[-empyre-] contesting the netopticon

Jon Thomson j.thomson at ucl.ac.uk
Sun Jan 23 09:00:43 EST 2011

Marc, Davin and everyone,

We were chatting with a friend the other night and he was telling us about his teenage daughter spending the weekend, facebook updating and tweeting strategically about a sleepover and party at a particular friend's apartment that never happened.  When he asked her why on earth she was doing this, she explained (patiently) that although she just wanted to catch up with a bunch of stuff that weekend, she had to maintain a certain level of social interest for her peer group online because she didn't want to be seen to be a 'loser' and so had imagined this hypothetical social event in collaboration with the friend and then acted it out at predetermined time-frames as a series of status updates.

Is this a remarkably low-effort way to appease and deal with the immense social pressures of teenage-hood, or more like slavery to the second by second pressures of tending to your social networking personae?  Perhaps it's both (and more), but either way it reminds us that the mediation of our digital selves remains something we must let the end-user authenticate on a case by case basis: truth and lies fill the netopticon and perhaps this anecdote is one example of  "the inter-penetration of the netopticon with technologies of surveillance in real life" that Christina raised this time last week?

As we hand over to next week, we do wonder whether and how individual responsibility is altered by being online and what effects that has on us all, whether at the hands of panoptic forces or not? Franco and Eva Mattes performance video 'No Fun' (http://www.0100101110101101.org/home/nofun/index.html) offers an interesting albeit sensationalist and voyeuristic window here by 'staging' a suicide by hanging on chat roulette and then recording viewers responses to it as real, a joke, boring, fake etc.  At its worst, some users just seem to be anaesthetised by the chat-roulette network environment, passively immobilised by this fleeting image in the endless rotation of webcams, lost in some oblique pornographic haze.

Wikipedia, however, is perhaps a rather more edifying example of a p2p mechanism in and of the netopticon, where the possibility of false information making its way into the collective gaze and outpourings of this knowledge bank, forces the onus onto every user of wikipedia to check the facts, just as any self-respecting journalist would do when researching an article or essay.  And surely this is just what you want from any authority of information that is not seeking to inculcate you with propaganda; i.e. not to believe everything regardless, but to question its truth, and to question its provenance and its quality.  This is built into the very operational fabric of wikipedia and partly perhaps as a result of its netoptic authoring mechanism: everything on there is probably true but not definitely true, making it usable but also making us ultimately the ones responsible to authenticate its information for our own use.

Thanks and best wishes,

Jon & Alison

thomson & craighead
archive: http://www.thomson-craighead.net
blog: http://thomson-craighead.blogspot.com/

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