouldn’t consume: buy organic, ditch plastic, stop flying, go vegan, cancel Netflix to buy a house, buy less stuff! At the same, billionaires travel in private jets and carbon-intensive superyachts. The highly publicized polluting conspicuous consumption of the elite is a perverse joke to most of us. With our purchasing power diminished and culture eroded, this is clearly not a state of affairs many people are willing to abide.

On consumption.

2022-04-17T02:17:56+10:0017th April, 2022|Tags: |

Dim, dull nullity.

[T]he reason to be skeptical about [the “metaverse”] is not that people don’t want to do some or all of the stuff that Zuckerberg talks about in strained tones of wonder and whimsy. Whether in terms of speculating on cryptocurrencies or gaming with a V.R. headset or just clocking into a virtual workplace, people are absolutely already doing all those things, albeit sometimes more happily than others. It is not even the question of why anyone would entrust the design and implementation of the future to Facebook, which has made the world infinitely dumber, uglier, and worse in a number of obvious and inescapable ways, and is a miserable website to use to boot. That is a really good question, though, if only because it is just extremely difficult to imagine someone choosing to work and live inside the website that convinced their grandparents that the germ theory of disease was a hoax. But what really rankles is that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that this vision of the future is extractive, joyless, and dull; that the smug cretins who got rich off the platforms that this new decentralized movement is supposedly leaving behind are also leading the supposed successor movement doesn’t matter either. This push to transcend the world that Facebook has befouled and create a new, virtual one can be read in a sense as a response to the 10,000-page Facebook Papers leak, which demonstrated both the extent to which Zuckerberg’s own criminal indifference and Facebook’s inability to police its own sprawl have made the site a malignant metastatic force in countries around the world. Again, it doesn’t matter.

This is the taunt implicit in everything Zuckerberg does at this point in his reign. Here is a man who got unconscionably rich off the worst website that has ever existed, a website that has broken brains on a scale previously unimaginable in human history, and here is his stupendously wack vision for the future—and everyone is just going to have to deal with it. There are many things to abhor about Mark Zuckerberg and his works, but the fundamental mediocrity of it all—the lack of vision, the absence of any moral sense or shame, the inability and unwillingness not just to fix but even reckon with the dangerous and ungovernable thing he’s made—is what feels both most egregious and most of this moment. It is embarrassing and not a little enraging to realize that you are subject to the whims of an amoral and incurious capitalist posing as a visionary optimist. It is especially humiliating when the all-bestriding and inevitable figure in question is such a dim, dull nullity.

The future is soulless.

No wonder all the Kids These Days aesthetics are about, like, escaping to the woods to be a bog witch or some imagined fantasy version of 1800s British academia or whatever . . .

2022-04-08T03:27:31+10:008th April, 2022|Tags: , |

Reality privilege.

With the have-nots spending more and more of their time experiencing a simulation of glorious substance through their VR headsets, the haves would have the actual glorious substance all the more to themselves. The beaches would be emptier, the streets cleaner. Best of all, the haves would be able to shed all responsibility, and guilt, for the problems of the real world. When [millionaire tech mogul Marc] Andreessen argues that we should no longer bother to “prioritize improvements in reality,” he’s letting himself off the hook. Let them eat virtual cake.

Nicholas Carr on the uneven future.

Maybe an escape into virtual reality actually isn’t all that great after all? Like I’m pretty sure they’ve made some films about this . . .

2022-04-06T15:26:14+10:006th April, 2022|Tags: , |


On researching disgust.

The photos illustrating this article are all very mildly gross (e.g. moldy food, hair in a shower drain, etc.), although still not as subtly viscerally so as that article a while back about poor working conditions for social media moderators that just had very subtle hairs and dirt spots in the page background. Now that was gross.

2022-04-05T21:25:59+10:005th April, 2022|Tags: |

The digital is the physical.

The truth is that there is no such thing as the “digital world.” It is not a realm that exists apart from the so-called real world. Everything that is digital — information, exchanges, and experiences — is also physical. And yet, as infinite as we imagine the digital world to be, there is only so much physical stuff to go around. We are facing a very real future of scarcity, not abundance, and it will only be more severe if we continue to deny the true, hard costs of digital culture. We need to begin to express it in harmony with the physical world.

Christopher Butler on the digital real.

Cyberspace is not infinite. Servers are expensive; in electricity, in land usage, in carbon footprint, in the resources it takes to build them in the first place. And the cost-benefit ratio of “cyber per chip” is getting lower, not higher . . .

2022-04-02T00:48:42+11:002nd April, 2022|Tags: , |
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