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Telesociality

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Wednesday, Feb 25, 2009

I’ve mentioned here before that Twitter seems like the perfect advertising medium; it distills all communication to the level of the slogan, making advertising messages fit right in among the messages from our friends and “followers”. For Twitter to make any sense, one has to use it constantly—so it supplies the eyeballs advertisers are after. And since it is liable to be integrated with social media, the stream of ads can be hyperpersonalized so that we end up reading them rather than filtering them out. If you think ads are just useful and timely information about how to satisfy our wants, you are probably relishing this future; if you think that ads make up an insecurity-generating discourse designed to obscure our desires from ourselves, this future is somewhat less appealing.


Anyway, I was surprised to find how many people in the ad business hate it. (But then, any right-thinking person in the ad business generally hates themselves as well.) Consider this post, by ad consultant George Parker. Or this one, titled “Twitter This You Douchenozzles!”


And, via this AdPulp post, these posts by ad exec Bob Hoffman. They are full of extremely entertaining bile and skepticism regarding the transformational potential of Twitter (“It’s how the narcissistic keep in touch with the feckless”) and social media generally, which he recognizes are “inherently anti-social”. Noting the idiocy of Twestivals, at which the attendees “didn’t have the social skills to say hello and instead communicated with each other at the event via Twitter,” Hoffman argues that social media


are telesocial. The prefix ‘tele’ means ‘happening at a distance’—as in television, telegram, telecommunications. Social media are pseudo-personal interactions happening at a distance.


This seems a bit self-evident; really what he is saying is that social media is a form of telecommunication, not a superior replacement for it. The big innovation in this new mode of telecommunication is that it does away with real-time reciprocity.


Hoffman argues that Twitter allows you an ersatz sense of belonging:


I’ve always loved the promise implicit in the magazine Us.
Who is Us?
Brad and Jen and Angelique and Paris and Oprah and Brit and You. Yes, you! You are part of one big connected group of celebrities. Don’t think you’re special or important? Think you’re a pathetic loser? Nonsense! You’re one of Us! Come over here and let me give you a hug. Oh, and while you’re here, that’ll be 4 dollars, please.
Twitter is digital Us.



That seems right, and it fits in with the way online sociality has destroyed our sense of what makes for a realistic scale for our social being. We feel obliged to try to gain recognition on a global scale rather than a local one, and our expectations for that recognition need not be conditioned by any limitations inherent to our geographic community. That sounds like theoretical gobbledy-gook, so let me try to explain that a different way. The appeal of self-broacdasting identity online, of Twittering and being “followed,” is that we can feel like celebrities and imagine the natural audience for our high jinks is the entire world rather than, say, the people who share our household or work with us or live on our block or what have you. This initially seems like a good thing, because it holds out the promise that we can craft communities ideally suited to us online rather than deal with the one we were born into in the physical world. But dealing with the contingencies of that real world may be what allows us to grow into a mature self and set realistic goals and limits and put an end to chronic dissatisfaction and restless yearning for impossibilities. If there were some online/offline balance that was easy to strike, the aggrandizing tendencies of online sociality wouldn’t matter so much, only technological developments seem to be pushing in the direction of supplanting real-world socializing with online self-absorption, exploiting the desire for convenience (not having to deal with other people’s crap) that is perfectly natural when the local community sets inescapable limits on our selfishness, i.e. when we can’t escape a certain amount of dealing wiht other people, but becomes creepy when that limit has been eroded. It’s easier to manage friendships online and treat friends as our fans than it is to make the mundane efforts of actually being friends with them—scheduling time to spend with them and actually being present with them without multitasking.


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