In 5 #hardtruths and 2 new pledges @#50 I wrote, “choose to know, name, and share your own internet truths. We all know truths about this internet—the place in which we swim, live, and drown daily. Naming our truths to ourselves and others—how our lives here feel, how they mean, what we want, who we know, follow and trust—is a vital step in building critical media literacy.” When I wrote this, I meant to differentiate between objective or scientific or journalistic facts and the deeper sustaining beauty of truth, between data and information and the more human ethics of personal, political, and communal knowledge.

Then, a few days later, without planning to, I did something else: I performed a version of personal internet truth sharing in “#55: choose to be digitally productive rather than reactive” when I found myself trying to name what I had learned from my own processes, and linked contradictory feelings, while making this project: how the formative lies of the internet dupe even those of us who claim to know better; how the deception of its formative promise that we each can be seen and heard weaves us into its willing fabric of need, deception, pleasure and its linked abuses. I felt vulnerable writing that post, and still find that I am flitting in and out of that affective place: escalated heart beat, the flushing cheeks of shame.

I end each of these #hardtruths with a “See More” list of readings and resources that share the burden of knowing and doing #100hardtruths-#fakenews with others in my community of digital media literacy practice and care. Here, I ask you to provide me with your internet truth. I’ll add them to the list, if and when I receive them.

See More Internet Truths, how our lives here feel, how they mean, what we want, who we know, follow and trust:

 

 

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In 5 #hardtruths and 2 new pledges @#50 I wrote:

“Producing internet content, rather than simply consuming or sharing it, feels productive; in this time of desolation and destruction, good feelings and actions have real use and value.”

As much as I believe this—I said it—I’d like to use this format, another blog post, to develop some of the contradictions that underwrite my cliché, starting with some of the founding illogics of writing and reading in various internet formats. This is to say, one of the deepest paradoxes for me in this, and every online effort, is how the tight grip of digital architectures, capitalism, and other infrastructural truths that seed these platforms also produce norms for digital cultural production and consumption that both enliven and deaden all that we do here, and all that it might mean or matter:

  • Twitter holds platitudes and their illustrative pix. Facebook is for emotion and its depletion. Instagram centers images and flattens their affect. And blogs are dead because the devil’s in the details (see the following two bullet points)
  • Every morning I wake up and work on this project. There’s a lot of steps: I read the news and my various other feeds, choose a subject, write a post, find images and links, then move it to Facebook, Twitter, its website. This all takes real time and effort. I have to think hard. I know some people will read it, that it will last, and perhaps might even be returned to in the future at the end of its 100-day cycle of high-speed production. By the end of the process I feel invigorated. It has given my 100 first days under Trump some shape and purpose. I honor this feeling. It is mine.
  • As the day continues, however, the underlying morass of truths regarding internet habits, uses, and infrastructures—and their linked contradictory feelings—begins to build. I am pretty sure only a small number of people engaging with this project actually read this far into the post (there’s too much other content competing for their precious time and energy, and it might not even be that interesting or useful to others. So be it. Plus, they’re finding it on platforms that dissuade their deep reading, but I was the one who put it there in the first place!). This makes me feel dejected and duped, like, why did I waste the time and energy? Then I think: do I write for others, anyway? what is it that I want or need from you? how much of this need and pressure and desire is baked into false promises of the internet, like I have or even need an “audience”? And why and how are those who are reading actually engaging with this, or any other internet project, anyway? I am pretty sure people only hit “like,” or maybe “share,” if I write a pithy title or share a meaning-rich photo, and also to signal to me that they are there (with me), which feels great for a second, with an intense buzzy warmness attached as good as caffeine, and then something sort of lousy, too, comes to bear, with a more lasting interior dig like a sucker-punch. I’d prefer for you to engage with me through my words, which we most likely will never do here (because of how the title or the picture that drew us together in the first place is such a small place from which to interact). So, I feel swindled, and worse still, that I am the biggest swindler of myself.
  • Having this place for expression, “audience,” friends, interaction, validation, non-validation, the production and consumption of knowledge and culture, feels like something. It’s not a nothing. Here I am doing it. Yet, I know it is a sorry substitute for the building, engaged, place-based, interactions that sustain me and other people and movements. I have often called it (the production, movement, and connecting to and through well-made digital words and images) proto-political, a step toward well-being and world-changing but not those things themselves. But here I’ll go farther, and name it is a kind of proto-being, a half-life pointing to great possibility.
  • Thus, the real use and value of producing internet content is the potentiality written into words and images and their reception: mine, yours, and ours. Online, alone together, we acknowledge to ourselves that we are here, and momentarily heard and seen, if not really in the ways that feel most human, or that might be most productive for change.

Now look at that! Without planing to, it appears I have just authored my own version of my 2nd #100hardtruths at halftime: Choose to know, name, and share your own internet truths. I feel good about that circularity for now.

See More:

 

I recently received an unexpected but timely invitation (from editor Catherine Halley) to write an article for JSTOR Daily.  Her email request arrived when indeed I had something pressing I wanted to say. I was not sure I could say it, or that the time was right, or what the ramifications of my writing it would be, but I did very much want to think critically (and in public) about why I wasn’t watching the viral live feed videos of black death that began circulating and multiplying last week.

