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by Rob Horning

11 Feb 2009

“The End of Solitude,” William Deresiewicz’s recent essay in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, is well worth reading, though I probably would have given it the title I gave this post. Deresiewicz’s argument (simplified for effect) is that just as TV prepares us to be bored, the internet intensifies our loneliness.

I’m sympathetic to the idea that solitude is this cherished opportunity for soulful meditation that we are tragically losing, but I think there’s also something snobbish in that framing—maybe because it is associated with ultra-egotist Romantic poets like Wordsworth. (A love of solitude can sometimes seem to imply that one feels an inherent superiority that makes the company of others tiresome.) It seems bogus to presume that only in solitude is wisdom hatched, as Thoreau’s example is used to demonstrate. It’s a species of the great man theory of history, that presumes geniuses operate in isolation to shape the destiny of worlds. It seems more likely that social frictions produce ideas that individuals express and take credit for. Maybe solitude is necessary for noticing those frictions and framing coherent thoughts about them, but the romantic idea of people getting in touch with their real selves outside of society is pure ideology.

Besides, solitude is not simply available for the choosing for everyone—as Virgina Woolf pointed out, a room of one’s own is a privilege. An ability to appreciate solitude in the high-minded sense is probably a part of the habitus of the middle and upper classes. There’s an art to being alone. It’s often an elegant pose.

The problem is less that we don’t respect the concept of solitude anymore and more that the internet makes us self-conscious about our pseudocelebrity; it invites us to imagine we are celebrities and distorts our relationships accordingly. We start to scheme for recognition rather than rest more comfortably in the recognition we are already receiving from those close to us.

Anyway, Deresiewicz wants to divide the recent past into eras based on technology.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s, the age of television. I was trained to be bored; boredom was cultivated within me like a precious crop. (It has been said that consumer society wants to condition us to feel bored, since boredom creates a market for stimulation.)

As for the theorists who have been banished to obscurity by the passive voice in that parenthetical, I assume that Deresiewicz has in mind sociologists like Pierre Bourdieu, who argued in Distinction that “the ethic of liberation” may be “supplying the economy with the perfect consumer.” These consumers “are isolated…and therefore free (or forced) to confront in extended order the separate markets (“juniors,” “teenagers,” “senior citizens,” etc.) of the new economic order and untrammeled by the constraints and brakes imposed by collective memories and expectations”—traditions from family life and that sort of thing. That seems right to me—the status hierarchy, confronted with emerging consumerism and democracy, yielded a situation in which marketers could exploit the idea of liberation to leverage insecurity. The migration of sociality to the internet is giving them a new playing field, a way to make us feel lonely in the midst of more communication than ever.

Deresiewicz continues:

So it is with the current generation’s experience of being alone. That is precisely the recognition implicit in the idea of solitude, which is to loneliness what idleness is to boredom. Loneliness is not the absence of company, it is grief over that absence. The lost sheep is lonely; the shepherd is not lonely. But the Internet is as powerful a machine for the production of loneliness as television is for the manufacture of boredom. If six hours of television a day creates the aptitude for boredom, the inability to sit still, a hundred text messages a day creates the aptitude for loneliness, the inability to be by yourself. Some degree of boredom and loneliness is to be expected, especially among young people, given the way our human environment has been attenuated. But technology amplifies those tendencies. You could call your schoolmates when I was a teenager, but you couldn’t call them 100 times a day. You could get together with your friends when I was in college, but you couldn’t always get together with them when you wanted to, for the simple reason that you couldn’t always find them. If boredom is the great emotion of the TV generation, loneliness is the great emotion of the Web generation. We lost the ability to be still, our capacity for idleness. They have lost the ability to be alone, their capacity for solitude.

Solitude has been transformed into loneliness by the prevalence of tools that make it possible for us always to be connected. The tools assume an always-on status, so we do too, whether or not we need to. Why? Deresiewicz is not clear on this point, but I would chalk it up to technophilia, expediency, and social norms that have evolved to reproduce consumerism. (It has been said that consumer society wants to condition us to feel lonely, since loneliness creates a market for communications.)

