[6 February 2009]
I will take the bait. Here are a few theses inspired by Hipster Runoff, a site that bills itself as “The Most Conceptually Celebrated Blog in the History of the Memesphere.” It strikes me as the apotheosis of a new category of critical discourse that, for better or worse, has been slowly congealing over the past few years via such various modalities as LOL cats, Vice magazine do’s and don’ts, flame wars, douchebaggery and douche bags as a widely recognized species, text messaging, sock puppeteering, YouTube karaoke, intensely and disturbingly self-referential video art, and so on. This category still needs a label—I’m hoping that postpostmodern will not be employed. I’m not entirely convinced that this is not just a fresh iteration of previous forms of postmodernity. Anyway, to the theses!
1. Online sociality has brought on a crisis of identity. The self has been externalized and its evolution preserved in ways that were previously unthinkable. The burden of self has thereby become more palpable.
2. Social criticism has been resolved into self-expression.
3. One can’t be against hipsters. Hipsterism consists of its own repudiation. Recognizing the existence of hipsters to a certain degree makes one a hipster.
4. Social networks mandate identity formation on the model of cloud computing. One’s corporeal self is merely the local host for a self whose operating system is now fixed elsewhere, distributed across a digital array. Our bodies function merely to transfer data to the cloud, to the networked space in which it may be transmogrifed into identity. Akin to “software as a service,” we now have self as a service.
5. The variables we transfer to the cloud increasingly delimit the field of identity and condition what sorts of data will subsequently be considered relevant or applicable. Our data trail winnows, making online recommendation services seem more prescient and useful. These services will work to colonize more and more aspects of social being, suggesting friends and lovers as well as music, hobbies and interests. A song recommendation generated by your online practices will not be some byproduct of one’s identity but its very substance. One will exist as the residue of the recommendations that one generates actively or passively through consenting to consign most of one’s social activity to online forums and have them tracked and compiled. Our identity will only be as deep and complex as the quantitative density of our Facebook status updates and tweets.
6. Existence online appears accelerated, though in fact it consists of a series of frozen moments. It waits for and demands our input, perpetually presenting options and reminding us of alternatives while confronting us with the history of our previous tendencies. It thus forces on us unremitting self-consciousness. There can be no harmonizing of action and its preconception; no spontaneous authenticity.
7. Online, we are made painfully aware of the existential need to act, though that awareness is tempered by the way in which our actions online are always provisional and easily altered, augmented or supplanted. We can embrace necessary action with none of the responsibility for consequences.
8. Online practice is always a simulation in the sense that it occurs within a world that offers no real resistance to the self. A nondialectical space, the field of online being offers nothing to negate; it only assimilates. If, as Hegel claimed, the “rational is the actual” and vice versa, the realm of online simulacra is a realm where rationality is impossible. No critical intention can disrupt the reality presented online, nor can it merge with action and become praxis. Action results not in self-actualization but merely self-conscious agglomeration.
9. The collapse of language into abbreviations, arbitrary conditions of brevity, self-enforced infantilism and the like are attempts to import the the inflexible conditions of reality, against which we shape ourselves, to the online world, which lacks such conditions and threatens us with an amorphous and intolerable incontinence of identity.
10. Faced with the promise of a seemingly infinite extension of identity online, our actual lived identity shrivels to the disappearing point of spontaneous revisions at every instant, all of which are minutely recorded and make subsequent necessary reinventions that much more implausible and untenable.