Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

the commodification of intimacy

This sobering post from Nick Carr suggests that we ought to be worried, or at least seriously reflective, about “web revolutionaries” who are pushing the commercialism and commodification of human intimacy:

What most characterizes today's web revolutionaries is their rigorously apolitical and ahistorical perspectives — their fear of actually being revolutionary. To them, the technological upheaval of the web ends in a reinforcement of the status quo. There's nothing wrong with that view, I suppose — these are all writers who court business audiences — but their writings do testify to just how far we've come from the idealism of the early days of cyberspace, when online communities were proudly uncommercial and the free exchanges of the web stood in opposition to what John Perry Barlow dismissively termed "the Industrial World." By encouraging us to think of sharing as "collaborative consumption" and of our intellectual capacities as "cognitive surplus," the technologies of the web now look like they will have, as their ultimate legacy, the spread of market forces into the most intimate spheres of human activity.

I think Nick is right about this — as is Jaron Lanier when he sounds a similar note — and I say that as someone generally enthusiastic about the entrepreneurial possibilities of online culture.

On some level we all know this commodification of intimacy is happening: no thoughtful person can possibly believe that Mark Zuckerberg’s crusade for “radical transparency” is a genuine Utopian ethic; we know that he’s articulating a position that, if widely accepted, yields maximum revenue for Facebook. But we are just beginning to think about how radically transparent we are becoming, and if Nick Carr is right, we very much need some “web revolutionaries” who really are revolutionary in their repudiation of these trends.

In other words, the problem isn't the businessmen who want to dig around in our brains — of course the business world wants to dig around in our brains: haven't you seen “Mad Men”? — the problem is the failure of influential wired intellectuals to provide the necessary corrective pushback.

8 comments:

  • Well said, Nick.

  • Yes.

  • Working toward an accounting degree at OSU, had only one professor who ever gave his testimony of conversion to Christianity in class. It was a large marketing class. He was famous in his field.

    Fast forward 20-25 years--he ends up in prison for profiting from insider knowledge on sales of stock.

    You cannot trust people with the power knowledge brings. Checks and balances are always needed. The Bible's view of us is true. May sound simplistic, but can't get away from it.

  • "In other words, the problem isn't the businessmen who want to dig around in our brains — of course the business world wants to dig around in our brains: haven't you seen “Mad Men”? — the problem is the failure of influential wired intellectuals to provide the necessary corrective pushback."

    This AM I saw an item on The Atlantic about Spike Lee co-brand vodka; Absolut Brooklyn.

    That reminded me of a convo I had with a Hollywood friend about Nick Cage in Gone in 60 Second or The Rock.

    "Why would he do those movies?" I asked.

    "At a certain point in your career you're a douchebag for *not* doing those movies," came his response.

  • Maybe the nature of being wired to the point one has influence removes the ability to see the need to push back.
    You're not in an unbiased or neutral state, at that point.

  • Corrective pushback from within the paradigm? I don't find that very likely, as Julana points out. Any energies from within the system will probably be directed to refinement and greater market capture.

    It's too soon to assess, but I await the day when we step back and ask the question, "What on Earth were we thinking?" when it becomes clear that social media traps people within an oddly stunted structure that fails to deliver on much of its promise. That day may not come right away, but ultimately, I feel secure in predicting that we'll be back in meat world and dazed at having been stripped of actual interpersonal skills in favor of clickable relationships.

  • "It's too soon to assess, but I await the day when we step back and ask the question, "What on Earth were we thinking?"

    What repeatedly comes to my mind is the way we've organized our society around automobiles, and the price we pay, individually and collectively for that (perhaps inevitable) choice. Why techno-opti-vangelists don't see this connection, I don't know. These are supposed to be smart people, right?

    Or maybe I'm the dumb one.

  • Once the mba guy starts smiling in the background - then you know "it ain't cool".

    That is a fairly good rule of thumb.

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