With Halley’s close help, and that of many friends and colleagues, that article was published today: How Do I (Not) Look: Live Feed Video and Viral Black Death. My writing, and thinking, occurred in conversation, actual and in my head, with a great many friends and scholars who I’d like to point to here, in no particular order and most likely forgetting some, less for reasons of intellectual property and more to name that my/our understanding of momentous social, technological, personal mayhem and change occurs in communities of care and practice and thought: Natalie Bookchin, Gabrielle Foreman, Robert Reid-Pharr, Cheryl Dunye, Kemi Ilenanmi, Alisa Lebow, Jenny Terry, Roopali Mukherjee, Marta Zarzycka, Jen Malkowski, Lisa Cartwright, Marita Sturken, Nick Mirzoeff, Patty Zimmermann, Sam Gregory,  Deirdre Boyle, Safiya Noble, LaCharles Ward, Ellen Scott, bell hooks, Paola Bacchetta, Tina Campt,  Inderpal Grewal,  Caren Kaplan, Minoo Moallem, Susan Sontag, Henry Jenkins, Sherri Williams, Jodi Dean, Michael Gillespie, Stephen Winter, Theodore Kerr and Diamond Reynolds.

I write in honor of Reynold’s work and in the name of our shared witnessing of the death of Philando Castile and so many others.

I am sure my friends and colleagues above will not agree with all of my thoughts on this volatile and horrible matter, nor would I want them to, but I do hope they will understand how critical their voices (and long term work on issues of violence, visibility, video and racial injustice) have been for me during this time.

“An object whose form installs delays in sampling and syndication and whose content demands postponed gratification, the book mobilizes the gap of mediacy so as to stimulate thought. E-books and articles as well as blog posts on theoretical topics are conscientious ways to store and share ideas. But these benefits come at a cost: we pay with attention.” (Jodi Dean, Blog Theory)

Jodi Dean’s compelling read theorizes how “communicative capitalism,” built upon contemporary new media practices, refashions the productive possibilities of reflexivity, the gaze, participation, and communication to produce a sort of “whatever” democracy that profits capitalists over their willing user/citizens. Her writing on the blog’s (and new media’s) emphasis on the fact, volume, and reiteration of expression over its content or author seems right on to me in regards to the majority of user-generated content on today’s web. And yet, that’s not what I’m doing here, on this blog, part of that web, which leads me to challenge less Dean’s findings (her content) and instead, her form, thereby asking her to account for the place of blogs in relation to books and also new media “theory.”

Of course, I’m not telling her anything she doesn’t already know. She begins: “a book that makes critical-theoretical claims about blogging thus encounters a double problem of its object and its form of presentation.” But as she so strongly attests, reflexivity about communicativity is no longer any sort of critical out. Which is to say, just ’cause she names her formal quandary up front doesn’t mean she’s solved it. ” My wager is that critical media theory is possible in a book form,” she decides.

Sure. By why not a blog, or many blog posts, instead of a book? Dean says that it is a matter of attention, and I’d agree. When I lecture on my video-book, my much-repeated aphorism is to challenge its readers to “devote to it the undivided attention they’d be willing to give to a movie”: 90-minutes of focused attention. I do so because Google Analytics tells me that the average time on the “video-book” is around three minutes, and I know that whatever its or my limitations, there is more than three minutes of argument and theory to be had there. But more so, I have structured much of the argument into the very form of the “book” (something much harder to do on paper in codex, at least if your subject is new media), and if you don’t experience it, ride it, play with it, much of its “theory” about experience, duration, interactivity, montage, and learning online goes unlearned.

If theory is something akin to a structured set of principles that explain and clarify other systems, there is nothing inherent to “theory” taking the form of either words or books. And as Dean attests, there is something quite expressively and intellectually useful when theory’s form is aligned with its object. However, if “theory” is something academics do to legitimize and authorize the seriousness of our labors, or the qualifications needed for our practices, or the nature of our interlocutors or judges, then it makes much more sense to do this in a book given both our needs as workers to be recognized, evaluated, and promoted, and in regards to our skill-set as workers trained to write with words for readers trained to read them. However, Dean wants to say that the issue is the book’s special quality of “postponed gratification,” seemingly in relation to the Internet’s over-abundant, over-indulgent, loose, fleeting and light little pleasures. “The forms of theory’s presentation likewise highlights how communicative capitalism fragments thoughts into ever smaller bits.”

We’re back to Lanier‘s dreaded bits and Lovink’s beloved books. Hey, I like books as much as the next professor! I often also say that Learning from YouTube is a plea for the long-form written in the short-form: how good (or real) a professor can you actually be if you’re writing your complicated thoughts in sentences? But there are other long forms, and serious ways of expression outside the book, and as we all know, the Internet is a prime container and transmitter of these lengthy objects, too.

While the majority of users may have been easily convinced to use the Internet towards fleeting, addictive, anxious, reiterative expression there is ample room for other uses and users, and theory that does not attend to this misses the whole, but more critically, theory that doesn’t speak here gives up on the Internet while we still may just have time to lay claim to other practices in this ever-narrowing place.