At some point, if this line of argument is correct, the capabilities of a particular technology begin to be experienced by users as a kind of compulsion, a command. Because you can text your whereabouts at all times to your friends, you should do so. Because people can be contact you always, when they aren’t, it can begin to feel like a slight. Let’s say you post a comment on a friend’s Facebook status update and they don’t acknowledge it, even though you can see they are online. You shouldn’t take that personally, but I know I would. It’s one of the things that makes social networking hard for me. It’s bad enough checking an email inbox. Something about knowing people out there on line could be paying attention to what we are doing can bring out the borderline personality in all of us. I see that someone I hardly know but have friended on Facebook is online, and I have this awful urge to write a new update, just to see if they’ll notice. This feeling is what I understand Deresiewicz to be talking about when he talks about manufactured loneliness.

The immediacy of the new medium for friendship sets friendship up on a customer service model, on which we are encouraged to expect immediate satisfaction on our own terms, since we are paying with that newly scarce currency, our attention. This commercial reciprocity threatens to preclude the possibility of the gratuitous reciprocity of friendship. The customer is always right, but the customer is always alone.

Deresiewicz rightly points out how the internet once relieved feelings of social isolation for misfits. And refuges still exist where people can find each other. But social networks seem to undermine that kind of alternative connection, importing the norms of high school to the online space that once afforded an escape. At the same time, real loneliness—the soul-sapping sense that there is no one to share your thoughts, your life with—is trivialized by the new loneliness, of not getting a text from your BFFs every five minutes and not having enough followers on Twitter. Worse, Twitter and Facebook are tacitly offered to us as cures for real loneliness, with the implication that if you still feel lonely despite these great commercial social-networking tools, there must really be something wrong with you.

by Sarah Zupko

11 Feb 2009

Lily Allen talks to the Today show before playing her latest single “The Fear”. Matt Lauer asks her about if she stays in and orders Chinese now and is all settled and mature now. Kinda hard to pound the pavements hunting down all those new clothes she talks about in “The Fear” if that’s really the case. After all, “weapons of mass consumption” don’t really spend their lives sitting about wondering what to cook up for dinner and watch on the telly that night.

by Joe Tacopino

11 Feb 2009

Chairlift had the unfortunate distinction of being a sales pitch for iPod’s Nano last year. And although the commercial garnered them much attention it may have also created the impression of a one-hit wonder. The video for “Evident Utensil” tries to dispel these notions with some darker hues and trippy post-production. (via Pitchfork TV)

Feb 13 2009 Brooklyn Academy of Music Brooklyn
Feb 15 2009 Kidrockers @ 92Y Tribeca New York
Feb 20 2009 Route du Rock Hiver St Malo
Feb 21 2009 Le GD Mix [w/ Kill the vulture, Vetiver] Lille
Feb 22 2009 La Maroquinerie [w/ Women] Paris
Feb 24 2009 Koko [NME award w/ Metronomy London
Feb 25 2009 Pure Groove In-Store London
Mar 7 2009 Santos Party House New York
Mar 13 2009 Grog Shop Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Mar 14 2009 Schubas Tavern Chicago, Illinois
Mar 16 2009 Gargoyle Club St.Louis, Missouri
Mar 17 2009 The Jackpot Saloon Lawrence, Kansas
Mar 18 2009 Opolis Norman, Oklahoma
Mar 19 2009 Red 7 Austin, Texas
Mar 19 2009 Club 1808 Austin, Texas
Mar 20 2009 Urban Outfitters Austin, Texas
Mar 22 2009 House Of Blues - Pontiac Garage Dallas, Texas
Mar 23 2009 Warehouse Live Houston, Texas
Mar 23 2009 Club Downunder Tallahassee, Florida
Mar 24 2009 Spanish Moon Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Mar 25 2009 House of Blues Parish New Orleans, Louisiana
Mar 27 2009 40 Watt Club Athens, Georgia
Mar 28 2009 Exit In Nashville, Tennessee
Apr 13 2009 Chop Suey [w/ Sebastian Tellier] Seattle, Washington
Apr 15 2009 Doug Fir Lounge [w/ Sebastian Tellier] Portland, Oregon
Apr 17 2009 The Independent [w/ Sebastian Tellier] San Francisco, California
Apr 19 2009 Bluebird Theater Denver, Colorado
Apr 21 2009 Fine Line Music Cafe [w/ Peter Bjorn & John] Minneapolis, Minnesota
Apr 22 2009 Pabst Theatre [w/ Peter Bjorn & John] Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Apr 23 2009 Metro [w/ Peter Bjorn & John] Chicago, Illinois
Apr 24 2009 Southgate House [w/ Peter Bjorn & John] Newport, Kentucky
Apr 25 2009 Phoenix Theatre [w/ Peter Bjorn & John] Toronto, Ontario
Apr 26 2009 Capital Music Hall [w/ Peter Bjorn & John] Ottawa, Ontario
Apr 27 2009 Le National [w/ Peter Bjorn & John] Montreal, Quebec
Apr 28 2009 Paradise [w/ Peter Bjorn & John] Boston, Massachusetts
Apr 29 2009 Webster Hall [w/ Peter Bjorn & John] New York, New York
Apr 30 2009 Music Hall of Williamsburg [w/ Peter Bjorn & John] Brooklyn, New York
May 1 2009 World Cafe [w/ Peter Bjorn & John] Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
May 2 2009 9:30 Club [w/ Peter Bjorn & John] Washington DC
Jun 11 2009 Bonnaroo Manchester, Tennessee

