“However, the story soon turns dark. The images seduce. They are richer and more compelling than the real life around them. [Director Wim] Wenders’s characters fall in love with their dreams, become addicted to them. People wander about with blankets over their heads the better to see the monitors from which they cannot bear to be parted. They are imprisoned by the screens, imprisoned by the keys to their past that the screens seem to hold.”
–Reading Digital Culture, p 249
I’ve been thinking about the above excerpt from Sherry Turkle’s “Who Am We?” a fair amount since our last class. We talked at length about the value (or futility) of establishing a YouTube canon and how events like the YouTube Play Biennial are indicative of a larger phenomenon, namely the supplanting of traditional channels of fame by the more populist digital and social channels.
I mentioned that YouTube’s great innovative strength was its staggering capacity for documentation: every minute, 35 hours of new video stream their way onto the site. Quite literally, humanity is crowdsourcing an intangible codex of the human experience; we’re slowly amassing every permutation and combination of recordable events that can occur in a human lifetime. This is essentially the way that many viral hits build allure: they are humorous or engaging moments once entirely transient–like the daily news– but now “preserved” in a digital archive.
Stemming from these thoughts about our pursuit to document everything, my question is essentially whether we have subtly transformed into a society facing the mirror problem of the one in Wenders’s film (synopsis). With the rise of hyper-intuitive portable video, every moment is now worthy of documentation, and that fundamentally changes how we operate in reality. Our experiences start assembling themselves into a spectrum of digital value: the allure of “authoring” the next viral hit goads everyone with a camera lens and a 3G connection to capture more of reality in a pixelated shadowbox. We go forth and document, frenetically ensnaring an expanding list of increasingly trivial moments.
Our addiction, then, is not motivated by the hope that dredging the subconscious self will manifest some hidden or repressed truth about humanity, but instead seems driven by the fear of transience: without a record, how will we recall the fantastic events that pepper our lives? When I die, will my importance to society at large be my upload history? My tweets? Additionally, there may be some innate desire to misrepresent our lives: if someone can score one viral hit, can we be led to think that individual’s existence is filled with moments worthy of capture?
TL;DR: The populism of social media is allowing people to become famous not by traditional means like creating new things or participating in a fictional reality, but instead by capturing increasing amounts of the current reality. This poses some interesting questions about how we interact with the analog world.