I Yo Therefore I Am

//by Ryan Taylor//

I downloaded the app “Yo” over the weekend, wondering what all the fuss was about. For those of you not in the Yo-know, Yo is a program that allows its users to…well, it doesn’t allow users to do much beside reduce all communications to an electronic caveman grunt in the mode of Jesse Pinkman.

In other words, people can send push notifications to one another displaying the eponymous “Yo”. Another key feature is the creepy voice that utters the word.

To make the obvious Breaking Bad joke: I assume a hidden Easter egg button will transform the app into Yo Bitch!

Released on April Fool’s Day of this year, the app was initially considered a joke by the public. Yo, however, recently attracted $1.5 million in venture capital, sending the message that the app is no laughing matter. If it’s not an elaborate ruse, then what is the draw of Yo? For starters: Yo users can send Yos to any of their friends who have the app.

Okay. What else?

Well…well that’s it.

Did I mention that the app is now valued at over $5 million?

(I’m as puzzled as you are.)

So I decided to take “Yo” for a spin. I downloaded the app (for free), and in seconds I was ready to Yo.

Too much?

Anyway, when you open the app it first asks you to “sign-up.” After figuring out a tastefully offensive username and a numeric password, “Yo” introduces him(her?)self.

IMG_1986

After ‘tapping here’, Yo offers some justifications for its own existence (more on such things later).

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Or you could just say good morning, like a normal human being. But where’s the fun in that? Maybe it is true what John Lennon sang:

Yo is real, real is Yo
Yo is feeling, feeling Yo
Yo is wanting, to be Yo’d.

And fear not, lest you thought sexting would remain a chore:

IMG_1989If nothing else this app should streamline bootycalls.

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Love in a Time of Crystal Displays

//by Keith Warren//

I haven’t really seen myself since New Year’s Day, twenty-thirteen.

I’ve been in love with a different mirror since then.

Sure I looked in my bathroom mirror in that time, but only ever with the vainest intentions. Beholden, in a culture of images, to the images of cultures arranged in pixels on the screens.

One held in hand, one in the next room. Another in earshot.

Anxious concern of how will I be perceived?

Situation A… Situation B… Situation C…

Not much concern for the future and more a concern for some other place, but that’s not here.

Some other place ISN’T. HERE.

I guess you might say it’s just the landscape, now, but that’s still so vague because what it is is all the tools we, the animal, are wielding while inhabiting space in our fields of being.

The tech is now an ever-present plasma display screen, mainlined into our psychical heads-up display. Big stuck pixels swiss cheesing mental faculties.

It’s somehow, now, pushing toward total saturation. The external world crashing in on us. A solid white tsunami noise wall of data. All the wall space is getting colonized by the empire of the screen.

I mean that both metaphorically and physically, by which I mean of course mental walls and walls as in brick walls. Walls of city buses painted with HBO shows and sexy new night club nights, because night clubs rent out space between time walls too. Medium-rise buildings rent entire facades to toilet paper campaigns, do Charmin bears shit on cinderblocks? Seemingly yes.

Inside a loud world, clamp hands over ears. Shield the searing brightness, clamp them over eyes and isolate, inward.

Don’t think of true self, persistent self. Think instead of instances of personae, slides or stills, that flash across mind’s eye.

Overestimate how much better are some times, underestimate other times. Would so much rather be doing [other thing] right now(!), also sprach the novelty license plate frame.

Then feel defeat because here and now isn’t there and now. Somewhere else isn’t here.

Imagine the alternative and picture life otherwise. Keep the journey to or from that point outside the frame. Reduce it out of the equation entirely. The hypothetically simultaneous ‘other’ self is far more exciting––the mysterious other path but implied.

A separate simultaneous world disappoints by design. We cannot possibly achieve it. We cannot be both here and there, and now.

But still I only looked at myself vainly, jealous of other instances of myself. And never once, it doesn’t feel like, did I stare down the barrel of my own life, straight into my own eyes. I saw gaunt eyes in an otherwise healthy face. I see that I’ve changed my posture for the stronger; my whole attitude and energy more natural. Fluid. But not advancing.

Sometimes you trick yourself into having someone else look at you so you don’t have to. You can see it all already anyway.

