First Meeting – Reflections!

I was given the task of reflecting on our first meeting of #digitalfame. (The hashtag is part of the name now, right? Right.) If my thoughts are a little fractured, please see it as an intentional (and brilliant) mimicry of the often-fractured nature of information on the internet and not as a reflection of any lack of cohesiveness in my brain. ;)

We entered the course via Andy Warhol’s The Philosophy of Andy Warhol and David Shields’ Reality Hunger. I’ll focus on the first. What struck me the most about Warhol’s book was his unabashed ENTHUSIASM for modernity, especially as represented by new technologies. One legitimate response to the fb/twitter/youtube frenzy is a fear of what we’re losing (privacy? attention spans? hours and hours perhaps better spent pondering other things?) in focusing our culture around it. Warhol seems to go forth with no hesitation into new realms of technology. Instead of taking an alarmist stance, Warhol navigates this debate by casting his relationship to technology in human terms. He refers to an “affair with my television” and to his tape recorder as his “wife” (26). If he didn’t talk about them as human relationships, would he still be able to be so enthusiastic about them? How sincere is he being here, anyway? Can we infer – as Andrew seemed to in his framing of the book at the beginning of class – that Warhol would have been similarly excited about the new possibilities for self-promotion and self-construction that the internet affords, had he experienced it? What are the qualitative differences between the mediation of human relationships the internet affords versus television and tape recorders?

I thought our debate about what we can and can’t know about people via their facebook profiles was really interesting. Linkai’s point about face-to-face interaction being more valid than perusing someone’s profile is certainly legitimate – and something we all kind of agreed about, specifically re: the (non)usefulness of customs people fb-stalking their freshmen the summer before school starts to try to figure out what they’ll be like. But the thought I was trying to put forth at the time (kind of unsuccessfully) is better expressed with this Warhol quote:

“I usually accept people on the basis of their self-images, because their self-images have more to do with the way they think than their objective images do.” (69)

Maybe it’s my anthropology background, but I see facebook as a valuable layer of performativity that we can use to learn more about a person, so long as we’ve done our research enough to understand the “rules” of that community (don’t comment on every picture you look at, for example, or more subtly, what it means to list only one band among ‘favorite artists’ as opposed to everyone in your itunes…). We can debate about whether someone’s twitter feed or blog or facebook profile or youtube channel – or one-one-one friendship – is the ‘best’ way to understand them, and the existence of that debate relates to the confusing desire for ‘reality’ Shields explored in his book. But I guess what I’m trying to say is that we shouldn’t dismiss anyone’s online identity – constructed, presumably, with some degree of care, as completely NONuseful in a quest to learn about that person. To me, it’s more about understanding the nature of information we’re getting than classifying it as more or less valid.

To close, a related thought that kind of came together during our meeting – the reasons I chose fifteenseconds as my twitter handle:
1) Fifteenminutes (as a cute awarhol shoutout) was already taken. Duh. Digital interconnectedness with the world renders an idea that might have been original within our seminar group hopelessly too-late.
2) I know he probably meant it metaphorically, but I think fifteen minutes is too long in an internet age. Who would watch a 15 minute youtube video?
3) Maybe I’m scared of fifteen minutes of fame – I didn’t have a twitter until I had to have one for this class, and I’m not Andy Warhol. There’s still something pretty frightening about it for me…although I guess it’s kind of paradoxical to emphasize a desire to stay out of the limelight in the name of a vehicle for putting myself in it.

PS: Sorry I can’t match Andrew’s embedded-link-intensity!

3 thoughts on “First Meeting – Reflections!

  1. Katie– great post. I’m intrigued, though, by your qualifier on the value of Facebook as a performative space: if everyone takes the time to abide by the primal or guiding rules of the community, we almost suppress some of the performance. For example, maybe listing every band I listen to IS listing my favorite music; perhaps it’s just an illustration of my total ineptitude at or disdain for decision-making.

    I guess what I really want to ask is do you think people who somehow calculate ways to subvert the “rules” of the Facebook community or other social communities are somehow ruining the performance for everyone else?

  2. @Andrew – I see your point. I guess in mentioning the ‘rules’ of the fb community I didn’t mean to imply that there is a single set that we all understand in the same way and then choose to follow or subvert, with everyone understanding what we mean by those moves. That’s not true of any community, even an online one that in some ways seems more standardized than our day-to-day lives. I meant to draw attention to the idea that people who use fb DO perceive ‘norms’ and analyzing someone’s use of fb necessarily includes some sort of acknowledgment of those norms. My grandmother, with no prior understanding of the internet, let alone facebook, couldn’t be trusted to do an accurate reading of what kind of ‘self’ a given person seems to be trying to perform on their profile. No one can do a perfect reading, but some acknowledgment of the specific parameters of the performance space are necessary to analyze the performance. Maybe too obvious of an observation.

    As for ruining the performance for others…i think that when people intentionally use facebook in ways that are atypical (not having a wall, for instance) it definitely creates interesting tensions and maybe even resentments. From my perspective, though, it usually comes back to insecurities about individual decisions re:privacy and the internet. When someone doesn’t have a wall, I tend to think “Should I not have a wall? Am i being stupid by having this so public? Have they conceptualized how creepy this whole thing is better than i have? What am i doing?” I guess that’s just one specific instance of breaking fb rules, not sure I can speak to it more generally though.

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