by Rob Horning

11 Feb 2009

On the DVD of Žižek! the 2005 documentary about the Slovenian philosopher, there’s a great clip of his appearance on NiteBeat, an American news program. Žižek, who’s apparently in the midst of a misbegotten book tour, gamely tries to make Lacanian theory accessible while Barry Nolan, the proudly clueless host, makes him into a hilarious side-show—look at this funny guy with the accent! He’s all intellectual! He thinks about stuff—how amusing! Nolan actually calls him “Denis Leary but from Slovenia.” The wrap up makes it obvious that he has had Žižek on the show not because of his ideas but because the show wants to bill itself as the kind of show that has people like Žižek on it.

Anyway, Nolan seems like a genius of sympathetic listening compared with the tools on CNBC in this scarily similar clip (via Talking Points Memo),  in which it takes five patronizing talking heads to willfully ignore and fail to understand guests Nouriel Roubini and Nassim Taleb, whom the producers can’t resist belittling with nicknames. (Paul Krugman compared it to a classic Monty Python sketch in which Marx, Mao and Lenin are asked questions about soccer.) The entire clip makes it clear that CNBC, and by extension, its audience, wants nothing more than to trivialize analysis of the banking system’s larger problems while taking credit for being hip to the fad the network believes that Roubini and Taleb represent. It’s truly pathetic. Obviously, the in-studio interviewers think that recessions are caused by bad luck or something and just automatically right themselves without any intervention at all; thus the prudent thing to do is to get the right guru to tell you what indicators to look for to time one’s jump back into the markets. Roubini and Taleb are mostly silent, sitting helplessly while the hosts yammer on nonsensically like House Republicans during the stimulus debate. This is what has become of the discourse of the public sphere; many—including people who follow the financial world professionally—watch this sort of drivel and consider themselves informed, or cynically accept it as what the other viewers want to hear, as a barometer of what conventional wisdom is. This idiocy then guides policy. It make obvious the social catastrophe that ensues when commercially viable discourse becomes the only discourse we hear.

by C.L. Chafin

11 Feb 2009

“Twisted Tongue” is an absolutely mind-blowing track from Woods, a fuzzed out pop band based in Brooklyn.  Pull away all the blown-out vocals, tape effects, and low-fi glory, and you’ve basically got a pop track as catchy and sweet as anything by the Archies. But, luckily, that stuff is there. So it’s okay to like it. Check it out at their MySpace, below.

As a bonus, here’s a video of the band performing it live, via local music show New York Noise.

Mar 15 2009 Howlers w/BLANK DOGS Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Mar 16 2009 The Summit w/ BLANK DOGS, TIMES NEW VIKING Columbus, Ohio
Mar 17 2009 AV Aerie w/ BLANK DOGS Chicago, Illinois
Mar 18 2009 LOVE GARDEN SOUNDS w/ BLANK DOGS Lawrence, Kansas
Mar 19 2009 2908 Cole Street w/blank dogs Austin, Texas
Mar 20 2009 SXSW@Emo’s Jr. Austin, Texas
Mar 21 2009 SXSW @Ms Beas Austin, Texas

//Mixed media

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