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#Ferguson Problems: How Social Media Mangles Critical Thinking

//by Ryan Taylor//

TL;DR: Twitter destroys the integrity of discourse and reinforces cheap appeals to ideology.

Although what’s going on in Ferguson right now is incredibly problematic––not to mention: despicable (also: alarming, infuriating, insulting)––the social media explosion that preceded (and which continues to comment on) the Michael Brown case is symptomatic of another problem, that is: the dramatic lowering of the bar for what constitutes legitimate political discourse.

Our soundbite news culture, exacerbated by Twitter’s 140-character format, has been disturbingly successful in its ongoing replacement of more traditional modes of dialogue. Modes of dialogue which, not viral in any sense of the word, share as a foundation a rigorous analysis.

Before critically examining any of the evidence in the Mike Brown case, I admit I was ready to condemn the police (and all police) in much the same way the Twittersphere and my own Facebook News Feed™ has done. Based on my own political lean, I consumed and dispersed a narrative that appealed to me despite a lack of substantiated evidence therein.

After taking some time to read up and think about the case, my perception of the incident has completely changed.

What’s problematic is not the quickness with which my opinion was able to change, but the quickness with which it was first formed.twitter_evil

Ideology led me to conclude that the Michael Brown case was just another example of institutionalized racism and fetishized violence coming to a head, á la George Zimmerman. Twitter confirmed my conclusion, muddling and mincing the facts.

While the actions Officer Wilson took are inexcusable, even idiotic, the way he has been represented in this case as a ‘cold blooded killer’ is probably disingenuous. Trigger-happy yokel? Yeah. Racist? Very likely. Cold blooded killer? I don’t know the man that well.

To the point: ideology will always play a role in human judgments––this much is certain––but that doesn’t mean we should not be critical of ideology and the mediums through which it influences us.

Now, this post is incredibly ironic, given that its thesis concerns the impotence of social media platforms (like the one I’m using right now) to be politically productive or rigorously composed. This post is certainly neither. But that doesn’t preclude me from pointing to a growing problem: the disavowal of reasoned argument in favor of the easy-to-consume rhetoric of social media.

Sell Your Memome Into Slavery

Wired reports on a new app called Citizenme which will help users consolidate all the data there is to track and sniff about us, as we go about generating it. “Spy on yourself and sell your own data,” Wired concisely puts it. Yes it’s a real app in development.

From social media profiles to the fitness trackers we’re now strapping to our bodies, it’s all data gravy, baby. It’s all very valuable too, and now an app lets users sell their own data into the great gaping maw of marketing, where the app makes its commission, right at the welcome gate to the maw. It begins with the obvious info from social media sites, then the service plans to expand as:

the [Citizenme] team wants to… integrate far more information, including location data, statistics from health trackers, or your even genome, via services like 23andMe. That would let you learn far more about your online self and how advertisers perceive you, while providing still more data you eventually could sell.

Continue reading

Comment Threads: All Agony, No Ecstasy

//by Keith Binkly//

Last great experience you had in an online comment thread, go!

Right. Didn’t think so.

I love the writing on The Last Psychiatrist blog. It’s downright excellent. One of the best offerings in the whole wide blogosphere. I think to myself, You know, I’d like to check out the comment section, because I expect to find some intelligent conversation going on there. Might even jump in myself.

It’s true that the comments–– and the commenters–– are ‘intelligent,’ strictly speaking. But it’s rather tough to stomach because so many reader responses are hiply self-referential to a fault and ape the author’s style to a miserable tee.

When you’re there answering your own rhetorical questions and fashioning yourself a fount of contrarian insight, you better be the original author. If you’re unloading in the comments instead, douche tsunamis are always sure to follow.

Of course, emulation has always been a healthy tool for writers, right up until online commenting. There, everyone else is, too, reproducing the style that’s both the cause of, and forum for, the gathering. Traditionally this has served as great comfort to offline congregations, but it morphs into the coldest kind of comfort for online groups. Continue reading

The Facebook Effect (What Is It?)

Sometimes I fantasize about kicking the Facebook habit. It alters mind and behavior, I have no doubt. But how? Why? Can it be contained or controlled?

