By annie shum | March 28, 2009
More present than the present
March 20, 2009
As we move deeper into the shallows, so to speak, we naturally seek a guide. Contemporaries offer little help. Those that know the technology cannot see beyond it, and those that don’t know the technology cannot see into it. Both end up trafficking in absurdity. So we look to the past for our prophet. McLuhan is the natural candidate, but it turns out his vision only extended to 1990, and even then he was half-blind. The transformation of the telephone from a transmission mechanism for voice to a transmission mechanism for text – from an ear medium to an eye medium – leaves McLuhan, literally, speechless. He has nothing to say.
No, I think it’s Jean Baudrillard, dead two years ago this month, who has to be our designated seer. I’ve never been much of a fan of the French postmodernists or postpostmodernists. When I read them I feel like an inchworm watching a butterfly. Whatever element they exist in is not mine. But it’s the nature of prophetic speech to become more lucid as time passes, and that, for me, is what’s happening with Baudrillard’s words. Take the following passage from a series of lectures he gave, in California, in May of 1999 (collected in the book The Vital Illusion), in which he limns our era:
Ecstasy of the social: the masses. More social than the social.
Ecstasy of information: simulation. Truer than true.
Ecstasy of time: real time, instantaneity. More present than the present.
Ecstasy of the real: the hyperreal. More real than the real.
Ecstasy of sex: porn. More sexual than sex …
Thus, freedom has been obliterated, liquidated by liberation; truth has been supplanted by verification; the community has been liquidated and absorbed by communication … Everywhere we see a paradoxical logic: the idea is destroyed by its own realization, by its own excess. And in this way history itself comes to an end, finds itself obliterated by the instantaneity and omnipresence of the event.
If a clearer depiction of realtime exists, I have not come upon it in my inchworm meanderings. The fact that Baudrillard could so clearly describe the twitterification phenomenon ten years before it became a phenomenon reveals that the phrase “new media,” when used to describe the exchange of digital messages over the Internet, is a coinage of the fabulist. What we see today is not discontinuity but continuity. Mass media reaches its natural end-state when we broadcast our lives rather than live them.
March 27, 2009
The great thing about the two-dimensionality of the realtime-realspace continuum is that the sense of intimacy gets disconnected from the act of intimacy. You get the pleasure of the intimate exchange without having to clean up afterwards. No risk, no mess.
In today’s New York Times, Noam Cohen delivers the profoundly unstartling revelation that a lot of celebrities have hired flacks to feed content into their Twitter streams, their blogs, and the various other online channels of faux authenticity. A gentleman named Broadway (not his real name) thumbs tweets for rapper 50 Cent (not his real name), who has nearly a quarter million pseudonymous followers, making him an avatar among avatars. “He doesn’t actually use Twitter,” Broadway says of his famously bullet-puckered boss, “but the energy of it is all him.”
Ah, to be distilled to an essence, to merge into the electron/photon stream. Add this to Baudrillard’s list:
Ecstasy of identity: the energy. More personal than the personal.
Even Owen Thomas, lonely maintainer of the much-reduced Valleywag brand, finds himself waxing philosophical, serving up Baudrillardian mcnuggets:
That’s the grand irony of Twitter: Even the real people on the service are fake. They are their own simulacra. No one actually lives their life 140 characters at a time. What we do is turn ourselves into works of fiction. Who’s real? Who’s not? Who cares?
Simulacrum = avatar = the energy.
The reason Dan Lyons had to quit being Fake Steve Jobs is that Fake Steve Jobs had become more Steve Jobs than Real Steve Jobs. It worked until Real Steve Jobs got sick. That tore a hole in the realtime-realspace continuum – illness is irreducibly physical – and Lyons lost his nerve. The existential nausea that is the lot of the ghostwriter overwhelmed him. He became Real Dan Lyons. Better to be a ghostwriter of the self than of the other. The nausea’s still there, but at least it’s endurable.
Posted by nick carr on March 27, 2009