Friday, October 26, 2012

It's Friday. Let's Boogie!

E for Effort

Maybe it's the Symbolic Interactionist in me, but one of the things I've come to realize about Facebook is how it turns us all into willing participants in the spectacularization of our own personal lives. Whereas once upon a time we were all passive consumers of the Spectacle, sitting in front of the TV or cinema screen, now we sit in front of the computer screen and not only consume the lives of others as commodities but happily offer up our own intimate details, family photos, personal views and feelings for consumption by others. We're becoming full-time actors, taking to the stage already conscious of the image we are about to project for the benefit of an audience. But more to the point, for the benefit of Facebook itself, for which we are a commodity that sells itself, in the form of information, to advertisers, sponsors, marketing agencies and the like.

In the dark old days of my life in England, I worked for a time for a small publishing company that specialized in correspondence courses: Learn Yourself Good English, Stop Forgetting Your Name, that kind of thing. The company had next to no online presence back then, relying on newspaper ads. Years after I left, just out of curiosity, I ran an online search on the firm to find out what had happened to it. Not a lot. But interestingly, the one reference I could find was a link to a page on which the company, still going, was selling details of its mailing list to other businesses. Anyone who had ever answered one of their ads in the national papers, seeking more information about the company's courses, had had their details diligently noted, not simply so that they could be targeted by the firm with its other products, but also so that that information could itself be monetized and sold on, no doubt even to business rivals. 

And now, even here, I am sharing personal anecdotes. Blogging, too, is a form of self-presentation, a chance to don a mask and play a role or else to offer up private thoughts for public consumption. It requires a certain kind of self-confident narcissism to want to do that for a public-at-large, which is why I can understand those who prefer to restrict access to their blogs to their friends and family; it's because they're normal. And one of the reasons why I curtailed my blogging was precisely because I stopped believing my opinion was of any great merit, that I was doing the world any great favours by dispensing my wisdom. Besides, I was adding nothing to the conversation, only drawing readers' attention to material generated elsewhere. And that can be just as easily, if not more easily, done on Facebook, which is part of Facebook's lure; it requires even less work than a blog. Indeed, Facebook has become a place almost entirely devoted to advertising in one form or another, inasmuch as it is a place where people put up links to somewhere or something else, whether that's a YouTube vid, a newspaper article, HuffPo, or a blog post. In that respect, it increasingly resembles Twitter. You're in, you're out, job done, link posted, what's next. There's no space for contemplation, reflection, for thoughtfulness. That has to be done off site. Creativity is elsewhere.

That urge to be creative just won't go away, which is why Facebook is ultimately so unsatisfying, for me at least. It's not just like watching reality TV, it's like watching yourself on reality TV (*shudder*). Your own life and those of your friends reified. Of course, even within the confines of Facebook, people will spend hours on their Profile, uploading photos, videos, changing their details. We cannot resist our inherent need to produce, to make, to shape, even within such a confined space. Besides, creation requires limits of some sort, requires some rules, otherwise all that is generated is white noise.  That's part of the problem with blogging, and writing in general, and why Facebook is such a temptation: When you have to write something ex nihilo, you are confronted with a blank sheet. With an infinite number of possible creations. How you possibly know where to start? It's so HARD!

Those who find no satisfaction in designing their own online prison often opt for that peculiar offline existence known as having a life. We should remind ourselves from time to time that there are people outside too, and they contain multitudes, each one a cosmos entire. You could spend a whole life and never fully know one of them. Now, there's a project for you. As for my offline world, it's been all over the bloody shop, a bit like this blog post. Made redundant along with all my work colleagues last year by the publishing company I had worked at since the end of '93, I tried to do something to help in their campaign to secure a decent redundancy package, the outcome of which you can see here. We lobbied TDs, I got Terry Eagleton to write a letter of support, got Noam Chomsky to sign the petition, and joined my former colleagues outside the Dail. You can see some pretty good pics here. The campaign is now at an end. It's fair to say some are happier with the outcome than others, but the organizers of the campaign can hold their heads up high. I, for my part, can say that I am proud to know them and to have worked with them.

The rest of my offline existence is far too boring to present in a post intended to stimulate renewed interest in this blog. Instead, precisely what I objected to earlier: some ads. ;-) 

That creative urge I mentioned, long dormant, finally seems to be resurfacing. While we haven't posted anything hysterical or horrific over at Khmer Rouge Strippergram for ages, I have been slowly revamping my first novel, which featured the appalling Joe McManus, over at the superl, home of the wonderful Sweary and Sinead. You can find weekly updates here.

In the online off-Facebook world, there are a few places I regularly visit that I've added to the Links column. You really should check out every post at Richard's blog, Cunning Hired Knaves. One reason I've been able to curtail my political disquisitioning is that Richard usually says it for me. I don't know anyone who I've agreed with more often on so many issues. He's clearly a very intelligent man.

I can't believe that I haven't linked to Mark's blog before. I was convinced that I had it on the list, but as I worked my way down it this morning, deleting those links that no longer worked, I realized that it was conspicuous by its absence. Apologies, Mark. Needless to say, it's another must-read for me, and hopefully for you.

Stuart of Despair to Where? has just recently revived Big Chief Tablets. I always find something to disagree with in Stuart's posts, but that's because his mind is so lively, so fecund. I also find much much more that I agree with, and I've always thought that when it comes to argumentation, the best method of persuasion is to proceed incrementally, not by polemic. There's no point in alienating your readership, after all. You need to bring them along with you and then present them with choices that they have to make for themselves. Stuart does that beautifully, and the result for his readers is that they become willing collaborators in their own education. 

A shout-out too to Irish Left Review and Dublin Opinion, where Donagh and Conor reside. Not new sites, but too good not to mention. Read them religiously. Or sacrilegiously. 

There's a stack of other stuff to tell you about, I've no doubt, but it's early and I've got work to do. I hope you'll hang around.