Sometimes I want to shove away this digital decadence in disgust, proclaim a return to the new asceticism: the analog life (LOL ya rite!!!) Maybe I’ll start a band called Rage Against The Facebook.

What I’m really interested in is pulling apart the psychology of having and maintaining a social media profile. Specifically one on Facebook because it’s so all-encompassing. I’m hoping that over the course of writing social media critiques, I’ll eventually find my way to a tempered optimism. Fingers crossed that I don’t find myself railing against what I secretly want to save myself from, a la ‘moral majority’-type politicians, Pastor Ted Haggard, etc. Anyway, my first concern has to do with identity and Facebook’s demands on our attention. Later pieces will deal with other aspects, but I want to start with this one, which I call:

Near-Past Nostalgia. 

‘Near-future’ literally means ‘the not-so-distant future.’ Writers and filmmakers often tell stories set in near-future worlds to make political points and create a surrounding sense of moral urgency. Whatever the impending problem in the artist’s view– global warming, war mongering, outsourcing, some creeping horror of culture decay, anything– the hope invariably is that viewers will research, rethink, and react in service of the cause.

The near-future technique must make an implicit argument: Focus on this, because this is worth your attention. The argument must be made, and made forcefully, because human attention is the most precious resource in the entire milky way galaxy (if not the entire universe, but I hope not).

With a major assist from wisely acquired artsy-sheen-provider Instagram, Facebook inverts the art of near-future. The platform directs its one billion users’ attention toward their own not-so-distant history. That is to say, their own near-past. Pics, vids, messages of last week, last month, and last year are all on continuous display just a few clicks away, reminding us where and with whom we just were. Read: who we just were.

When it comes to the argument for attention, it’s already won: It’s me, and I’m worth it. Devil’s advocate anyone?

friedalorealFreida Pinto on self-affirmation, purportedly. Grammar is [sic]. Source: lorealparis.com

David Foster Wallace wrote in Infinite Jest (Little, Brown, 1996), ‘We are what we walk between.’ I think I agree with that. Self-expression at any moment can be broken down into what began and what will end the journey (or journeys) we’re on. And just so do we reply to the battle hymn of HR personnel, which goes (the battle hymn): Tell me about yourself. The answer is, guaranteed, a mix of where we’ve been and where we plan to go. But crucially, the question of identity is a matter of the weight we hang on either end of the psychic balancing scale.

Do we identify more heavily with the containers holding our last endeavors and prior escapades? Or do we look to the containers of to-be-explored possibilities? Indeed with this metaphor I ask you to imagine yourself a shipping crane, and to ponder the true significance of yesterday’s cargo.

Anyway, the point is that our attention is restricted to a narrow field. Were we to attend to all–mind in overdrive considering past and future–the splayed self would stretch into an unthinking membrane. In terms of the Wallace quote, it’d be like trying to walk in opposite directions simultaneously. Gotta pick, because where we choose to focus our precious attention makes us who we are. The larger the origin looms or the future horizon magnetizes, the gravity of our journey is thus oriented. In consideration of this, Facebook and Instagram’s emphasis on reliving the near-past is problematic.

Social media spaces have today become the environments in which an astounding degree of self-expression and self-image generation takes place. This is ever truer as the internet-enabled individual gets younger.

Barring temporal lobe issues, it’s impossible that someone thumbing through photo albums or whatever social feeds would not experience waves of nostalgia. Reminiscing is a peculiar thing humans have done for millennia, it’s true, but we’ve done so sparingly until social media made photos infinitely portable, instantly and always available on all devices.

It’s seductively costless to switch on a gadget and relive last month’s meals, last year’s relationship, last weekend’s bar crawl, last professional conference, so on and so forth. How rosy those already-lived moments can be. Maybe it’s related to ‘good old days’ syndrome, a condition I just invented. But the misperception of the known past is well known, and pervasive. So grows the weight of our near-past in its mental magnitude.

This makes me ill at ease because the mountain-movers of this new topography have every incentive to push this trend to it’s limit, i.e. What The Market Will Bear. Facebook is designed for effortless content spurting, and also to be a total bitch to remove anything. How do you post a comment anywhere? Type into the comment box and press ‘return’.

How do you delete a specific comment from your archive? Whew. Here goes: Click ‘Timeline Activity.’ Click ‘Comments.’ Click to the correct year. Click to the correct month. Scroll, then click ‘More Activity’ if/as needed, repeat until comment is found. Click the tiny pencil ‘edit’ symbol. Click ‘Delete.’ Prompt: ‘Are you sure you want to delete?’ Click ‘yes’ or press return.

Holy shit. That’s not even counting scouring time for comments with date unknown. No search bar here, suckers. But hold on to your panties because something Mark Zuckerberg calls frictionless sharing is well on its way, where every very read, every view, each click and comment on any Facebook sign-on site  or app can (i.e. will) be auto-broadcast to your Facebook friends. The energy to prune that overgrowth of social profile data is shocking to consider. Celebrity or not, that’ll be a job unto itself.

I might summarize what’s going on this way: the upkeep of a Facebook profile perverts an individual’s grasp of his or her own identity development, by anchoring conscious attention in the mushrooming volume of records chronicling his (or her) own near-past.

What’s wrong with that? Well, I’m want to think that if nature is constantly in flux, so self-image and self-expression should be free to move about. These are the tools by which the fleshy vehicle of our being consciously explores the world and discovers a true self in the process. When I sat in on a meditation session recently the guru spoke about happiness being tied to our own sense of whether the thoughts we have and the actions we perform are progressive rather than regressive. That is, are they in line with our goals? Do they move us toward or away from our destiny?

I know that this sure as hell would sound woo-woo to a previous me, especially the destiny bit. But it’s interesting to note that Wikipedia implements a model very like this to establish trustworthiness of editors. Over the course of entry’s evolution into its final, stable version, those editors that moved the article toward its final version score trust points. Editors who pulled it away from its final version suffer a hit to their reputation. It’s a simple matter of whether a collaborator’s efforts make the final cut or not.

When I think about that in terms of personal development, we want to be mindful of whether we are good or crappy collaborators with ourselves. If we’re moving ourselves in the direction we’ll ultimately end up. It’s a purer form of the weird political idea of voting for the most electable candidate. Instead, it’s your body politic and you’re the most special interest. Go win your future, or you know, something like that. Dwelling on the past takes time and energy away from distilling the final version of ourselves, and Facebook and like applications rack up serious excess-dwelling time. It comes from some where. We can either look toward the future or get stuck in the past, and no one has ever  gotten stuck in the future, not even Marty McFly.

Getting Facebook-hooked on the past can only be an impediment to identity cultivation. In some cases, a cause for crisis. We’re burning up valuable attention resources in service of looking backward, to the detriment of the energy we’d otherwise devote to inventing the near-future, to plucking up the courage to bound toward it without craning our necks for approval. This is the point of nearly every motivational speech ever: fight valiantly against that awful tendency to debit the account named ‘where to next?’, while the frantic ‘who am I?’ account gets more credits than god at the Grammys.

What I’m getting at is simply, social media has the power to sacrifice dreams of the future for an identity crisis now.

In the good old days, dusting off a physical photo album was reserved for special occasions, holidays mainly. Also to be embarrassed in front of a significant other for parental mirth purposes. We’d all marvel at how much we’ve changed without  realizing it: Wow, I’m a totally different person now! That whole developing-without-realizing thing is a matter of not worrying Who am I? all the damn time. If mid-life crisis is a sudden and hysterical onset of What have I missed out on?! then the bogus and too-chronicled pop-disorder called Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) stinks of way-too-early-onset midlife crisis.

Middle-age men mired in the aforementioned psychic calamity are known to saunter down to their local Harley-Davidson dealership and claim any wind-blown Route-66 tours rightfully theirs. Facebook aims to be the limitless Harley lot for us FOMOd-out digital natives, pacing and racking our rearward brains to answer the unanswerable: What am I missing out on right now?!

::screenslaver:.

I use the state of the art 

Technology 

Supposed to make for better livin’

Are we better human beings

We’ve got all our wires crossed

Our tubes are all tied

And I’m strainin’ to remember 

Just what it means to be alive 

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